HOOVER, Ala. — James Franklin was a nothing man.
A year ago, the Vanderbilt coach might as well have been invisible as he walked down the famed "Radio Row" at Southeastern Conference Media Days.
"Not one person said one thing to me," Franklin recalled to a packed media room at The Wynfrey Hotel for the annual event.
It didn't help that Franklin walked in with Alabama Coach and resident rock star Nick Saban.
"People were throwing babies to him to autograph and everything else," Franklin said.
Oh, what a difference six wins make. On Tuesday, the Vanderbilt coach was a hit on Radio Row.
"There's a buzz about Vanderbilt football right now that there hasn't been for a long time," he said. "Our fan base and the community is really excited about where we're going, what we're doing."
There most likely aren't any members of the media that have any football eligibility left, but you wouldn't know it by the sales pitch Franklin tossed out about the Commodores, who went to a bowl game last year and have brought in back-to-back top-30 recruiting classes.
"The sky's the limit with us," Franklin said. "I truly believe that."
Vanderbilt will find out immediately just how far it's come in the SEC when it opens the season against one of the East's beasts, South Carolina.
What Franklin has done at Vandy in one season has impressed even an old ball coach like Gamecocks Coach Steve Spurrier.
"He's got his guys believing at Vandy," Spurrier told the media earlier in the day. "They believe they can beat everybody they play. They almost did it last year ... Play with a lot of fire and energy, just like Coach Franklin has.
"They're going to be competitive. We know that. We know we have to play well if we're going to have a chance to beat them in Nashville that Thursday night."
Quarterback Jordan Rodgers definitely sounded convinced.
"We're not going to be a one-year wonder," said Rodgers, one of nine returning starters on offense and eight on defense.
Franklin spent a lot of last season trying to change the culture of Vanderbilt football, he said.
"We still have a long way to go," he said. "But we're taking steps in the right direction."
Penn State lessons?
In his state of the conference address to the football media on Tuesday at The Wynfrey Hotel, Commissioner Mike Slive never said the name Joe Paterno or whispered Penn State, but it was clear that he thought there were valuable lessons to be learned from what has transpired in Happy Valley.
"There must be an effective system of checks and balances within the administrative structure to protect all who come in contact with it, especially those who cannot protect themselves," he said.
"No one program, no one person, no matter how popular, no matter how successful, can be allowed to derail the soul of an institution."
Veteran coach Spurrier, who has spent 20 years coaching in the SEC, was asked about the situation at Penn State, which he called a "terrible mess." He struggled to find the right things to say, especially about Paterno and his role in the child sex scandal involving assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
"The only thing I would say about Coach Paterno, when he coached college football, he did everything right," Spurrier said. "As a college football coach, he was a guy, I mean, he did things right. His teams played fair, fundamentally sound. He was always revered for doing the right things.
"I don't want to get into the other side of a terrible, terrible situation. But as a college football coach, I remember him that way also."
'Project X' unveiled
At the conference meetings this spring, Slive was asked several times about a super secret Project X.
Mum was the word on it in Destin, Fla., and pretty much here in Hoover, too, but it's becoming clear that it's a part of the SEC pursuing its own television network, similar to what the Big 10 has.
"There has been a whole lot of speculation about Project X.," Slive told the media. "Is it still a secret? I don't think so. We now call it Project SEC."
He refused to go into much detail, but did give some hints.
"Our objective long– term is to work with our television partner to provide fans with greater access to favored teams, more opportunities to watch rivals, and more insight into who we are: a conference of 14 great universities," he said. "I'd love to say more. I know you want me to say more. I won't say more."
By the numbers
There were a record number of credentialed media at the annual football event, with the SEC reporting 1,115.
Slive reported that there are 160 current or former SEC athletes competing in this year's Summer Olympics in London.
The commissioner also noted that 10 years ago when he started there were zero minority head football coaches in the SEC. "Today, we have three minority head football coaches, eight minority head basketball coaches and five minority women's basketball coaches, all bucking a national trend," he continued. "I am very grateful that the hiring of minority coaches in the Southeastern Conference is no longer a story; it is simply part of who we are."
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com, ukwomen.bloginky.com