SEC spring overview


Published: Wednesday, May 9, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 8, 2007 at 8:38 p.m.

ALABAMA

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Florida quarterback Tim Tebow for the Blue Team looks to pass over the pressure of the Orange Team's Lutrell Alford during Saturday's Orange and Blue spring football game.

TRACY WILCOX/The Gainesville Sun

Facts

Early predictions

Eastern Division
1. Florida
2. South Carolina
3. Tennessee
4. Georgia
5. Kentucky
6. Vanderbilt

Western Division
1. LSU
2. Alabama
3. Auburn
4. Arkansas
5. Mississippi
6. Mississippi State

SEC champion: LSU

2006 record: 6-7 overall, 2-6 in the SEC (T-4th in the West).

The upside: Quarterback John Parker Wilson is an experienced starter now and he seemed to adjust quickly to a new offense. He capped off an outstanding spring by throwing for 244 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. ... Brian Motley, a third-team center, moved to defensive tackle and had an immediate impact, recording 11 tackles, three for losses, in his first scrimmage. He'll be battling for a starting position at tackle in the fall. ... True freshman defensive back Kareem Jackson, an early enrollee, earned a starting role in the Tide's nickel defense. ... Darren Mustin went from a third-team middle linebacker last season to a starting inside linebacker in Nick Saban's 3-4 defense. ... Senior cornerback Simeon Castille had a monster spring.

The downside: The Tide has gone from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense and there is not a lot of experienced talent to fill in those four linebacker positions. ... In the quest to replace the top two running backs, Terry Grant, Glen Coffee, Jimmy Johns and Roy Upchurch flashed a lot of talent, but the Tide still does not have a dominant tailback.

Spring star: Despite battling a painful shoulder injury all spring, senior wide receiver D.J. Hall was Wilson's go-guy and should be one of the Tide's biggest playmakers in 2007.

Outlook: If Wilson has a big year and the defensive front seven continues to develop, the Tide could make a quick turnaround in Saban's first season.

ARKANSAS

2006 record: 10-4 overall, 7-1 in the SEC (1st in the West).

The upside: There is no longer a quarterback controversy in Fayetteville. Mitch Mustain is off to Southern Cal and Casey Dick is the undisputed starter. Dick responded this spring by improving his throwing motion and mechanics and improving his foot speed. He also performed with a confidence that was missing last season. ... Senior and former quarterback Robert Johnson did a nice job stepping into the starting role at wide receiver for Damian Williams, who like Mustain, has transferred to Southern Cal.

The downside: Life might be a little tougher next season for Heisman runnerup Darren McFadden, who will be running behind a less experienced offensive front. ... Starting defensive tackle Marcus Harrison blew out his knee in the spring and his availability for the start of the season is uncertain.

Spring star: Sophomore Malcolm Sheppard came out of nowhere to become a dominant player at defensive end.

Outlook: The Hogs have two exceptional tailbacks in McFadden and Felix Jones. If Dick and senior wide receiver Marcus Monk can upgrade the passing game, Arkansas has a chance to return to Atlanta.

AUBURN

2006 record: 11-2 overall, 6-2 in the SEC (T-2nd in the West).

The upside: Knocked off his game by injuries last season, quarterback Brandon Cox regained his form and confidence this spring. In three scrimmages he threw for 836 yards and seven touchdowns, while throwing zero interceptions. ... Talented cornerback Walter McFadden finally started playing up to his potential and was one of AU's most improved players in the spring. ... Taking advantage of extended reps due to injuries on the defensive line, sophomore Mike Blanc had a breakthrough spring at defensive tackle.

The downside: Although some young players stepped up at times, the offensive line, where only one starter returns, remains a question mark heading into the fall. ... Other than Rod Smith, AU's young receivers lacked consistency and struggled to make plays.

Spring star: Smith had a breakthrough spring at wide receiver and has a chance to be the go-to guy in the fall.

Outlook: This has the look of a typical Tommy Tuberville team fast, tough and athletic. The offense could be the most balanced in the league. If the young defense plays up to recent AU standards, the Tigers will make a strong run at the division title.

FLORIDA

2006 record: 13-1, overall, 7-1 in the SEC (1st in the East).

The upside: The transition from part-time star to full-time starting quarterback seemed to be a smooth one for sophomore Tim Tebow. Sporting an improved throwing motion and better mechanics, Tebow threw the ball well and seemed a comfortable fit in the offense. ... Tebow benefitted from having a bevy of playmakers to go to in Percy Harvin, Andre Caldwell, Cornelius Ingram, Louis Murphy, Jarred Fayson and others. ... UF will have one of the fastest teams in the nation in the offensive skill positions, including quarterback. ... After an awful start, true freshman quarterback Cameron Newton came on in the final two weeks of practice and is much closer to being ready to play. ... The offensive line has become a team strength.

The downside: The defensive line remains a huge question mark, especially at tackle, where the Gators have very little experience and depth and are down in overall numbers. ... Cornerback also remains a concern after a series of injuries slowed development. ... The lack of depth at linebacker will be an issue heading into the fall. ... The Gators continue to search for a dominant tailback.

Spring star: Junior wide receiver Louis Murphy caught eight passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game.

Outlook: This has a chance to be Florida's most explosive offense since Steve Spurrier's last season in 2001. But can the Gators stop anyone? For the Gators to make a strong run at back-to-back SEC championships, the defensive line and secondary will have to come through.

GEORGIA

2006 record: 9-4 overall, 4-4 in the SEC (T-3rd in the East).

The upside: True sophomore quarterback Matthew Stafford is much more comfortable and proficient in the offense after last season's struggles. He threw for 155 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. ... The 'Dogs may have discovered their next great running back in redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno, the nationally recruited star from New Jersey. Showing excellent moves and speed, Moreno culminated an excellent spring by rushing for 72 yards and two touchdowns in the G-Day Game. ... Georgia may have discovered a big-time (and certainly big) wide receiver in Kris Durham. The 6-5 sophomore caught six passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. ... Standout wide receiver Sean Bailey returned after missing last season with a knee injury.

The downside: A young and revamped offensive line is a big question mark. Up front, the 'Dogs might be starting a true freshman, a redshirt freshman and a junior college transfer. ... Georgia also is breaking in new starters at linebacker and defensive end.

Spring star: Moreno looks like he's the real deal at tailback.

Outlook: The 'Dogs will have many new starters in 2007, but they'll also have some playmakers on offense and a much more confident quarterback. If the defense overcomes inexperience in the front seven, this team will make a run at the division title.

KENTUCKY

2006 record: 8-5 overall, 4-4 in the SEC (T-3rd in the East).

The upside: Coming off an eight-win season and a bowl victory over

Clemson, expectations may be at an all-time high in Lexington. The offense, led by quarterback Andre' Woodson, may have the most playmakers of any UK offense in decades. The 'Cats are fast and experienced at wide receiver, tight end and running back and should be one of the SEC's most dangerous offenses in 2007. ... Speedy tailback Rafael Little missed the first half of spring drills after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, but he came back strong, flashing the form he had in 2005 when he led the SEC in all-purpose yards. Little was slowed last season by the bad knee. ... Zipp Duncan moved from tight end to offensive guard and could help UK's young and inexperienced front.

The downside: The 'Cats still don't know who their No. 2 quarterback is going to be. Redshirt freshmen Will Fidler and Mike Hartline will continue to compete in the fall. It's definitely going to be a big drop from No. 1 to No. 2 if Woodson should get hurt. ... The 'Cats have great offensive skill, but a young, inexperience line could make it difficult for Woodson, Little and the wide receivers.

Spring star: Woodson's continued development has lifted him to star status in the SEC.

Outlook: The 'Cats have become a legitimate threat in the division and will play a key role in this year's race. This should be one of the

league's most entertaining teams.

LSU

2006 record: 11-2 overall, 6-2 in the SEC (T-2nd in the West).

The upside: Even though Les Miles wasn't ready to name his starting quarterback at the end of the spring, it was obvious that senior Matt Flynn is the guy. He was much more consistent than Ryan Perrilloux and seemed to have a better command of the offense installed by new coordinator Gary Crowton. The offense is more of a wide-open spread than the Tigers ran under Jimbo Fisher and will feature some option. Flynn threw for 135 yards and a touchdown in the spring game. ... As expected, Early Doucet emerged as LSU's big-play guy at wide receiver now that Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis are off to the NFL. Doucet caught nine passes for 115 yards and a TD in the spring game. ... Although he missed the spring with a stress fracture in his lower leg, All-America defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey has already fully recovered.

The downside: Other than Doucet, LSU's talented young receivers were a disappointment. Brandon LaFell, who has a chance to be a big-time No. 2 receiver, dropped too many passes and he and the other receivers lacked consistency. ... Perrilloux continues to have a difficult time living up to his high school fame.

Spring star: Doucet has become a focal point of the offense.

Outlook: The Tigers are loaded on defense again and should have a more consistent running game. That spells trouble for the rest of the Western Division.

MISSISSIPPI

2006 record: 4-8 overall, 2-6 in the SEC (T-4th in the West).

The upside: Ed Orgeron decided to concentrate on being a head coach and turned the Rebels' defense over to journeyman coordinator John Thompson (formerly with UF). ... Senior defensive lineman Jeremy Garrett won the Chucky Mullins Courage Award and will wear No. 38 this season. ... A year ago, Orgeron named his starting quarterback (Brent Schaeffer) before he was even on campus. He's holding off on a decision now between Schaeffer and senior Seth Adams, who had a strong spring and threw for 159 yards and a touchdown in the spring game. Redshirt freshman Michael Herrick also will have a shot at the job in the fall.

The downside: The Rebels are having a difficult time replacing All-America middle linebacker Patrick Willis and outside linebacker Rory Johnson, who have taken their hits to the NFL. ... The Rebels still don't have a game-breaker in their receiving corps.

Spring star: Tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis continues to be the key guy on offense after rushing for more than 1,000 yards last season.

Outlook: If Ole Miss gets more consistent quarterback play and finds a way to win those close game, the Rebels have the chance to become bowl eligible.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

2006 record: 3-9 overall, 1-7 in the SEC (6th in the West).

The upside: The Bulldogs appear to be faster and more athletic on defense than they've been in recent seasons. ... Starting quarterback Mike Henig stayed healthy throughout the spring and was effective running the offense. The Bulldogs got a lift with the arrival of junior college quarterback Josh Riddell, who impressed the coaches with his poise and maturity. ... After bouncing back and forth between tackle and guard, Michael Gates has settled in a guard and is an all-star candidate after an outstanding spring.

The downside: The situation at quarterback is a little bit scary. Henig is the only quarterback on campus who has taken a snap in a college game and he's coming off an injury-shortened season that saw him break his collarbone twice. So, the Bulldogs are another break away from a possible disaster on offense. The situation forced Sylvester Croom to go against his better judgement and sign a junior college quarterback.

Spring star: Henig had his most productive spring and emerged as a team leader.

Outlook: Croom's defenses have been sound, but his offenses have been awful at times. If Henig stays healthy the the 'Dogs score some points, they'll have a chance to crawl out of the West cellar.

SOUTH CAROLINA

2006 record: 8-5 overall, 3-5 in the SEC (5th in the East).

The upside: The defense appears much faster and more aggressive than last season, when the Gamecocks were often shredded. ... Senior quarterback Blake Mitchell finally started getting it late last year and Steve Spurrier's offense took off with him back in the starting lineup. Mitchell continued to make progress and was named the offensive player of the spring.

The downside: Mitchell had a good spring, but failed to close it out on a positive note. Throwing against only two basic coverages, Mitchell had a horrendous spring game, completing only 13-of-39 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown. His backup, Chris Smelley, was only slightly better, completing 10-of-22 for 83 yards. ... USC clearly misses star wide receiver Sidney Rice. His early exit to the NFL has left the Gamecocks without a big-time wide receiver. The receivers had trouble getting open and making plays and were a major disappointment. ... There also are major concerns about a young and untested offensive line.

Spring star: Tailback Cory Boyd was USC's most consistent offensive player and finished the spring with two touchdown runs in the Garnet and Black Game.

Outlook: The Gamecocks should continue to inch closer to contention in the SEC under Spurrier.

TENNESSEE

2006 record: 9-4 overall, 5-3 in the SEC (2nd in the East).

The upside: The Vols had some success running a new no-huddle offense early in the spring and it figures to be a prominent part of the offense this season. ... Two young players emerged in the secondary Margaious Johnson and Jarod Parrish. Johnson was named the most improved player of the spring and Parrish had an interception in the spring game. ... Tailbacks LaMarcus Coker and Arian Foster had good springs and should give the Vols an impressive one-two punch in the running game in 2007.

The downside: Starting quarterback Erik Ainge missed the second half of the spring after undergoing knee surgery. Ainge is expected to be back at full strength for the start of two-a-days in August.

Spring star: Johnson gave the Vols a huge lift in the secondary. Outlook: The Vols got themselves back on track with a nine-win season in 2006 and are a serious contender in the East again.

VANDERBILT

2006 record: 4-8 overall, 1-7 in the SEC (6th in the East).

The upside: Hampered by injuries throughout the spring a year ago, starting quarterback Chris Nickson didn't miss a snap this spring and continues to emerge as a potential star. ... Reserve quarterback Richard Kovalcheck had a nice spring and is considered VU's best pure passer. He threw three touchdown passes in the spring game. ... The Commodores have a potential rising star at defensive end, where Quavian Lewis was dominant at times. In the spring game, he had three sacks and deflected a pass. ... Tailback Jeff Jennings participated in contact drills after missing the 2006 season with a knee injury.

The downside: The Commodores will have to wait until next fall to find out if standout offensive tackle Brian Stamper has fully recovered from back surgery that cost him basically the entire 2006 season. He was an All-SEC performer in 2005.

Spring star: Nickson appeared much more comfortable in the offense and in leading his teammates.

Outlook: With Nickson's improved play, the offense should be more consistent. This team should easily top last year's victory total of four.

Early predictions:

Eastern Division

1. Florida

2. South Carolina

3. Tennessee

4. Georgia

5. Kentucky

6. Vanderbilt

Western Division

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Auburn

4. Arkansas

5. Mississippi

6. Mississippi State

SEC champion: LSU

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