SEC head coaches call the shots, but it’s often a decision made by an assistant that affects momentum late in the game. Each team has a go-to assistant coach and here are the most important:

Alabama — Kirby Smart: Nick Saban’s top assistant during an incredible period of success in Tuscaloosa, Smart has been rumored as a prime head coach option at several programs over the last few years but has remained loyal to the Crimson Tide. His defenses have ranked No. 1 in the SEC six out of the last seven years with stopping the run being his extreme strength. Few coaches can develop a gameplan as well as Smart who has helped Alabama win three national championships during his tenure. He’s had 23 players drafted since 2008.

Arkansas — Robb Smith: One of the SEC’s most underrated assistants, Smith sparked the Razorbacks’ dramatic turnaround late in the season last fall as the director of a defense that shut out nationally-ranked division rivals consecutive weeks and finished second to LSU in the conference, giving up just 323.4 yards per game. If Smith can tinker with his lineup and fill the void left by Martrell Spaight and Trey Flowers this season in the front seven, Arkansas will be a competitor in college football’s toughest division.

Auburn — Will Muschamp: The highest-paid assistant coach in college football at a reported $1.7 million annually, Muschamp was handpicked by Gus Malzahn to fix Auburn’s issues defensively — and he has the players to do so. The Tigers have worked on becoming a more physical football team this spring as Muschamp brings a more boisterous nature to the defense. Auburn’s pass rush must improve to compete for a berth in Atlanta and the secondary, after giving up a league-high 22 touchdowns passes last fall, has to keep big plays to a minimum.

Florida — Doug Nussmeier: We’re all anxious to see Florida’s new-look offense during Jim McElwain’s first season and Nussmeier’s the spark plug. The last two hires, Brent Pease and Kurt Roper, didn’t exactly work out for the Gators and quarterback problems were to blame. Nussmeier has his pick of the quick and agile Treon Harris or gunslinger Will Grier, a move that could backfire if chosen incorrectly.

Georgia — Brian Schottenheimer: Equipped with four returning starters up front and a slew of talented running backs (including Heisman candidate Nick Chubb), if Schottenheimer’s offense isn’t clicking on all cylinders by October, there could be problems for the first-year coordinator. The Bulldogs averaged a school-record 41.3 points per game last season with a new quarterback and young ballcarriers. If Georgia’s wide receivers can produce and Brice Ramsey or Jacob Park develops confidence at quarterback, Schottenheimer should be a viable replacement for Mike Bobo.

Kentucky — Shannon Dawson: The first few weeks of spring practice have centered around the “evolution of the Air Raid” as the former West Virginia assistant turned Wildcats OC calls it. It’s not much different than the passing-geared offense Kentucky ran last season with similar route concepts and getting the ball out quickly. Dawson’s job to ensure the Wildcats are able to move the football at a consistent rate, something they struggled with over the second half of the 2014 campaign. Along with Mark Stoops’ input, Dawson will pick the starting quarterback this fall, a race between incumbent Patrick Towles and the talented Drew Barker.

LSU — Kevin Steele: There’s no doubt running backs coach Frank Wilson and play-caller Cam Cameron will need to be on their “A-game” this season offensively, it’s the other side of the ball facing the biggest question following the departure of John Chavis to College Station. Steele is faced with the task of keeping the Tigers afloat in an area of strength. When all else has failed in the passing game at times during the Les Miles era, LSU’s been able to run the football and play well defensively. That can’t change if this team plans on competing for a Western Division title.

Mississippi — Dan Werner: The Rebels’ co-OC and quarterbacks coach has his hands full replacing three-year starter Bo Wallace under center, a player who understood what Warner wanted to do offensively. and where to go with the football. Part of Werner’s job this spring has been working closely with running backs coach Derrick Nix in hopes of strengthening the offense’s rushing attack. The Rebels have stressed “dirty runs” from their ballcarriers, also known as positive gains. Production challenges from running backs last season led to line of scrimmage problems against ranked teams and Ole Miss struggled to move the ball on the ground when the time called for it.

Mississippi State — Greg Knox: Part of what made last season’s offense so dominant was Mississippi State’s ability to run between the tackles with Josh Robinson, the SEC’s third-leading rusher with 1,203 yards and 11 touchdowns. Along with Dak Prescott, Robinson provided the Bulldogs with a physical presense in the trenches in short-yardage situations. Knox, Mississippi State’s assistant coach for running backs and special teams, is trying to cultivate Brandon Holloway and Ashton Shumpert into reliable every-down options along with Aeris Williams. While it’s unproven from a workhorse standpoint like Robinson, the Bulldogs do have depth in the running game and Knox will be the guy divvying the carries.

Missouri — Craig Kuligowski: Will this be the season Kuligowski is recognized as the SEC’s top assistant coach? He has certainly earned mentioned as the Tigers’ instructor along the defensive front where he’s coached several pass rushers to splendid seasons in recent years. His latest task is replacing Markus Golden and Shane Ray, skilled edge guys who combined for 23 sacks last season for the Eastern Division champs. Kuligowski expects his defensive front to hold their own with All-American candidate nose guard Harold Brantley and the arrival of Terry Beckner Jr. later this summer.

South Carolina — Jon Hoke: Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott may be the Gamecocks’ most consistent assistant during Steve Spurrier’s tenure, but the recently-hired Hoke is the guy with the most pressure in 2015. One of the Head Ball Coach’s former staffers at Florida, Hoke will co-coordinate an athletic defense which underwhelmed during the 2014 campaign. Specifically, he’ll man a youth-filled secondary while Lorenzo Ward focuses on strengthening the Gamecocks’ pass rush.

Tennessee — Mike DeBord: This former Michigan OC has the luxury of working with quarterback Joshua Dobbs this season as Tennessee’s primary play-caller on what’s expected to be an exciting offense. For the first time in a decade, the Vols have legitimate Eastern Division title hopes with the most returning starters in the SEC including several big-time pass rushers on the other side of the football. Tennessee caught fire offensively when Dobbs replaced Justin Worley over the final stretch in 2014 and it’s DeBord’s job to ensure a repeat performance.

Texas A&M — John Chavis: The Chief’s leading a new tribe out West, one in dire need of his help after back-to-back dismal years defensively. The personnel’s been there for the Aggies, but bad tackling, misread assignments and overall faulty technique has led to embarrassing efforts defensively since Kevin Sumlin took over, ultimately keeping Texas A&M out of the title picture. Chavis can build this season’s defense around cornerstone end Myles Garrett and once he’s through a recruiting cycle, could get the Aggies where they need to be in the future.

Vanderbilt — Andy Ludwig: One of several new assistants on Derek Mason’s staff in prep for his second season, Ludwig will hopefully re-energize an anemic offense stricken with quarterback deficiencies. Keeping Ralph Webb healthy is first priority, then deciding on Vandy’s best option under center now that projected first-teamer, Patton Robinette, has quit.