SEC Football: Which SEC Teams Have the Most to Do in Fall Camp?
The gauntlet the SEC provides is undoubtedly the steepest mountain to climb in college football.
Having five teams voted in the top 10 by the coaches in USA Today's poll solidifies that. SEC championships are hard to come by, maybe even harder than national championships according to some coaches.
But which SEC teams will need to work harder than everyone else just to ensure they have a say in the matter come Dec. 1?
Obviously every team will need to put in hard work during the fall, but these are the teams that need to put in extra time to compete with LSU and Alabama.
Kentucky doesn't exactly have a long list of superstars returning to the program in 2012.
They lost the best player on their team in linebacker Danny Trevathan, who accounted for 374 total tackles in his collegiate career, and they have questions at the quarterback position.
In fact, the Wildcats should have a three-way quarterback competition throughout fall camp. Max Smith is the healthiest and has experience, while Morgan Newton is trying to bounce back from a shoulder injury and Patrick Towles strolls onto campus athletically gifted but lacking in experience.
It's a long way to the top for Kentucky, and for them to be able to compete in the SEC at all, they're going to have to get at least one of these quarterbacks ready to play confidently.
James Frankin and the Vanderbilt Commodores poked a hole in the wall in 2011, so can they knock the wall down in 2012?
Well, they certainly have the tools to do so with Jordan Rodgers gaining a full year of playing time last season, Zac Stacey returning to carry the rock, and one of the SEC's most underrated wide receivers, Jordan Matthews, back to receive. Not a bad trio of stars by any means.
But the Commodores will have to replace linebacker Chris Marve and cornerback Casey Hayward. It's going to be difficult replacing a linebacker that accounted for 91 tackles and a defensive back that had seven interceptions.
Cornerback Trey Wilson has the potential to step up and replace Hayward's production, but the Commodores will need a linebacker to do the same for Marve.
Everyone wants to know how Missouri will fare in the SEC.
As intriguing as that may be, I'm more interested in seeing what James Franklin can do against the big boys from the south.
If you haven't seen Franklin play, he's like a poor man's Denard Robinson and not because he's any less skilled. Heck, Franklin is a better passer and almost as good at rushing the ball as "Ol' Shoelace." But he's simply not as well known.
In 2011, Franklin passed for 2,895 yards and 21 touchdowns, while rushing for 981 yards and 15 touchdowns. But that was against Big 12 defenses. Can Franklin be as effective against elite defenses like Alabama and Georgia in the SEC? He better be putting in the work because you already know Jarvis Jones is.
Tennessee should be the most motivated team in the SEC entering 2012.
After all, the Vols went 1-7 and finished last behind Vanderbilt and Kentucky in the SEC East in 2011, and the good folks in Tennessee aren't going to let that fly.
Luckily, Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter return to the offense healthy and ready to go, but can they stay that way? If there is some way to prevent players from getting injured, Tennessee needs to be doing everything they can to make sure Bray and Hunter avoid another injury and Da'Rick Rogers maintains his healthy status.
With these three offensive weapons returning, the Vols have a chance in the SEC East. But that defense is going to need to work hard to try and stay on par with the offense going into the season.
Ole Miss will face the steepest challenge in 2012.
With Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia and Texas on the schedule and a new coach in Hugh Freeze, the Rebels will most likely be looking at a lot of moral victories this season.
But hey, you can't count the Rebels out before the season starts. It's college football, anything can happen right? Eh, maybe if you don't play in the SEC West.
Ole Miss has yet to name the starting quarterback, so the first step to resurrecting the program is to find a solid leader at the position. Who will it be, Barry Brunetti or Bo Wallace?
Can Texas A&M go from being the new kids on the block to contender in their inaugural SEC season?
First things first, they have to be able to stop the run in the SEC. The good news is that they return linebacker Sean Porter, who had 79 total tackles in 2011 and is expected to have a breakout season in 2012, and linebacker Jonathan Stewart, who made 98 tackles. Perhaps, this defense can rally behind Stewart and Porter.
But what about the offense? Well, they return Christine Michael and Ryan Swope, as well as both of their talented offensive tackles. But what good is Swope on the outside now that Ryan Tannehill is no longer rocking the maroon uniform?
The Aggies will need to rely on Jameill Showers' arm for success in 2012, as that's become a large part of Texas A&M's offense. Kevin Sumlin and his coaching staff have to get Showers primed for SEC competition.
The defense is there for Dan Mullen to contend in the SEC West.
Some could even argue that the defense has always been there. So is this offense ready to step up and be a major player in the conference?
Time will tell, but for the mean time, Dan Mullen and Mississippi State need to figure out a way to utilize their three returning wide receivers. Chris Relf is no longer around, so Tyler Russell will be the main gunslinger on offense.
So far, Mullen's done a great job of making the Bulldogs a contender in the SEC, but he needs to transform Mississippi State from contender to challenger. Otherwise, the Bulldogs will always be on the outside looking in on the division race.
Auburn's experience gained in 2011 will help them take the next step toward glory in 2012.
But before they work on schemes for the upcoming year, Auburn has to work on those skin-tight practice shorts. Seriously, nobody wants to see that.
Getting back to football, there's plenty of reason to be optimistic if you're an Auburn fan. This defense will be a talented one with Corey Lemonier leading the way and the team is far more experienced than they were a year ago.
But as for the offense, they will need to ensure the loss of Gus Malzahn doesn't equal a loss in offensive production.