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Post-Spring Football SEC HOT TAEKS

As spring moves to summer, here are some thoughts on SEC football as a whole.

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Alabama vs Florida Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we’ve hit the end of the spring semester, and wrapped our series of spring check-ins, here are a few of my own observations from around the conference.

  • Last season, the SEC was, essentially, Alabama and everybody else, and it still feels like that’s the case as we move towards 2017. Offense should be on the upswing, with some young quarterbacks developing and fewer teams that are just truly deficient there. But, we’re going on nearly a decade of the Tide dominating in recruiting, and where that has always really shown up is at the line of scrimmage. And that will be where Alabama will still be able to beat almost everyone.
  • Speaking of quarterback, don’t pay much mind to the Jalen Hurts/Tua Tagovailoa narrative. Erik at RBR laid out reasons from the Alabama perspective, but from the outside looking in, this is still a team and an offense that’s very much built towards Hurts and what he can do. Is he limited as a downfield passer? Sure. But he was last year, and Alabama still averaged nearly 40 a game. Hurts’ abilities as a runner helps to create a blocking advantage that makes up for Bama’s line being not quite the mauling unit it was in the Barrett Jones days. Even if Hurts still struggles with deep passing, his other skills more than make up for it.
  • Speaking of Alabama, my the worm has turned for Gus Malzahn. From the hot seat to having Auburn the chic pick for No. 2 in the West and, to some, the clear second-best team in the conference. I can understand the hype for Jarrett Stidham — he’s very talented and should fit Auburn’s offense very well. But there are still some deficiencies up front on both sides of the ball, and the only other proven playmaker is Kamryn Pettway. A great quarterback can cover for those things, but it’s no lock that Stidham is ready for that level of play just yet.
  • Speaking of quarterback hype, I’m a little surprised at how quickly Shea Patterson’s level has ascended at Ole Miss. It’s almost as though people forget that he only completed 54 percent of his passes at 6.7 yards per attempt last year. Sure, he was a freshman thrust in the starting lineup due to injury on a team that was playing out the string, but what cause is there to assume a big leap in year two? He does, at least, still have a great group of receivers even without Evan Engram.
  • As for coaches with warm seats, it really does feel like Texas A&M delayed the inevitable with Kevin Sumlin last season. No quarterback or running game, with a defense that was bad last year and has to replace its best player. An 8-5 record might actually be a decent achievement with this team and the Aggies’ schedule. But it’s hard to imagine that being enough to save him.
  • Arkansas is the division’s wild card. There’s a lot to like on offense — Austin Allen at quarterback, Jared Cornelius at receiver as a 19th-year senior, and two JUCO targets that should adapt quickly in Brandon Martin and Austin Cantrell. New coordinator on defense, but the question for me is still one of talent. And one that I don’t know has changed in year five of BERT.
  • And if the Razorbacks falter down the stretch again, one has to wonder what that could mean for Bielema. If he hasn’t gotten Arkansas where they want to be by now, it’s fair to question if it will ever happen.
  • See, also: Butch Jones at Tennessee. His time in Knoxville reminds me somewhat of Gerry DiNardo’s at LSU. He pulled the program out of a true decline and improved the talent level, but he won’t be getting them back on top of the SEC East. The question will be more about whether Tennessee can follow him up with a coach that can get them over the top.
  • Overall, the SEC East does seem to be on the come-up, albeit very slowly. But Georgia and Florida are still firmly a cut above the rest of it. The Gators have the coach, but may not have the talent. The Bulldogs have the talent, it just remains to be seen if they have the coach.
  • For LSU, I keep coming back to a schedule that has very few breaks for a team that still has limitations at quarterback and youth in the front seven. Five conference road games and a couple of difficult non-conference ones as well. It’s not so much the individual matchups — LSU has more than enough talent to beat everybody they play except Alabama — so much as the general grind. There’s only one real let-up game, in week two against Chattanooga. BYU and Troy were nine- and 10-win teams last season, and sure, LSU can out-talent both, but not in that “drop 35 by halftime and get the backups in” way people expect.
  • And then there’s Syracuse, who could be in for a jump in year two under Dino Babers. The Orange’s version of the Bear Raid will also be a schematic anomaly in terms of preparation. Nobody else on LSU’s schedule will combine their pace with that veer-and-shoot style of spread. It’s almost like playing a triple-option team.
  • The big question, and the challenge for Ed Orgeron in this season, will be navigating that schedule and making sure his team doesn’t exhaust their energies too early before the second half of the season: Auburn, at Ole Miss and Bama, then Arkansas, at Tennessee an A&M in November. LSU can still win nine or 10 games against this schedule, but it’s going to take some improvement in a few areas and some help from newcomers at others.