SEC hopes spring eternal


Published: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 11, 2009 at 4:21 p.m.

Facts

Early predictions

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

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

SEC champion
Florida

Veteran UF football beat writer Robbie Andreu breaks down the SEC spring and offers early predictions for the 2009 season.


EASTERN DIVISION

Florida
2008 record: 13-1 overall, 7-1 in the SEC (1st in the East).
The upside: Quarterbacks Tim Tebow and John Brantley both improved their footwork and mechanics under new quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler. ... One of the biggest goals was to build depth, and the Gators did that at almost every position. ... Redshirt freshman Sam Robey emerged as a potential starter at center. ... Wide receivers Carl Moore and Deonte Thompson consistently made plays. ... Tight end Aaron Hernandez was the best offensive player on the field for most of the spring. ... The deep secondary could be the best in school history.
The downside: The Gators were decimated by injuries and barely had enough offensive linemen to have a spring game. ... Desmond Parks went down with a knee injury, leaving UF with only one healthy scholarship tight end.
Spring star: Hernandez has the look of a future NFL star.
Outlook: With Tebow and all 11 defensive starters returning, the Gators expect to make a run at a second consecutive national title.

Georgia
2008 record: 10-3 overall, 6-2 in the SEC (2nd in the East).
The upside: Fifth-year senior quarterback Joe Cox showed he could efficiently run the offense. ... The 'Dogs look loaded at tailback, with four players battling for the staring role. ... Marcus Washington and Justin Houston had three sacks each in the spring game, which was dominated by the defense. ... True freshman quarterback Aaron Murray was impressive in scrimmages.
The downside: The receivers dropped too many passes, including six in the spring game. ... A.J. Green appears to be the lone playmaker at wide receiver. ... The offense struggled with consistency throughout the spring.
Spring star: Houston emerged as a potential big-time pass rusher at defensive end. Outlook: Unlike a year ago, the 'Dogs are sort of flying under the radar, and that may be a good thing.

Kentucky
2008 record: 7-6 overall, 2-6 in the SEC (5th in the East)
The upside: Mike Hartline threw for 208 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game and likely will be the starting quarterback over Will Fidler. ... Randall Cobb made a successful return from knee surgery. He's back to being a full-time wide receiver, but also will line up at QB in the wildcat formation. ... Alfonso Smith has some competition at tailback after Moncell Allen rushed for 96 yards in the spring game. ... The defense was strong all spring, led by end Jeremy Jarmon and linebacker Micah Johnson.
The downside: Injuries forced the 'Cats to do some mixing and matching on the offensive line. ... The passing game was inconsistent at times.
Spring star: A healthy Cobb is UK's most versatile player.
Outlook: The 'Cats look strong enough to go bowling again.

South Carolina
2008 record: 7-6 overall, 4-4 in the SEC (T3rd in the East).
The upside: Quarterback Stephen Garcia looks like he's finally getting it. A more mature Garcia threw for 144 yards and a TD in the spring game. ... True freshman tailback Jarvis Giles emerged as a potential future star, rushing for 114 yards and two TDs in the spring game. ... The offensive line appears much improved. ... LB Eric Norwood had a dominant spring.
The downside: WR Dion LeCorn (broken leg) and LB Josh Dickerson (shoulder) both underwent surgery. They should be fine by the fall.
Spring star: WR Moe Brown was the offensive player of the spring.
Outlook: If quarterback play improves, USC will be a factor in the division race.

Tennessee
2008 record: 5-7 overall, 3-5 in the SEC (4th in the East).
The upside: The arrival of Lane Kiffin and a new coaching staff seemed to re-energize the program. ... Jonathan Crompton appeared to be a much more confident (and capable) QB from a year ago. ... QB B.J. Coleman also made significant strides, throwing for 160 yards and two TDs in the spring game. ... Quintin Hancock emerged as a go-to wide receiver.
The downside: UT fans are expecting a wide-open passing attack under Kiffin. But he kept things pretty simple (and conservative) for most of the spring while the players tried to learn a new system.
Spring star: The Vols were looking for a wide receiver to step up, and that's what Hancock did.
Outlook: The Vols should be competitive, but don't appear to have the overall talent to match up with UF and UGA.

Vanderbilt
2008 record:7-6 overall, 4-4 in the SEC (T3rd in the East).
The upside: A year removed from knee surgery, WR Alex Washington made a successful return and will be a focal point of the offense. He had a 75-yard TD reception in the spring game and will be used in a variety of ways. ... Jamie Graham made a successful move from WR to CB. ... All five offensive line starters return, and they all stayed healthy throughout the spring.
The downside: The Commodores still don't know who their starting QB is. It will either be Mackenzi Adams or Larry Smith, the star of the Music City Bowl victory. ... Four starters missed the spring due to injuries TB Jared Hawkins, CB Myron Lewis, DE Broderick Stewart and LB John Stokes.
Spring star: Washington's return makes a big difference in the offense.
Outlook: Coming off their first postseason victory in 53 years, the 'Dores think they can go back-to-back.

WESTERN DIVISION

Alabama
2008 record: 12-2 overall, 8-0 in the SEC (1st in the West).
The upside: Greg McElroy stepped up his game at QB. Nick Saban would not name him the starter, but he'll be the starter. He threw for 189 yards and two TDs in the spring game. ... NT Terrence Cody has trimmed down and improved on his technique. ... Robbie Green emerged as the likely starter at safety, where he will replaced departed star Rashad Johnson. ... Overall, the Tide improved their depth and talent levels.
The downside: Mark Ingram and Roy Upchurch were limited by injuries, and no No. 1 emerged at TB. ... A team strength a year ago, the OL is still a bit of an unknown with three new starters.
Spring star: Sophomore WR Marquis Maze emerged as a playmaker.
Outlook: Alabama will be a heavy favorite to return to the SEC title game.

Arkansas
2008 record: 5-7 overall, 2-6 in the SEC (T4th in the West).
The upside: Michigan transfer Ryan Mallet has taken over at QB. He culminated a strong spring by throwing for 233 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. ... No. 2 quarterback Tyler Wilson also impressed, and will see playing time in the fall. ... Bobby Petrino's downfield passing offense was much more effective than it was last season. ... The Hogs found some help for TB Michael Smith, who wore down last season. ... WRs Jarvis White and Joe Adams look like players. They combined for 14 receptions for 243 yards in the spring game.
The downside: The offensive line play lacked consistency.
Spring star: Senior linebacker Wendel Davis made play after play and is the leader of the defense.
Outlook: The Hogs should be much more formidable in Petrino's second year.

Auburn
2008 record: 5-7 overall, 2-6 in the SEC (T4th in the West).
The upside: The tight QB battle between Neil Caudle and Kodi Burns will carry over into the fall. ... Junior college transfer Eltoro Freeman became an instant starter at OLB. ... Onterio McCalebb gives the Tigers another threat at TB to go along with Ben Tate. He had a 70-yard TD run in the spring game. ... The defensive appears improved and more physical from a year ago. ... Junior Craig Stevens emerged as a starter at linebacker.
The downside: Gus Malzahn's multiple offense made some big plays, but also struggled with consistency. This continues to be a work in progress going into two-a-days.
Spring star: Tate will be one of the league's top offensive players.
Outlook: There are a lot of questions, but the Tigers should improve on last year's 5-7 record under new coach Gene Chizik.

LSU
2008 record: 8-5 overall, 3-5 in the SEC (3rd in the West).
The upside: Jordan Jefferson had an excellent spring and solidified his hold on the starting QB role. He threw for 97 yards in the spring game and looked much more confident running the offense. ... Gifted true freshman QB Russell Shepard showed some flashes throughout the spring and completed 7-of-12 passes in the spring game. Les Miles said Shepard will remain at QB for now. ... The defensive players really took to new defensive coordinator John Chavis' scheme. This should be one of the league's top defenses.
The downside: Offensive line play was inconsistent at times.
Spring star: TB Charles Scott continued to show he's one of the SEC's best offensive players.
Outlook: The Tigers have enough talent to overtake Alabama in the division.

Mississippi
2008 record: 9-4 overall, 5-3 in the SEC (2nd in the West).
The upside: Jevan Snead has emerged as one of college football's elite quarterbacks. He concluded a strong spring by throwing for 254 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game. ... Snead has some serious receivers to throw to. Markeith Summers had a 70-yard TD reception in the spring game, while Jacarious Lucas had TD grabs of 19 and 50 yards.
The downside It's going to be difficult finding a replacement for All-America left tackle Michael Oher, a first-round draft pick. The early leader is sophomore Bradley Sowell.
Spring star: Snead has become a real big-time player.
Outlook: The Rebels have become serious SEC contenders under Houston Nutt.

Mississippi State
2008 record: 4-8 overall, 2-6 in the SEC (T4th in the West).
The upside: The offense should be better (and certainly more entertaining) under new coach Dan Mullen, who has brought the spread to Starkeville. ... Mullen looks like he has some receivers to work with. Leon Berry, O'Neal Wilder, Terrance Davis and Delmon Robinson all had productive springs. ... Five junior college transfers had an immediate impact, especially defensive end Pernell McPhee, who was unblockable for most of the spring.
The downside: Mullen still hasn't decided on a starter at quarterback between Chris Relf and Tyson Lee. As expected, both are struggling with consistency in a new offense.
Spring star: Tailback Anthony Dixon rushed for 186 yards and three touchdowns in three scrimmages.
Outlook: Given the history at MSU, Mullen is walking into one tough job.

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