Frontrunners nowhere to be found after spring ball
Spring football is by no means a tell-all preview for the upcoming season. The players who shine in April oftentimes are never heard from again come September, and tales of explosive offenses and reactive defenses don’t always come to pass by fall.
Still, most years, there’s at least some idea of who the favorites are as spring bleeds into summer. Of course, there are the traditional powers that are ever-present in the conversation about SEC favorites, and every year features a surprise team — a 2014 Mississippi State here, a 2013 Missouri there. This year, perhaps more so than any season in the last several, there are more questions for even the best teams in the conference as players end their school year.
Annual 10-win candidates LSU, Alabama and Georgia all fall victim to the same problem: a lack of quarterback certainty. All three have a roster capable of winning a championship, SEC or national, but don’t have anything firmed up under center. For all three schools, the spring did nothing to clear up the issue. Sure, a candidate here or there dropped from the race, but the Bulldogs, Tigers and Crimson Tide may have more confusion now than they did two months ago. It hasn’t stopped Alabama from being listed as a 12.5-point favorite in its Week 1 game, but it makes the summer months a lot more important.
Many of the would-be contenders with their quarterback situation firmed up have questions abound. At Auburn, Jeremy Johnson has shown that he has the skills to be a Heisman contender at quarterback. The questions for the Tigers lay on the other side of the ball, where Will Muschamp is working to get the defense up to speed. The same goes for Texas A&M, which got its quarterback of the future, Kyle Allen, onto the field last fall. Offense won’t be the issue for the Aggies; instead, just like Auburn, A&M will hope its new, highly regarded defensive coordinator, John Chavis, can transform a defense that got shredded the last two years.
Tennessee and Arkansas have no issue under center after impressive late-season pushes last year. The Volunteers have an issue with experience, claiming a roster filled with a slew of players with just a year of starting experience under their belt. The offensive line issues in Knoxville haven’t been shored up, either, and the Vols will have to wait until fall when they get a healthy roster and the full complement of incoming players.
Arkansas has an excellent offensive foundation in place, but is still seeking playmakers outside of the running game. The real question as the Hogs attempt to climb back to West contention is whether they can maintain their punishing defense despite losing several key contributors.
Even the back-to-back defending East champions face real issues. The defense should be just fine as the Tigers transition from Dave Steckel to Barry Odom, but the offense is a huge question mark, even with Maty Mauk and Russell Hansbrough returning. Spring practice exposed major problems throwing the ball, both due to a lack of improvement from Mauk and a lack of experienced options at wide receiver.
The summer will be as important as ever for all of those teams as they look to hold onto or claim a spot amongst the SEC elite. Both divisions will be up for grabs this fall, and we won’t get a sense of who the true contenders are until the teams strap on the pads in a few months.