New start for Manziel, SEC underdogs

HOOVER, Ala. -- Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel did not stroll into SEC media days on Wednesday morning with a blonde on each arm and a highball in hand. He arrived on time -- the alarm worked! -- crammed 14 interviews into two hours and 40 minutes and came off like an intelligent, passionate, thoughtful third-year college student.

So much for his public persona.

"I think today is a real opportunity and a growth opportunity for him," Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said, "because of the number of media with tough questions he's had to answer."

The quarterback too quick to get blown up last season acted more like one of his blockers Wednesday. Manziel took the questions head-on, delivering his answers with shoulders square and head high. He should have. He brought them on himself.

Manziel apologized for oversleeping and missing his assignment at the Manning Passing Academy. He wished he hadn't tweeted that he couldn't wait to get out of College Station. Pretty much a bad hair day. Same as when he tweeted that people should walk a mile in his shoes.

"My life is different," Manziel said. "It's difficult at some point. People don't see it. People see it when they're around me more and more. But I am very blessed, very fortunate to be in the position I am. I understand people would line up out the door to be where I'm at today. I don't take that for granted. I just made a frustrated, just kind of a stupid decision."

That was a reference to the A&M tweet, not the walk tweet or him screwing up last weekend. Manziel sounded thrilled that the Mannings asked him to return next summer. That's good news for all of us. If Manziel goes back, that means he will return to college football in 2014.

"At the end of the day," he said, the "day" being the last six months, "I was just trying to have fun. A lot of doors opened for me. I was just living my life. We worked so hard during the season. You get to have a little fun during the summer, during the spring. I don't think I overdid it. I made mistakes, obviously. I've acknowledged those, and I've learned from them."

Time to turn the page. A new season is upon us. Excitement and hope are the themes of every preseason media day. The Tennessee players won the fashion show. We are delighted to report that linebacker Jacques Smith's blazer, an orange not found in nature, did not come with matching slacks. "I wouldn't let him do that," Vols senior right tackle Ja'Wuan James said.

The black tie with thin orange stripes made Smith's blazer stand out. The Vols would prefer to be known for their football, but when you've had five consecutive mediocre seasons (best, 7-6; worst, 5-7), your only splendor is sartorial. Butch Jones, the new Tennessee coach, has infused the program with a fiery enthusiasm, which he put on display Wednesday.

"We already have the first five practices scripted," Jones said. "I think I've gone over them 130 times."

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen maintained his enthusiasm even though he has been stripped of his fair-haired-boy status in his home state by Hugh Freeze of Ole Miss.

"When I first said we wanted to go compete for championships," Mullen said, referring to his arrival in Starkville in 2009, "everybody laughed. Now I say we're going to go compete for a championship and they say, 'Yeah, you better.' "

Auburn is proclaiming a new day after last season's 3-9 disaster. Head coach Gus Malzahn has reinstalled the spread offense that the Tigers ran before 2012. Running back Jay Prosch, who transferred in from Illinois, is the rare veteran -- in his first year at Auburn -- who had no familiarity with the offense.

"I was kind of nervous about it," Prosch said. "Phillip Lutzenkirchen (the tight end who graduated last season) reassured me. He said, 'You'll be perfect for this offense.' He was right. This is awesome."

When a returning starter from a 3-9 team says his offense is "awesome," you know Auburn is getting a fresh start. So is Arkansas, where Bret Bielema has gone in the opposite direction and brought in an old-school power game.

And so, after an offseason unlike any other, is Manziel.