While Jim McElwain will probably need the entire spring to reach conclusions about which of his quarterbacks has the best grasp of his offense, he has no worries about his secondary where there is star power in the form of Vernon Hargreaves III and an abundance of talent to fill the other positions.
“It’s fun to watch those guys play,” McElwain said about his secondary after Wednesday’s second practice of the spring. If there is a strength of the team it is the secondary, which might rate as the best in the country.
Hargreaves is a two-time first team All-SEC corner who will be on everybody’s preseason All-America team and should be the early front runner for the Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s top defensive back. Jalen Tabor, who started at the corner opposite Hargreaves as a true freshman, returns as does nickel Brian Poole, who picked off four passes.
Noted: The Gators were in shorts and helmets Wednesday. They go in pads on Friday … McElwain called Wednesday’s practice “sloppy” … There is plenty of emphasis on ball security. “For the most part they’ve [the quarterbacks] have thrown it to – the offense has been in blue – so they’ve thrown it to the guys in blue jerseys … they’re grasping what we’re trying to get accomplished.”
Alabama: Bama has five scholarship quarterbacks working this spring – Jacob Coker, Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell and Blake Barnett. So far, Coker is the clear leader. “Obviously when he [Coker] started last year it was a whole new offense to him, everyone was ahead of him and right now I feel like right now he's a lot more comfortable and confident with what we're doing," said Nick Saban.
Arkansas: The offensive line returns four starters but it’s been shuffled around and looks like this: Denver Kirkland, LT; Sebastian Tretola, LG; Mitch Smothers, C; Frank Ragnow, RG; and Dan Skipper, RT.
Auburn: The quarterback job at Auburn is junior Jeremy Johnson’s to lose even though he’s splitting reps this spring with redshirt freshman Sean White. “This is his third go-around, his third year with us, so expectations for him are extremely high,” said Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.
Kentucky: Even though Patrick Towles had a fine sophomore season at quarterback with 12 starts and 14 touchdown passes, he’s splitting the reps this spring with redshirt freshman Drew Barker. Towles is expected to be the starter in the fall, but a lack of depth at the position (Towles and Barker are the only scholarship quarterbacks this spring) necessitates getting both quarterbacks ready to go.
LSU: About the only changes LSU players see in new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is the terminology. There won’t be any changes in scheme. That might have something to do with the fact that Steele replaced his best friend on earth – John Chavis – as the DC. Chavis and Steele grew up together in Dillon, South Carolina.
Mississippi State: The enthusiasm of spring football in Starkville has been tempered by the arrest on drug charges of stud wide receiver De’Runnya Wilson. He won’t practice until his legal issues are resolved.
Missouri: New coordinator Barry Odom says he’s not going to try to reinvent the defense at Missouri. “I’m not coming in to try and reinvent everything,” Odom said. “I’m trying to add to what they’ve done, continue to build it. Whether there’s four defensive linemen on the field, three or eight, it’s our job to put our players in the position of what they do best.” Odom was the DC at Memphis last year. He replaces Dave Steckel, now the head coach at Missouri State.
South Carolina: Jon Hoke was brought in as the co-defensive coordinator to work with Lorenzo Ward. Hoke and Ward say they get along famously and claim there is no friction. One obvious change: the Gamecocks are working a 4-3 now instead of the 4-2-5 they used when Ward was solely in charge of the defense.
Tennessee: Among the walking wounded who will either take limited or no reps this spring are DE Curt Maggitt; DE Derek Barnett; DT Danny O’Brien; RB Jalen Hurd; WR Jason Croom; WR Marquez North; MLB Darrin Kirkland Jr.; LB Dillon Bates and LB Dillon Bates.
Texas A&M: One of the key points of emphasis with the Aggies this spring is catching the football. New WR coach Aaron Moorehead is trying to improve the consistency of a unit that had a low point of nine dropped passes in the Mississippi State game.
Vanderbilt: There are four quarterbacks trying to impress new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. Right now Patton Robinette and Johnny McCrary are the frontrunners. Ludwig hopes these two guys will make enough progress that he can redshirt incoming freshman Kyle Shurmur.
Syracuse announced Wednesday that it is appealing some of its NCAA sanctions and that Jim Boeheim will “retire” as basketball coach in three years. This is the second time Syracuse has been hit with NCAA sanctions, both times under Boeheim’s watch. The school was also embarrassed by the allegations of sexual molestation of minors against former SU assistant Bernie Fine just a few years ago.
Translation: Syracuse University is unwilling to handicap a new coach with three years of playing with a maximum of 10 scholarship players (NCAA docked SU three per year for the next three years) so Boeheim gets to stay through the mess, but once the sanctions are lifted, Boeheim can hit the road.
1. Murry Bartow, East Tennessee State
2. Howard Moore, Illinois-Chicago
3. Jerome Allen, Penn
4. Dale Layer, Liberty
5. Steve Aggers, Loyola Marymount
6. David Carter, Nevada
7. Chuck Driesell, The Citadel
8. Lenox Forrester, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville
9. Oliver Purnell, DePaul
10. Milan Brown, Holy Cross
11. Anthony Grant, Alabama
12. Paul Hewitt, George Mason
13. Bill Grier, San Diego
14. Alan Major, Charlotte
15. Tom Pecora, Fordham
Rumblings: A couple of names that are almost certain to be at the top of DePaul’s list of candidates to replace Oliver Purnell are Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne and Buffalo head coach Bobby Hurley ... Former Princeton head coach Bill Carmody appears to be the top choice for Holy Cross … Indications are that George Mason’s search will narrow quickly to Boston Celtics’ assistant Jay Larranaga (son of UMiami and former GM coach Jim Larranaga), UMiami assistant Chris Caputo and Anthony Grant … LSU assistant Eric Musselman is emerging as the major candidate for San Diego … Charlotte and Chattanooga head coach Will Wade are already in negotiations.
Apparently Alabama athletic director Bill Battle isn’t going to concede basketball in the state to Bruce Pearl down at Auburn. The word coming out of Tuscaloosa is that Alabama will spare no expense to bring in a big name basketball coach. If that’s factual, then you can probably forget Murray State coach Steve Prohm, the former Bama student manager and student assistant who has been thought to be the front runner for the job. He’s young (40 years old) and has an impressive 103-28 in four years at Murray State, but he’s not the kind of guy you throw $4 million a year at, which is the number being tossed about as the hook for Bama’s next coach.
If it’s factual that Alabama is going to spare no expense, then keep an eye on these five coaches:
1. Sean Miller, Arizona: They’re paying him $2.5 million at Arizona. Would Arizona be willing to match an offer for $4 million?
2. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State: He loves Wichita State and he’s turned down big jobs before, but he’s never had to say no to $4 million.
3. Mark Few, Gonzaga: Like Marshall, he’s the only game in town and he’s turned down big jobs before. Also like Marshall, he’s never turned down $4 million.
4. Mike Brey, Notre Dame: He just won the ACC and is under contract through 2022 so why would he leave? Well, he makes approximately $1.5 million a year and almost almost a third of that is paid by adidas.
5. Tom Crean, Indiana: When that Saban guy was coaching Michigan State football he became good friends with Tom Crean, who was an assistant for Tom Izzo. They’re still friends and Nick is in a position to pretty much get whatever he wants in Tuscaloosa. Does he want his old buddy in Tuscaloosa?
#1 Villanova over #16 Lafayette
#9 LSU over #8 North Carolina State
This could be a day for upsets. I look for #11 seeds Texas (over #6 Butler) and Ole Miss (over #6 Xavier) to win and I like #12 seed Stephen F. Austin to knock off #5 Utah. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if #13 Eastern Washington knocks off #4 Georgetown. I’m still trying to figure out how Georgetown got a top four seed over teams like Northern Iowa and Arkansas.
A #9 winning over a #8 is not an upset. I like #9 Purdue and #9 LSU to advance.
Kentucky has been established as a 34.5-point favorite over Hampton. I would be surprised if the final margin is less than 40.
When you look at the Thursday NCAA Tournament games, who do you think is ripe to spring an upset?
No band personified San Francisco and what we children of the ‘60s called hippies more than Jefferson Airplane. Airplane singlehandedly turned The Beatles from the scourge of the earth to nice guys who sang nice songs. This was during my family’s exile to Mississippi and parents, teachers and school principles were convinced that anyone who got a “Beatle haircut” was a child of the devil. Well, they did until Jefferson Airplane came along and the news media told all these stories about hippies and drugs in San Francisco. Suddenly, The Beatles became acceptable because Jefferson Airplane was considered a more serious threat to the fabric that held society together. Personally, I got hooked on Jefferson Airplane the moment I heard Grace Slick belt out “Somebody to Love” on their 1967 album “Surrealistic Pillow.” I was warned not to listen, but I did anyway and fortunately my mind didn’t warp and I never tripped on LSD.