SEC spring preview: Best teams try to fix some holes as the league welcomes two new members

Mike Huguenin

Everyone who follows college football, even casually, knows that SEC teams have won six consecutive national titles.

It seems folly to expect that streak to end this season, but the league's best teams do seem to have some flaws. Well, they have flaws heading into spring practice, which means they can be fixed.

Still, fans of teams in other leagues can dream, can't they?

Can Zach Mettenberger fill the hole at quarterback for LSU? Does Alabama have enough depth in the secondary and at tailback? Can Arkansas adequately rebuild its receiving corps and its secondary? How good is Georgia's offensive line? Does South Carolina have any top-flight wide receivers?

Those five teams are in almost every preseason top 15, but each has an issue that is glaringly apparent as spring practice beckons.

Beyond those questions, the SEC will be in the spotlight for another reason: The league becomes a 14-team conglomerate with the arrival of Missouri and Texas A&M from the Big 12. Mizzou will be in the SEC East (league administrators obviously never studied geography; chances are, they were spending all their time in economics classes) and A&M will be in the SEC West.

Here's a look at the SEC's 14 schools as they prepare for spring practice.

Spring practice opens: TBD
Spring game: April 14
Buzz: Seven defensive starters have to be replaced, with three of those in the secondary. The secondary was an issue in 2010, and it's really the only question mark on the team this spring. QB A.J. McCarron will be asked to do more this season and that should mean a more productive passing attack, though a go-to receiver needs to emerge this spring. Developing depth at tailback is important in the wake of the departure of Trent Richardson. It also will be interesting to see how the players adapt to new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who comes in from Washington.
Spring practice opens: March 14
Spring game: April 21
Buzz: The receiving corps has to be rebuilt, and that will be the offensive priority this spring. QB Tyler Wilson should contend for All-America honors this fall, and developing a rapport with that receiving corps is going to be important. TB Knile Davis, who missed 2011 with an ankle injury, is said to be 100 percent, and his return will be a huge boost to the offense. The defense has more questions than the offense. Two starting linebackers are gone as are two starters in the secondary. Also gone is star E Jake Bequette, whose pass-rush ability will be missed. E Tenarius Wright needs to show this spring that he can be a consistent force off the edge.
Spring practice opens: March 21
Spring practice ends: April 16 (spring game April 14)
Buzz: This is a huge spring for coach Gene Chizik and his rebuilt staff. Auburn has two new coordinators and is looking for a new starting quarterback, a feature back and two new starting offensive tackles. There are fewer questions defensively, although the Tigers do need a new starting middle 'backer and a playmaking safety. While the bulk of the starters are back on defense, that unit underachieved last season. New coordinator Brian Van Gorder, who had held the same position with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, has to find a way to make the Tigers tougher against the run.
Spring practice opens: March 14
Spring game: April 7
Buzz: New offensive coordinator Brent Pease arrives from Boise State, and he doesn't have an easy job this spring. The Gators need a new starting quarterback and a new starting tailback, and they also need to develop a pecking order at wide receiver. The passing attack was poor last season and it's up to Pease to change that. The offensive line returns all but one starter but expect some changes up front because the group as a whole was mediocre. Ten starters return on defense, but coaches need some playmakers to emerge. Coaches also need some pass rushers to step up.
Spring practice opens: March 20
Spring game: April 14
Buzz: The Bulldogs are getting a lot of preseason love, but there are some issues offensively. The biggest is the line, which was inconsistent last season and lost three starters, including the two best linemen (C Ben Jones and T Cordy Glenn). TE Orson Charles turned pro early, and Georgia needs to find out this spring if there is another tight end on the roster who can be an effective receiver. The good news is that QB Aaron Murray has a bunch of weapons at wide receiver. The defense should be one of the best in the nation. There isn't all that much work to do on that side of the ball this spring except to develop depth in the secondary, especially at cornerback. The Bulldogs also need to find a new kicker and a new punter.
Spring practice opens: March 21
Spring game: April 21
Buzz: The Wildcats have a ton of work to do on offense. UK scored just 94 points in eight SEC games last season, and 30 of those came against Ole Miss; six times in league play, the Wildcats were held to 10 or fewer points. The line needs three new starters, and unless that group comes together in the spring, another season of poor production looms. The receivers scare no one, and the tailbacks are rather pedestrian. Plus, is there a quarterback on the roster who truly is SEC-caliber? Improving the run defense, an annual rite with UK, is the No. 1 priority on defense. That could be tough with the loss of its two best defenders (LB Danny Trevathan and S Winston Guy).
Spring practice opens: Feb. 28
Spring game: March 31
Buzz: LSU made it to the national title game last season behind a stout defense and a tough rushing attack. The Tigers likely will follow the same plan this season. A lot depends on QB Zach Mettenberger. Coaches also need to find out if sophomore Odell Beckham Jr. can be the go-to receiver; finding consistent No. 2 and No. 3 receivers also will be important. Everything else looks to be in place for another big season. The biggest defensive priority this spring looks to be developing depth at safety and at linebacker.
Spring practice opens: March 23
Spring game: April 21
Buzz: Man, the Rebels were a disaster last season, especially on offense. New coach Huge Freeze needs to decide on a quarterback. Then, he needs to find two new starting tackles. Finally, he needs a new starting tailback. Defensive, the Rebels have to learn how to stop the run. Every SEC opponent except Kentucky ran for at least 216 yards on the Rebels last season. Stopping the run is important for every team, but if your run defense is lax in the SEC, you're in deep, deep trouble. There is an alarming lack of playmakers on this defense. Some players have to emerge in that capacity this spring.
Mississippi State
Spring practice opens: March 22
Spring game: April 21
Buzz: Coach Dan Mullen needs to find a quarterback who can throw the ball. He also needs three new starters along the offensive line and a new starting tailback. In short, he has some work to do on offense. Defensively, the biggest issue is replacing both starting safeties. The Bulldogs also need to develop some depth at tackle in the wake of the early departure of Fletcher Cox, who would've contended for All-America honors this season.
Spring practice opens: March 6
Spring game: April 14
Buzz: The Tigers should have one of the best quarterbacks in the league in James Franklin, and WR T.J. Moe is a big-timer. But the rest of the offense has some problems. Three starting linemen are gone, but T Elvis Fisher, who missed last season, recently was granted a sixth season of eligibility and that will help. TB Henry Josey will miss spring in the wake of a knee injury suffered late last season, and given that he may not return this fall, developing depth at tailback is important this spring. So is finding some complementary receivers and a new starting tight end. The biggest concern on defense is the line, which lost three starters. The back seven looks OK, but Mizzou needs some young linemen to step up this spring.
South Carolina
Spring practice opens: March 12
Spring game: April 14
Buzz: For the first time in a long time – since he was coach at Florida – Steve Spurrier heads into a spring practice with a quarterback he seems to believe in. Connor Shaw certainly isn't an all-star, but he understands Spurrier's offense and his running ability adds a different dimension. The receiving corps, though, has to bother Spurrier. Alshon Jeffery left for the NFL a year early, and there doesn't appear to be a true go-to receiver on the roster. That position group will get the most attention this spring. There is a new defensive play-caller in the wake of Ellis Johnson's departure to coach Southern Miss. Lorenzo Ward had the coordinator title last season, and he will add defensive play-calling responsibilities this season. He has a solid group, though cornerback looks like a potential trouble spot. Developing depth at tackle also will be important this spring.
Spring practice opens: March 26
Spring game: April 21
Buzz: Coach Derek Dooley likely knows he is coaching for his job this season. The offense has a lot of potential. Overcoming injuries to QB Tyler Bray and WR Justin Hunter proved too difficult last season, but with those guys back, the Vols should have one of the best passing attacks in the league. Finding a new starting tailback, and a new No. 2 guy, will be a spring priority. The back seven on defense should be fine, but the line remains an issue. There simply isn't much depth there, and with the departure of T Malik Jackson, it's not a group with much star power, either.
Texas A&M
Spring practice opens: March 31
Spring game: April 28
Buzz: New coach Kevin Sumlin takes over a team looking for a new starting quarterback. But if the Aggies can adequately replace Ryan Tannehill, this could be a solid unit. All five starting linemen are back, and there is a good group of receivers and some OK tailbacks. The secondary was an absolute sieve last season, but that won't matter as much in the SEC as it did in the Big 12. A&M had good stats against the run last season, but the line could have some issues this season. The inside linebackers are nothing special, either. Overall defensive toughness is a question.
Spring practice opens: March 16
Spring game: April 16
Buzz: Rarely has a 6-7 season received so much praise. But then again, this is Vandy, where bowl appearances are as rare as grown men at a Justin Bieber concert. Second-year coach James Franklin has to find a way to ramp up the passing attack. QB Jordan Rodgers had his moments last season, but overall he was way too inconsistent. The rushing attack looks good with the return of four starting linemen and TB Zac Stacy. The receivers appear iffy, though that may be because they have had to play with mediocre (at best) quarterbacks. The defense led the way last season, but there are holes on that side of the ball. There are questions in the secondary, at end and at middle linebacker. The departure of E Tim Fugger leaves Vandy without a proven pass rusher, and a player or two needs to prove this spring they can fill that role.

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