The Latest: Kirby says return of Chubb, Michel big boost
HOOVER, Ala. (AP) The Latest on SEC media days (all times local):
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has developed a reputation as a quarterback whisperer during his coaching career.
The veteran coach has helped produce several star QBs as an assistant and a head coach, including Alex Smith (Utah), Tim Tebow (Florida) and Dak Prescott (Mississippi State).
Now he has another budding standout in junior Nick Fitzgerald. The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder returns after throwing for 2,423 yards and 21 touchdowns and running for 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns.
At SEC media days on Tuesday, Mullen discussed the traits he looks for in a young quarterback during recruiting.
The coach said, ''You really want to look for guys who have the traits that are hard to coach. If they have a skill set: the leadership, the mental and physical toughness, intelligence in processing information, decision making. Those are sometimes things that are harder to coach.''
Derek Mason believes Vanderbilt is on the rise and wants people to come see for themselves.
Mason was his own best promoter Tuesday at Southeastern Conference media days, several times inviting reporters to come see for themselves.
The coach says, ''We feel like we're in the midst of a renaissance.''
The Commodores made a bowl game for the first time in Mason's three-year tenure and closed the regular season with wins over Mississippi and Tennessee, while earlier upsetting Georgia on the road. Now, they return nine offensive starters, including quarterback Kyle Shurmur and tailback Ralph Webb.
Mason says they've built something ''we know is special. He says he's not trying to convince anybody to get behind it, but that the movement's already started.
The coach says Vanderbilt is moving in the right direction, and if anyone wants to see great football, want to have an opportunity to see a great team doing great things, they should ''come check us out.''
Georgia is the rare team that returns a pair of talented, experienced running backs.
Senior running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel combined for nearly 2,000 yards for the Bulldogs in 2016. Chubb, who was returning from a serious knee injury, ran for 1,130 yards and eight touchdowns. Michel added 840 yards and four touchdowns.
Kirby Smart was the first coach at the podium at SEC media days on Tuesday and said Chubb's decision to return to school instead of leaving for the NFL was a big boost for the team.
The coach said Chubb's ''decision weighed a little bit on the other guys who were deciding. He made it OK to do.'' Smart said the running back ''showed a confidence not only in our coaching staff, but in our total program, that he knows he's going to have an opportunity to get better and grow.''
Georgia had an 8-5 record last season, including a 4-4 mark in the SEC.
The Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division will take center stage on Tuesday at the league's annual media gathering.
Florida, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State are the four teams making the trek to SEC media days. The Gators are led by coach Jim McElwain, who has pushed the program to two Eastern Division titles in his first two seasons.
Florida appears to have a decent shot to make it three straight. The Gators return nine offensive starters, including Jordan Scarlett, who ran for 907 yards and six touchdowns last season.
Georgia enters its second season under coach Kirby Smart. The Bulldogs had an 8-5 record last year and hope to be better this fall thanks to 18 returning starters, including 10 on the defensive side. Georgia also has two stellar running backs in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Chubb ran for 1,130 yards and eight touchdowns last season while Michel added 840 yards and four touchdowns.
Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason has some momentum after leading the program to the Independence Bowl in 2016. The Commodores won back-to-back games over Ole Miss and Tennessee to close the regular season and become bowl eligible.
Mississippi State is the only team from the Western Division in Hoover on Tuesday. Coach Dan Mullen enters his ninth season with the program and has led the Bulldogs to seven consecutive bowl games.
More AP college football: http://collegefootball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25.