Every SEC Team's Biggest Question Mark Headed into 2015

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterFebruary 11, 2015

Every SEC Team's Biggest Question Mark Headed into 2015

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    Alabama CB Cyrus Jones
    Alabama CB Cyrus JonesKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    National signing day just wrapped up, but before you know it the pads will be popping and spring practices will be underway around the SEC.

    When they do, every team in the conference will have plenty of questions to answer this spring in order to reserve fall camp for fine-tuning rather than scrambling for answers. 

    What's the biggest question facing each SEC team heading into fall camp? Our picks based on roster attrition, sustained problems and coaching moves are in this slideshow.

Florida Gators: Quarterback

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    Florida QB Treon Harris
    Florida QB Treon HarrisStacy Revere/Getty Images

    This one is a no-brainer.

    Ever since Tim Tebow exhausted his eligibility after the 2009 season, the quarterback position has been a constant struggle in Gainesville that has lingered over two coaching staffs.

    The third, led by first-year head coach Jim McElwain, has to find an answer in 2015 in order to turn the program around.

    Dual-threat Treon Harris took over for Jeff Driskel in the middle of the 2014 season, but was up and down, completing 49.5 percent of his passes for nine touchdowns and four picks. Harris doesn't really fit into what McElwain and new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier want to do, which means redshirt freshman Will Grier—a pure pro-style passer—could be the guy for the 2015 Gators.

    Whether it's Harris, Grier or Florida hits the graduate transfer market this offseason, the new coaching staff has to find some stability from the quarterback because it's the biggest reason Florida hasn't been to the SEC Championship Game since 2009.

Georgia Bulldogs: Quarterback

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    Georgia QB Brice Ramsey
    Georgia QB Brice RamseyGrant Halverson/Getty Images

    Georgia has some significant losses to replace on defense, but the loss of quarterback Hutson Mason is flying way under the radar. 

    Mason didn't exactly set the world on fire in 2014, but he did finish second in the SEC in passing efficiency (155.75) and only threw four picks on the season.

    Replacing that reliability is easier said than done.

    Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta and Jacob Park will contend for the top spot on the depth chart this offseason, and job No. 1 for new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is to find the guy who can play smart, keep the chains moving and replicate Mason's success from last year.

    If there's an early favorite, it's Ramsey. As a redshirt freshman in 2014, he completed 61.5 percent of his passes (24-of-39) for 333 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.

Kentucky Wildcats: Front Seven

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    Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops
    Kentucky head coach Mark StoopsJohn Sommers II/Getty Images

    Kentucky boasted two very underrated players in the front seven last year, and Za'Darius Smith and Alvin "Bud" Dupree will likely enjoy long careers in the NFL. Despite their presence, the front seven struggled.

    Kentucky finished next-to-last in the SEC in tackles for loss (65), ninth in sacks (27), 12th in rush defense (191.17 YPG) and 12th in opponent rushing yards per carry (4.49). 

    That won't cut it.

    With the superstar duo gone, it'll be up to players like rising sophomore defensive tackle Matt Elam, the ultra-versatile linebacker Jason Hatcher and others to step up to win the battle in the trenches. That's not out of the question. After all, the front seven in Lexington has more potential than it has had in quite some time.

    That potential has to translate to success in 2015.

Missouri Tigers: Wide Receivers

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    Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel
    Missouri head coach Gary PinkelUSA TODAY Sports

    The number "five" is significant for head coach Gary Pinkel and the Missouri Tigers. Over the last two seasons, Pinkel's crew has lost just five games and won back-to-back SEC East titles.

    It also holds a slightly more dubious distinction.

    Nate Brown, Missouri's leading returning wide receiver, had just five receptions last year for 45 yards. The group behind Brown vying for playing time outside includes sophomore J'Mon Moore, senior Wesley Leftwich, and redshirt freshmen DeSean Blair and Keyon Dilosa. Missouri signed three more receivers to join the fray in the class of 2015.

    For the second straight year, a total wide receiver overhaul is taking place. 

    If Missouri is going to three-peat, Pinkel and quarterback Maty Mauk need to find answers this spring.

South Carolina Gamecocks: Defensive Line

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    USA TODAY Sports

    South Carolina's defense was a hot mess last year, and fixing it starts up front.

    The Gamecocks gave up 212.23 yards per game on the ground in 2014, the second-worst mark in the SEC. They one-upped themselves in the sacks department, finishing last in the conference with just 14 sacks on the season—which is equal to or more than three FBS players.

    Head coach Steve Spurrier's crew desperately needs to find somebody in the trenches who can be counted on. Whether that's an incumbent like defensive end Gerald Dixon or defensive tackle Gerald Dixon Jr., or a newcomer like junior college transfer defensive end Marquavius Lewis, the Gamecocks have to find some consistency.

    If they don't, the safeties will be forced down in the box to help out, teams will pick the secondary apart and 2015 will be the tragic sequel to an already depressing season in 2014.

Tennessee Volunteers: Offensive Line

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Tennessee was one of the youngest rosters in America last year, and the experience gained from making the first bowl game for the program since 2010 will be invaluable for the 2015 Vols.

    If there's one question mark on the roster, it's the offensive line, which was completely rebuilt prior to last season. Those struggles, though, can be used as positives for this year's edition, which returns four starters.

    The lone departure is tackle Jacob Gilliam, who played right tackle last year through an ACL tear, after that injury prevented him from playing on the left side.

    Dontavius Blair was brought in last January to contend for one of the two jobs at the end of the line but struggled to find the field. If he can live up to the potential and the rest of the unit can come together this offseason, the Vols will be tough to beat in the SEC East.

Vanderbilt Commodores: Quarterback

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    Vanderbilt QB Johnny McCrary
    Vanderbilt QB Johnny McCraryUSA TODAY Sports

    In his first season as Vanderbilt's head coach, Derek Mason played musical quarterbacks. Patton Robinette, Stephen Rivers, Wade Freebeck and Johnny McCrary all took their turn to impress the new staff, and none of them succeeded enough to bring stability at the position into the offseason.

    Sure, McCrary closed the season strong (by 2014 Vandy standards), throwing nine touchdowns over the final six games. That's at least some momentum. But the six picks over that same stretch far from entrench him as the unquestioned No. 1 in Nashville.

    Whether it's McCrary, Freebeck, Robinette or newcomer Kyle Shurmur, a little stability would go a long way for new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.

Alabama Crimson Tide: Cornerback

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    Alabama CB Eddie Jackson
    Alabama CB Eddie JacksonKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    As the old saying goes: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

    For two years, getting consistent play from cornerbacks has been a constant struggle for head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart in Tuscaloosa. Coaching staff musical chairs brought in a defensive backs coach this offseason with Mel Tucker, which shifted Smart's positional responsibilities back to linebackers.

    Tucker's primary focus will be to tap the potential of Alabama's defensive backs.

    Cyrus Jones got better week by week last year, but Eddie Jackson and Bradley Sylve struggled, Tony Brown couldn't find the field consistently and Marlon Humphrey redshirted. Newcomers Minkah Fitzpatrick and Kendall Sheffield will join the fray this summer, but if all goes according to plan, they will have an uphill battle once they arrive on campus.

    If they don't, Alabama's issues could linger into a third season.

Arkansas Razorbacks: Defensive Line

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    Arkansas DL JaMichael Winston
    Arkansas DL JaMichael WinstonUSA TODAY Sports

    Arkansas shut Ole Miss and LSU out in November and followed it up with the demolition of Texas in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl on the heels of a stifling front four that played man ball down the stretch.

    Two members of that defensive line moved on, though.

    Defensive end Trey Flowers was as complete a defensive end as there was in the SEC in 2014, but he exhausted his eligibility. Defensive tackle Darius Philon, a redshirt sophomore, decided to jump to the NFL early after posting 46 tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss.

    In their stead, somebody has to step up.

    JaMichael Winston needs to step up and become a complete defensive end, and Taiwan Johnson and Bijhon Jackson are being counted on to pick up Philon's slack inside.

    If Arkansas is going to build on last year's success, the defensive line is going to be the unit driving the bus.

Auburn Tigers: Pass Rush

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    Auburn DE Carl Lawson
    Auburn DE Carl LawsonTodd J. Van Emst/Associated Press

    If you had 13 guesses to pick which team tied with Ole Miss for the SEC lead in interceptions, how many would you need to land on Auburn?

    All 13?

    The Tigers had 22 picks last year, but the secondary was largely a laughing stock after giving up 230.1 yards per game. The reason for the criticism was the remarkable lack of pressure generated up front. Auburn managed just 21 sacks last season, and opposing quarterbacks consistently had enough time to pitch a tent, take a nap, wake up and find open receivers.

    The arrival of new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and return of defensive end Carl Lawson, who missed last season with a torn ACL, should help that. Another year in the strength and conditioning program for defensive tackle Montravius Adams and other returning contributors will as well, along with the arrival of 5-star defensive end Byron Cowart.

    If Auburn's defense is going to undergo a revival in year one, it starts up front with the Tigers generating a consistent pass rush.

LSU Tigers: Quarterback

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    LSU QBs Brandon Harris (left) and Anthony Jennings (right)
    LSU QBs Brandon Harris (left) and Anthony Jennings (right)Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Finding the biggest question for LSU is about as obvious as figuring out Florida's pressing issue.

    Save for Zach Mettenberger's senior season in 2013, the quarterback position has been a thorn in the side of head coach Les Miles ever since Ryan Perrilloux was dismissed prior to the 2008 season.

    Anthony Jennings completed just 48.9 percent of his passes last year. Despite his inconsistencies, true freshman Brandon Harris couldn't earn much playing time save for one ill-fated start at Auburn.

    One of the two has to step up this spring. The last thing LSU needs is an ongoing quarterback battle that lasts deep into fall camp knowing that, at this point, Jennings is pretty much a known commodity.

    Harris needs to take the job and run with it, otherwise it could be another frustrating season in Baton Rouge.

Mississippi State Bulldogs: Offensive Line

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    Thomas Graning/Associated Press

    The unsung heroes of Mississippi State's third 10-win season in program history were the offensive linemen, who withstood the preseason injury to senior starting right tackle Damien Robinson to help Mississippi State earn an Orange Bowl berth and the first No. 1 ranking in program history.

    Three players from that line—left tackle Blaine Clausell, center Dillon Day and right guard Ben Beckwith—all exhausted their eligibility after the bowl game, leaving head coach Dan Mullen searching for answers. 

    Robinson could get an extra year if his wavier is approved and Devon Desper and Jamaal Clayborn could step up at guard, but finding a replacement for Day will be a challenge.

    Whatever happens, though, the offensive line will look rather different in front of senior quarterback Dak Prescott, and that group needs to come together early this spring in order to hit the ground running during fall camp.

Ole Miss Rebels: Running Back

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    Ole Miss RB Jordan Wilkins
    Ole Miss RB Jordan WilkinsStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    While the quarterback battle involving Chad Kelly, Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade will dominate headlines, finding a consistent running threat between the tackles is a far more pressing issue this offseason for head coach Hugh Freeze and his staff.

    Jaylen Walton led the Rebels last year with 586 yards and five touchdowns but is much more of an edge threat than he is a bruiser. I'Tavius Mathers and Mark Dodson both saw significant time but transferred after the season.

    Who's going to step up?

    Jordan Wilkins rushed for 361 yards and a touchdown last year and could provide that threat. Akeem Judd, a 6'0", 220-pound former junior college transfer, redshirted last year and will also be an option inside for Freeze along with 4-star signee Eric Swinney.

Texas A&M Aggies: Defensive Consistency

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    Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin
    Texas A&M head coach Kevin SumlinMark Humphrey/Associated Press

    There are plenty of pieces on Texas A&M's roster to produce a somewhat competent defense. Getting them working together at the same time, though, has proved to be much easier said (or written) than done.

    Former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis was brought in to fix that problem after a successful stint manning the LSU defense. When toe meets leather for spring practice, he'll see defensive end Myles Garrett, linebacker Otaro Alaka, safety Armani Watts and several talented players and likely think to himself, "How did this team finish last in the SEC in total defense in each of the last two seasons?"

    It's up to Chavis to get all of the moving parts working together in College Station.

    If they do, look out for the Aggies. Defense doesn't win championships anymore, "just enough" defense does. Head coach Kevin Sumlin has the pieces in place offensively to take a ton of pressure off Chavis, as long as he finds some way for the Aggies on his side of the ball to become marginally consistent.

    Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

    Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.