10 Bold Predictions for SEC spring football
Admit it, you’ve missed 10 Bold Predictions. Because anybody can write a predictions column and say safe dependable things, “10 Bold Predictions” always takes it somewhere else. We go out there — the prediction equivalent of throwing a fly pattern on first down. Sometimes we connect. A lot of times we don’t. But we’ll give you something to think about, and keep things entertaining.
RELATED: SEC spring football schedules
Here are 10 surprising things that we think could happen in SEC spring practice, which has already started for some programs.
1. Ole Miss will lose a couple of significant starters — especially seniors.
Think about it. If you’re an upcoming senior at Ole Miss and are in position to graduate, why wouldn’t you go ahead and do it? You missed a bowl game in 2016, and now you know you can’t play in one in 2017, after the Rebels fell on the NCAA sword.
Marquis Haynes all but swears he’ll stick around Oxford, but it makes no sense. Get that degree and have a great season at Bama, or Clemson, or Florida or FSU, if Haynes would prefer to reconnect to his Florida roots. If not Haynes, a couple other talented Rebels won’t be Rebels come fall. Book it.
2. Feleipe Franks will take control of the QB job in Gainesville.
Jim McElwain has lived dangerously. He has thrived off a ridiculously inconsistent East and ridden some NFL-heavy defenses to two division titles. But a lot of those lock-down defenders are gone … which is why McElwain is going to hand the keys to redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks. The Gators thought about starting Franks in their bowl game and burning his redshirt. Says here he emerges from spring practice as the Gators’ starter.
3. Tennessee will leave the spring without an acknowledged QB.
Butch Jones realizes how perilous his job situation really is. He can’t afford another champions-of-life style misstep, which is why UT will play its spring close to the vest. Jarrett Guarantano (below) will probably be UT’s 2017 quarterback, but the Vols are leery of putting all their eggs into a fragile basket. So UT won’t make a springtime decision in their QB battle.
4. Alabama will invest heavily in the run this spring.
There are a couple of things in play here. For one, Alabama doesn’t want to get Jalen Hurts … well … hurt. They also are still smarting from getting beat in the trenches by Clemson. And Brian Daboll will want to prove that he has no Lake Kiffin tendencies. Alabama will run the ball this spring, early and often.
5. Paul Rhoads will get Arkansas running a 3-4 and playing respectable defense.
This just makes sense. The Hogs have trouble with big bodies up front, aside from McTelvin Agim, who will be a playmaker in a 3-4. Everywhere he has coached, Rhoads has brought respectability to some beleaguered defenses. Which is good, because he’s inheriting one here.
6. Chip Lindsey will have the SEC’s most improved wide receivers on the Plains.
It’s an incredibly poorly kept secret, but Auburn won’t be as run-heavy in 2017. Jarrett Stidham hasn’t come to town to sit the bench or to run the ball 80 percent of the time. Chip Lindsey is going to balance the Tigers, much as he balanced Southern Miss in recent seasons. The main beneficiaries will be the Auburn receivers, who have struggled in a system where they rarely see the ball. Lindsey is building it, and with Stidham’s help, the catches will come.
7. Drew Barker will give Kentucky something to think about.
Barker is a forgotten man in Lexington, where Stephen Johnson and a run-pass option heavy offense led UK to its best season in years. But Stanley “Boom” Williams is gone, and things could get hairy in spring practice. Junior QB Drew Barker was a very highly touted signee who has shown the ability to be a game-changing quarterback … but has also battled inconsistency and a back injury.
People have written off Barker, but he’s so fundamentally different than Johnson that if he can get healthy, he will astonish the Kentucky coaching staff. Barker might have a role in the 2017 Kentucky season that’s several steps above holding a clipboard. Watch this spring for the first signs.
8. Brandon McIlwain will give up football.
Down at South Carolina, everybody is saying all the right things. Backup QB Brandon McIlwain, a baseball prospect who lost his football job to true frosh Jake Bentley at midseason, is staying involved with football while playing baseball this spring. The Carolina football staff has given lip service to the idea that McIlwain could play. Bentley is the QB, and that writing will be on the wall by the end of spring practice. McIlwain has played in just one of the Gamecocks’ first eight games, but his future is on the diamond and not the gridiron.
9. Missouri might be the most improved team in the league.
Sure, it helps that the Tigers were the league’s worst team in 2016. But they could be going places. When you look at Mizzou’s team, it’s hard to figure why they were so bad. They could pass, run, and had some big-time defensive playmakers. The defense takes a step back, but the offense could put up 40 points per game in 2017. Drew Lock and Damarea Crockett might be the best 1-2 pass-run punch in the SEC.
10. The key to Kevin Sumlin’s job is Kellen Mond.
Sumlin is hanging by a relative thread in College Station. He can’t afford another late-season swoon … and so the key is how does he handle big-time recruit Kellen Mond? Mond is the future of A&M football. Jake Hubenak doesn’t have the stuff to enter the top half of the SEC West. But can Sumlin coax a good year out of Mond and avoid alienating him a la Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray. The answer will tell you whether Sumlin will be back in 2018.