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.
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.
“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.
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