HOOVER, Ala. - Kevin Sumlin took the podium on Tuesday afternoon and spoke for about five minutes, previewing his team, never mentioning you-know-who, the quarterback last year.
Then the Texas A&M head coach opened it up for questions, and here was the first one: What's it like not coaching Johnny Manziel, and do you miss him?
"Lemme get this straight: the question was, What's it like NOT coaching Johnny Manziel?" Sumlin said, then chuckled.
Sumlin went into a long answer, pointing out that they recruited the Texas Gatorade player of the year, but acknowledging that they will have another player quite like Manziel.
Then Sumlin added: "Your first question to me is irrelevant. The second question is: What do we do now? I think we've laid down the groundwork in recruiting to still be successful.
Two questions later, Sumlin was asked again about Manziel, this time whether he'd spoken to him in the offseason, and discussed his off-field behavior.
Sumlin smiled widely.
"Is this the SEC media days?" he said, to laughter. "No, that's a great question about the Cleveland Browns. Anybody else got something?"
Sumlin was on top of his game on Tuesday, shooting back at reporters, but not in a patronizing way. He acted like he and the media were all in on the same inside joke.
There was this back-and-forth:
Media member: Steve Spurrier was in earlier and he complimented you on your coaching record and skills, then he really complimented you on your salary negotiating skills. What thoughts do you have about matching up against him in the opening game?
Sumlin: The question didn't have anything to do with your comment. Just had to get that out there, didn't you, right? See you guys stirring the pot, trying to bring me in. It's year three, you're not going to get me on that.
He was smiling, and the media was laughing along. Sumlin then pointed out that Sumlin and Spurrier have vacationed together, taking a golf trip to Ireland, and Sumlin greatly respects Spurrier.
Some of Spurrier's confidence (some would say arrogance) may have also rubbed off on Sumlin. This was his answer when he was asked whether he was surprised he had quickly established himself as the top recruiter in the state of Texas?
"If I was surprised, I wouldn't have taken the job. How is that?"
Again, Sumlin was smiling. When you bring a light touch to your arrogance, it's endearing. In that regard, Sumlin comes off as a more polished version of Spurrier.
The Aggies, incidentally, have not anointed Manziel's successor. Sumlin tried to stop the quarterback questions before they came.
"I didn't come here today to tell you who the quarterback was going to be, so we can eliminate those questions," he said. "That will play itself out. I think we're looking at a couple weeks before we play South Carolina that we'll name a starter."
Sumlin also made a crack about the fact that he selected his punter as one of three players to bring here for media days.
"I hope y'all don't see him a bunch this year," Sumlin cracked.
Mississippi State embraces expectations
Dan Mullen is now entering his sixth season at Mississippi State, which is a mild upset considering the number of times he's been linked to other jobs. (Like Georgia before Mark Richt survived his hot seat season in 2011.) Mississippi State has had four straight winning seasons, but has yet to equal the nine-win season of 2010, which at the time made Mullen one of the hottest names in college coaching.
This year sets up to be another chance to make noise. The Bulldogs return eight starters on offense and nine on defense, and finished last season on a three-game winning streak. No one's picking Mississippi State to challenge Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M or LSU for the West Division title. But then again, who knows.
"We've talked to (the players) about it: Embrace all those expectations," Mullen said. "Our expectations are to find a way to get to Atlanta. That's what we can control and compete for that SEC championship this year."
A player to watch is quarterback Dak Prescott, who had 17 rushing touchdowns last year, even more than Nick Marshall. The task for Prescott this year is to improve his passing, though his numbers were decent last year (1,940 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, seven interceptions) decent missing several games with an injury.
"He's a much better passer this year coming into this year than he was last year, working on the skill of throwing the ball and being comfortable in the pocket," Mullen said.
Mullen expects an early signing period
At SEC spring meetings, support for an early signing period was lukewarm at best. But Mullen thinks it's coming anyway.
"There's going to be an early signing point here in the near future," he said.
The SEC's proposal was that it be the Monday after Thanksgiving, and that those who sign could not have taken any official visits yet.
"It's for guys that have been on campus 10 times, have been committed to you for a long period of time, they can sign," Mullen said. "Get some of the silly parts that go in recruiting out of the way so they can focus on their academics, not constantly being pulled out of class."
Mullen talks World Cup (seriously)
Here's something you probably don't know: Mullen's mother is British, and hales up in north Wales. So Mullen grew up on soccer, and sometimes wakes up early on Sunday mornings to watch the English Premeir League.
So on Tuesday a media member asked Mullen's thoughts on Liverpool, the English Premier League team. Mullen didn't miss a beat with his answer.
"Liverpool traded Suarez to Barcelona," he said, referring to the now infamous biter from Uraguay. "A lot of offensive power gone from Liverpool."
Mullen went on to say he sees parallels between the passion of European soccer and SEC football.
"The passion our fans have is equal," Mullen said. "I'm sure I'll have a lot of European nations very upset, teams throughout the world upset. That is one of the things that makes the (SEC) so much fun, is the passion that our fan bases have for football is similar to watching the passion these European soccer teams have, and followings have, which is a pretty neat deal."