College Football 2013: SEC West spring preview
With a handful of schools already starting their spring practice session last week – and the latest being April 3 – we can get a small glance of how teams will be shaping for this fall.
Spring games usually take place in the latter end of April, but there will be some played in March.
That said, I will be releasing pre-spring power rankings for every major conference, while giving a short explanation for my decision.
Here is a spring preview of the Southeastern Conference: Western Division.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide (13-1, 7-1 SEC in 2012)
Last year I made the mistake of doubting Nick Saban’s ability to repeat. I won’t make that same mistake in 2013, as all signs point to another Alabama national championship. He does lose some big-time leadership on defense, but last season proved that the Tide don’t rebuild – they reload. The offensive line will look a lot different with the departure of Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker, but there are some giants waiting to step up. QB A.J. McCarron returns, seeking his fourth title ring. He’ll have a fast backfield to work with, but we may see a more pass-friendly Bama offense than we’re used to with a very talented group of receivers.
2. Texas A&M Aggies (11-2, 6-2)
All eyes are on Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel this spring, as he tries to avoid a sophomore slump. Many are expecting this Texas A&M team to vie for a national title bid, but right now I think the focus should be the SEC West. It’s going to be difficult for Manziel to repeat as the Heisman winner without his three top receivers, including Ryan Swope. The running game could be relied upon more often this year, with a plethora of skilled backs contesting for playing time. How will the Aggies replace four departures along the defensive front seven? They did a pretty nice job stopping the run last season (35th overall), and I’m sure Kevin Sumlin would like to continue doing so.
3. LSU Tigers (10-3, 6-2)
As expected, LSU was bombarded with early departures on defense. Bennie Logan, Kevin Minter, Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Eric Reid, Tharold Simon – all gone. Finding replacements to fill these huge holes – especially at middle linebacker – should be the top priority for the Tigers this spring. Former Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who accepted the same position with LSU, should help QB Zach Mettenberger become a better field general and will help the Tigers put more points on the board.
4. Ole Miss Rebels (7-6, 3-5)
QB Bo Wallace will miss the spring session while recovering from a minor surgery, but is expected to have a big season. The 6-foot-5, 220 pound Tennessee native is the prototype pocket passer and has the potential to complete 70 percent of his passes. An area of improvement is decision-making under pressure, but a healthy offensive line and some young playmakers should help him out with that. Ole Miss’ defense shows a lot of promise on paper with a stout front seven, including the addition of the nation’s No. 1 recruit, Robert Nkemdiche. The Rebels have a lot of big-time prospects coming in from the recruiting pool that should contend for spots this spring and summer, and will definitely add much-needed depth.
5. Arkansas Razorbacks (4-8, 2-6)
There are a lot of questions for Arkansas heading into the spring; who will be the quarterback? Tyler Wilson is headed to the NFL, so we’ll have a battle between Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell, who have a combined 92 career attempts. Another factor to think about is how the Razorbacks will transition from a spread to Bret Bielema’s power run offense. With Dennis Johnson and Knile Davis out, sophomore Jonathan Williams could be the go-to-guy. Also, how will the defense respond after a historically bad output in 2012? While with Wisconsin, Bielema was pretty reliant on his defense to win games. A lot of the personnel returns, but the d-line and linebackers will have to greatly improve this offseason.
6. Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-5, 4-4)
QB Tyler Russell put up some decent numbers in the first half of the 2012 season but really fell apart when the going got tough. Against premier opponents in Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Ole Miss and Northwestern – Mississippi State’s five losses – Russell completed 58 percent of his passes and threw just five touchdowns to nine interceptions. The Bulldogs are going to need him to become an elite passer in order to stay relevant in the West, especially since most of the defense will be going through a makeover.
7. Auburn Tigers (3-9, 0-8)
The Tigers need a quarterback and pronto. Hiring Gus Malzahn means a fast-paced, no-huddle offense. No QB looked up to the task last season, as the three that saw playing time combined for eight touchdowns, 15 interceptions and a sub-standard 117.2 passer rating. In order for the running game to be successful – which has a lot of promise with the return of Tre Mason – it will need some significant improvement from the air raid (or lack of). Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson is implementing his 4-2-5 scheme this spring and will be looking for some young players to fit in it.
Click here to check out the SEC East Division spring preview.