Mike Strange: Players, coaches say 'bring it on' to SEC expansion talk

Mike Strange

From visiting with Tennessee football players Sunday, SEC expansion is clearly not at the top of their priority list.

"This is the first time I've heard that,'' said receiver Justin Hunter, when I pitched the Texas A&M issue his way.

The first time? Really? He must be hanging out with his quarterback.

"I try to stay off ESPN,'' Tyler Bray said. "I try to watch comedies and keep out of sports when I'm not on the field.''

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Well, Bray might be on the field with Texas A&M before his Tennessee career is done. Just because the SEC presidents tabled expansion in a Sunday conference doesn't necessarily mean it's not still coming.

Sunday's statement by the SEC just means it's not coming right now at a gallop. The Aggies are the logical pick to become the league's 13th member when more ducks are in a row. One of the ducks is identifying the potential 14th member.

I received several suggestions to pass on to Mike Slive.

"Georgia Tech,'' said tackle Ju'Wuan James of Suwanee, Ga. "It'd be another chance to beat a Georgia team.''

Tailback Rajion Neal, a fellow Georgian, takes a less provincial view.

"Florida State and Miami,'' he said. "That's two schools when I was younger I actually thought they were in the SEC. They're big, fast teams with a lot of talent.''

Da'Rick Rogers, playing SEC commissioner for a day, extended an invitation to Virginia Tech.

"They play a physical game,'' reasoned Commissioner Rogers. "Then also, we lost to them in our bowl game two years ago. Why not get a rematch on 'em?''

Rogers would, in fact, welcome Texas A&M with open arms. So would most of his teammates. The general theme was if it's Texas and it's football it must be good.

"We play the same teams pretty much every year,'' said safety Brent Brewer, "so the more teams we could play the better. Texas A&M is a great fit.''

The coaching staff is wondering how great a fit the Aggies are in the realm of recruiting.

It's not as if the Vols and other SEC teams don't already recruit in Texas. But in Tennessee's case, the results have been limited.

With Denarius Moore gone off to the NFL, there isn't a single Texan on the 2011 roster.

There is a Texan committed for 2012, but linebacker Dalton Santos illustrates the potential dilemma.

In choosing the Vols over Texas A&M, Santos said he didn't "like the vibe'' in the Big 12 and would rather play in the SEC.

"We'll have to change our sales pitch a little,'' said Terry Joseph, UT assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. "One of our big sells when we go into that state is 'Hey, come play in the what we feel is the best conference in football.' ''

All in all, Tennessee coaches see planting the SEC flag in Texas as a good thing.

"If we go into A&M and play a home game,'' said Joseph, "that makes recruiting Dallas a lot easier. Now they'll know what our brand is.

"Sometimes I get on the plane and I have on the 'T' and a lady will say, 'Texas?' and I'm like, no.''

UT assistant Eric Russell has coached at two Texas schools. His wife, Shannon, is an Aggie. He'll take his chances.

"The good thing is A&M and Texas can't take them all,'' Russell said. "I think the SEC is very appealing to a lot of the kids in that state.''

So why not share the blessing of playing in the league that has won five consecutive national titles?

"We're kind of packed right now,'' said linebacker Greg King of the SEC, "but it's just bigger games, better games, more attention.

"I say bring it on.''

They probably will, eventually.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 3

Volunatic writes:

The Vol coaches better keep in touch with Dalton Santos as this A&M league-switch goes through the works.
Dalton can be a major key to future Vol FB success.

VOLliven2it writes:

Yeah Mike Strange I hear you dude but just like the playoff situation talk the only ones who matter are the U Presidents and they have their own ideas. No matter what coaches, players or even the ones who support their programs say, they have the final vote up or down.

givehim6 writes:

I personally am glad to keep the 12 teams the SEC has got now. Nothing wrong with expansion as long as the conference stays balenced and the new teams stay competitive ( no use adding a Walter State type school just to keep the balance ). I went to Walter State it is a fine school for a JC, just , makeing an example.

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