HOOVER, Ala. - Missouri coach Barry Odom was surprised at the buzz he was feeling around Southeastern Conference media days on Wednesday morning as he made the rounds among reporters.
Then, the second-year coach realized what was happening: “Nick (Saban) was before me.”
The contingent from the Crimson Tide, who are widely expected to win a fourth straight SEC title, made the short trip from Tuscaloosa and was greeted by a large group of fans in the hotel lobby. Coach Saban was the rock star of the road show, explaining how he hoped his program would improve after losing to Clemson in last year's national championship game.
“When you lose the mind-set is much more, I'm willing to change,” Saban said. “I want to learn. I don't want to waste a failure. What could we have done better?”
Alabama certainly hasn't had much failure lately as it relates to SEC competition - Saban and company have won 17 straight games in SEC play. The Tide must replace four first-round NFL draft picks, but returns stars like quarterback Jalen Hurts, receiver Calvin Ridley, tailbacks Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough and defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Alabama has a major challenge in its opener, facing ACC heavyweight Florida State.
“There's a lot of really good football teams in college football,” Saban said. “And we have a lot of guys on our team that have tremendous challenges to be able to replace some of the good players that we lost.”
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin took the podium as one of the league's coaches on the hot seat. The Aggies have started fast the past three seasons before slumping to an 8-5 record each time.
Aggies athletic director Scott Woodward has already said that Sumlin “knows he has to win.” Sumlin said on Wednedsay that “nobody puts more pressure on me than me.”
The sixth-year coach expressed optimism despite having to replace talented players like No. 1 overall NFL draft pick defensive end Myles Garrett and quarterback Trevor Knight.
Missouri and Kentucky are both hoping to improve this season after ups and downs in 2016.
The Tigers finished with a 4-8 record last season, including a 2-6 mark in the SEC. Odom was blunt when describing his team's struggles, saying the setback “hurts your soul.”
But there's reason to believe Missouri could be better this season. The Tigers played well down the stretch in 2016 - beating Vanderbilt and Arkansas - and return 10 starters on offense, including junior quarterback Drew Lock.
Kentucky's Mark Stoops is returning for a fifth season after leading the Wildcats to a 7-6 record last season, including a 4-4 mark in the SEC. The Wildcats hope to build off their bowl appearance in 2016, returning eight players on offense and nine on defense.
Kentucky's four wins in SEC play last season were the most for the program since 2006, but Stoops said that's no guarantee for future success.
“I know this about the league, the league's not backing up, Stoops said. ”Nobody we're playing is backing up. We're certainly not backing up. We're worried about us getting better to put us in a position to contend each and every week."