Which SEC Football Teams Have the Most Critical Fall Camps?
Several SEC football programs took major steps in answering their offseason questions this spring.
Arkansas found its quarterback with Brandon Allen, South Carolina settled on a dynamic running back duo of Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds, and Texas A&M's Donnie Baggs and Floyd Raven established themselves as big-time players for the new-look Aggies' defense.
For others though, the spring served as the opening act to what will be a critical month once fall camps open in August.
Which SEC teams have the most to answer in fall camp? Here is a look at the top five.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.
5. LSU Tigers
The jury is still out on the 2013 edition of the LSU Tigers.
Can the defense withstand massive (and somewhat unexpected) roster turnover on the defensive side of the ball? Is Zach Mettenberger the answer at quarterback? How much of an upgrade at offensive coordinator is Cam Cameron?
I'm more positive about this year's Tigers than most, but that doesn't mean that questions aren't there.
Mettenberger has to build upon his success from November and adjust to Cameron's play-calling. The running game also must figure out what it's going to be with and without Jeremy Hill in case Hill's indefinite suspension becomes definite, and the pieces on defense have to settle into place.
There are questions remaining in Baton Rouge that will directly impact the Tigers' national title hopes, and those need to be answered early in August.
4. Arkansas Razorbacks
Arkansas solved the biggest piece of its puzzle this spring when Brandon Allen all but won the starting quarterback job. But there's still work to be done.
First-year head coach Bret Bielema is in the process of instilling a tougher mindset in his players, particularly up front where the offensive line is being expected to open holes for running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins.
Can that be done in nine months, especially considering the stout defenses that practice against smashmouth teams like LSU and Alabama which reside in Arkansas' own division? That remains to be seen, which is exactly why Arkansas' fall camp will be so intriguing.
Defensively, it'll be all about consistency. The Hogs have a solid front four, highlighted by Trey Flowers and Chris Smith, but the linebackers and secondary have to step up. If the Hogs can become just a little more consistent, they'll go bowling this season.
3. Tennessee Volunteers
When Tennessee finished up spring practice, there were still plenty of questions remaining—most notably, who's going to play quarterback?
Neither Justin Worley nor Nathan Peterman won the job this spring, which gives freshmen Josh Dobbs and Riley Ferguson the chance to win the job this summer. Can they do it? Jones isn't afraid to start a freshman, even in the SEC.
"We are going to play the best individual that gives Tennessee the best opportunity to win," Jones said. "I don't care if you're a senior or a freshman in our program, the best players are going to play."
But who's the eventual winner of the quarterback battle going to throw to? Alton "Pig" Howard and Vincent Dallas could make moves to become playmakers outside, but keep an eye on 6'4", 215-pound true freshman MarQuez North.
Defensively, there's talent at Tennessee. It just needs to continue to re-adjust to life in the 4-3 defense.
Tennessee's defense is going to be better because there's really no place for it to go except up. If Brian Randolph can come back healthy and solidify the back end of the defense, and Maurice Couch and Daniel McCullers can eat up blocks on the line, the Vols' defense will be fine.
2. Auburn Tigers
Auburn has the talent to be competitive in its first year under head coach Gus Malzahn, but it needs to find a quarterback.
Neither Jonathan Wallace nor Kiehl Frazier won the job this spring, which gives junior college transfer Nick Marshall and true freshman Jeremy Johnson the chance to win the job during fall camp.
Marshall, a former high school quarterback who played defensive back at Georgia before being dismissed, is a wild card. He has the dual-threat capabilities to be a threat, but is a little raw after throwing 20 interceptions at Garden City Community College (Kan.) last season.
Somebody has to step up and prove that he can move the offense without making mistakes because aside from quarterback, there are some quality pieces for Malzahn to work with on offense.
It'll also be interesting to see how the defensive depth chart works out, particularly how newcomers Carl Lawson, Elijah Daniel and Montravius Adams fit in along the defensive line. Can Auburn develop the depth up front it needs? Can new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson teach the Tigers how to tackle?
Those questions need to be answered quickly.
1. Florida Gators
After an 11-2 campaign and a Sugar Bowl appearance in the Gators' second year under head coach Will Muschamp, Florida finds itself back in the familiar position of being a national contender heading into this fall.
There's just one problem though, it doesn't look like one at times.
The Florida offense was one-dimensional by necessity last season, and that has to change in 2013 if the Gators want to stay in the national discussion.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel takes a lot of heat for his inability to stretch the field, but it isn't all his fault. The Gators don't have a consistent deep threat, and that has to change this season.
Quinton Dunbar has been a spring superstar for a few years now, but he has not looked like on in the fall. Demarcus Robinson, Ahmad Fulwood or even cornerback/defensive back Loucheiz Purifoy also need to step up.
Why is that so important?
The Florida defense is solid, but there are enough holes to be concerned about its ability to consistently dictate games as it did last season. Plus, while Matt Jones is a quality running back and a future superstar, he's still relatively inexperienced.
Florida's offense doesn't have to be explosive, it just needs to be dynamic enough to pose a marginal threat. That needs to happen before toe meets leather this fall.
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report.