Biggest concern every SEC team has entering the spring
Each SEC team’s roster is, for the most part, set for the upcoming season. There might be a few unexpected changes over the coming months, but at this point, we’ve got a good picture of each team.
The spring is a pivotal time for each program looking to improve in certain areas. Some teams addressed issues on the recruiting trail, while other concerns can be fixed by the players already on the roster.
At this point of the year, every team has flaws. Here is the biggest concern for every SEC team entering the spring.
Alabama – Replacing veteran pass rush
Nick Saban has found his offensive coordinator in Brian Daboll. Moving forward, his real priority will be replacing a pass rush that was among the most dominant in college football. Alabama is losing five of its top six pass rushers from last season, and it doesn’t have the same level of veteran depth to plug in that it had entering 2016.
Arkansas – Developing new targets for Austin Allen
Like Alabama, the Razorbacks are losing a lot of veteran talent at a single position. Four of Arkansas’ top five receivers will need to be replaced if the offense is to replicate its strong passing attack from 2016. Jared Cornelius, who caught 32 passes for 515 yards and 4 touchdowns, will be the only wide receiver with more than 100 yards receiving last season returning in 2017. No. 2 JUCO receiver prospect Brandon Martin should make an immediate impact, but Allen will need some other players to step up.
Jared Cornelius' game-winning touchdown. Hogs beat Ole Miss 34-30. pic.twitter.com/05qCc2rmXv
— Trent Shadid (@Shadid13) October 16, 2016
Auburn – Quarterback competition
Given Auburn’s returning experience and depth on both sides of the ball, picking the correct quarterback is the most important storyline entering the spring. Transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham is believed to be the favorite to win the job, and he offers the most upside in the passing game. If he doesn’t assert himself from the beginning and claim the starting role, it might make Auburn fans a bit uneasy.
Florida – Finding stability at quarterback
Florida’s quarterback situation might be a little more troubling than Auburn’s. Stability at the position was a major problem in 2016, as Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby split time throughout the year. Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks will be given the opportunity to compete with Del Rio for the starting job this spring, but he’s gotten mixed reviews thus far and doesn’t have any in-game experience.
Georgia – Improving the offensive line
With Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in the picture, Georgia was expected to have one of the SEC’s best rushing attacks in 2016. Struggles along the line made that hard, however, and the Bulldogs need to make significant improvements up front his fall. Kirby Smart and Jim Chaney will have six new linemen to work with, as Georgia made the position a priority on the recruiting trail. The Bulldogs can make a run at the SEC East title, but the offensive line is a major x-factor.
Kentucky – Better play from the defensive front seven
Kentucky found a successful formula in its potent rushing attack last season, and the Wildcats should be optimistic with Benny Snell returning for his sophomore campaign. The quarterback battle will be interesting, but this spring should be all about improving the front seven of the defense. Kentucky was among the worst teams in the SEC against the run and in generating a pass rush. The Wildcats also allowed offenses to convert on 44.44 percent of their third-down attempts, the second-worst mark in the conference. Kentucky can win with its run game, but it will need to have a defense that can limit opponents.
LSU – Quarterback play
Like Auburn, LSU has a lot of returning talent and a major quarterback battle on its hands. Incoming freshmen Lowell Narcisse and Myles Brennan will compete with Danny Etling for the starting gig. Narcisse and Brennan each have traits that new offensive coordinator Matt Canada could use effectively, but they are inexperienced and lacking in some areas of their game. This is a biggest spring decision for Ed Orgeron and his staff.
Mississippi State – Fixing defensive problems
Dan Mullen made this a priority in the offseason. In addition to hiring former Georgia and Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, Mississippi State brought in plenty of JUCO defenders to help make an immediate impact. Several came in the secondary, which contributed to the worst pass defense in the SEC. Johnathan Abrams, a former Georgia safety, and Brian Cole should be two incoming defensive backs who can see the field early.
Missouri – Turning the corner on defense
Missouri’s defense took a major step back in Barry Odom’s first season as head coach, but he is already working hard to move things in the right direction. Odom took over play-calling duties late last season, which sparked a slight turnaround. He will continue to do so in 2017, but will have a much younger group than he did last year and must replace sack specialist Charles Harris.
Ole Miss – Improving the front seven
Once a major strength, the defensive front seven took a step back last season. Only Vanderbilt had fewer sacks than Ole Miss (20) in 2016, and the Rebels were the worst team in the SEC against the run. Markel Winters had 16 sacks in nine games at the JUCO level, and he should provide an immediate boost in the pass rush.
South Carolina — Taking the next step
The Gamecocks overachieved in Will Muschamp’s first season. And they’ll enter spring with 10 returning starters on offense. Muschamp isn’t the type to allow for complacency, but the young players in particular must fight off the sense of arrival that occasionally accompanies success. That’s especially true for the Gamecocks’ heralded freshman trio of Jake Bentley, Rico Dowdle and Bryan Edwards.
Tennessee – Replacing Joshua Dobbs
Few players have meant more to their team over the past four years than Dobbs did to Tennessee. The dual-threat quarterback was a leader on and off the field, and he ended his career with the Vols on a true hot streak. Now, Tennessee must find a way to replace Dobbs at quarterback. Several former highly-rated recruits are in the mix: Quinten Dormady, Jarrett Guarantano and Will McBride.
— Sunny DDddd (@Sundrop43) January 29, 2017
Texas A&M – Getting young offensive players up to speed
The Aggies still have a lot of talent, but they could have some young players in key roles next season. True freshman quarterback Kellen Mond could very well be the starter sooner rather than later, and he will likely be joined in the starting lineup by first-year receiver Jhamon Ausbon, his high school teammate at IMG Academy. On defense, highly-touted inside linebacker prospect Anthony Hines looks like he could be an impact player from Day 1.
Vanderbilt – Developing a pass rush
No SEC team was worse at generating a pass rush than Vanderbilt in 2016, and it wasn’t because of a lack of opportunity. Opponents threw 444 passes against Vandy last season; only four SEC teams faced more. The Commodores are losing two of their most impactful defensive players in Zach Cunningham and Adam Butler, and there isn’t an influx of talent on the way. Derek Mason will likely need to get creative if his defense is to start developing a pass rush, but it’s a pressing need for this veteran defense.