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- Video/Transcript: Kirby Smart, Nick Saban and Greg Sankey SEC Championship ThursdayPressers
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Video/Transcript: Kirby Smart, Nick Saban and Greg Sankey SEC Championship ThursdayPressers
THE MODERATOR: Coach Smart, if you could give some opening remarks and then we’ll open it up for questions.
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, our guys are excited for an opportunity to play in what I’ve talked about all week is one of the best venues and just incredible environments in all of college football, and been very fortunate to coach in a lot of these games, and they are special.
Our guys are excited for the opportunity. We’re working hard at preparing for what is a really unique, physical Alabama team, and our guys got another day’s work and another day’s work tomorrow to put in to be ready for it.
Q. I know you’ve been asked this before, but the portal opening Monday, why hasn’t that been more of an emphasis on you? Have you needed to have it? Player retention obviously is huge. What is your philosophy on that?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, we utilize the portal, utilized the portal last year. We had one year we didn’t, but we had a lot of retention.
I think times are changing, and everybody adapts with it. It’s unfortunate to me that it’s picking up pace. I think this year will be a record-breaking year because the attention, the opportunity, the seeking out the monetary side of it is going to become a really norm.
Our philosophy for the portal may be different than maybe what people actually use it for. We’re trying to make our team better. We want to recruit really good high school players, and I think that’s important to college football and our game, to recruit really good high school players and develop them, but unfortunately the more that go in, the more we have to research the portal and take, otherwise you can’t sustain.
It’s not a matter of a philosophy. I would retain everybody on my team if I could, and I would play with the guys we have. But you have to take others in order to be able to field a team unless you want all freshmen.
Q. What does the availability look like this week for Brock, for Ladd, for Rara and for Tate?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, great question because I’m trying to figure that out myself. I don’t have a lot more answers now than I had on Monday. They have not been able to do a lot. Each one has worked kind of independently. Tate has done some drill work, some 11-on-11 stuff, Brock has sprinkled in some of that. The other guys have been able to run and do some things.
But we’re going to find out today what their availability is, to be honest. It’s tough because it bothers me that people have said out there that we sat these guys for the last game. That wasn’t the case at all. They couldn’t go.
I don’t know if they’re going to be able to go in this game. It’s just unfortunate to have those kind of injuries, especially four starters on offense.
Q. We’ve talked a lot about Carson Beck this year and kind of his maturation. I just wonder if there’s been any kind of moment where you felt like coming out of it that he had made sort of that breakthrough. Clearly at this point he’s an exceptional quarterback for you. I’m thinking like that 98-yard drive against Auburn on the road, moments like that, did you have that kind of moment with him?
KIRBY SMART: Certainly the Auburn experience was big for him in terms of confidence. It was his first true road test like to be in that environment, have a tough environment to play in, and he did a really nice job in that game.
But I can’t pinpoint one moment. I didn’t see it like you saw it. It’s like you have somebody that’s been in your family or been in your house for a long time, and you treat them as family, and he was family for a long time before he started to get these opportunities, and I had seen his ups and downs and his trials and tribulations and the things he had gone through on the field. He had already proven to me his talent level by the way he prepared last year.
So I wasn’t seeing things that I thought were like groundbreaking, they were things that I had seen before, and his maturation has been a game-by-game process, and he’s done a nice job of that.
Q. I know your focus has been on this game, but do you hope to have a hire to replace Fran Brown before the signing date, and do you know if Fran would stay with the team if you guys make the playoffs?
KIRBY SMART: You answered the question already. We’ve been really focused on Alabama. That’s all we’re really thinking about. Those decisions that you’re talking about, they’re not important. They have no relevance whatsoever to this game. Our focus and energy is on this game.
I really don’t have to decide that right now and don’t even look to. I don’t even know why it’s newsworthy because what’s newsworthy is he got a hell of an opportunity and he’s done a tremendous job for us, and we’re super happy for his family and for Syracuse to be getting someone of his character.
But we’re not worried about anything past Alabama.
Q. How do you think the importance of this game is going to be impacted in the 12-team playoff era, and do you have worries that SEC teams might be hurt by playing in this game?
KIRBY SMART: I don’t have a — well, I haven’t really thought about it that way in terms of how it would be hurt in the 12-team playoff. The only thing we have to indicate the future is what’s happened in the past. Before all this came about, Greg Sankey and the staff and the minds that lead our conference looked into that and did a lot of — y’all can do it, go back and look at the last 15 or 20 SEC Championship games and ask yourselves how many of those losers or those two teams would get into 12-team playoff. I don’t know what that is, but I would venture to say that most would, and I would also say with no east and west division play, you’re going to have a better chance of obviously getting the two top teams, therefore the two top teams would traditionally be in the top 12.
I think if you’ve looked at the history, there has been some teams in the west that didn’t go to this game that would have been in that top 12. I can’t say whether it hurts or helps. I certainly think there’s been years that might have been four teams get in out of 12. I don’t know whether the
game loses its importance. It’ll never lose its importance in a program that I’m coaching at because you’re trying to win a championship, and that becomes the focal point of a conference that’s going to be even more powerful winning a championship like that.
I don’t know, people try to demean the value and say that, oh, it’s only important that you win the playoff and you win the National Championship. There’s a lot of merit to winning an SEC conference championship, especially when you add the teams we’re going to add.
Q. In your career you’ve either been a part of or coached against plenty of Alabama teams, and it seems like for the first time in several years now, Alabama has not had the stability of starting a first-round NFL Draft pick all season long. Given that context, how would you evaluate Alabama’s offense this year and the kind of offense that you will be playing against on Saturday compared to the one that maybe people saw in the Texas game?
KIRBY SMART: I didn’t understand the first — you said they don’t have a first-round offensive what?
Q. Just saying that this is the first time in several years now that there hasn’t been a quarterback for the entire season that’s gone on to become an NFL first-round draft pick. Nothing against Jalen Milroe, but given the inconsistency at the starting position at the beginning of the year, that is the piece I was trying to highlight.
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, I’m not sure I still fully understand the question. How different is this team from the others? It’s very different, if that’s what you’re asking.
Q. Just the offense and the kind of coaching job it’s taken to get them to this point.
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, I think they’ve done an incredible job because what you do is you take your players and you do what your players can do best, and although it’s not the — they don’t have the exact same coordinator, either, they don’t have a lot of the same coaches they had three and four and five years ago maybe what Mac was there or when Bryce was there. They’ve taken their players and they’ve made their offense fit their players, and they do a really good job of that. I’ve had a lot of time to watch what they do and what they ask him to do, he’s really good at what he does. It features their offensive line, which is the biggest most physical offensive line in the country in terms of size and just sheer size and strength.
Then the quarterback is able to make plays. They know that. They allow him to make plays with his feet, and some of his best plays are on players that are off schedule. It’s very different than what they’ve had in the past, but he’s also grown and gotten better as the year goes on.
I think they’ve taken some things out and said, hey, that’s not what he does best, we’ve tried to make him do that, and they’ve made it where what he does best, they do, and they do that really well.
Q. What is the most important thing in this week, the mental stuff or the physical stuff, and could you say some words to all the Mexican fans who will be watching this SEC Championship game next Saturday? Gracias.
KIRBY SMART: The most important stuff will be the mental stuff. I think at this point, the physical part is what it is. You’re not going to get physically better at this point in the season. I think you can get mentally better, and you want your players to not be anxious, not be nervous, and they’re playing a big game. The talent separation is not there. There’s very equal talent when it comes down to it. Mentally you want to be prepared for a moment like this and go play your best and not have anxiety.
To all the fans in Mexico that will be watching the game, we certainly appreciate you guys watching us and look forward to seeing a great game and a great atmosphere with the game being in Atlanta.
KIRBY SMART: The staff that we’ve created, and there’s a lot of support staff that people enough see behind the scenes that make up that family, too.
Q. After watching Alabama for a couple days offensively, what do you make of their running back corps, how they mix them in with Jalen Milroe and specifically what Jase McClellan brings to the table.
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, they have really good backs. They rotate three guys in and out, and they all complement each other really well. They’re powerful. They play behind a really good offensive line.
Yards after contact is something that jumps off the screen at me. They don’t go down at the first tackle. They catch the ball well out of the backfield, all three of them pick people up really well in pass pro, and we watch that, and the first thing I look at on the back is what kind of protector is he on 3rd down, does he know who he has, can he block him, does he cut every time, does he stay up, what is their strengths, what is their weaknesses as pass pro and pass
receivers, and they have very complete backs, which you would fully expect at Alabama.
Q. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on why there are so many contenders this year, more than ever for the College Football Playoff. That’s the first part. The second part is because there are so many contenders, how concerned, if at all, are you that you have to win this game for the SEC to be in?
KIRBY SMART: I can’t explain why there’s more. I certainly haven’t even thought of why that is. I mean, I always look at things as everything happens for a reason, and you have the years you have. There’s been other years that there was close debates, maybe not as many as there are now. I certainly would think that the people with knowledge out there would say it has something to do with the portal, has something to do with the parity maybe that the portal creates.
But I don’t know that it’s that as much as it creates haves and have-nots. The biggest difference to me I see out there is quarterback play at the high level. A lot of these teams that are, as you called them, contenders, really good football teams, they have really good quarterbacks for the most part. I don’t know the exact number, but of these teams in the top 7 or 8, I can think of three or maybe four of them that have quarterbacks that came by way of an experience somewhere else and moved in and had success.
Quarterback play to me is one of the No. 1 indicators of how good you are, and the teams that have them have a shot in every game, so they have an opportunity to win games.
As far as your other question, I don’t really want to get into it. I want to focus on what we have to do to win this game.
Q. I was wondering what you’ve seen from Caleb Downs this season and if he looks like a freshman out there.
KIRBY SMART: No, he doesn’t look like a freshman at all. He looks like a guy that’s been playing for three years. He’s instinctive. He’s fast. He’s fearless. He’s everything that he was in high school. I’ve seen him play about 100 7-on-7 games at our stadium and at our facility when his high school team came over all the time, and he’s everything that we thought he was, punt returner, he’s just a football player that is instinctive, great tackler. Just what you draw up when you want a defensive back.
Q. I want to talk to you about Carson Beck’s development and what he was able to learn under Stetson Bennett and the ability to learn from Stetson for this upcoming season and this SEC Championship moment.
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, I think he would tell you that he learned a lot from all the quarterbacks that were here. People just keep forgetting that he was here with J.T. Daniels, so he sat in meetings with J.T. and Monk when they would go back and forth about what the read is, what we’re looking at, how we’re doing it. J.T. was a really bright quarterback, and Carson sat in those meetings, heard him, and then as J.T. moved on, he got to sit in and listen with Stetson and hear him talk and learn things.
He was really the entire time a sponge, and he was growing through all that. Like we knew sitting in meetings that he was a very bright quarterback. He was right there with J.T. and Stetson in terms of competition.
It’s clear that he was growing as he was experiencing all those reps and moments, and certainly glad that all those spring practices and fall camps he just got so many twos reps to help him get to where he is now.
Q. I did want to ask about the secondary for the Crimson Tide. I know you were asked about Caleb Downs, but Kool-Aid McKinstry, how well has he played this year do you think?
KIRBY SMART: He’s done a really good job. I think Kool-Aid was very talented. He played a lot in the game that we played three years ago, the game there in Indy, and he was young, talented then, really good player.
I think it’s typical Alabama to have a guy opposite him who has developed really well in Terrion and has grown and played really well, too. A lot of times the guy you forget about at a young age is the one that comes along and is hungry and keeps growing and getting better and aspires to be great as opposed to a guy that maybe was more ahead when he got there and more capable of playing.
They both have made for a really good tandem along with the safeties and stars, Malachi and Jalen, the portal kid they picked up, and they’ve got a lot of good players, and they’ve had to play a lot of them. They’ve had about six guys that have rotated around and played in the secondary this year, and it’s really impressive what they’ve been able to do with those guys.
Q. You’ve been a part of this game every year since 2014 in some capacity, whether it was at Alabama or Georgia. Have you had time to think about that, and what does it mean to you?
KIRBY SMART: Well, I don’t know if that’s exactly accurate. I don’t know that we’ve been a part of it every year. But we’ve been in a lot, that’s for sure. I don’t look at it — I look at it as only this year because only this year matters. The past years, great experiences, great teams, but my focus is on this game and this team.
Q. I know that centers don’t always get a whole lot of attention or love, but Sedrick Van Pran has been a guy in your program that looks like one of your pillars. Can you share some insight as to what he’s meant to the team and his growth coming in?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, he was a tremendous leader. We knew when he decided to come back it would impact our team in more ways than snaps and blocks. He would be a major figure in pushing guys to be excellent, to reach their goal. He’s one of the most driven, dynamic leaders I’ve ever been around. He just cares so much and is so selfless. His practice habits this week alone have been stuff of legend, and we’ll be showing videos of how much effort, how far he covers down, how important it is to him. He’s one of the guys that doesn’t look out for himself. He pushes everybody, and that’s hard to find, and he’s certainly a super high-quality leader.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll continue today’s press conference with Alabama’s head coach Nick Saban.
Coach Saban, we welcome you back to the SEC Championship game. If you could give us some opening remarks.
NICK SABAN: We’re glad to be here. First of all I’d like to congratulate Kirby and the Georgia team for going through an undefeated season and winning the East. They certainly had a fantastic season. They’ve proven to be one of the best football teams in the country.
This is certainly a challenge for us to be able to compete in the SEC Championship game against such a quality team. I’d like to thank the Southeastern Conference for making this one of the greatest venues in college football, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the people of Atlanta, all the people that do a lot of work to make this game a first-class event.
Our team is trying to focus on what they need to do to go play the kind of game that we’ll need to play to beat a very, very good team – probably the best team we played all year.
I think the challenge for us, as a player, you got to be ready to play and assume that the guy you’re playing against is the best player you played against all year. I think if you take that approach, channel your energy and enthusiasm into execution on the field, that will give you your best chance to be successful.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll begin with questions.
Q. Looked like Caleb Downs played a bit of star in this past game. How has he handled learning and playing multiple roles? How has that helped the defense out?
NICK SABAN: We started doing that in the Kentucky game, especially when they played bigger people. He’s handled it very, very well. Gives a little bigger body at star. A guy that can play the runs and stuff a little better. That was the thinking behind it. That’s why we did it.
It’s not been an issue at all for him and his learning curve.
Q. Jason McClellan, how has he progressed health-wise so far this week?
NICK SABAN: He’s not been able to do a lot. We’ll see how he does today, where he is. I would have to say he’s probably questionable for the game at this point.
I think it’s probably too early to tell.
Q. What do you want the committee to see about your team as they watch you on Saturday?
NICK SABAN: Look, we’re not really worried about the committee. I’m not concerned about any of those things. I mean, we’ve got a big challenge here in terms of trying to play the best football that we can play and prepare our team to play the best that they can play.
I want our team to focus on the game because that’s what we can control. We really can’t control anything externally, but we can try to control how we play. I think that’s the most important thing for us to be focused on right now.
Q. Jermaine Burton has been playing with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, it seems. How important was it in the last two weeks to get him involved in the offense?
NICK SABAN: Well, he’s been a big part of the offense all year long. He’s played well all year long. I think you say a guy gets involved, but it’s really reading the play based on the coverage. Sometimes one guys gets an opportunity to make a play, but sometimes it’s somebody else. When he’s had his opportunities, he’s certainly taken advantage of them. We’re happy to see that.
I think that he’s an outstanding player. We want him to go in and stay focused on what he needs to do to do his job well in this game. He’s been a great contributor to our offense, and he can make explosive plays. Hopefully we’ll get some opportunities for him to do that in this game.
Q. Hello from Mexico. The question is simple: what is the most important thing in this week, the mental stuff or the physical stuff for your players? Could you say some words to all the Mexican fans of Crimson Tide. Gracias, coach.
NICK SABAN: Well, we thank everybody who supports Crimson Tide in Mexico and anyplace else in the country or the world for that matter. We appreciate your support.
I think both things are really, really important. I think at this time of the year players get a little tired, they get a little banged up, they get a little hurt up. The psychological part of being able to grind through that and have the mental toughness to stay focused on the things you need to do to play well, create the right habits in practice, prepare for the game like you need to, is a challenge. But I think it’s very, very important.
I think it’s very important to take care of yourself physically, not only on the field, but getting the right kind of rest, eating right, hydrating correctly. All those things contribute to how you can sustain performance in a game.
Q. You were kind of on the front end of this portal transfer, NIL a few years ago. Spring meetings you told us this was the world we might be getting into. How challenging is it to manage the portal, NIL, recruiting and roster management while you’re preparing a championship game? Is this model sustainable?
NICK SABAN: I don’t know if it’s sustainable or not.
Look, I’ve always been in favor of the players having a better quality of life and sharing in some of the benefits. I think that if we could create competitive balance so it’s the same pretty much for everybody so that one school can’t choose to invest more than another and create a competitive imbalance. I think that’s the major concern that I have. I do think it’s a tough management.
We’ve been trying to focus on the game here. We’re going to look to manage all those things when this game is over. But it’s not easy. It’s not easy to do. There’s a lot of balls in the air. I’m sure players are thinking about a lot of things right now, too. Probably tough for them to manage.
Q. I wanted to ask what you said right after the Iron
Bowl, the dangers of winning a game like that. If you could further explain what you meant by that, maybe how the week of practice has gone as well.
NICK SABAN: Well, I think sometimes when you win and don’t play like you’d like to have played, players aren’t as interested in the why do we have to make these corrections, why is this so important. You have to have a certain maturity about you as a competitor to understand that there’s lessons to be learned when you win as well as when you lose.
When you lose, everybody’s really, like, humiliated and really wants to go focus on all the things they need to do to play better because they don’t feel good about themselves. Having the maturity to be able to manage and learn and build on the good things that you did as well as still be able to learn the lessons that go with some of the mistakes that you made, I think that’s the key to the drill.
I think our players have handled that pretty well this week.
Q. You’ve been very vocal this season about the support that the fans have given you, the positive energy they’ve give your players throughout the contest. What message do you have for your fans that will be attending the championship game on Saturday?
NICK SABAN: I don’t think it changes much. I mean, as many fans as we can get there, as much enthusiasm as they can create to try to help us sustain energy throughout the game is certainly much appreciated.
Also I think it’s beneficial to the players being able to stay focused and engaged on what they need to do in the game.
Q. I know we’ve all written the story about you and Kirby, the mentorship there. I want to give you a chance, could you share about some of your mentors that led you down this path to championships and greatness in college football?
NICK SABAN: Yeah, I don’t know about all the compliments, but I appreciate ’em.
I had some great mentors along the way. First of all, had a great college coach in Don James, who actually encouraged me and talked me into becoming a coach because it’s not something I really wanted to do.
He was very well-organized. He really sort of looked at developing players not only on the field but off the field in terms of developing character that would help them be more successful in life, which is something we’ve always tried to do.
Bill Belichick was a great mentor in terms of organization football, from every part of the organization. How you evaluate players, the kind of players you want on your team, the kind of team you want to have, the kind of system you want to use.
George Perles was a great mentor at Michigan State. First opportunity I had to be a coordinator, first person to give me responsibility. He had been very successful with the Pittsburgh Steelers, winning four Super Bowls there.
Those three guys probably had the biggest impact on me. But I’ve had and learned so much from so many people. I hate to leave anybody out because I’ve never really invented anything in this game. I always just learned from other really good coaches and good teachers.
Q. Where do you think your team has improved the most since Texas, in particular?
NICK SABAN: I think the team has improved dramatically in terms of transformation of confidence, playing together, good leadership.
But if you had to say where did we improve the most, I would say it’s probably offensively. The transformation of Jalen Milroe at quarterback, to be productive, has been huge in terms of elevating the confidence of the entire offensive team. The improvement in the offensive line has helped us be able to have a little better balance in the game. The receivers have all played better. If there is a specific area, I would say that would be.
I think the team as a whole has also improved because of their confidence, playing with more confidence.
Q. Off-the-wall question. I asked Lane Kiffin the week of the Ole Miss-Georgia game about some Kirby stories. He mentioned about a tug of war in Alabama in which he beat Kirby. Do you recall that?
NICK SABAN: I do not. But my money would have been on Kirby (laughter). If I was going to bet… I don’t remember it, but that would be my comment (smiling).
Q. I understand that you’re not worried about what the committee is doing right now. I think that you talked about this, about the narrative of the possibility that the SEC could get left out because if you win this game, that loss in Tuscaloosa to Texas did happen. I wanted to ask your reaction to that and your thoughts on the SEC’s place in the Playoff?
NICK SABAN: Well, I think I commented on it earlier. To reiterate it, I think that the SEC is one of the best conferences in the country. I think Georgia is one of the best teams in the country. I think they’re one of the best four teams in the country. I think if we beat them, we’d be one of the best four teams in the country.
With teams, there’s a transformation that goes through the season. How are you playing now. Where is your team now. How good are you now. I think all those things come into play.
I think it would be a disrespect to the SEC if there isn’t an SEC representation in the final four. I do believe that.
Q. What have you seen from Jihaad Campbell in this season, the way he stepped up when others have been injured?
NICK SABAN: Well, he makes a ton of plays. He’s very athletic. He can run. He’s fast. He’s a good football player. It’s a new position for him, so he’s made consistent improvement throughout the season, understanding what he needs to do at his position to execute his role in that particular call.
But his production and performance has been really, really, really good for us. We certainly needed him because we’ve had a lot of injuries at that position throughout the season.
Q. Deontae Lawson being the alpha dog on your defense, talk about what he means to your defense this season and his growth this year.
NICK SABAN: He’s played extremely well for us. He played well all year long. I think the one thing that he does, he is kind of the leader. He is very smart, very intelligent. He understands the game plan. He prepares well for the game. He knows exactly what he’s supposed to do and what everybody in the front seven is supposed to do.
I think when he’s out there, everybody’s more comfortable, everybody’s more confident because he’s a signal caller. He’s very confident in making the right calls and getting everybody playing together in the front seven, which is really important.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, that’s going to wrap you up for today. Thank you for your time. We look forward to welcoming you back to Atlanta tomorrow.
NICK SABAN: Thank you. Appreciate y’all.
GREG SANKEY: It’s good to be in Atlanta. It is the 30th SEC Football Championship Game to be played in the city of Atlanta, and as I speak to you this afternoon, we are hitting “send” on a press release announcing the extension of our agreement for the SEC Football Championship Game to be hosted here at Mercedes-Benz Stadium through at least 2031. That’s as an agreement we established in 2016 that was poised to conclude in 2026, and through the good work of our staff and our hosts here in Atlanta, we’re pleased to announce that extension.
There’s also an additional opportunity to extend through 2036.
As I alluded to, there’s a long history starting in 1994, the Southeastern Conference Championship Football Game being hosted here in Atlanta, first in the Georgia Dome and most recently in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and we look forward to Saturday’s match-up between University of Alabama and the University of Georgia football teams.
Some specific thank yous. It’s been an honor to come to know Arthur Blank, the owner and chairman of the Blank family of businesses, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United. We appreciate his commitment to college football and to the Southeastern Conference; my friend Rich McKay, the CEO of AMB Sports and Entertainment; Tim Zulawski, the president of AMB Sports and Entertainment; Frank Poe, who is the leader of the Georgia World Congress Center where we conduct our fan fair. We’ll have Gameday with us on Saturday morning along with SEC Nation, and Mayor Dickens from the city of Atlanta along with Jeremy Hammond from our staff.
In the midst of the a busy week of football, we had a great rally last night in Tallahassee by the University of Georgia’s basketball team. In addition to winning the last three games of the day on the men’s side of the ACC-SEC basketball challenge this year, you never want to tie, but we split those games with our ACC colleagues, 14 games played, the SEC won seven and the ACC won seven.
We’re looking forward to today when we have nine women’s games scheduled. We’re trailing right now, so looking for a rally among the SEC women’s basketball teams.
As I go back to football, we’re proud that over 60 percent of our football games this season were complete and total sellouts on our campuses. The level of fan participation that we’ve seen over the last decade has been encouraging. Many speak of dips and decreases, but since our last expansion we’ve seen continuing interest. That leads us into the conversations about next year when we move to a 16-team conference, welcoming our friends and colleagues from the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas.
Our championship game itself is the fourth time that Alabama and Georgia meet in this game. A lot of speculation, a lot of conversation happens with the CFP Selection Committee. No conference in the CFP era comes close to matching the success and achievement of the Southeastern Conference, each year and over time.
In fact, we have an enormous winning record. We have proven ourselves in this postseason format, and we’re confident that we will continue to be for the 10th straight time, the only conference to be represented in each of the college football playoffs by at least one of our teams.
For our young people involved in playing football, our student-athletes, this morning we announce that Brady Cook is the SEC football scholar athlete of the year. His accomplishments in the classroom and on the field and around the community are most worthy of this recognition, so our congratulations to Brady not only for his leadership of the Missouri football team this year but also for his impact as a scholar athlete of the year in the sport of football.
We have two football players named to the Allstate AFC Good Works team, Mekhi Wingo of LSU and Ladd McConkey of Georgia. Our congratulations to them.
As we move through Saturday’s championship game into bowl selection on Sunday, we’re always intentional to remind our fans that despite what you may see as speculation on social media and through various reporters, until the SEC announces its bowl lineup, those are not finalized. We move beyond the name of our bowl teams on Sunday to attend the induction, the National Football Foundation awards dinner in Las Vegas, five new members of the College Football Hall of Fame with SEC ties. Tim Tebow from the University of Florida, Jeremy Maclin from Missouri, Eric Barry from Tennessee, the former head coach at the University of Georgia, Mark Richt, and a dear friend of mine, the sixth commissioner of the Southeastern Conference who’s being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame based on his
accomplishments is head coach at the University of Central Michigan, Roy Kramer.
One of my delights in life is to come to know Roy first as a colleague when I was the Southeastern Conference Commissioner and looked up to him in his role in the SEC and now as a friend throughout the years of his retirement and my time over the last 20 plus years with the SEC. It is a joy to see, will be a joy to see Roy honored with this Hall-of-Fame entry.
On a non-football note, I do want to recognize Callie Dickinson, a member of Georgia’s swimming and diving team, who was one of nine finalists for NCAA Woman of the Year. That award will be announced in January at the NCAA convention.
There are any number of current issues happening around the SEC and college football. I’ll touch on just a few of those. We’ve had a working group throughout the season in conversation on the issue of helmet or coach-to-player communication, the form of which still remains to be determined. We have worked at wearables and helmet audio capabilities from different vendors. We’ll continue to engage in that research.
Looking at some of what’s happened this year has accelerated that conversation. We have updated our athletics directors on these initial efforts. We’ve actually had some opportunity for our staff to observe the functionality of these mechanisms within full stadiums, and we look to the opportunity to work more closely with the NCAA football rules committee to see what may be possible for the 2024 football season.
We have been preparing for the 2024 schedule. Some of that has leaked out through our broadcast partner. We will announce, though, formally the full accurate and complete
2024 football schedule. We’ve announced the match-ups. We will announce the dates. That will happen on December 13th in a special show on ESPN and the SEC Network.
We’re proud to present our schedule through these unique programming opportunities and look forward to that type of opportunity continuing perhaps with a higher level of confidentiality, though, in the future.
We have a lot of work to do for the 2025 season and beyond. That work has been ongoing since our growth, our announced expansion in 2021. We have used time wisely. We have worked closely most specifically with our athletics directors while keeping our presidents and chancellors up to date on the dialogue around the factors to be considered. Obviously the issue of eight or nine games being played within the Southeastern Conference schedule is front and center. We have an opportunity to think more deeply about the impact of the expanded College Football Playoff, to think more deeply as well about our non-conference scheduling. We’ve been assigned the task to the extent possible of creating more fairness and more balance through our conference schedule, most importantly the ability to rotate teams through our campuses on a more frequent basis while honoring important rivalry match-ups.
We also understand the impact not only on the CFP that I mentioned but considerations around teams seeking bowl eligibility and what the conference schedule may mean for those opportunities.
While here, we invite a few dozen student-athletes to participate in the SEC career tour. This is a tradition that has been on going since 2017 as part of our championship experience. We bring two student-athletes from each of our current 14 members. They have spent time learning about career opportunities at Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a public relations agency here in Atlanta, Jackson Spalding, with Learfield, with Trilith Studios and with Microsoft.
In the past we’ve involved the Atlanta Hawks, the Falcons, the Braves, Turner Broadcasting, Chick-Fil-a, Home Depot, UPS, and Delta Airlines in presenting our student-athletes to corporate opportunities and presenting corporations to our student-athletes who will be soon entering the job market.
It has been reported that I spent the early part of my week with three of my commissioner colleagues, Jim Phillips from the ACC, Brett Yormark from the Big 12, and Tony Petitti from the Big Ten in Washington, D.C., continuing the discussions for uniformity and the standards around college athletics as we have seen the patchwork of state laws introduced beginning in 2021 and changed in the years since that adoption.
Our student-athletes ask us to pursue consistency among the standards used to contact college athletics. Our student-athletes have told us they deserve better than this patchwork of state laws. Their future colleagues, prospective student-athletes, deserve better than to have to learn how to explore campus opportunities as a college student, while also trying to figure out myriad state laws that may vary based on the nature and number of opportunities presented to them in recruiting.
These are important opportunities. We fully respect the important issues on the agenda for Congress, both in the House and the Senate and those that face the White House and the White House administration, yet it’s still important for us to continue this dialogue with the desire to return some national standards to the conduct of college athletics.
With that, I’ll stop my opening remarks. We look forward to an exciting game and entertain any questions that you may have as members of the media.
Q. Hoping you can shed some light on an exciting issue. What does the 2024 SEC broadcast window look like, and will that 3:30 game be the No. 1 game of the week or are you going to move that to primetime?
GREG SANKEY: The broadcast window has become all day from an ABC standpoint. Now, obviously there are other conferences with those affiliations. We have our ESPN, our ESPN2, ESPN U and SEC Network commitments, but one of the opportunities that’s created with our new agreement is the ability to have more than only one game a day on broadcast TV.
I was just provided a note based on minutes consumed by the public. The SEC was the most viewed football conference this fall. That’s really important because of the limitations we currently experience on broadcast TV opportunities. So for the ABC affiliates, looking to 2024, knowing the interest that already exists in the Southeastern Conference with a relatively small number of television broadcast opportunities, and by that I literally mean over-the-air broadcast. Knowing that. We’ll expand; we’re going to have more access to households.
The day itself will look much like it does now, an early window, a midday window and a primetime window. We are accustomed through our CBS relationship that the best game of that particular day was often selected by CBS to go into that 3:30 window. There was that one
double-header this year, the LSU-Alabama game that was played in the evening.
We don’t have those same limits, so the best game of the day might be in primetime with great frequency. We will always have a 3:30 p.m. eastern time SEC game broadcast on ABC.
But a little bit more variability and a lot more access.
I’ll also note that our staff is already working on what that broadcast schedule might look like. That won’t be released until mid-summer, but remember, elements of that were on a week-to-week basis through the seasons over the last few decades.
When we arrive at media days, we expect to have right around half of our total season games identified for certain broadcast windows. Working with ESPN, ABC, the SEC Network, the opportunity to know the noon eastern time kickoffs throughout the season will allow our campuses and our fans to plan rather than having those six-day and 12-day experiences around that early kickoff.
We’ll have some flexibility between the midday and the primetime games and some scheduling which is a bit of an hour differential rather than just waiting and wondering about the entire broadcast day. So great question, and really excited about the opportunity with Disney, ABC, ESPN, the SEC Network, and even the ESPN+ digital platform in the future.
Q. I feel like you already hinted at it in your opening statement, but since it’s the hot topic, do you believe that the SEC should have a team in the playoff regardless of the outcomes on Saturday, and if so, do you think the committee will see it the same way that you do?
GREG SANKEY: I do. I think people would expect me to answer that I do.
The overall rigor of our schedule just starting with some simple facts, there are three teams currently ranked in the top 10 with three or more wins over top 25 teams as the rankings currently exist. Two of those teams are Georgia and Alabama.
Obviously Georgia has distinguished itself the last to years as the national champion, is undefeated to this point. We have a one-loss Alabama team that has continued to improve, has won some significant games, has won games by significant scores and has won some close games.
I think the rigor of this schedule reason the SEC has been recognized over time. Not a secret that we didn’t have the non-conference success across the board that we’ve become accustomed to, yet I think the level of football here is still the highest that could be played.
I’ll also point candidly to the realities when the SEC teams have entered the College Football Playoff format, our success is unparalleled. It’s envied by everyone else.
We’ve lost in the semifinal once to a non-conference team, to a non-conference team twice in the championship game. The only other losses we’ve experienced are to ourselves in the National Championship game.
The entire of our record is a basis for the assurance that we will have a team in the CFP for the 10th consecutive year.
Q. You touched on the SEC Championship, and I’m curious its role in the new 12-team playoff era. Is there any worry that it has less import, and for instance, teams that are seeded seventh or eighth may be better off by not playing in it rather than teams that have to play in it and teams that play in it and lose in it might risk falling out of the field?
GREG SANKEY: You think about this history of a conference championship game and the memories of Roy Kramer and what he felt when it was originally introduced, oh, the SEC will never have another contender for the SEC Championship. I’m sure, in fact, I’ve seen some of the transcripts and reports from some of those questions. It didn’t quite work out that way.
When the College Football Playoff was expanded and more was added, plenty of speculation.
I go to the framing of your question. Let’s look at the last two years. Last year we would have had a team after the regular season playing in this conference championship game for an opportunity to be in the playoff because of that conference championship opportunity.
You could have had that back — I have to remember early in my career, I think our ’15 and ’16 championship games the same way. This year you could have two teams playing for a bye. Conference champions still matter and are part of the expanded format.
I don’t use the word worry. We certainly think about it. We have had conversations about what it may mean. I’ve referenced the need to continue to think through the schedule in a big-picture sort of way. I don’t narrow it down to only conference championship game because I think what we’ve created first has been the envy of others so
now all have a conference championship game following our lead, it provides a rallying point for your season, certainly a level of excitement on Saturday that will be remarkable by comparison, and I think that can continue into the future knowing how much SEC Championships mean to each of our football programs.
Q. The SEC conference games are broadcast in Mexico and 17 countries in Latin America. What is your opinion about this upgrade in college football internationally, and in the future do you have in your mind some plans to do synergy with Mexico or Latin American camps, maybe an exhibition game if that’s possible? Thanks so much, and gracias, amigo.
GREG SANKEY: Thank you, and it was good to actually meet you after our interactions. The issue of international access to our games has been important. It was actually in my search documents back in 2014 and 2015, how do we continue to think about providing access to all of our coverage, not simply football games, throughout the globe.
For me personally, I was in the country of Oman one time talking about the Auburn-Oregon National Championship game with our bus driver, a young man, an Omani who had watched that game and was asking me questions about American football.
I’ve been in Killarney, Ireland, walking off a boat on a tour interacting with some of our fans who recognized me, and the same has happened in London. Those are special opportunities and reminders.
I have not had that opportunity in Latin America. I do know that our broadcast opportunities, to answer your first question, they are important, and one of the interesting aspects of my fall is this is the second international broadcast question I’ve been asked, the first out of the UK, on the college chaps podcast, and you’ve seen access increase in recent weeks in the UK. So that’s very important to us.
The complexities around relocating games from our campuses are real. We have had general conversations about that possibility. But for some, moving a game that might be attended, I don’t know, by 20,000 or 30,000 people is a bit easier than relocating a game from a stadium that has 100,000, 103,000, 105,000, 108,000 fans attending. The impact on our communities has been much more of our focus, providing access to those games through stadium upgrades I know is on the minds of our athletics directors, and for our purposes, back to your first question, continuing to provide international access so people can feel and experience our games remains a conversation point and a conversation.
Q. With such a deep field this year for the CFP, there’s been a lot of buzz and excitement about the 12-team playoff coming. I’m wondering if you can simply explain to fans why it’s not happening this year and could it have happened.
GREG SANKEY: Am I able to simply explain that? No. So that’s a simple answer. I think those who stopped and resisted for a long period of time and had difficulty in answering what’s the impediment and what do we need to address, and not really having clarity on that, those individuals are better at answering the question than I.
As you know, I was part of a working group to look at a range of options. You can probably quote better than I — I think we were over 60 different models contemplated. Settled on the 12 because it met a lot of the
considerations, priorities and asks.
I’m excited about the future. I think this year, as you say, is a really good indication of what it might mean and the opportunities beyond just four that will be present in the future. I was one who thought this move was appropriate, and the fact it didn’t happen more timely, that’s just life. We’ve got four. We’re excited about the four, and we look forward to the 12.
Q. Regarding the future of the SEC Championship game in Atlanta, we just wanted to know what the addition of Oklahoma and Texas joining the league, are there any plans to move the championship game to another location?
GREG SANKEY: There are not. The great thing about both Oklahoma and Texas and their leadership is they very much want to be a part of the Southeastern Conference, the history now, about to be 30-year history of our championship game, 28 of them here in Atlanta is one of which they’re fully aware. I think if they both or each or individually had an opportunity to participate in our championship game, there will be great excitement here from our new westward members and from any of our western members that might have access. We’re looking forward to the future here in Atlanta.
Q. Just wanted to get an idea of your thoughts on Bobby Petrino being announced as the new offensive coordinator in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
GREG SANKEY: You know, it was interesting, no one asked me my opinion last year when he was announced as the new offensive coordinator at Texas A&M, so he’s been back in the league. There’s history. But I consider that to be history.
I had the opportunity to work with Bobby when he was a head coach at the University of Arkansas. Obviously things changed. He’s been back for a year, by all accounts did well in his work at Texas A&M, and I look forward to saying hello to him next time I’m in Fayetteville.
Q. I’m wondering, depending on the success of Texas with the Big 12 Championship and possibly making it into a playoff, how does their success help the SEC going into next year?
GREG SANKEY: I had the opportunity in October to be a part of the OU-Texas or Texas-OU game. I try to walk the line finely on those rivalry games. I was blown away by that experience. The level of excitement around the game itself, but the interaction that existed between myself and just fans in attendance — I had to walk through the old Cotton Bowl stadium, narrow stairways, to catch up. Went to find Jay Hartzell from Texas. I had seen Joe Harris, the president at Oklahoma, walk through the fans, took pictures, heard the SEC chant from both groups.
I think that’s an indication of a base level excitement about our new relationship. The game that day between at that point two undefeated teams magnifies the natural excitement, and I experienced some of that last year in Austin when Alabama played at Texas and this year when Texas played at Alabama. I experienced that day in College Station when Oklahoma scored the eruption from the Texas A&M fans. I think that’s what makes our conference special. Both of them will fit into these rivalries. They’ll be in new places with new experiences. We’ll send our teams to Austin and Norman, many of them for the first time.
It is going to be an incredible season in ’24, and an incredible future for the Southeastern Conference as a 16-member league.
Q. Just wanted to get your thoughts on what the slogan “it just means more” means to you.
GREG SANKEY: You know, it began in a creative experience with TRG, our ad firm, as we were trying to create just some spots and a tag line that fit the Southeastern Conference. We’d never hit it right.
I walked in, and I said what we have doesn’t work, and I was asked, well, what do you think sets the Southeastern Conference apart, and I said, what we do just means more. They asked me to explain that. I actually started with our universities and their leadership role in our states over time, remembering the Southeastern Conference was created in the midst of the great depression, the economic, the educational impact, the social, the cultural impact, the sport’s impact, the rallying point that our universities represent in our region. It just struck me as having so much more depth and meaning where there might not have been major league baseball teams or NFL teams, it was a college athletics program, a college football team, a college basketball team, history you hear about college baseball and how our baseball has improved. People could touch, they could feel, they could be a part of. When you’re in those moments, the pregame last Saturday, it’s probably my fifth time to be at that game at Auburn, is unlike any other. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up. When I talked about walking into Kyle Field at the end of that game between OU and Texas, they announced the score, the roar, and you find the passion around Texas A&M and that rivalry. The first time I walked into an Alabama-Texas A&M game in a brand new Kyle Field as the SEC commissioner and just felt the passion that day. Being in Fayetteville, Arkansas, when they played Texas in 2021 by happenstance just weeks after our announcing our expansion to 16, that’s a special moment and defines it. I could go on and on, to be in the Swamp, to be in Jacksonville, the Ole Miss-Georgia game at night, Sandstorm. I’m proud of what Vandy is doing around their facilities, the sellout string at Kentucky. I was there when Missouri first captured the east division, and that crowd was palpable. I was there in ’13; that’s where I saw a kick six happen; a night game in Baton Rouge, the Egg Bowl that I was at Thursday night. You could just go on and on, and you transfer that to basketball. I think just speaking those names and those places and those stadiums and those experiences illustrates that tag line in a meaningful way. I’ll finish the answer with the interactions with people who have been part of that experience, some of whom are on this Hall of Fame list, others who are in the College Football Hall of Fame, texting Archie Manning earlier today to have Eli and Peyton here to relive memories, that’s a description of what means more to people.
MBB: UGA opens home stand with Mercer tonight
Game 8: Georgia (4-3) vs. Mercer (2-4)
Date: Friday, December 1
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Stegeman Coliseum (10,523)
Location: Athens, Ga.
Series History: UGA leads, 55-23
Last Meeting: UGA, 86-77 in 3OTs, on 12/27/14
Video: SEC Network + (Jeff Dantzler, play-by-play; Marcus Thornton, color analyst)
Radio: Georgia Bulldog Network – SiriusXM 161 or 190 (Scott Howard, play-by-play; Chuck Dowdle, color analyst; Adam Gillespie, producer)
The Starting Five
• Georgia opens a six-game December homestand by hosting Mercer on Friday night at Stegeman Coliseum. The Bulldogs are 3-0 at Stegeman this season and a combined 16-4 at the arena in Mike White’s two seasons in Athens.
• The Bulldogs are coming off an improbable 68-66 win at Florida State in the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge. Georgia rallied from 17 points down, 61-44, with 6:37 remaining and outscored the Seminoles 24-5 the rest of the way, winning on Justin Hill’s jumper with 1.5 seconds on the clock.
• Georgia is scheduled to play 13 of 31 (41.9 percent) of its regular-season games against teams featured in the most recent edition of ESPN.com’s bracketology. In addition, Oregon is the “first team out,” and the Bulldogs defeated Eastern Kentucky, a projected NCAA team, in a preseason exhibition.
• Georgia is the nation’s only Power conference team to: 1) open its season with back-to-back games versus Power conference programs (Oregon and Wake Forest); and 2) face four Power conference foes in its first five outings (UO, WFU, Miami and Providence).
• Georgia’s freshman and transfer recruiting classes both were ranked as high as No. 11. The Bulldogs were only one of three teams to have both of those groups ranked top-20 nationally by On3.com.
The Opening Tip
Georgia opens a six-game December homestand by hosting Mercer on Friday night at Stegeman Coliseum.
The Bulldogs will welcome Georgia Tech to Athens next Tuesday before an 11-day break from competition during Final Exams. Georgia will then play three outings at Stegeman between Dec. 16-22 before an eight-day holiday hiatus. The Bulldogs will wrap up non-conference play by facing Alabama A&M on Dec. 30.
Georgia is 4-3 and coming off a miraculous rally from 17 points down with 6:37 remaining to defeat Florida State, 68-66, on Wednesday. The Bulldogs’ victory also supplied the SEC with a 7-7 split in the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge.
Two of Georgia’s three setbacks are to teams currently included in ESPN’s bracketology…and the third is to its “first team out.” The Bulldogs are the only Power conference team in the nation to: 1) start the season with back-to-back outings against other Power conference foes; and 2) face Power conference competition in four of the first five games of the year.
Noah Thomasson paces the Bulldogs offensively at 13.4 ppg. Jabri Abdur-Rahim also is averaging double digits for Georgia at 13.1 ppg, largely due to connecting on team-best percentages of .415 (17-of-41) from 3-point range and .892 (33-of-37) at the line.
Scouting The Bears
Mercer arrives in Athens with a 2-4 record following a six-point setback to Western Michigan last Saturday at the Emerald Coast Classic in Destin, Fla.
Jalyn McCreary, an all-tournament selection at the Emerald Coast Classic, and Robby Carmody both are scoring at a double-digit pace for the Bears, averaging 13.5 and 12.2 points, respectively. Former Bulldog Amanze Ngumezi leads Mercer on the boards at 4.7 rpg.
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- Video/Transcript: Kirby Smart, Nick Saban and Greg Sankey SEC Championship ThursdayPressers
- MBB: UGA opens home stand with Mercer tonight
- Carson Beck named one of 10 finalists for the Manning Award
- Jump To Today’s Discussion Thread
Carson Beck named one of 10 finalists for the Manning Award
Bulldog junior quarterback Carson Beck has been named one of 10 finalists for the Manning Award, according to an announcement from the award and the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Beck, a native of Jacksonville, Fla., has been named to the award’s Stars of the Week list twice. The Manning Award will name its 20th winner after the postseason in January 2024.
Stetson Bennett won the 2022 Manning Award while leading Georgia to its second straight national championship. The Bulldogs have been no strangers as Manning Award finalists since its inception in 2004. Jake Fromm (2018-19), Aaron Murray (2012-13), Matthew Stafford (2008), D.J. Shockley (2005) and David Greene (2004) were also all finalists at least once in their careers.
In his first year starting, Beck has directed a Bulldog offense that is scoring 39.6 points/game and is on pace to set school records in both Average Yards Per Game (496.4) and Average Yards Per Play (7.25). He is 4-0 versus top-20 competitors with a 74.6 Completion Percentage for 1,247 yards, 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
Beck was a Maxwell Award and Davey O’Brien Award semifinalist and was twice named to the Davey O’Brien Great 8 this season. He was also the Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Week following his performance in the win against No. 20 Kentucky.
- Jump To Top of Page
- Video/Transcript: Kirby Smart, Nick Saban and Greg Sankey SEC Championship ThursdayPressers
- MBB: UGA opens home stand with Mercer tonight
- Carson Beck named one of 10 finalists for the Manning Award
- Jump To Today’s Discussion Thread
Jump To Today’s Discussion Thread