Spring games around the south are in the books, which means it’s time to get down to business. No, you can’t take a lot from spring games these days since, for the last decade or so, the paranoia of coaches has taken hold of spring games that weren’t always televised prior to the advent of conference networks.
Now that we have a glimpse of what’s to come, though, we have to take that information and run with it. Four new coaches joined the fray this year with Bryan Harsin at Auburn, Shane Beamer at South Carolina, Josh Heupel at Tennessee and Clark Lea at Vanderbilt. The spotlight was naturally on those four schools this spring, but LSU’s quest to rebound from a dreadful 2020 season, Lane Kiffin’s second year at Ole Miss and the roster holes on Alabama’s offense were also intriguing to track throughout the spring.
Let’s break down some overreactions for each SEC team now that spring sessions have wrapped up.
Alabama: WR Agiye Hall will win the Biletnikoff Award
Alabama is “Wide Receiver U,” right? After DeVonta Smith’s run to the Heisman Trophy, Jaylen Waddle’s stellar career and a laundry list of stars that coach Nick Saban sent to the NFL, there really is no doubt about this. After his spring game performance, Hall is the next in line and will be the winner of the Biletnikoff Award. He had four catches for 72 yards in the Crimson Tide spring game, including two circus catches that harkened back to wide receivers of old. Look out, college football, Hall is the next big superstar.
Quarterback experience in the SEC is at a premium in 2021, and somebody has to fill the second- and third-team spots in the postseason All-SEC team. Jefferson could be one of those guys. He went 6 of 11 for 153 yards and two touchdowns in the Razorbacks’ spring game, and showed big-time accuracy on deep balls. We already know that, even without Mike Woods, the Hogs’ receiving corps is solid. If Jefferson continues to make the same kind of progress throughout the offseason, SEC stardom is in his future. After all, we already know that he can run a little bit.
Auburn: Bo Nix + average receivers = disaster
Nix hasn’t exactly earned the confidence of the Auburn family, and the passing game looked disjointed in a spring game which showed that first-year coach Bryan Harsin has a long way to go in the passing game. Why? Life without Anthony Schwartz, Seth Williams and Eli Stove is going to make Nix’s job even more difficult than in the previous two years — at least for now. The truth is that Auburn’s wide receivers didn’t exactly run a complicated system under former coach Gus Malzahn, and Harsin will actually teach them a true route tree. That takes time, and it’s now clear that the process will take more than 15 spring practices.
Florida: Third-and-Grantham is a thing of the past
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has been a lightning rod for criticism after a lackluster season in 2020. That has changed … at least according to head coach Dan Mullen. It’s nearly impossible to have a steadfast opinion on Florida’s spring due to the lack of spring game and access. But Mullen touted Grantham’s defense after every scrimmage, which is music to the ears of Florida fans. If that translates to the fall, then look out, SEC East.
Georgia: Offense will be the best in the conference
Quarterback JT Daniels was already considered one of the best in the SEC, and it was widely known that the running back room is stacked. The wide receivers? Meh. My, how that has changed. Adonai Mitchell had seven catches for 105 yards and a touchdown in the spring game, while massive tight end Darnell Washington had four catches for 84 yards and a score. Translation: the offense will be unstoppable. In reality, this might not be too much of an overreaction. Daniels’ presence during the latter part of the 2020 season allowed then-first-year coordinator Todd Monken to open up his offense. Now that we have a normal offseason, Georgia’s offense could actually take off in 2021.
Kentucky: Wan’Dale Robinson will be a Heisman contender
The Nebraska transfer and Swiss Army Knife will be the ultimate playmaker in the SEC and vault Kentucky back into SEC East contention. As a result, he’ll put himself in the Heisman race and make a push for a spot in New York as a Heisman finalist. OK, that might be too much of an overreaction. But he was the buzz of the spring in Lexington, and when combined with dual-threat quarterback Joey Gatewood — who is a big-time threat running up-the-middle — this Wildcats offense could be extremely dangerous.
LSU: The 2019 magic will be recaptured
Confidence was high from the LSU coaching staff throughout the spring, and the reason for that confidence was on display in the Tigers’ spring game. Quarterback Myles Brennan looked like the star he was before he got hurt last year, wide receiver Kayshon Boutte looked like a Ja’Marr Chase clone and the defense looked well-coached for the first time since the Dave Aranda era. Will that translate to a repeat of the magical 2019 run to the national title? Coach Ed Orgeron has all of the ingredients for that championship recipe.
Missouri: Tigers defense is back
Eli Drinkwitz’s first defense in Columbia looked a lot like the ones from the Gary Pinkel and early Barry Odom days during its spring game. The offense couldn’t punch it into the end zone inside the 20-yard line and the secondary looked elite. This all seems to be going according to plan in Steve Wilks’ first season calling the shots. Will that send the Tigers back into SEC East contention? It is a darn good start and could be the catalyst for a return to prominence — especially if Drinkwitz’s offense takes off.
Mississippi State: Zach Arnett’s defense drives the bus
The Bulldogs’ quarterback battle between Will Rogers and Southern Miss transfer Jack Abraham will continue into the fall. No matter what happens there, the eventual starter will take solace in knowing that defensive coordinator Zach Arnett’s unit is going to be really good. It shut down the rushing attack in the spring game, and we all know that stopping the run is the best way to keep games close into the fourth quarter. Bonus: Rogers and Abraham are both experienced signal-callers, so protecting the football and making smart decisions will help coach Mike Leach’s crew have chances to win late in SEC games.
Ole Miss: The dynamic offense will lead to a top-10 upset
Lane Kiffin’s second season in Oxford should be one for the ages. The combination of his play-calling ability, a dynamic play-maker at quarterback in Matt Corral and one of the most versatile running backs in the SEC in Jerrion Ealy will scare the daylights out of opposing defensive coordinators. Combine those three with an offensive line that should take a step forward, and the potential for a major upset is there. Simply put, Ole Miss is the Oklahoma of the SEC (pre-Oklahoma having a good defense). The Rebels will score 40 per game. If they don’t give up 50, they’re going to be scary.
South Carolina: Luke Doty needs some help
Luke Doty was named the Gamecocks’ starting quarterback (sort of) after spring wrapped up, but he needs some help at wide receiver. There wasn’t much of a push to take the top off of the defense in the pared-down spring game last month. Running backs and tight ends were a big part of the game plan, and the versatile Dakereon Joyner was the only true receiving threat to show flashes of explosiveness. The depth issues that forced coach Shane Beamer to condense the spring game created a big problem, which likely led to some of the offense’s struggles though.
Tennessee: Vols have the best QB situation in the SEC
OK, this might be a big overreaction considering Daniels is in Athens. But Harrison Bailey and Hendon Hooker looked pretty darn good in the Volunteers’ spring game. Downfield passing hadn’t been a strong point under former coach Jeremy Pruitt, and that has clearly been a focus for first-year coach Josh Heupel, who has a pretty good track record coaching quarterbacks. Add Michigan transfer Joe Milton into the mix, and the battle in Knoxville should create a culture of competition that trickles down through the entire locker room.
Texas A&M: Offensive line is a massive problem
The quarterback battle between Haynes King and Zach Calzada will move deep into fall, and both of those guys have to deal with an offensive line that is clearly a work-in-progress. That line gave up five sacks in the spring game, which prevented the offense from getting into a flow. That’s bad news for a unit that benefited from veteran Kellen Mond in a big way as Mond progressed through his Aggies’ career. No matter who emerges atop the depth chart at quarterback, that young man could be running for his life based on the limited knowledge we gleaned from spring.
Vanderbilt: Will Sheppard will be a star
The sophomore caught three touchdown passes in the Commodores’ spring game, which is a great sign for first-year coach Clark Lea’s offense in Nashville. He only had two catches for 30 yards last season, but will be a big part of an experienced receiving corps that already has a track record with presumed starting quarterback Ken Seals. That will be enough to lead the Commodores out of the basement of the SEC East for the first time since 2018.
#SEC #spring #football #overreactions #Georgia #offense #unstoppable #LSU #ready #recapture #magic