SEC spring preview: East Division
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: Eastern Division.
1. Georgia Bulldogs (12-2, 7-1 SEC in 2012)
Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Shawn Williams, Baccari Rambo and John Jenkins – Georgia’s top five players on defense – are all headed to the NFL draft. This leaves a huge burden on Mark Richt, who has to replace some of the best talent he’s ever had on this side of the ball, and that doesn’t even include seven other players that saw significant action that is no longer with the team. The good news for the Dawgs is that QB Aaron Murray decided to return for his senior year to lead what looks to be a deadly offensive attack – pending the healthy return of linemen Chris Burnette and John Theus this summer.
2. Florida Gators (11-2, 7-1)
Getting smacked around by a “lesser” opponent – from the Big East, at that – had to have left a pretty bad taste in Florida’s mouth the last few months. As that fire continues to grow heading into fall, so will the young roster’s development. Coach Will Muschamp needs a few underclassmen to step up and fill the void at all three linebacker positions. However, the real issue this spring will be to regain QB Jeff Driskel’s confidence after a lackluster performance in 2012. He’ll need a few downfield threats at the receiver position to emerge, while still retaining a healthy running game after the departure of RB Mike Gillislee.
3. South Carolina Gamecocks (11-2, 6-2)
Spring practice is going to determine a lot for South Carolina, which has numerous position battles. There’s an open competition at running back to replace Marcus Lattimore (and Kenny Miles) between highly-touted sophomore Mike Davis, Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson. Although QB David Shaw was the starter when healthy last year, Dylan Thompson proved that he can play at an elite level whenever he was given the opportunity. Thompson may have a leg up here, too, because Shaw is missing spring due to injury. Steve Spurrier also needs to find a viable option to replace linebacker DeVonte Holloway, but that shouldn’t be too difficult with both Kaiwan Lewis and Sharrod Golightly waiting in the wings.
4. Vanderbilt Commodores (9-4, 5-3)
Not only did Vandy win its final seven games of the season, but it finished with nine wins for the first time since 1915. It loses starting QB Jordan Rogers, but shouldn’t miss a beat with Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels taking over. The Commodores return an extremely potent backfield with three or four players set to see significant playing time, and the defense should be even better with some experience back. Keep your eye on the Dores this spring.
5. Missouri Tigers (5-7, 2-6)
Missouri’s first year in the SEC didn’t go the way it wanted it to, but we can credit some of that to a widespread plague of injuries throughout the roster. RB Henry Josey – who actually missed all of 2012 due to a knee injury in 2011 – is inching closer to being ready to go and should ignite the backfield. With a healthy offensive line and quarterback in James Franklin, the Mizzou offense could do some real damage. But it’s the defensive front seven we should worry about – the Tigers lose some big names here, including star DT Sheldon Richardson. Stopping the run is the top priority in the SEC, and if they struggle to do so, it’ll be another long year.
6. Tennessee Volunteers (5-7, 1-7)
The post-Derek Dooley era is in effect, and Butch Jones has happily embraced the Rocky Top ways. But is the former Central Michigan and Cincinnati head coach a true fit for the demanding job of bringing Tennessee back to prominence? It’s a possibility, but we’re not going to find out in 2013. There are gaping holes all over the roster – replacing QB Tyler Bray and finding guys to fill the shoes of WRs Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson will not be an easy task.
7. Kentucky Wildcats (2-10, 0-8)
Mike Stoops is already making noise as the new Cats coach, bringing in some real talent during the last few weeks of the recruiting season. Still, he’s got a ways to go before he can make the Kentucky football program competitive. For starters, he has to find a playmaker or two on offense to compliment Maxwell Smith under center. In addition, he must add strength to a defensive front that got man-handled all season long.
Click here to check out the SEC West Division spring preview.