Ranking the 10 most intriguing fall camp position battles
For those located along the Gulf Coast and familiar with hurricanes, we’ve passed the eye of the storm in terms of preseason predictions by the media.
Most everyone has touted their picks and rankings.
Funny thing, though — we don’t even know which players are going to occupy some very important spots. The answers should get revealed this month as all 14 SEC teams breeze through preseason practices.
Here are the 10 position battles we think are the most interesting in the SEC.
1. LSU QB: Anthony Jennings vs. Brandon Harris
Forget the specifics between Jennings and Harris. If LSU can’t get adequate play from its quarterback, coach Les Miles may start to feel some legitimate heat in Baton Rouge.
2. Alabama QB: Jake Coker vs. David Cornwell
Coker can’t lose a second consecutive quarterback competition, right? Not after the high praise that Florida coach Jim McElwain heaped upon him? Alabama must choose the player who will help the team the most in 2015, but there’s an undercurrent of one-year fix vs. long-term stability.
3. Florida QB: Will Grier vs. Treon Harris
Will Muschamp is gone largely because he couldn’t get the Gators’ passing game on track. Jim McElwain must fix the offense, and this represents his first major personnel decision. Does Harris, more of a dual-threat player, have a legitimate chance?
4. Auburn RBs: Jovon Robinson vs. Roc Thomas vs. Peyton Barber
Whomever wins the job — assuming there’s an alpha backfield player at all — automatically will contend for the SEC rushing title. Thomas wants to prove he can run between the tackles for tough yards, while Robinson, a junior-college standout, contends he can be just as effective in the SEC. Could Auburn go with a by-committee approach at running back for the first time since Gus Malzahn became head coach?
5. Georgia QB: Brice Ramsey vs. Faton Bauta vs. Greyson Lambert
The best-case scenario for the Bulldogs? While Ramsey’s arm wins him the job, he learns to avoid turnovers, find Jeb Blazevich on play-action throws, occasionally toss downfield to Malcolm Mitchell and hand off — a lot.
6. Ole Miss QB: Ryan Buchanan vs. Chad Kelly
Some Rebels fans object to the “now or never” label. It’s true that coach Hugh Freeze has built a sustainable program through strong recruiting. But the rest of the roster appears to be at a pinnacle. Ole Miss needs to get at least adequate, mistake-limiting quarterback play to contend for an SEC West title.
7. Alabama WRs: Robert Foster vs. ArDarius Stewart vs. Chris Black vs. Calvin Ridley vs. Richard Mullaney
The Tide lost its top three receivers from ’14, including Amari Cooper. Then Cam Sims tore his ACL. But there’s no shortage of players competing for targets at wideout. Foster, Stewart and Black established themselves as capable players this spring, probably in that order. But Ridley, a five-star freshman, and Mullaney, a proven transfer from Oregon State, will try to wedge themselves into meaningful playing time as well.
8. Georgia backup RB: Sony Michel vs. Keith Marshall
Last season, Nick Chubb began the year as Georgia’s fourth running back. UGA is loaded at the position, but the team’s offensive line also is good enough to make any one of the team’s ball-carriers look productive. The Bulldogs won’t want Chubb to touch the ball 30 times every game, so whomever enters the season as the No. 2 man could have a great season as well.
9. Tennessee “Mike” LB: Kenny Bynum vs. Darrin Kirkland vs. Dillon Bates
The Vols lack depth, but field quality starters at most every position. “Mike” linebacker is an anomaly. Butch Jones named at least a handful of players who will compete for the starting job. But Tennessee needs to find one who can handle that position. The Vols’ ability to stay strong up the gut against the run is a question mark. Bynum is the favorite here.
10. Missouri DT: Josh Augusta vs. Terry Beckner Jr.
The Tigers are launching a major reconstruction of the defensive line. Four defensive ends became NFL draft picks in the last two years. Potential All-SEC defensive tackle Harold Brantley will miss the season after a bad car accident. Projected starter Marcus Loud got dismissed from the team. Matt Hoch and Lucas Vincent were pretty good at defensive tackle, too. Augusta and Rickey Hatley are the most likely candidates to start at tackle, but perhaps Beckner Jr., a five-star player, can push for that role.