HOOVER — SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw gave his annual SEC Media Days talk Wednesday, and his main target was rule changes on targeting.
The foul hasn’t changed, he said. It’s still about a defenseless player being hit above the shoulders or with the crown of the helmet. The list of defenseless has expanded, however.
A punter or kicker is now defenseless the whole down, not just during their kicking motion. Also, a quarterback who throws an interception is defenseless once possession has changed hands and stays defenseless throughout the down.
“Doesn’t mean he can’t be hit,” Shaw said. “He can be blocked — he just can’t be hit above the shoulders.”
Also, targeting penalties now mimic the fighting rule. If the foul happens in the first half of a game, the player is ejected for the rest of that game. If the foul occurs in the second half, then the player is ejected for the rest of that game then the first half of the next.
Also, every targeting foul will be reviewed, and review could return a player to the game, if no contact above the shoulders is determined. The foul will stand.
“This rule change is probably the most significant rule change in my tenure ever,” saw Shaw, who has worked in officiating for 24 years, three as the SEC’s coordinator.
Myriad rule changes
Rules change on a two-year cycle. This is the first year of a new cycle, and there are several changes.
Among the most noticeable in a game will be the redefinition of blocking below the waist. In the open field, it has to be done from the front, and officials will use a clock-hands model, gauging from 10 and 2 o’clock.
There will be a 10-second runoff for injuries in the last minute of each half, if the injury is the only reason to stop the clock.
Also, there must be at least three seconds left in the game to spike the ball and run another play. If two seconds or fewer remain, there’s time only for a play.
Skirmishes that result in off-setting conduct fouls will count as a conduct foul on each player involved. This adds to the already existing rule that results in ejection for player who gets two conduct fouls in a game.
Also, a charged time out can prevent a player from missing a play for his helmet coming off.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze are entering their second seasons as coaches in the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division. Much like Freeze did Tuesday, Sumlin did his best to temper sky-high expectations people have for the Aggies in 2013.
“The excitement level is really, really high,” Sumlin said. “What we have had to do with our football team is separate ourselves from our fans — not from a closeness standpoint, but from a reality standpoint.”
Sumlin has no problem with students and alumni dreaming big in front of the Aggies this season. Sumlin is more worried about making sure his team doesn’t rest on its laurels after an 11-2 season in 2012, which included handing national champion Alabama its only loss and routing former Big 12 rival Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.
“As a team, we have to set the reset button,” he said. “We signed 31 new players, 31 guys over the last year that are going to come in. Many of them are going to have to help us this season as true freshmen. That’s quite a large number when you have 85 guys on scholarship.”
Good to be Kingsbury
One of the biggest pieces of the Aggies’ success last season was offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury’s play calling. However, when his alma mater, Texas Tech, came calling at the end of last year, Kingsbury couldn’t turn down the opportunity.
Sumlin said of all the accomplishments in his coaching career, having his assistants — which includes West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen and Nevada head coach Brian Polian — move on and take over programs is something he takes great pride in.
“I think we’ve developed a culture and a mind set and really helped guys become head coaches,” he said.
There was no doubt in Sumlin’s mind that Kingsbury will do great things in Lubbock, Texas.
“He’s a very, very talented individual,” Sumlin said. “He’s a guy that understands the game of football, understands the politics of the position.”
That awkward moment
New Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops made his opening comments Wednesday, lauding the huge turnout for the Wildcats’ spring game and the general level excitement around the program. Then came the big-brother question.
Stoops was asked about Bob Stoops’ recent stoopings about the SEC. The Oklahoma coach said the SEC benefits from “propaganda.”
“That’s got to be my first question?” Mark Stoops asked.
He went on to say, essentially, that’s just how the game is played.
“I certainly understand Bob defending his conference,” Mark Stoops said. “I just left the ACC (Florida State), and I think everybody’s going to defend what they’re doing in their conference.
“That said, I don’t think any of us need to defend what’s going on here in the SEC.”
Stoops’ first game at Kentucky, the season-opener again Western Kentucky, is getting more hype in the Bluegrass State than it normally would because Western beat UK a year ago.
Stoops won’t shy away from how important the game is to UK’s program this year. After all of the offseason excitement about his hiring, he doesn’t want a buzz kill that puts UK fans back into the malaise of last season.
“We have an awful lot on the line,” Stoops said. “We can’t take anything for granted at Kentucky right now. We can’t just show up and beat anybody.”
Mullen’s blown save
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen was asked about the Bulldogs’ failure to finish strong after a 7-0 start to 2012 and whether that impacted their offseason approach.
“I think it does,” he said. “It changes the sense of urgency for some of the guys.”
State was 7-0 headed into its 38-7 loss at Alabama, and the Bulldogs would end up losing five of their final six games, only beating Arkansas. They also lost 38-13 to Texas A&M, 37-17 to LSU, 41-24 to rival Ole Miss and 34-20 to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl.
“We were 7-0 at one point in the season, playing in some pretty important football games later in the season,” he said. “That’s the first time for guys in our program that they’ve been playing in those level of games that late in the season. I do think, possibly, the first loss possibly affected some other games afterwards.”
‘The other school’
Mississippi State enjoyed rival Ole Miss’ struggling years under Ed Orgeron and the final two years under Houston Nutt, but Freeze led the Rebels to victory in his first Egg Bowl, breaking State’s three-game win streak in the series. Then Freeze delivered a highly touted recruiting class, giving the perception of a momentum swing in Mississippi. Mullen never saw such a twist that he couldn’t convert into a veiled swipe against Ole Miss.
“When I got hired, the other school in our state, they’d gone to the Cotton Bowl, won the Cotton Bowl,” Mullen said. “We came up from a team that wasn’t doing very well and won a couple in a row.
“Now, we’ve been going to the New Year’s Day bowl games the last couple years. They come up and are starting to create some stir.”
“I think certainly when you go around the state of Mississippi, it will make Thanksgiving night this fall a pretty important day throughout the whole state,” Mullen said. “Not that it hasn’t been before, but I think it is going to draw a lot more attention to it nationally, how important and big that rivalry is for everybody in our state.”
Brick by brick
New Tennessee head coach Butch Jones knows the program he inherited isn’t close to where he wants it to be. After three seasons at Cincinnati, Jones takes over a program in shambles after Derek Dooley’s tenure. But Jones has been in this situation before and he plans to use those experiences.
“Well, the circumstances are different,” Jones said. “The situations are different. But I think the process and how you develop your football team doesn’t change. Not only for myself but our entire staff, this is the third time of taking over a football program. So I think we’ve really aided and benefited that. I think that’s why the transition has been extremely seamless.”
Not a laughing matter
New Arkansas coach Bret Bielema isn’t a fan of the hurry-up offense and let that be known Wednesday.
Bielema’s raised his voice a few octaves when discussing how the up-tempo style of play causes injuries for defensive players. While Bielema doesn’t support the fast-paced style of play, he understands Arkansas is a state in which the spread and no-huddle is run often in high schools.
“Yeah, we wanted to play a little bit of normal American football,” Bielema said. “We wanted to line up with a tight end and a couple of wideouts, a tailback and a fullback, see what we can do.”
—Compiled by Joe Medley, Marq Burnett and Ryan Black