SEC Football's Full Spring Preview

Dan Irwin@irwinsportsCorrespondent IIFebruary 28, 2012

SEC Football's Full Spring Preview

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    The SEC had an interesting 2011 season to say the least.

    The conference got its fifth consecutive National Championship, but the champ didn't win the conference.

    Then you have the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri, which on the surface is just different, but we might as well get used to it, because it's happening.

    Players have moved on. A new class of young talent has come in, all with the mission of vying for SEC supremacy.

    There are teams we can look at right away and say that we know what should happen with them for the most part.

    LSU and Alabama should continue their solid level of competition, and you may be able to add Georgia to that group this season.  Florida should improve, and Vanderbilt could surprise some people.

    We take a look at the SEC spring game schedule, day-by-day, and find out what the big questions are for each team, both East and West divisions, as we head further into 2012.

March 31

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    LSU's spring game is the lone SEC event that weekend, which will be good for anyone who has questions about the conference champions.

    The big question is obvious—how will new quarterback Zach Mettenberger handle being the new No. 1 man for the offense?

    If Mettenberger can get the offense rolling, they could be a dangerous, quick-strike scoring team.

    On the defensive side of the ball, the Tigers lost a lot of linebackers, but they addressed the loss in recruiting.

    Of the 18 linebackers now listed on LSU's roster, six of them are true freshmen.

    LSU's level of success will depend highly on the work put in by their young linebacking group. Fortunately for those interested, LSU will be answering their spring questions before anyone else in the SEC.

April 7

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    The Gators come off of a disappointing 2011 season by their standards. The team struggled to find a real offensive flow, and many would point to a questionable offensive line.

    There are three potential suitors for the quarterback position: Jacoby Brissett, Jeff Driskel and Tyler Murphy.

    Although Brissett is likely the early favorite, nothing is set in stone as of yet.

    Murphy has yet to take a college snap, so second year head coach Will Muschamp would have to see something extraordinary to make him the starter.

    The real "X-factor" for the Gators' offense this season will be their new offensive coordinator Brent Pease.

April 14

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    How do you improve on a team who has turned out the most first round draft picks in the NCAA over the past three seasons, as well as just won the National Championship?

    Well for one, you don't mess with the formula too much.

    But you do work to maintain. A.J. McCarron will again be the starter, this time with a BCS National Championship season under his belt.

    The Crimson Tide will have a huge hole to fill at center however, as William Vlachos, starter for the past three seasons, is now gone.

    But the interesting thing to watch this spring will be Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones, who will try moving from his award winning left-tackle spot to center in an effort to fill that gap.

    The defense will have a lot to prove, as several starters from a year ago are now gone.


    The majority of Auburn fans would have just as soon scrapped the whole defense around mid-season and started over.

    Well, luckily for them, that has been Gene Chizik's  focus this offseason.

    New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder will be taking over with a new attitude and staff. Only defensive line coach Mike Pelton remains from the 2011 staff.

    The good news for the defense is that the starting unit stays mostly intact, allowing VanGorder to focus on their maturation rather than basics.

    On the offensive side, there is officially a battle for quarterback.

    Clint Moseley will be facing competition from Kiehl Frazier for the starting role in 2012.

    True freshman Zeke Pike will also be competing at quarterback, but is unlikely to start right away.


    With most of the 2011 team coming back, and talk of a National Championship caliber team this season, the big question for Georgia can be summed up with one name: Crowell.

    Can the stud running back stay healthy long enough to allow the Dawgs to make an impact?

    He'll want to come out strong in 2012, and put his previous performance of three rushing yards against Michigan State behind him.

    Last year saw Georgia go all the way to the SEC Championship game. With an East division that has no clear-cut favorites, Georgia should run away with the division.

    The thing to watch this spring for the Dawgs will be the talented young receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who is going to try out at cornerback to help even out the thinning secondary.


    Ah, the new guy. Well, one of them anyway. So what is Missouri all about, and how will they fare against the rest of the SEC in 2012?

    Missouri orients themselves around a spread-offense, mostly out of the shotgun formation. They depend on their quarterback James Franklin to run the ball on the edge a lot, and do have some dangerous receivers.

    They will also be returning the Big 12's leading rusher, Henry Josey.

    Missouri's biggest test will be coping with the loss of three starters from their offensive line.

    Missouri's defense is their soft spot, but do have emerging players in Andrew Wilson and Brad Madison.


    Running back Marcus Lattimore will look to come back from a devastating ACL injury last season and show that he can still get the job done.

    Although it has been acknowledged that Lattimore is not 100%, his rehab is certainly ahead of schedule.

    Lattimore will most likely not be involved in any contact this spring, but it will be interesting to document his progress, as having him available at the beginning of the season would be a huge plus.

    Conner Shaw is on pace to be one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC in 2012. He will look to stay in form and maybe compete in the East with Georgia.

    The big question that needs to be answered this spring is who will emerge at wide receiver? One of their younger players will have to step into the role, which is currently wide open.


    Those who are thinking that Vanderbilt will be an easy "W" in 2012 are in for a big surprise.

    Vandy is rolling with a ton of confidence, despite losing their bowl game.  

    Jordan Rodgers will be the quarterback for the Commodores going in to head coach James Franklin's second season.

    Another big early question will be the health of running back Warren Norman, who is expected to be ready to compete in the spring, though his impact on the season isn't even being speculated on yet. 

April 21

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    Bobby Petrino had a great season in 2011, but the one area that he felt held the Hogs back from winning a National Championship was their defense.

    Enter Paul Haynes.

    Arkansas fans will be able to distinguish his style right away, describing it with one word—"attacking."

    Haynes leaves his former job at Ohio State, a school known for its defensive tenacity.

    Quarterback Tyler Wilson will return and could be in the Heisman mix if he is able to produce the way that the Razorbacks know that he can.

    At wide receiver, there's Cobi Hamilton, and then anyone else who has a wide receiver label. Young players will have to step up at this key position that lost many players.


    The Wildcats big issue will be replacing three of their departed offensive linemen. Larry Warford and Matt Smith will be returning for their junior seasons, but beyond that, they'll need some serious help.

    Lineman isn't the only offensive concern, as quarterback Morgan Newton's injury has made this Maxwell Smith's team.

    Kentucky's success in 2012 will depend largely on these two elements.

    The defense meanwhile, has lost a whopping six starters that were either linebackers or secondary players.

    The thing to watch this spring for Kentucky will be to see how returning defensive starters Mikie Benton and Ridge Wilson distinguish themselves.


    Things are looking good in Starksville.

    The Bulldogs are excited about new offensive linemen Dylan Holley and Charles Siddoway, both junior college transfers.

    Their additions to the offensive line will be critical in predicting what will happen to the Bulldogs, who could be poised for an excellent season.

    Tyler Russell will be the full-time starter and should be able to handle his role well.

    The spring question is how the Bulldogs will fare in replacing some key losses on defense.  Johnathan Banks, Corey Broomfield and Charles Mitchell are all gone from 2011.

    If some young players can step up in certain key defensive positions, and Russell improves just slightly from last year, Mississippi State is poised to be a challenging win for any team in the West.


    Time for Freeze-Ball.

    First year coach Hugh Freeze will be bringing a spread offense to the SEC for Mississippi, nearly the same offense he ran at Arkansas State.

    Unfortunately for fans, the current roster doesn't feature the right personnel for the scheme, and at least one season of rebuilding will have to take place before any type of substantial success occurs.

    The good news is that incoming junior college transfer Bo Wallace just may be the answer to the quarterback problem that plagued the Rebels in 2011.

    The big question that needs to be answered in Oxford is the defense.

    This spring, look for D.T. Shackelford to return at linebacker and give the Rebels a huge boost. He missed all of 2011 with an ACL injury.


    How will players embrace the overhaul?

    Tennessee got six new assistant coaches this offseason.  The inclusion of a 3-4 defensive scheme makes it critical for the players to buy in to the new coaches quickly.

    The Vols will have plenty of work to do in the rushing department, ranking 116th nationally a season ago.

    But wide receiver Justin Hunter will be back, so the defense will have to commit to his routes, freeing up the possibility to run the ball.

    Although Hunter is not expected to play in the spring game, he should be running well and testing his ability to cut by then.

April 28

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    First-year coach Kevin Sumlin will be the last SEC coach to show his team in a spring practice game.

    His first task will be to find a new quarterback to help get A&M back on the winning track.

    There are four candidates for the quarterback role. Jameill Showers, Johnny Manziel, Matt Joeckel and even true freshman Matt Davis are all possibilities to be under center for the Aggies this fall.

    Sumlin's second task will be to get the Aggies playing better in the second half of games. Texas A&M led at halftime or in the second half in five of their six losses in 2011.

    As far as the season is concerned, the only thing weirder than playing in the SEC will be having Missouri as their rival.

    And that concludes the 2012 spring preview.  Until next time, college football fans.