The hopes and dreams of the college football world have been renewed. We are just days away from spring football practice kicking off for the majority of college football. This means all win-loss records have been re-set. Everybody is now undefeated.
During the Nick Saban era, the SEC has been about Alabama and then everybody else. The Tide have built a dynasty. We know what they will be this fall. The intrigue this spring in the SEC lies more in who will rise up to challenge the Tide.
As we wait and see who will challenge Nick Saban and his team this fall, here are five things to keep a close eye on.
The tire fire that is Ole Miss
Ole Miss will not be one of the teams that will be challenging the Tide this fall. They got stone-cold busted by the NCAA and are in the process of attempting to stop the bleeding by throwing themselves on the mercy of the court.
The saga of Ole Miss and the NCAA is far from over. What happens now with the Rebels, their players, and their head coach is yet to be seen, but it is certainly one of the most interesting things to watch this spring.
Georgia’s Offensive Line
The debut season under Kirby Smart did not go the way Georgia wanted. The biggest reason Georgia struggled in 2016 was that the offensive line was not up to par.
The Bulldogs have an extremely talented squad (the most talented in the SEC East). They also have experience. According to Phil Steele, they are tied for the third most returning starters in the nation. In order for the talent to excel, the offensive line has to keep the defense off of their young quarterback and open up some holes for their star running backs.
The Bulldogs recruited very well on the offensive line this year, but only one of these players is an early enrollee. How Georgia fares this year will likely be determined by the play of the offensive line. How the group comes together this spring and the lineup looks heading into fall could be the difference between heading to the SEC Championship Game and a second disappointing year for Kirby Smart.
Tennessee’s coaching makeover
2016 was supposed to be the year Tennessee and Butch Jones rose to the top of the SEC East. Instead, they folded in the middle of the schedule after a 5-0 start that included a win over eventual division winner Florida.
The result of the 2016 season was that Butch Jones cleaned house. Five position coaches have been changed out with three newcomers being hired. The most interesting changes are the promotion of Larry Scott to offensive coordinator and the hiring of Brady Hoke to coach the defensive line.
Jones and Tennessee are in scramble mode. On paper, a 9-4 record is not bad, but the expectations for Jones are to keep the program moving in a forward direction. Last year, they were stagnant and had a worse record in the conference than the prior year. The changes Jones has made need to pay off for him and that all starts during this spring.
Can Jarrett Stidham fix Auburn’s offense?
Auburn finished the 2016 season ranked sixth in total offense in the SEC. That’s not exactly bad, but the Tigers also finished dead last in passing with just 169 passing yards per game and only 12 passing TD for the season. Kamryn Pettway carried the load for Auburn last season. When he didn’t play or wasn’t effective, the Tigers had their worst offensive games.
Sean White had his moments under center for the Tigers in 2016 but they need a more dynamic weapon at QB. Jarrett Stidham comes over from Baylor where he put up some impressive numbers in limited action (12 TD vs 2 INT in 2106 and yards per attempt of 11.6).
Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee flew the coop to take the same position at UConn (ummmm…..okay?). Chip Lindsey returns to Auburn to take over but there is no doubt that he and the offense will be squarely under Gus Malzahn’s thumb. The key for Auburn is how quickly they can get Stidham comfortable with the offense. That’s the difference between another eight win season or double-digit wins and possibly more.
The era of Orgeron
Color me as one of the surprised ones when Les Miles was replaced with someone already on his staff. Orgeron will not get the honeymoon period that most get when they take a new college football job. Orgeron is intimately familiar with all aspects of this LSU team and is thus expected to produce immediately.
As always, this LSU team is deep and talented. The biggest issue under Miles was finding a competent quarterback to hang his hat on. That will be the same issue this year for Orgeron. No offense to Danny Etling, but when he’s expected to be your starter you had better have some tricks up your sleeve.
Matt Canada is the new offensive coordinator. He spent last year at Pitt where the Panthers finished fourth in the ACC in total offense and he spent the three prior years at NC State where they were middle of the ACC pack in offense. The LSU offense finished 9th in the SEC in total offense last season and 12th in passing offense. Canada and Orgeron have to get the offense going if they want to contend in 2017. With the ousting of Miles, more than contending is the expectation at LSU.