Biggest remaining question for every SEC East team after spring
Spring games have come and gone, and SEC East teams found answers to plenty of burning questions during their workouts.
Not all of the issues have been fully resolved, however. Some will linger until the summer, while others will likely drift on into the regular season.
Here are the biggest questions facing each SEC East school in the aftermath of spring football:
How will the offense look in 2016?
The question hasn’t changed since the Gators stumbled to the finish line in 2015, losing the last three games and scoring just 24 points along the way. Fixing the offense is critically important to their chances of repeating as SEC East champions.
The spring did see the emergence of Luke Del Rio as a viable quarterback option, so the worry around that position may be lessened a bit. But the offensive line still needs to improve, and a wide receiving corps without Antonio Callaway is not an appealing prospect.
There’s nothing here that can’t be overcome in the summer. The offensive linemen will get more reps, Callaway may be brought back into the fold and a few more talented freshmen will arrive in Gainesville.
When will we see Jacob Eason under center?
This question morphed from if to when during an impressive spring game performance from the five-star recruit out of Lake Stevens, Wash.
Coach Kirby Smart has been doing his best to downplay Eason’s efforts to win the quarterback job, seeking instead to keep the weight of an expectant fan base off his shoulders.
“Really? Why would people say that?” he said, when asked about the clamoring for Eason to start the opener. “To me, (Eason) ended up (66) percent. Brice (Ramsey) was (64) percent. And Greyson (Lambert) had two drops and one bad decision, but he was right at 50 percent. For people to say that, maybe they should go to ‘Coaching 101.’ I don’t see that being that the case. What I see going into fall camp is three guys that have three different traits. All three of them got some growing to do. I want to see them improve.”
Try as he might, the hype behind the talented freshman is building. A Google News search of his name turns up questions about a potential Heisman Trophy run and comparisons to LeBron James.
So, it’s not if he will get a chance, but when. The guess is sooner, rather than later.
Is this team ready to go to a bowl game?
After a pair of recent near-miss 5-7 seasons, Wildcat fans are clamoring for a bowl game. The $64,000 question is can this team do what the previous two could not and reach the postseason?
Like the Magic 8-ball sometimes reveals, the answer is hazy.
Drew Barker did enough in the spring to hold off Stephen Johnson II for the quarterback job, but other old issues flared up along the way.
Receivers were still dropping passes at inopportune times and the Wildcats’ best offensive weapon, Stanley “Boom” Williams, was in street clothes for the Blue-White Game while recovering from off-season elbow surgery.
To make matters worse, the offensive line allowed Denzil Ware to get four “sacks” in three quarters.
There’s work to be done before the games start counting if Kentucky is to return to a bowl game for the first time since 2010.
Can Josh Heupel fix one of the nation’s worst offenses?
Coach Barry Odom has hitched his wagon to the former Oklahoma quarterback and offensive coordinator to breathe life into a unit that finished 127th (out of 128) in scoring offense last fall.
The good news is that rising sophomore Drew Lock looked pretty comfortable in the new offense during the spring game. There were also bright spots at the skill positions, and the defense looks to be in pretty good shape.
The bad news is that the offensive line, down to only eight scholarship bodies in the spring game, didn’t get to develop the sort of chemistry that might allow them to improve on last year’s efforts.
The Tigers were always most dangerous as dark horses under coach Gary Pinkel, and we’ll see if Odom can keep that trend going in his first season at the helm.
Are Will Muschamp and Kurt Roper really going to start a true freshman at QB?
If we went back to the Magic 8-ball, it would say “All Signs Point to Yes.”
Brandon McIlwain was not only very comfortable in the buzzing environment of the spring game, but has been impressing players and coaches alike since his arrival in Columbia in January.
“I think the thing that excited people the most is what he brings in intangibles,” Gamecock Central’s Chris Clark told SDS last month. “He’s a kid that’s an extremely hard worker, and he’s really impressed with that in the short time he’s been on campus during winter workouts.”
Muschamp and Roper are quick to point out that the race is still open, especially since Perry Orth (collarbone) and Lorenzo Nunez (knee) were hampered in the spring. But it’s hard to imagine McIlwain giving back the lead he’s built in the race.
Can the Volunteers thrive as favorites?
With a six-game winning streak to cap off 2015 and a raft full of returning starters, most pundits already have Tennessee penciled in as the team to beat in the East — and some are even suggesting a playoff run for the Vols.
We didn’t learn much about any potential answer to this question in the spring, especially with a staggering 24 players unavailable for the spring game because of injury.
No, this one will linger until the regular season arrives. Only then will we learn how Butch Jones’ team deals with an offseason filled with great expectations.
Can the Commodores climb in the SEC East?
It’s a modest query, but one that hangs in the air around Nashville.
While last season’s 4-8 record wasn’t ideal, two of those wins came in league games, allowing Vanderbilt to finish ahead of Kentucky, Missouri and South Carolina in the East standings.
An improvement on that would mean an extra win or two and perhaps even a bowl bid. But can it happen?
That answer depends on the offense, which was almost as poor as Missouri’s in 2015.
Kyle Shurmur, thrown into the fire late last year, is a year older and wiser at quarterback, which helped the offense outshine the defense in the spring game.
“Here’s what I’ll say — Vanderbilt won tonight,” coach Derek Mason said after the spring game. “I liked what I saw from our offense. I thought our quarterbacks managed the game, they threw the ball well and hit their targets. And we were able to sustain a running game. It was just good football. I liked what I saw.”
The defense was surprisingly good last season, considering how little help it got from the offense. Even a marginal improvement from the offense could make for a nice season for the Commodores.