While Brent Schaeffer is still in Visalia, Calif., finishing up classes at the College of the Sequoias, he was the talk of the day.
Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron said he expected Schaeffer to be ready to report Aug. 3.
Schaeffer had initially left the junior college, electing instead to attempt to finish his coursework through correspondence courses. But after some discussion with the coaching staff, decided to go back to Visalia.
"We decided it was best for Brent to go back to the College of the Sequoias because there was an ending date," Orgeron said. "When you take correspondence courses, there's an open-ended date. Some of the courses were taking too long to complete.
"I didn't know if he could complete them by the time camp started."
Schaeffer started three games as a freshman at Tennessee in 2004, including the season opener, before losing his starting job. He was the first true freshman to start an opener for an SEC school in 59 years.
Schaeffer's former coach and teammates also faced questions about the quarterback.
"He's a great quarterback and a great learner," said Tennessee offensive lineman Arron Sears. "You could see a couple years ago when he came into the University of Tennessee he was a starter."
Glad To See Them Gone
Arkansas linebacker Sam Olajubutu can take a little comfort in knowing that he won't be seeing the same high-powered offense in the season opener against the University of Southern California.
Quarterbacks Matt Leinart is gone, as well as USC's star running back tandem of Reggie Bush and LenDale White. Those three future NFL draft picks helped the Trojans score 70 points in a lopsided win over Arkansas in a game that coach Houston Nutt referred to as "humiliating."
"I don't think I have played against a team that had offensive weapons like that," Olajubutu said. "And I don't think I ever will play a team that had offensive weapons like that with Reggie Bush, LenDale White and Matt Leinart and (wide receivers Dwayne) Jarrett and (Steve) Smith and those guys."
Arkansas' players are using that loss as motivation, and it will help that USC will enter the Sept. 2 rematch in Fayetteville with concerns at quarterback.
"This year we're not too much worried about them as much," Olajubutu said. "We're worried about ourselves. We just want to go out there and make sure that we're all right, go out and make sure we do our thing and play hard."
Changes Could Alter Clock Management
There were not too many major rule changes in college football this year, but there were two in particular that could affect the way coaches manage the clock in the fourth quarter.
In years past, the game clock started when the ball was kicked on a kickoff — not when it was touched. But there has been a slight change to the rule.
Previously, that rule applied at all times except for during the last two minutes of each half. But there will no longer be that two-minute window, meaning that the clock will run during every kickoff regardless of the time.
"That's a change that will affect the timing of the game," said Rogers Redding, the SEC's new coordinator of officials. "It's going to change, impact how the coaches manage their clock."
Coaches must also adjust to another rule change in which the game clock will start after a punt, when an official gives the signal for the play to start.
In the past, the clock didn't start until the ball was snapped. But now the clock will begin as soon as the offense comes on the field following a punt and the official whistles the ball ready to play.
"I think the rule helps the underdog a little bit as far as shortening the number of plays each team could have," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "... You may see more no-huddle offenses coming out."
Willis' Heart, Foot Recovering
Patrick Willis was a no-brainer pick to represent Ole Miss' defense at the event.
But after the senior linebacker's 17-year-old brother, Detris, drowned July 17, the second-team Associated Press All-American could be excused for not showing.
Yet there Willis was Thursday, answering questions — mostly about his brother's death.
"I know that my brother would have wanted me to continue," Willis said. "That's one of the things we always talked about — no matter what the circumstances are, just pray and continue to work."
Willis learned of his brother's drowning after working out with teammates.
"He handled it about as well as you could expect," Oregeron said. "Patrick is unusually tough and mature.
"Patrick has an unusual inner fire to himself. I do believe he's a young man that's mature enough to turn a negative situation into a positive situation."
Despite playing through a slew of injuries to his finger, knee, foot and shoulder last season, Willis led the nation in solo tackles.
He did not participate in spring practices because of a foot injury but Willis said he was ready to go when preseason practices begin.
"I'm ready to go full-tilt," he said.
Cutcliffe Making A Difference
Along with new Arkansas offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, the other biggest new (old) face in the SEC is Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe.
After missing last season to deal with health problems after a brief tenure at Notre Dame, the former Ole Miss head coach returned to the place where he had so much success as an assistant from 1982-98.
Sears said Cutcliffe's effect on quarterback Erik Ainge, who struggled much last season as a sophomore after turning in a stellar freshman year, was almost immediate.
"He's brought Erik a lot of confidence in the plays that he called (during spring)," Sears said. "He looks like he's got a lot more confidence. He's speaking out more.
"He's calling on the receivers, the running backs, the offensive line — if you mess up there, he's going to let you know about it."
Sears expected Ainge to have a season more similar to his freshman year — when he threw for 1,452 yards and 17 touchdowns — than his sophomore year where he threw for just 737 and 5.
"His talent hasn't dropped off at all," Sears said. "His confidence is getting back where it needs to be.
"I can't wait to see him when we report on (Aug.) 3."
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