HOOVER, Ala. — Batting leadoff at the podium on Day 2 of SEC Media Days was first-year Georgia coach Kirby Smart.

It may have been Smart’s first time in Hoover at the top of the coaching totem pole, but the longtime Nick Saban assistant was polished and professional answering questions. Quite an impressive debut for a rookie.

Smart was followed by Dan Mullen, one of the veteran voices at The Wynfrey Hotel. Considering the scrutiny his program has been under for the Jeffery Simmons situation, his desire to make the freshman “part of our family” came off as a bit tone-deaf. He was more interested in talking about the Yeezy Boosts on his feet.

Tennessee coach Butch Jones received a quick round of applause for giving his mother a shout-out on the SEC Network broadcast — it happened to be her birthday. Sumlin was at his best when talking Xs-and-Os.

Here are some additional observations I made when flipping through my notebook at the end of a long day.

Eason? To be determined

Only three quarterbacks made the trip to Hoover, so there is a lot of uncertainty under center in the SEC.

Smart is weighing his own decision at the game’s most important position. Does he ultimately start high-floor senior Greyson Lambert or high-ceiling freshman Jacob Eason? Dawg Nation can only wait.

One reporter asked how much Eason being the “fan favorite” will be weighed. His answer was quick: “Zero.”

RELATED: Kirby Smart not necessarily trying to turn Georgia into another Alabama

“The options we’re going to weigh are going to be what gives us the best chance to win,” Smart continued. “Notice I didn’t say exactly what you said, where we’re going to play the best player. We’re going to play the best player that gives us the best opportunity to win football games. And I don’t know who that is. If I knew, I promise you, I would tell you. I would give you the information.”

In addition to UGA, five SEC programs are yet to name an opening-week starter at this point.

“I know a lot of coaches in the SEC are going through this,” Smart said. “I’ve sat through a lot of meetings the last few years at University of Alabama making that same decision. I think a lot of that is how he, that person, affects the rest of the offense. Does he make every player on the offense better? That’s hard to measure.”

Mullen’s day: from bad to worse

The Simmons ordeal at Mississippi State apparently just wasn’t awkward enough. Now it’s even more awkward.

First, Simmons was allowed to enroll in Starkville despite damning video evidence surfacing of him beating a woman. Now, the most updated Bulldogs roster suggests that Simmons will wear No. 36 in maroon and white.

That number had been respectfully “retired” for Nick Bell, who died of cancer in 2010 at 20 years of age.

Jul 12, 2016; Hoover, AL, USA; Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen speaks to the media during SEC media day at Hyatt Regency Birmingham-The Wynfrey Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

“That’s not finalized yet,” Mullen said, clearly trying to get some toothpaste back in the tube. “I think they posted the numbers with some discussions we’re going to have. That’s something we’re going to continue to look at. It was an idea that was brought up.”

RELATED: Fair or not, Dan Mullen is ultimately responsible for Jeffery Simmons

An alumnus with “Hail State” tattooed across his forehead would have a hard time defending that decision.

“The best way you can honor numbers is by having people wear them,” said Mullen, who went on to make a bizarre comparison to wearing No. 44 at Syracuse, “but understand and respect what it takes to wear that number and what you’re representing in wearing that number.”

great expectations

The announcement will be official Thursday, but Tennessee is going to be the media’s pick to win the East.

A case can be made that the other six programs are rebuilding to some degree. Georgia, Missouri and South Carolina have new coaches. Florida overachieved in 2015. Kentucky and Vanderbilt? Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

With 17 returning starters and a clear uptick in talent recently, the Volunteers are ready to go on a run.

RELATED: Butch Jones confident ‘due diligence’ will be done prior to Battle at Bristol

“I think it’s a compliment to everyone in our program of how far we’ve come,” Jones said. “It’s not where you start. It’s where you finish. But I think it is a compliment in how we’ve grown and developed this football program.”

Nevertheless, believe it or not, experts are known to get it wrong periodically. Jones understands that.

“I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” he said, “because I heard yesterday that, in all of the years of the Southeastern Conference, that the team that they picked to be the champion, we’ve only been right five times. So we have to control what we can control, and that’s working to be a better football team and football program every day.”

johnny effin’ football

Sumlin was only asked about one of his former players. But of course, it was the mercurial Johnny Manziel.

Now more likely to be covered by TMZ Sports than NFL Network, Manziel’s life has spun out of control since leaving College Station. His own father has openly wished recently for his son to go to jail for a while.

Most of Sumlin’s responses were lengthy and colorful. However, when asked about Manziel, that all changed.

“I exchanged text messages with Johnny Manziel over the last two weeks,” Sumlin said. “That’s the extent of it. Look, here’s the bottom line. He’s an Aggie, and he’s always going to be an Aggie. At Texas A&M, we take care of each other.”

While most of Manziel’s problems have come after moving on to the pros, there were warning signs at A&M.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of things that could have been done in a lot of different situations,” Sumlin said. “Some of the things that, I think everything gets lumped into one piece with him.”

pick six

  • ESPN college football analyst Joey Galloway was looking sharp behind the desk in his jacket and tie, but the camera made sure not to pan down too far. The Ohio State alumnus was wearing workout shorts and running shoes.
  • In my opinion, the writers in the main media room took it easy on Mullen with regard to the Simmons situation. But in the radio/internet room, reporters didn’t let him off the hook so easily. A colleague told me that it definitely got uncomfortable in there once or twice.
  • Texas A&M still isn’t sure what it will get from transfer quarterback Trevor Knight on the field. However, they have nothing to worry about when it comes to him handling the media. Among players, he has been the most impressive talker in Hoover thus far.
  • Georgia center Brandon Kublanow didn’t take the bait when asked about Eason. The veteran snapper made sure to praise “all three guys” — meaning Lambert and Brice Ramsey, too — and the way they performed during spring practice.
  • While the Florida players were running their mouths Monday ahead of their much-anticipated showdown with the Volunteers, the Tennessee trio (Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Reeves-Mabin and Cameron Sutton) kept any sense of smack talk to themselves.
  • Right in the middle of a perfect take for my standup video featured above, the one and only Stingray started rabidly rattling his cowbell and completely broke my concentration. Apparently, my videographer has a screen grab of me shooting him a death stare.

John Crist is the senior writer for Saturday Down South. You can send him an e-mail directly at jcrist@saturdaydownsouth.com or follow him on Twitter @SaturdayJC.