SEC Stock Watch: Who we're buying, who we're selling
Spring practice is a thing of the past and we’re heading into the final stretch of the offseason before football starts back up for real. We’ve had months now to parse through practice reports and make predictions, and the season has begun to take shape.
With all that knowledge in hand, we can see where the hype train is taking us. Who is riding high that you might want to cash out on before the season, and who should you buy in on before September gets here?
- Missouri’s running game — The Tigers offense sputtered badly at times last year, despite Mizzou winning its second consecutive East title, and it was mostly due to the passing game. That passing game looked even worse in spring ball, as the Tigers lost their three top pass catchers and their expected No. 1, Nate Brown, missed the majority of the spring. Have no fear, though. Even if Maty Mauk regresses, Mizzou should have one of the best running games in the conference. The Tigers have a veteran offensive line with five seniors, led by stalwarts Evan Boehm and Connor McGovern, and they’ll be blocking for the SEC’s most underrated back, Russell Hansbrough.
- Alex McCalister — Florida is being mostly written off as the Gators transition to the Jim McElwain era, but there’s reason to believe the defense will still be pretty darn good. McCalister is one of the biggest reasons. The formerly wiry junior defensive end has packed on a ton of weight since his freshman year, and he actually was ahead of his old roommate, Dante Fowler, for Florida’s sack lead for much of the year last fall. With the exotic ways new DC Geoff Collins brings pressure, McCalister will be the catalyst for an underrated defense and help the talented secondary feast.
- Texas A&M’s pass rush — The Aggies had the worst defense in the SEC last year, leading to Mark Snyder’s dismissal and the hiring of John Chavis. While there’s a ways to go in the second level and back line — depth and talent are issues at both linebacker and in the secondary — some of those deficiencies will be masked by one of the better defensive lines in the SEC. Everyone knows about Myles Garrett, but players like Daeshon Hall and Qualen Cunningham are no slouches. Zaycoven Henderson should have an expanded role as a sophomore, while incoming freshman Daylon Mack will be an impact player in the middle of the line. Chavis has already simplified the Aggies defense, which should make the pass rush more effective in 2015.
- Brandon Allen — There’s been a lot of talk of Allen taking a major leap forward in the Arkansas offense, but he has to prove it before SEC fans should buy in. Even playing in a play action-heavy offense last year, Allen only completed 55 percent of his passes. That’s not going to be good enough, even with the powerful Razorbacks running game, if the Hogs are going to make a leap in the SEC West. The spring game, in which the starters pounded the backups, doesn’t give any insight into whether Allen can make plays in crunch time; Allen committed crucial turnovers late in several close losses, plays he’ll have to make for the Razorbacks to be better than .500 this year.
- Alabama’s quarterback controversy — A year ago, no one would have imagined that Blake Sims would top the SEC in touchdown passes and finishing second in yards through the air, especially not after his struggles in Alabama’s spring game. At this point, Alabama gets the benefit of the doubt, especially after the magic that Lane Kiffin worked with Sims last fall. Whether its Jacob Coker, the Florida State transfer and the only player with college experience, or redshirt freshman David Cornwell, Alabama has the best offensive coordinator in the SEC and a talented pair of running backs to fuel the offense.
- Tennessee’s running game — This is a case of “prove it” for the Volunteers. Tennessee has, on paper, one of the best running back duos in the SEC in Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, and the backfield will certainly get help from Joshua Dobbs’ running ability at quarterback and Mike DeBord’s scheme as the new OC. There are two things that need to play out on the field before fans should buy in on this one. First, Kamara has to show he can actually produced. He looked good as the only scholarship running back in Tennessee’s pared-down spring practice, but there’s no SEC film on him yet. Second, a more importantly, DeBord needs to transform the offensive line into a competent group; UT was last in the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss allowed last year. Until that happens, Tennessee’s running game (and entire offense) is a huge question mark, and those proclaiming UT the favorites to win the East might want to temper their enthusiasm a bit.