SEC Spring Football Storylines to Watch

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SEC Spring Football Storylines to Watch
Crystal Logiudice-USA TODAY Sports
Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon

The doldrums of February are finally behind us, and it's time to start talking about things that matter. 

Spring football.

The annual event where no-name players become superstars, 15 players become surefire Heisman Trophy finalists and every team in America becomes a shoo-in to be the next team to hoist the crystal football.

Hot-button issues like Johnny Manziel's quest to repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner and the title races in each division will get sorted out later, but there's no shortage of storylines this spring around the South.  

Alabama is looking to reload in its quest for a third straight BCS National Championship, Georgia has already begun the process that head coach Mark Richt hopes leads the Bulldogs to Pasadena and LSU has to replace the population of a small country on defense.

What will make headlines in the SEC this spring?

 

Different Verse, Same as the First for Alabama?

Alabama achieved the near-impossible last season, becoming the first program in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) era to win back-to-back titles. But head coach Nick Saban has a 24-hour rule when celebrating victories, and that applies to championships as well.

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Alabama head coach Nick Saban
This year's Crimson Tide team will look a little different than last year's, starting with the offensive line. Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker are all gone, leaving a gaping hole up front. Ryan Kelly will get the first crack at replacing Jones, junior college transfer Leon Brown will likely step in for Fluker and competition will be fierce in Warmack's former stomping grounds at left guard.

Quarterback AJ McCarron will return for his senior season and will have a stable running game despite the early departure of Eddie Lacy.

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Alabama DT Brandon Ivory
T.J. Yeldon rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns in his true freshman campaign in 2012, and he will likely ascend to the feature-back role in 2013. Behind him, Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry will contend for playing time this spring, with injured sophomore Dee Hart and several incoming freshman joining the mix this summer.

Defense has been a hallmark for the Crimson Tide, but there are several holes to fill this spring. Will either John Fulton or Geno Smith step up at cornerback opposite Deion Belue? Can Brandon Ivory fill the rather large void that nose guard Jesse Williams left in the middle of the defensive line? Will linebacker Trey DePriest succeed with added responsibility?

Despite the dynasty, there are still plenty of questions in Tuscaloosa.

 

What's Up with Georgia's Defense?

Four key defensive lineman, two star linebackers and four contributors in the secondary are all gone from last season's Georgia roster—a team that came within five yards of playing for the BCS National Championship.

While the departures have enough star power to constitute an All-Star team, they weren't that successful last season. The Bulldogs finished 12th in the SEC in rush defense after giving up 182.14 yards per game. 

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Georgia LB Jordan Jenkins
All the stars may be gone, but there are plenty of talented players stepping in.

Jordan Jenkins has everything it takes to be the "next Jarvis Jones." The sophomore finished last season with 31 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Not bad for a part-time starter.

Defensive end Garrison Smith gained a ton of experience last season, linebacker Amarlo Herrera finishes fifth on the team in tackles (70) and Damian Swann emerged down the stretch as a legitimate playmaker at cornerback down the stretch. Add in safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, who could play linebacker as well, and you have a talented defensive core.

Georgia was on the brink of greatness last season and has virtually its entire offense coming back. Because of that, all the defense has to do is be opportunistic. This group certainly could do that.

 

Damian Swann's top plays of 2012
LSU Doesn't Rebuild, it Reloads. Right? RIGHT?!?!?

LSU's roster turnover is well documented. In addition to senior departures, 10 players from the 2012 squad chose to bolt early for the NFL, six of which were on defense.

But it's all good, right? After all, LSU just opens its doors and 4- and 5-star players just waltz on in every year.

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LSU CB Jalen Mills
That theory will be tested this year, but the Tigers are in good hands with defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, linebacker Kwon Alexander, cornerback Jalen Mills and safety Craig Loston.

It seems like a broken record, but most of the pressure will fall on the Tigers offense yet again.

Cam Cameron was brought in to kickstart a unit that has been searching for answers for the better part of a decade. The good news is that quarterback Zach Mettenberger played well down the stretch last season, can turn around and handoff to superstar-in-the-making Jeremy Hill and has his top four receivers returning as well as four contributors on the offensive line.

Don't count out LSU. There's a ton of talent in Red Stick, and they'll be back in contention sooner rather than later.

 

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LSU QB Zach Mettenberger
Florida Has to Find a Passing Game

The Gators were on the doorstep of the SEC East title last season, despite being incredibly one-dimensional.

Quarterback Jeff Driskel will enter spring practice as the unquestioned No. 1 starter, which is new territory for the junior who battled Jacoby Brissett for the top spot on the depth chart into the start of last season. 

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Florida QB Jeff Driskel
Driskel won't have the luxury of relying on running back Mike Gillislee anymore, and the Gators desperately need him to take the next step as a passer if they want to play for the crystal.

One problem, though: Driskel has very few weapons at wide receiver—figuratively and literally.

Downfield threats have been few and far between in Gainesville lately, and head coach Will Muschamp will enter spring practice with only four healthy scholarship wide receivers. Cornerback Louchiez Purifoy will move over and play offense this spring, but even with his arrival, options are limited.

 

Texas A&M's Front Seven Needs to be Rebuilt

The Aggies will be without defensive end Damontre Moore, linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart—all of whom starred last season—and will miss linebacker Steven Jenkins (labrum) and defensive end Julien Obioha (back) this spring due to injuries.

That means there's playing time available for several inexperienced players—most notably defensive end Brandon Alexander. The 6'6", 255-pounder redshirted last year and was in and out of head coach Kevin Sumlin's dog house. But he has all the talent in the world and can absolutely slide over and step in on the weak side for Moore.

In the secondary, Floyd Raven is moving from corner to safety and will solidify a talented back four that played well at times in 2012. 

As is the case with Georgia, when you have a dynamic offense, all you have to do is be opportunistic on defense. This Aggies group has the talent to do that, but there is some work to be done.

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Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin

 

How Will the First-Year Head Coaches Handle Spring?

Auburn, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky all have new leaders at the helm, with all four having serious issues to address in the first spring at their respective jobs.

Gus Malzahn will enter his first season as Auburn's head coach with the biggest hill to climb, but also the easiest transition. The former Tigers offensive coordinator left after the 2011 season, is familiar with the program and is inheriting a team that has finished in the top 12 of the 247Sports.com team composite index in each of the last four seasons.

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Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema
The 2013 season was likely going to be a rebuilding year at Arkansas no matter who the head coach was, but first-year head coach Bret Bielema will have his work cut out for him. Luckily for Bielema, he has a talented running back in Jonathan Williams, an underrated group of wide receivers and a defense that can't get much worse.

Butch Jones will start his Tennessee career with a lot of the same questions that former head coach Derek Dooley faced in his first season in 2010. The Vols have a ton of roster questions and are desperate to get back to their winning ways. Who will step up at quarterback and wide receiver? Can the Vols defense be successful despite its third scheme change in three years?

Kentucky isn't exactly known as a football powerhouse, but Mark Stoops has already injected enthusiasm into the program. The next step is finding a quarterback. Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow will all compete for the starting spot this spring, and settling on one is job No. 1 for Stoops.

What are your top storylines to watch this spring? Let me know in the comments below.

 

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