HOOVER – Houston Nutt, Tommy Tuberville and the Kentucky Wildcats.
Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino walked into the Southeastern Conference with a bunch of built-in rivalries that will at least make good headline fodder — and that’s not even including the NFL’s jilted Atlanta Falcons.
The Razorbacks’ first-year coach was greeted by questions about those topics in his SEC media days debut on Friday. His team was also picked to finish last in the Western Division, but Petrino took it all in stride.
First the Falcons, who Petrino left after one season: “The whole situation, the timing was bad. There’s no question about that. If it could have played out any other way, I would have loved to have seen it play out a different way. With the Falcons and with Arkansas, it was really the only way it could work out.”
Then there’s Nutt, who left Arkansas to take over West rival Mississippi. Petrino said he hears about that Oct. 25 game a lot from fans, but hasn’t brought it up with his players.
And Tuberville. Petrino was courted by Auburn five years ago two days before the Alabama game when Tuberville was under fire.
“This is a business. I understand that,” tuberville said. “We all get caught up in certain scenarios. That’s just part of it. Bobby and I have talked many times since then. Since he’s been head coach there, we’ve talked several times at meetings.
“It will be a lot of good talk between fans and media, but when it comes to the football teams that really matter in terms of winning and losing, there won’t be any effect.”
At least any rivalry with Kentucky will be more of the on-the-field variety since Petrino is a former Louisville coach. His record against the Wildcats: 4-0.
“He whupped me up the head pretty good,” Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said.
SPURRIER: Steve Spurrier raised the bar for South Carolina at last year’s media event, saying the Gamecocks finally were ready to compete for an SEC title.
He didn’t exactly repeat that statement on Friday, but didn’t shy away from it, either.
“The team this year is probably much better prepared than last year,” Spurrier said. “Obviously we were dead wrong in thinking that our team was capable last year.”
The Gamecocks lost their last five games and were shut out of a bowl game after a 6-1 start.
Spurrier doesn’t think lack of talent will be a proper excuse this season, but figures his team needs to better learn how to pull out the close games that went the other way in 2007.
“We’ve got ballplayers,” he said. “We have absolutely no excuses about ballplayers. We need to coach better and they’ve got to play like good players. If we get that happening, maybe those close losses will turn into victories.”
Spurrier has made one adjustment, designating his son and assistant coach, Steve Spurrier Jr., as the primary offensive playcaller.
Spurrier will still have plenty of input from the sidelines. Not to mention a little protective fatherly instinct.
“If it goes bad, I did it. If it goes pretty good, he did it,” he said.
Favored Auburn: Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville has used the Tigers’ perceived underdog status as motivation plenty of times over the years. He wasn’t complaining about the league media’s prediction that they will win the SEC West, though.
“We need to have a sense of urgency a lot more than we did last year,” Tuberville said. “I think this will be a point that we can use with our team, our coaches, and we can use it as a rallying point that a lot of people are counting on us and picked us in certain situations.”
Center Jason Bosley wasn’t so sure he liked the front-runner role.
“I like being the underdog, because people take you for granted and you can sneak up and beat them,” Bosley said. But, he added, “It’s an honor to be ranked high.”
Tuberville said the status of offensive lineman Chaz Ramsey for the start of preseason practice is uncertain after back surgery. But he has gotten a good feeling from watching him run recently.”He’s come back and he’s done some things,” Tuberville said. “Is he ready to play this year? We’ll have to wait and see. Is he going to redshirt this year? That’s always a possibility.”
But, he added, “He could be a starter in the first game.”
‘Cats’ Hopes: After two straight eight-win seasons, Kentucky’s Rich Brooks thinks his team has earned a little respect even in a division where that might only be good enough for middle of the pack.
“I think we became a viable team in the SEC East,” Brooks said. “I believe we’ll be a viable team again this year.
“We were one of the teams that everybody used to think they could put an automatic ‘W’ up next to as they went into the season.”
The Wildcats won’t have quarterback Andre’ Woodson, but Brooks will field what he calls the best defense and best offensive line of his tenure. It might be his speediest Kentucky team too.
Brooks said his first team in Lexington had only one player that could break 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash; that number rose to 17 last year.
“We have more speed. We have more talent,” he said. “We have players that are capable of playing at Florida and Georgia and Tennessee. I think that we’ve closed the gap on the talent level.”