HOOVER, Ala. — Nine years after Missouri and Texas A&M made the move to the SEC, reports have emerged that two more Big 12 teams have contacted the league about joining.

At his SEC Media Days debut, MU coach Eliah Drinkwitz took the opportunity to take a jab at one of the Big 12 teams reportedly seeking entry.

“Hard-hitting questions coming out of yesterday,” he said early in his opening statement. “I think one of them was whether or not the horns down is going to be 15-yard penalty in the SEC in the future. So I asked Commissioner (Greg) Sankey in the hallway, and he gave me a strong rebuttal by saying, ‘no comment.’”

Drinkwitz was referring to the “horns down” hand gesture made by turning Texas’ “Hook ‘em horns” gesture toward the floor. It’s a move that can earn Big 12 opponents an on-field taunting penalty.

That could become an issue in the SEC should Texas and Oklahoma follow Missouri and A&M into the league. Multiple reports Wednesday suggested the Longhorns and Sooners are looking to do just that.

Texas and Oklahoma declined comment, but possible expansion has been a popular topic at Media Days.

In the question and answer portion of his Thursday session, Drinkwitz took the opportunity to praise the league, and appeared to be receptive to the idea of expanding it.

“I’ve been trying to tell people everybody wants to play in the SEC, man,” Drinkwitz said. “If you can attract a couple of really good schools to come play, that’s great.”

Coaches talk Battle Line rivalry

The Battle Line game has struggled to achieve the ferocity and notoriety of some of the SEC’s more intense rivalries.

And though it still has distance to go to shirk its tame reputation, an enthralling contest in 2020 finally gave the game some of the teeth it had been missing.

Drinkwitz and Arkansas’ Sam Pittman spoke Thursday, the fourth and final day of SEC Media Days, about what the game meant to them and their respective schools.

“I kind of like the rivalry we’ve got with Arkansas,” Drinkwitz said, when asked whether Oklahoma’s potential joining in the SEC would give MU a conference rival. “I don’t remember the last time they beat us, so I kind of like that one.

“Just because y’all don’t think it’s a rivalry doesn’t mean it isn’t a rivalry. I know it means a whole heck of a lot to my household, and it means a heck of a lot to Barrett Banister’s household, and we like keeping that trophy at the end of the game, so I think we’ll go along with the one the commissioner set for us.”

And Pittman agreed.

“It might be a little bit more of a rivalry for the people that are getting their butt kicked,” Pittman said, addressing Arkansas’ winless streak against the Tigers that now dates back five years. “I don’t know. You’d have to ask Eli. But we’ve been getting ours done, and I love the fact that Missouri is close to us. Eli and I are good friends, but at the same time, we’re very competitive as well. I’m glad we look at Arkansas-Missouri as our No. 1 rival.”

Arkansas’ Pittman leaning on Odom entering season

Pittman often goes on walks with his defensive coordinator. He and former Missouri coach Barry Odom discuss the team, and Pittman sometimes finds himself learning different ways to be a better head coach, despite being 15 years Odom’s senior.

“Believe it or not, he and I walk quite a bit,” Pittman said. “Now, he looks like he does and I look like I’m on his back, but I’m really walking.”

It’s been more than 18 months since Missouri fired Odom, closing the book on his four years as coach and another four as an assistant. He was hired by Arkansas 17 days after beating the Razorbacks in his final game with the Tigers.

The Razorbacks’ defense improved under Odom, allowing fewer points per game than 2019 while playing a schedule of entirely SEC teams. They also nearly doubled their interceptions, from six to 11 in two fewer games.

“Just a lot of confidence,” Pittman said of what Odom brought to the defense. “Our players believe in him. Whatever comes out of his mouth, that’s what he’s going to do. That’s what he’s planning on doing as well.”

Odom now has two of his former Missouri players with him in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Defensive linemen Markell Utsey and Tre Williams both transferred to Arkansas over the offseason. Arkansas All-SEC linebacker Grant Mason praised both Thursday.

“(Utsey) is real strong,” Mason said. “He’s physical. The way we’ve seen him, he’s really fluid in his hips. How he gets around the edge, he turns — they do a back drill where they flip their hips, and the way he flips his hips, it looks like he’s not 300 pounds. That’s really good to see that.”

Nix not worried about outside noise

A tumultuous two seasons at Auburn has Bo Nix experienced beyond his years. The junior quarterback has thrown for 4,957 yards and 28 touchdowns while starting every game since 2019. He’s also thrown 13 interceptions for a team that occasionally plays below the standard of a historic power and a roster littered with former high-profile recruits.

Auburn had an uneven season in 2020, going 6-5 and falling flat in a 35-19 loss to Northwestern in the Citrus Bowl. Nix found himself taking a lot of criticism from a fanbase that expects success. He doesn’t let it get to him, falling back on his faith and understanding that there’s more to life — at least his — than football.

“As a freshman, when you’re young, you’re 19 years old, you have 40-year-old men talking bad about you, it’s a different perspective,” he said. “And it’s one that you have to look back and realize that the world is bigger than football and so much is going to happen outside of it. Tomorrow the sun will come up.”

It also hasn’t shaken his resolve. He’ll try to move above .500 against rival Alabama next year, as Auburn took a zany 2019 matchup before the Tide cruised to a 42-13 victory last year. Former UAB defensive lineman Tony Fair transferred to AU earlier this week and tweeted his desire to “take the head off the elephant,” referring to Alabama’s mascot.

Nix was pleased with his new teammate’s confidence.

“I hope he’s coming to take the head off the elephant,” he said. “I hope he’s not coming to get the head taken off the Tiger. So that’s really important. I think that actually I like the quote. I think it’s important because we’re not scared of Alabama. I know that a lot of people want us to be scared, but we’re really not.”

Harsin seeks to change players’ mentality at Auburn

Speaking at his first SEC Media Days, Bryan Harsin offered thorough insight into what his time as coach of Auburn will look like.

An incredibly thorough insight; in the allotted 30-minute session in front of the national media, he delivered an opening statement and answered just three questions.

In those answers, he laid bare the foundations upon which he will run his team.

“I wanted to witness what this team was about,” Harsin said. “I wanted to see why guys show up late. I wanted to see why guys didn’t finish. I wanted to see those things for myself with my own eyes and make my own determinations.”

And his answer for the problems that he witnessed?

“Toughness,” Harsin said. “If you’re going to do that consistently, and in this game, you’d better be tough physically and mentally. You’d better be able to perform at your very best when the circumstances are against you. I don’t want you to survive. I want you to thrive in situations where things get really difficult and tough for you.”

  • Sports reporter, fall 2020. Studying print and digital sports journalism. Reach me at wdm79h@umsystem.edu or in the newsroom at 882-5700

  • Assistant sports editor for Spring 2021. Reach me at mcandrewcalum@gmail.com, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

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