Each SEC Football Coach's Biggest Project During Fall Camp
Fall camps are kicking off around the country with the college football season just weeks away. As usual, the SEC is the conference most are paying attention to, as there are a handful of national championship contenders and several other teams that are expected to surprise.
But with all of the talent and expectations, fall camp is still needed for teams that appear to be in great shape heading into the season opener. These next few weeks are a chance for teams to really get their players prepared for the marathon ahead and fix any potential weaknesses that could hinder the progress.
Whether it's a team that has won back-to-back national championships or a team with a new head coach that is taking baby steps, every SEC team has one project it should be focused on.
The reason Alabama received 58 out of 62 first place votes in the USA Today Coaches' Poll is because the team has no weaknesses. The offensive line is the only area where a little tweaking can be made, but even that is nitpicking and isn't worth the coaching staff losing sleep over the next month.
Everybody in Tuscaloosa can sleep just fine knowing that the Tide are once again the favorite to win a third straight national title.
The only thing that would wake folks up are a bundle of injuries to key players. Alabama is experienced and talented enough to get the season underway tomorrow. However, injuries could change that quickly. Keeping everybody healthy over the next few weeks is the biggest key for Nick Saban and his coaching staff.
Overcoming a Culture Change
Arkansas isn't calling for a complete overhaul of the program after last season's failure; however, there will be a culture change under new head coach Bret Bielema. Most notably, Arkansas will look to transform into a power football team that develops a physical mentality in the trenches.
Sounds like SEC football, right?
The problem is that Arkansas was anything but that last season and may not have the pieces in place to form that identity right away. Arkansas made a smart hire by bringing in offensive coordinator Jim Chaney from Tennessee, and will have an exciting player in 2013 recruit Alex Collins.
Still, finding all of the right players to fit this system will take some time.
Who Is the Quarterback?
Gus Malzahn is left to pick up the pieces in Auburn, and there are plenty of people who believe he has the talent to get the program back on track. While it may take some time, Malzahn is certainly going to keep things interesting with his high offensive intelligence.
The slight hiccup is that Auburn isn't quite sure who the starting quarterback is going to be. The coaching staff could try its luck again with experienced players in Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier, or it could go a different route by giving the keys to a newcomer such as Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee would like to make a decision rather quickly, but the choice will play a key role in how this season turns out. Auburn can't go another season without a single victory in conference play.
Patching Up the Offense
If Florida is hoping to top last season's 11-2 record, the offense must take Bigfoot steps forward. The defense may take a step backwards with a truckload of youth being asked to step up, and it's tough to win games when the offense averages just 26.5 points per game.
The offense had enough questions as it was, but now Florida is dealing with injuries to some of its key players during fall camp. Quarterback Jeff Driskel had an emergency appendectomy last week and running back Matt Jones is recovering from a viral infection, per David Jones of the News-Press Sports Bureau.
Florida must get it together offensively or it will be a long season.
Rebuilding the Defense
Georgia has more than enough offensive firepower to compete for an SEC title, but this isn't the Pac-12 or Big 12. A team must have a respectable defense as well if it hopes to hold the crystal football at the end of the season.
The Bulldogs only return three starters defensively, including zero starters on the defensive line and only one in the secondary. Talent is never going to be a question with this team. Garrison Smith has shown to be an effective lineman, while linebacker Jordan Jenkins has the potential to be an All-SEC player.
Still, there is a lot of youth on the most important side of the ball. Georgia must iron out the wrinkles, especially with a matchup against Clemson quickly approaching.
Will the Offense Coexist with the Defense?
Kentucky has a laundry list of areas to address before it is going to compete in the SEC. Turning a basketball program into a football powerhouse overnight only happens in the movies. While you could pick several different areas head coach Mark Stoops needs to focus on, it's the identity crisis that will draw the most questions.
Stoops is a hard-nose defensive coach who brings the correct mentality to get Kentucky on the right track. But offensive coordinator Neal Brown was brought from Texas Tech to spice up the offense and add some excitement to the team. He's known for throwing the ball a lot and scoring at an impressive pace.
Quick striking offenses and grind it out defenses are rarely seen on the same team. Finding a happy balance between the two is going to be key over the next few weeks.
Can the Offense Really Catch Up to the Defense?
No matter how many starters LSU must replace defensively, there are enough former 5-star recruits to go around. Experience will cause growing pains early on, but the defense will still be one of the best in the country under mastermind defensive coordinator John Chavis.
The concern with the Tigers remains the same year after year; what's the offense going to do?
Sure, the ground-and-pound running game will remain intact, but there needs to be something different this time. That's why offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was brought in from the NFL to ignite life into the offense. He does a nice job of opening up the passing game and getting his running backs to work in space.
LSU has been vanilla offensively for the longest time. Changes are expected this season.
It wouldn't be wise to give up on Dan Mullen just yet. He's only 41 years old and is entering his fifth season as a head coach. There is still plenty of upside for him to emerge as one of the better coaches in the conference and put Mississippi State in a better position.
But last season wasn't an easy pill to swallow. The Bulldogs won the first seven games and then lost five of the last six. Mullen has struggled in big contests and can't seem to get his team over the hump by winning 10 games for the first time since 1999.
Fall camp should be about believing in this season and getting the players excited about the possibilities. Mississippi State returns a solid 13 starters and begins the year with a big matchup against Oklahoma State. The players need to leave last season in the past and focus on the present.
Getting James Franklin Ready to Go
It all comes down to quarterback play for Missouri. The pieces are in place for a surprising season, but all of that means nothing if James Franklin can't start from day one. Texas A&M saw just how great a season can be when a quarterback plays at a high level. Like it or not, but Franklin has the ability to have that same impact.
Head coach Gary Pinkel has named Franklin a captain, but he isn't quite ready to name him the starting quarterback. This has a lot to do with Franklin's injury history, as the coaching staff would like to see a clean bill of health before making the final decision.
Franklin is a playmaker who can lead Missouri back to the postseason. Getting him ready for the season opener against Murray State is the top priority for the coaching staff.
Getting the Young Players to Slow Down
Did you know Ole Miss could win the SEC this season?
Although that may be a stretch, you wouldn't think so due to the amount of hype surrounding the program. It's amazing what a 7-6 record and loaded recruiting class can do for a team's confidence. Some believe a 10-win season isn't out of reach, while the USA Today Coaches' Poll gave the Rebels a decent 32 votes.
Why not pick Ole Miss to win the national title?
In all seriousness, the coaching staff must step in and get these young players to focus on the task at hand. It's wonderful to be confident and believe that you can go into Alabama and upset the Crimson Tide, but it's all for not if Vanderbilt is the main focus on Aug. 29.
Ole Miss is a young team, and it's important for the players to be reeled in just a tad.
Finding Offensive Playmakers
South Carolina has the most intimidating player in the country in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. In fact, the entire defense is expected to keep the Gamecocks in the national championship picture.
But what about the offense?
Two key players in running back Marcus Lattimore and wide receiver Ace Sanders have moved on to the NFL, opening up gaping holes offensively. While the Gamecocks have two experienced quarterbacks in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, neither has shown consistency throughout their career.
South Carolina has potential in wide receivers Damiere Byrd, Shaq Roland and Bruce Ellington, but it's going to take more than that for this SEC contender to be a balanced team.
Waking Up a Veteran Defense
Blame the scheme, blame the coach and blame the players. However you would to slice it, watching Tennessee's defense was brutal last season. It finished dead last in the SEC, allowing 471.3 yards and a game and 53 touchdowns.
It doesn't get much worse than that.
The good news is that Tennessee has brought in defensive coordinator John Jancek, who was impressive running Cincinnati's defense. He will transform the defense back into a 4-3 scheme in hopes of getting better production out of the veteran group.
Tennessee returns eight starters defensively, which includes linebacker A.J. Johnson who led the SEC with 120 tackles. If this season is going to be better than the last, it will start defensively.
Overcoming the Manziel Drama
It's impossible to escape. Johnny Manziel has surpassed Tim Tebow fame and is officially in a class of his own. He's all over the Internet and on every sports television show and is popping up at sporting events. Heck, he could be knocking on your door any minute asking if he can borrow some sugar.
Oddly enough, Manziel is in hot water with the NCAA, as ESPN's Outside the Lines reported that he allegedly signed autographs for a five-figure flat fee during the BCS National Championship Game.
Whether the NCAA can prove this to be true or not, the media will continue to eat it up and ask about the reigning Heisman winner until somebody more popular comes along to snag the headlines. Oh, that's not going to happen?
Well, unfortunately, Texas A&M must do anything and everything it can to distance itself from the hoopla and focus solely on football.
Finding a Quarterback
Vanderbilt is talented enough to take another step under head coach James Franklin and win 10 games. The offensive line is solid with three starters returning; there's offensive playmakers such as wide receiver Jordan Matthews, and the defense returns six starters.
The big question is at quarterback, where the coaching staff will look to replace Jordan Rodgers. The two prime candidates for the position are senior.
Austyn Carta-Samuels and redshirt freshman Patton Robinette. Carta-Samuels has the experience under his belt, but he hasn't started since the 2010 season. Robinette has no experience, but he does make good decisions and throws an accurate football.
Vanderbilt was ranked 81st in the country in passing yards and if it hopes to continue scaring the rest of the conference, that number must improve.