John Franklin (above) joined the Auburn team in January as a transfer from junior college.
Is John Franklin Ready?
He is not Auburn’s starting quarterback and he may not be the guy this season at all, but there’s no question that John Franklin will get plenty of attention on Monday when Auburn coach Gus Malzahn takes the podium for SEC Football Media Days.
With neither Jeremy Johnson nor Sean White taking hold of the reins at the position in the spring, it left the door open for Franklin to make his move in preseason practices. There is no question he has got the athleticism to make plays on the ground with his speed and gaining muscle in a big way since arriving in January. Now up to 192 pounds, Franklin has put in the work to be the guy.
If he can show improvement throwing the football he will be hard to keep off the field in some capacity for Auburn, and that could be early when he makes his Auburn debut. Facing a Clemson team in the opener that can score points in bunches, Auburn won’t be able to ease into the season and that means putting all their cards on the table.
Malzahn may not tip his hand as to what he is going to do with the quarterbacks and he may not know yet, but with Franklin’s work in the offseason it will be a huge surprise if he’s not used in some way and very early.
Will Alabama Find A Way Again?
Even with quarterback questions each of the last two seasons, Alabama has ridden a strong running game to SEC titles and one national championship. Those same questions again surround the Crimson Tide with the quarterback situation very much up in the air as it prepares to open fall camp.
Also without running back Derrick Henry and several talented defensive players, Alabama will attempt to reload and it starts with one of the top wide receiver corps in the country. If the Tide can find a quarterback to get them the football it could be a big-play offense in Tuscaloosa this season, but in the end the team has got to be able to run the football. That's a big question with Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris the top two candidates to be the featured back. While both are talented, neither are Henry and with a rebuilt offensive line things could look different on offense this season for Alabama.
Things shouldn't look much different on defense with size and talent galore, but replacing Reggie Ragland is easier said than done. While guys like Reuben Foster and Rashaan Evans have the talent, the leadership Ragland provided and his knowledge of the game is something that can't be overlooked.
Can LSU Handle The Pressure?
Having lost at least three games in four straight seasons, LSU enters 2016 with a bullseye firmly on its back with Les Miles’ team favored in every game heading into the year. There is no question the Tigers have the talent to get the job done at just about every position, but until quarterback Brandon Harris shows he is capable of being consistent the jury is still out on just how good LSU will be.
Brandon Harris the returning starter at quarterback for LSU.
The Tigers shouldn’t have problems in the opener against Wisconsin in a road game being played at Green Bay, but could be challenged on Sept. 24 with the trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn has traditionally played well at home against the Bengal Tigers and with trips still to come at Florida, Arkansas and Texas A&M as well as home games against Ole Miss and Alabama, LSU’s run for a title could be on the line early against an Auburn squad that should have plenty of incentive to play well against them.
Big Orange Back?
As far as the questions in the league are concerned, one of the biggest is can Tennessee take the next step and get back into the top tier in the SEC? Everything sets up for the Vols to be the team to beat in the East with an explosive offensive attack returning and a talented front four on defense. A tough four-week stretch will tell the tale for Butch Jones’ club as the Vols take on Florida at home, travel to Georgia and Texas A&M, and return home to face Alabama. If they can get out of that stretch at 3-1 then Tennessee might not just contend for the division title, but may make a run at bigger things.
Rebel Without A Cause?
A team that many are expecting big things out of this season is Ole Miss, but much like Auburn, SEC fans willl have a good idea of what the Rebels’ chances are before the second half of the schedule begins. Ole Miss faces Florida State in Orlando to open the season and has Alabama, Georgia and Memphis all at home in weeks 3-5. More than one loss for the Rebels during that stretch could be bad news with trips to Arkansas and LSU in back-to-back weeks in October before Auburn travels to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Another trip to Texas A&M looms as well for a team that could be on pins and needles with NCAA problems looming. That could spell disaster if there are early struggles.
Can Kirby Cut It?
There’s a huge difference between being part of a successful program and running one yourself. That is what Kirby Smart will find out this season as he steps into a head coaching role for the first time, taking over the Georgia Bulldogs. Fortunately for him, Smart is taking over a program that isn’t short on talent and has what should be a physical running game to build around, but potentially starting a freshman quarterback and questions on defense are things he wlll have to work around this season.
Perhaps the biggest question for Smart is how does he handle the continued problems surrounding the program. With Jonathan Ledbetter’s arrest over the weekend that makes seven in less that four months for the program, something Smart has to deal with for the first time. At Alabama he didn’t have to make the tough decisions and dish out punishment. That is part of the head coaching job that takes time and energy away from the on-the-field job and can be tough to handle for a first-year coach.