The biggest question every SEC West head coach is asking this offseason

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The SEC’s offseason and dead period of not hearing a peep out of your favorite team is about to be in full swing for about the next month, and then we will get right into spring football and hearing coaches actually talking.

Related: Every SEC West team’s offseason checklist

Here is one hypothetical question every head coach is asking himself heading into the spring:

“What is my biggest deficiency that I have to address this offseason?” –Nick Saban, Alabama
Nick Saban has one main area he needs to address in 2014, and it all starts at corner. Deion Belue struggled in 2013, along with Cyrus Jones and others who started opposite Belue. Saban signed two five-star corners in Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey, but realistically, how much will two freshmen corners help? Both are incredible athletes, but all the Alabama corners are great athletes. What Saban and Kirby Smart need are two corners with great ball skills. Every corner on the roster can cover and match up athletically, but it’s hard to find another Dre Kirkpatrick or Dee Milliner. Corners with great athleticism aren’t hard to find, but corners that have the total package, including great ball skills, are rare. Saban has to find two for 2014.

Related: The biggest question every SEC East head coach is asking this offseason

“Where will the offense come from?” –Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Bret Bielema and Jim Chaney know the running game will be solid with Alex Collins (1,026 yards) and Jonathan Williams (900 yards), but as we saw in 2013, that isn’t enough. Brandon Allen returns at quarterback, and early enrollee quarterback Rafe Peavey will push Allen to the limit. One player who must play a bigger role in 2014 is tight end Hunter Henry, who caught 28 passes for 409 yards. Receiver Keon Hatcher also has to make a big step forward as the team’s leading returning receiver. Incoming freshman JoJo Robinson from South Florida should get some touches in 2014, too.

“How much will our passing game develop?” –Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Gus Malzahn rode the country’s most dominant running game all the way to Pasadena in 2013, headlined by running back Tre Mason and left tackle Greg Robinson. Quarterback Nick Marshall was a big-time asset and the engine that helped the offense move, but Malzahn would like a more balanced offensive attack. It’s not a necessity; Auburn has proven they can win a championship without it, but receiver Sammie Coates is such a weapon, along with incoming receiver D’haquille Williams. Marshall throws a great deep ball, but the touch is lacking on five- to eight-yard crossing patterns or out routes to the tight end. Remember, Marshall only had fall camp to hone his skills; he gets a full offseason to develop the arsenal.

“Can we have a balanced offense next season?” –Les Miles, LSU
Anthony Jennings takes over at quarterback for the departed Zach Mettenberger. Receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry are also gone, along with 1,400-yard rusher Jeremy Hill. Jennings isn’t Mettenberger, but he’ll remind you of former LSU signal caller Jordan Jefferson. LSU’s 2011 offense went all the way to the national championship rushing the ball 68 percent of the time and passing just 32 percent of the time. That’s not quite 2013 Auburn, who ran it 72 percent of the time, but it’s close. Especially with Jennings being a dual-threat quarterback, I fully expect the LSU running backs Kenny Hilliard, Terrence Magee and Leonard Fournette to all get 100 carries or more.

“Will this be my best team at Mississippi State?” –Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
The answer is yes, Dan. Mullen and State return some excitable playmakers on both sides of the ball, and he finally has his best dual-threat quarterback in Dak Prescott ready to have a huge junior season. With Prescott and receivers Jameon Lewis, Malcom Johnson and Robert Johnson all returning, the passing game could be great. Add in Prescott’s running ability and running backs Josh Robinson and Ashton Shumpert, and the offense should be extremely balanced and explosive. Looking at the other side of the ball, DC Geoff Collins is the most underrated coordinator in the SEC, and he returns a slew of weapons, headlined by defensive tackle Chris Jones and linebacker Benardrick McKinney – two future NFL players. Along with the returners, Mullen has one of the most manageable schedules in the SEC next year, and 10 wins aren’t out of the question.

“Do I have a championship quarterback?” –Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Ole Miss’ 2014 roster will be as good as any team in the SEC; yeah, I said it. Hugh Freeze has put back-to-back top recruiting classes together, and there’s plenty of talent on the field. But the biggest question is about Bo Wallace and how big of a step he’ll take this spring and on into next season. Wallace has thrown for 6,340 yards, 40 touchdowns and 27 INTs. In SEC play the last two seasons, Wallace has thrown 20 touchdowns and 20 INTs. The touchdowns have to increase; the INTs have to decrease. Ole Miss’ roster sets them up for success to be a surprise team like Auburn or Missouri, but that success will hinge on Wallace’s growth this spring and next season.

“How much better will my defense get?” –Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
With Kevin Sumlin’s past history, we know he’s going to score points, but what we don’t know is how much better the SEC’s worst (statistical) defense will get next season. That’s tops on Kevin Sumlin’s list. Texas A&M is the exact opposite of Florida, who has a strong defense but can’t buy offensive production. Let’s step out on a ledge here and say the Aggies won’t score 44 points per game next season because of some key personnel losses, and the defense must improve if they want to get even six or seven wins. The secondary will be fine, and the biggest advances made have to come in the front seven. Linemen Jay Arnold, Isaiah Golden, Ivan Robinson, Julien Obioha and Daeshon Hall, among others, have to make major improvements.

Photo Credit: Paul Abell-USA TODAY Sports

COMMENTS

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  • I hope to god jennings doesn’t remind us of jefferson, and darrel williams is no slouch.

  • I agree with everything you said about Ole Miss. They will be talented and the last two years they built quality depth. The key to how much success Ole Miss will have is up to Bo Wallace. I think he has proven himself to be a very reliable QB so far. But last season he missed all of spring ball and played with a bad shoulder. This season he will go threw spring ball and his shoulder should be at full strength.

    • I don’t see where he has proven himself? I keep hearing that he has proven himself and is primed for a big year. His biggest game of the year, the Egg Bowl… he laid an egg. 4 turnovers and 3 points for the offense for y’all. I agree that you’ll be scary IF he can turn it around. But 20 TD / 20 INT hasn’t “proven himself to be a very reliable QB”. Your success lies with him. Honestly, I don’t see him ever becoming a great qb like y’all need, but to each his own.

      • You must not have seen him play all year. He threw for over 3,000 yards. Last season his shoulder was really weak and up until his last two games, he had only threw like 5 or 6 INT’s the whole season. The Egg Bowl was by far his worst game of his career. Plus alot of his INTs weren’t all his fault. I’m guessing you didn’t see his game against LSU, were he just sliced them up. He might not end up being the best Eli Manning, but he should be good enough to win a lot games. Plus this season he actually gets to go threw spring ball and his shoulder will be at 100%.

        • You’re right in the fact that I rarely watched him play. I watched the vanderbilt game, tidbits of the lsu game, the mizzou game, and was at the egg bowl. I’m just stating what I saw. I saw a qb who could not pass the eye test. I think he’s an average qb at best and he has the potential to be a game manager if he ever calms down all the turnovers. But in this league you need someone who is going to go out and win games with his arm. Wallace hasn’t proven that yet, so that’s why I have doubts.

        • maybe great quarterbacks make it look like they are essential to winning championships because the touch the ball so much, but I think good quarterbacks can play adequate roles on balanced team, or even teams with great running backs and great receivers.

        • I think that by compiling Wallace’s two year stats we’re neglecting his growth in decision making from two years ago to last year. He threw a lot more balls away last year where the year before that he would have thrown it up for grabs. He’s not the best QB in the league by far, but you can’t say he hasn’t grown. Hopefully the LSU game was a glimpse into the future talents of Bo. I’m excited to see his development going into next season.

  • Mississippi State’s season lies with the travel to LSU next year. We have 8 games that are “pencil-in” wins. USM, USA, UT Martin, TAMU, Vandy, UK, Ark, UAB. This leaves @LSU, vs. Auburn, @Bama, @TSUN. I feel that auburn is a tossup game like last year, and it will be the same outcome as the LSU game this year. We either win both or lose both. Bama will depend on if bama does indeed have a down year. @TSUN, if we win one of the other 3 games then I feel like we are a lock to win that, but if not it will likely be a tossup. MSU is primed for Mullen’s best season yet, and hopefully we can grab 10-11 wins to sway more high caliber recruits in the future to build on seasons to come.

    • Might change that pencil to dry erase marker when it comes to TAMU. The drop off next year won’t be as spectacular as most of the SEC west is hoping. Our defense will be better and whether its Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen we’ll have one of the top QBs in the conference.

      • I look at the rice comparison. You guys barely eeked out a win vs. them and we dominated them. I don’t see that defense doing that much of a full 180… but who knows. I said pencil! I don’t doubt you recruited new qbs but having manziel carry the team was what you guys hung your hats on the last two years. I see a setback this year and then back to contention the next for y’all.

        • Also, rice was our first game of the year, and we had freshmen all over the defensive side of the ball playing. You guys played them after a month of preparation practically.

        • The one thing I do agree with on, is that A&M is going to have a big drop off this season. I don’t see their defense becoming great over night, but it’s not going to get any worse Losing Manziel and Evans is going to hurt alot.

      • I think the key to the entire West next year is LSU. Perceivably, the Tigers could have a down year, more than what most could envision. Eight wins isn’t out of the question, and how Ole Miss, Mississippi State and TAMU play LSU will help shake it out. Two teams are favorites in Auburn and Alabama, then there are a slew of teams mixed in that could finish 3, 4, 5, 6 and I would project Arkansas 7 at this time.

      • Well yeah the defense will be better, it can’t get any worse.

    • You are higher than a kite if you believe A&M is a go ahead pencil in win. They still have WAYYY more talent than Mississippi State and have kicked your @sses the last couple years, granted we only won by 10 this past season due to the defense giving up a HUGE lead, but you obviously weren’t going to win that game. As bad as our defense was last year, its going to only get better. We didn’t lose anybody from the defensive side of the ball besides 1 defensive tackle, and we have high caliber players coming in this summer to add depth.

      • Take johnny manziel out of those games and what happens. 1-1 at best. Last year you would have been dominated if not for him. Also take out mike evans now. If you think that losing on of the best college quarterbacks in recent memory doesn’t hurt a program, look at florida post-tebow.

  • aTm defense finished the year very strong at Missouri, unfortunately Missouri’s defense had an even better game that night.

    For Alabama, I think it is another year of what AJ said, everybody is already celebrating another championship recruiting class. They don’t need to develop… they just need to play….. how much playing time is there?

    BB’s question is how do I make the talent I have this year work in the SEC, not what am I building?

    Gus, what will i do when everyone watches enough film to know where the ball is going. I don’t think he wants to take touches away from those backs, nor will his quarterback put up league leading numbers in an air game.

    Les Miles, If the biggest, wildest acting players can’t win, then what part of the team should I civilize next. Too much was expected of his quarterback last year.

    I don’t think Dan Mullen is letting himself think he can’t do even better

    For Freeze, notha Les Miles trap, sometimes you have to just win with a very good quarterback instead of an all time great one.