HOOVER, Ala. -- Shoes stole the show in Hoover.
Yes, two pairs of unique, often-tweeted-about shoes from different sides of the fashion field were more interesting than most of what went on inside the Hyatt Regency Birmingham for the nearly weeklong spectacle that is SEC media days.
Even with new commissioner Greg Sankey calmly stating he wants the SEC to win every championship this season, the usual SEC hubris wasn't as unabashed.
An event so anticipated it requires national recognition and televising, SEC media days had a weird feeling this year. There wasn't a hefty amount of star power (was Nick Chubb too busy dragging tires over glass?), and top dog Nick Saban was characterized as more of a whiner by a throng of media members for his, uh, remarks about the NFL draft process somehow interfering with his team's preparation for the College Football Playoff semifinal game against Ohio State -- a game the Crimson Tide lost.
Although Auburn was picked by the media to win the SEC, it isn't a tremendously dominant-looking team as of now. Georgia could be the most complete team in the SEC, but the East favorite (166 first-place votes compared with second-place Tennessee's 36) got very, very little love when it came to winning the conference.
And Alabama felt as if it was just ... there.
There isn't a true, overwhelming favorite, and tons of questions linger for the supposed best conference in college football. There are nine quarterback battles resuming in a few weeks; there've been 14 coordinator position changes; and other conferences are getting stronger by the season.
After winning seven straight national championships, the SEC hasn't won it all in two years, and Ohio State (the reigning champ) and TCU have a wide lead at the top of college football.
I'm not saying the SEC is fading -- far from it -- but that dominant, hulking persona the league perfected over the better part of the past decade didn't resonate as much in Hoover this year. It felt as if we were discussing sleepers more than champions, unproven positions more than stability.
Maybe it's because Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott just doesn't scream "superstar" like Johnny Manziel and Tim Tebow did. Maybe it's because the best, most talented player in the house was Vernon Hargreaves III, who is an outstanding player, but his cornerback status doesn't scream excitement like an offensive superstar does.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier was great as usual, but even his optimism for his team seemed a little forced.
And Saban's NFL draft rant was a little perplexing. Although I agree that the NFL draft declaration date should certainly be moved back, calling it a major deterrent for bowl prep is a stretch.
Players requesting draft feedback from the NFL must declare by Dec. 15, and Saban said his guys got their grades back around Christmas, which was just days before Alabama's Jan. 1 bout with Ohio State in New Orleans.
"I just felt like, in our experience last year, our team chemistry from the SEC championship game to the playoff game was affected by something," Saban said. "I think that to have a Dec. 15 deadline from when a junior can submit for a draft grade and then you get that assessment back sometime right before or right after Christmas, and then you have a playoff game coming up on Jan. 1 or 2, and I think it's my obligation as a coach to inform that young man when I get that information because it's his information, it's not my information, to make him aware of that.
"And we're talking about a young person who has to deal with a lot now. We had six guys in this situation this past year and 11 the year before. So we're trying to get ready for a game, and all of a sudden, a guy finds out he's a first-round draft pick or a guy that thought he was a first-round draft pick finds out he's not a first-round draft pick, and we're trying to get ready to play a playoff game."
Was Saban really making these kinds of excuses for a loss? Alabama's defense was ripped apart by Cardale Jones (second career start/243 yards) and Ezekiel Elliott (230 yards and two touchdowns). That's why Alabama lost to the overwhelming underdog Buckeyes.
Alabama shouldn't have to make those excuses.
The draft certainly can be a distraction, but it was the same distraction when Saban won national titles with the Crimson Tide and LSU. And if it's becoming a weakening distraction for the Tide, maybe that's an internal issue, which might be more troubling.
The SEC could begin the season with at least eight ranked teams -- deep-fried muscles and all -- but every single one has issues. Quarterbacks have to be found, and defenses must be rebuilt. Up-tempo spread offenses must coexist with million-dollar defensive coordinators who would rather slow things down.
No team in the country is perfect, but the SEC doesn't have the favorite this year, and that's strange.
Almost as strange as hip-hop-themed shoes headlining the SEC.