Maybe spring hasn’t exactly sprung, but spring practice is either under way or about to get started at all 14 Southeastern Conference schools. Florida’s first spring practice under new head coach Jim McElwain begins one week from today. Today we take a look at two questions for each SEC school: the obvious and the most important.
The obvious question: Treon Harris has six starts under his belt but he’s undersized (5-11 in his cleats, maybe shorter than 5-10 in his bare feet) and doesn’t exactly throw laser guided darts. Will Grier was a record setting high school quarterback but he played against the lowest level of competition in North Carolina and took a redshirt last year. Grier has the size advantage (he’s listed at 6-2 but seems closer to 6-3) and a stronger arm but Harris has quarterbacked and won SEC games. In that Grier and Harris are going to split the bulk of the snaps this spring, which of the two will prove to be a better fit for McElwain’s offensive scheme?
The most important question: Who is going to block for whoever wins the quarterback job? The only returning starter is Trip Thurman, who could return at left guard or slide over to center. Third year sophomore Rod Johnson and David Sharpe, who backed up D.J. Humphries at left tackle as a true freshman last year, are the only backups with experience. Finding five guys who can get the job done as starters and two or three backups is probably the top priority of the spring.
The obvious question: Does Lake Kiffin turn Jacob Coker into an All-SEC type performer the way he transformed Blake Sims? There is less experience at the quarterback position than any year since Nick Saban took over.
The most important question: Everybody thought Alabama’s defense was good until Auburn went over, under, around and through for 630 yards and then Ohio State chewed up and spit out the Crimson Tide in the semifinals. Was what happened at the end of the year an aberration or is Alabama’s defense trending downward?
The obvious question: On consecutive weekends late last season the Arkansas defense shut out ranked teams and in the bowl game, the Razorbacks were all over Texas. Can the Razorbacks play at the same high level this season even though they’ve lost their three senior leaders, linebacker Matrell Spaight (128 tackles), defensive end Trey Flowers (6 sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss, 6 passes batted down, 9 quarterback hurries) and free safety Alan Turner (65 tackles, 1 interception)?
The most important question: The best way to describe the Arkansas offense since Bret Bielema became head coach is ground and pound. New offensive coordinator Dan Enos comes from the Brian Kelly/Butch Jones school which means spread the field and turn the QB into a runner. Does Enos change the offense or do the Hogs continue to hammer it between the tackles?
The obvious question: Under Ellis Johnson, Auburn’s defense struggled to get the other team off the field. Will Muschamp is the new coordinator and he’ll certainly bring a new scheme and call the game more aggressively, but it’s pretty much the same players that took the field the last two seasons. Is Muschamp being asked to make chicken salad out of chicken droppings?
The most important question: In Nick Marshall Gus Malzahn had a running quarterback who could make plays with his arm. Marshall graduated leaving the job to big-armed Jeremy Johnson, who has never shown much as a runner. Does Gus abandon the read option and keep Johnson in the pocket or is Johnson capable of being a dual threat?
The obvious question: Georgia’s offense has pretty much stayed the same during the entire 14 years Mark Richt has been the head coach. Coordinator Mike Bobo left to take the head coaching job at Colorado State and Richt brought in former Gator backup QB Brian Schottenheimer, who has been a coordinator at the NFL the last nine years. Will Schottenheimer completely retool the offense or will it be status quo in Athens?
The most important question: During the past two seasons, Georgia has given up 48 touchdowns on the ground and huge chunks of rushing yards in the games that matter most. This is Jeremy Pruitt’s second year on the job as coordinator. Can he the Bulldogs into a unit that shuts down the run?
The obvious question: Through their first six games, the Wildcats were 5-1 and could have been 6-0 if not for an overtime loss to the Gators in Gainesville. Then came the 0-6 collapse the second half of the season. This is the third year for head coach Mark Stoops. Can he get the Wildcats turned around and playing at least at the level they were when Rich Brooks retired (four straight bowl seasons)?
The most important question: When he’s on his game, Patrick Towles (2,718 passing yards, 14 touchdowns; 303 rushing yards, 6 touchdowns) can drive defenses crazy with his big arm and mobility. When he’s off his game he’s very, very average at best. Can new Kentucky offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson (formerly of West Virginia) teach Towles how to play at a consistent level?
The obvious question: Between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris there wasn’t a lot to write home about at the quarterback position for the Tigers. They’re back this year. Can Cam Cameron turn one of these guys into a respectable SEC quarterback?
The most important question: It really doesn’t matter who plays quarterback for LSU. The Tigers have so many talented skill players that they’ll find ways to put points on the board. The real question is over on the defensive side where John Chavis left for Texas A&M under questionable circumstances. Kevin Steele is the new coordinator and his last outing running a defense was the Orange Bowl in 2011 when West Virginia hung 70 on his Clemson defense. The Tigers gave up only 316 yards per game last year. Can Steele get them to perform at the same or possibly an improved level or is what happened at Clemson an indication of his worth as a coordinator?
The obvious question: Dak Prescott is the best returning quarterback in the SEC (3,449 passing yards for 27 TDs, 986 rushing yards for 14 TDs) but with three starters and a very experienced backup O-lineman all graduated, can the Bulldogs give him the protection he needs to put up the big numbers again?
The most important question: First team All-American Bernardrick McKinney got all the attention last year, but the guy who created the most havoc for opposing offenses was rush end Preston Smith, who had nine sacks, 15 tackles for loss, 15 hurries, three passes batted down, two forced fumbles and two blocked kicks. Can Ryan Brown (3.5 sacks, 10 QB hurries) piik up the slack and be the terror off the edge that commands a double team every single snap?
The obvious question: For the second straight year, Missouri is losing bookend defensive ends to the NFL. This year’s replacement pass rushers are Charles Brantley, Josh Augusta and Charles Harris. Can D-line coach Craig Kuligowski turn this group into terrors off the edge the way he did with Michael Sam, Kony Ealy, Shane Ray and Markus Golden?
The most important question: Quarterback Maty Mauk threw a lot of passes to the guys in different colored shirts last year and that was with a bunch of senior wide receivers. He’s got a bunch of inexperienced newbies manning the wideouts this year. Can he cut down on the interceptions and give Missouri a chance to three-peat the SEC East?
The obvious question: Chad Kelly threw 47 touchdown passes and more than 3,900 yards while quarterbacking East Mississippi Community College last year. Everybody knows he can throw the ball and make things happen on the field, but can he keep his nose clean off the field?
The most important question: The Rebels lacked an every down back who could pick up yards between the tackles last year when they ran for only 155.46 yards per game. The Rebels have the experience up front to field a fine offensive line in 2015 but do they have a running back capable of carrying the load?
The obvious question: The Gamecocks return eight starters and 19 of their top 22 on the defensive side of the ball. Depending on your perspective that’s either good news or bad news. Can Jon Hoke turn these same guys who had only 14 sacks and 11 interceptions into an SEC-caliber unit or will the Gamecocks hope they can outscore opponents again this year?
The most important question: Former high school quarterback Pharoh Cooper did everything for the Gamecocks last year – 69 catches for 1,136 yards and 9 touchdowns, 200 yards rushing for 2 touchdowns, 5-8 passing for 78 yards and 2 touchdowns. Given South Carolina’s lack of experience at quarterback, does Steve Spurrier spread the field and turn Cooper into a full-time quarterback?
The obvious question: Once Josh Dobbs (1,206 passing yards, 9 touchdowns; 469 rushing yards, 8 touchdowns) took over at quarterback seven games into the season, Tennessee’s offense became exciting and explosive. He was an unknown quantity last year. Now that everyone has had a year to study film can Dobbs take that next step and lead the Vols into the thick of the SEC East race?
The most important question: There were times when the Vols played four freshmen on the offensive line last year. The inexperience showed in the form of 43 sacks given up. All these young offensive linemen are a year older. Does that make them a year better?
The obvious question: John Chavis was brought in to patch up a defense that gave up 28.1 points and 450.8 yards per game. With only a few months to turn things around, can Chavis at least get the Aggies to a level of respectability on the defensive side of the ball?
The most important question: While Aggie fans hope and pray that Chavis is the answer on defense, they need to find some answers in a running game that went in the tank the last half of 2014. We know they can throw the ball. Can they find some consistency running it?
The obvious question: The Commodores return three quarterbacks who started a game last year for the most inept offense in the SEC and a redshirt who wasn’t good enough to play. Can former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig turn one of these guys into a competent QB by the end of the spring or do the Dores have to hope and pray freshman Kyle Schurmur is the answer in August?
The most important question: After last seasons’ 3-9 disaster (0-8 in the SEC), head coach Derek Mason shook up the coaching staff and took over as the coordinator for a defense that gave up 33.3 points and 5.72 yards per play last year. From the standpoint of appearances, this looks like the move of a desperate coach. Will Vanderbilt stand patiently by its man if the defense is disastrous and the offense can’t score for a second straight year?
Is it a concern for you that there might be a compelling reason for either Harris or Grier to transfer out after spring practice?
Perhaps no band owes more to the music video industry than Talking Heads. First on Video Concert Hall and then on MTV when it debuted in 1981, Talking Heads videos were so quirky that folks had to buy their albums to hear the rest of the music. Probably their best album was their 1983 release “Speaking in Tongues” which featured “Burning Down the House” which made it to #6 on the Billboard charts. The band broke up in 1991 but lead singer/songwriter David Byrne continues to tour and perform the full Talking Heads songbook.