SCOTT: Focusing on the SEC's shortcomings

In some ways, this is the best time of the year for college football teams. The preview magazines are loaded with optimism. Everyone's undefeated. Every team has a chance to fulfill its dreams. Yet, for all the returning seniors, starters and honors candidates, the reality is that no team is stronger than its weakest links.

Every team has questions to answer, and the teams that do the best job addressing and answering those questions will most likely earn the most success in the fall.

 

That said, here are the most pressing areas of concerns for all 12 SEC teams:

 

ALABAMA: An experienced quarterback and a solid defense give most any team a chance to chance to win more games than it loses. Alabama has neither. Sophomore John Parker Wilson takes over at quarterback and a defense that must replace seven starters must also wait on the status of senior linebacker Juwan Simpson's legal issues.

 

ARKANSAS: This time last year, Guz Malzahn was a high school coach. Now he's Arkansas' offensive coordinator. The Razorbacks are finally rebuilding their experience and depth, but they'll still be young at quarterback, whether it's Casey Dick or true freshman Mitch Mustain, and only time and experience will help the Hogs make the adjustment to a new offensive scheme.

 

AUBURN: For all the talk about who's coming back, the Tigers have some serious holes to fill at both offensive tackle spots, wide receiver, the interior defensive line, linebacker and in the secondary. The Tigers still have a lot to learn about new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp's scheme. An injury to receiver Courtney Taylor could be disastrous and a schedule without any open dates gives the Tigers few breaks.

 

FLORIDA: The Gators never found a capable, trustworthy tailback in 2006. The situation didn't improve in the spring and Chris Leak remains a reluctant runner in an offense that needs the quarterback to make plays with his feet. Add a shaky offensive line and the offense could be in for replay of 2005's struggles. If the Gators start slow, the fans will be clamoring for true freshman quarterback Tim Tebow.

 

GEORGIA: The Bulldogs didn't find any answers to their quarterback questions in the spring. It doesn't help that the passing game lacks a proven deep threat. The secondary must fill some big holes and appears to lack the depth necessary to make that happen in the early stages of the season.

 

KENTUCKY: The uncertain status of coach Rich Brooks will hang over the program, as well as the uncertain injury status of several key players. Both quarterbacks, Andre Woodson and Curtis Pulley, still have a lot to prove and the Wildcats aren't exactly loaded at receiver. If the defense can't do a better job of stopping the run, the question becomes: who will be the next head coach?

 

LSU: The quarterback situation might be the team's most interesting question, but it's not the most critical. Someone(s) will get the job done at quarterback. On the other hand, the tailback position could make life tough for the quarterbacks if Alley Broussard and Justin Vincent struggle to return from injuries. LSU has been tough up front in recent seasons, but now both lines have big holes to fill.

 

OLE MISS: The Rebels have plenty of questions, but none bigger than at quarterback. Juco transfer Brent Schaeffer is the starter but he's never even practiced with the team and has a lot of work to do to get ready for the opener. The receivers are inexperienced and the defensive is loaded with new starters and uncertain depth.

 

MISSISSIPPI STATE: How long will Bulldog fans remain positive about coach Sylvester Croom, who is 6-16 in two years at Mississippi State. Questions abound throughout the depth chart, especially at tailback. The offensive line could be better, but remains young and inexperienced, and the pass rush needs a lot of work.

 

SOUTH CAROLINA: Building on last year's surprising 7-5 finish won't be easy for a team low on seniors, juniors and necessary depth. The offensive line must depend on inexperienced players and the secondary must replace three starters. If the freshmen and sophomores don't come through, it could be a tough season for the Gamecocks.

 

TENNESSEE: Reports from spring practice suggest quarterback Erik Ainge is back on track, but only time will tell if he has regained his confidence and sense of direction after a disastrous 2005. The same goes for the entire team, especially after an offseason marked by more off-field trouble. The offensive line returns only one starter and the same is true for the entire defensive front seven.

 

VANDERBILT: Can the Commodores possibly replace quarterback Jay Cutler, especially with so many injury concerns at tailback? Do the Commodores have any chance to improve a moribund defense, especially with the loss of some key defensive starters? Can Bobby Johnson survive a fifth consecutive losing season?

 

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Richard Scott is a Birmingham based journalist author and a columnist for Tiger Rag magazine. Reach him at RScottfree@aol.com.


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