LSU, and the rest of the SEC, will report for the starts of training camp this weekend. And maybe the league seems a bit academic this year with Alabama and Georgia, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some burning question every team has to answer, and will try to over the next five weeks before opening weekend.
So here’s what I’m wondering about all 14 teams.
Alabama — Who catches it?
Allegedly, it matters who wins the Tua/Jalen Hurts competition. Truth is, with Damien Harris, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs, Alabama won’t have to throw it much. But when they do, who steps in as the security blanket that Calvin Ridley served as for the last three years? There’s a ton of talent on hand with Devonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, but the leader of that group caught just 14 passes last year.
Arkansas — Quarterback?
Chad Morris has a couple things going for him in the transition from the BERT “Mass Kicks Ass” offense to his fast-lane style; a solid tailback in Devwah Whaley, and a host of veterans along the offensive line and receiver corps. What he doesn’t have, is a quarterback. Cole Kelly really struggled last year, and Ty Storey couldn’t even get on the field over him with nothing to play for. Morris has made things work with less-than-great talent before, and the scheme is pretty QB friendly, but I don’t see anybody that fits the bill here.
Auburn — Who leads the offense?
Sure, Jarrett Stidham will command the huddle and be under center, but who’s going to lead this thing? Gus Malzahn’s Auburn offenses have all been run heavy to varying degree of success, but the attacks that had a true ace at tailback, like last year’s group with Kerryon Johnson or the 2013 Tre Mason team, were a clear cut above the rest. Kam Martin is the leading returnee, but he’s never shown all that much. And the Tigers were a different offense without Johnson in the final two games of 2017. Is Martin ready to carry the load, or will somebody like Asa Martin emerge? Can Stidham make up the difference as a passer? I’m skeptical.
Florida — Will the offensive line improve with age?
(assuming the Tay Bangs situation doesn’t lead to another mass of suspensions)
Yeah, quarterback is obvious. There are a couple of okay skill talents in Jordan Scarlett, Tyrie Cleveland and Kadarius Toney. But the Gators haven’t been able to really push anybody around for several years now. That would definitely help out whomever lines up under center.
Georgia — Now what?
Kirby Smart had about as big of a breakthrough as anybody could have hoped for in 2017. Thing is, the only way to improve on it is to actually win a national championship, and that’s pretty damn hard. It’s far more likely that the only place to go is down. The next challenge for the Bulldogs will be to maintain consistency in the face of a schedule that will see them as a favorite in every game, and by heavy margins in most instances.
Kentucky — Can they string together any kind of passing game?
Bennie Snell is a really good tailback. Good enough that if the Wildcats can just get a base level of competency at quarterback, they should be able to cobble together another bowl-eligible season.
LSU — How does the offensive line progress?
Sure, quarterback has its unknowns. But with no Derrius Guice or Leonard Fournette to carry the load, this offense has no choice but to evolve. If the offensive front can take a nice step forward with three new starters plus a couple of rising talents, there’s potential for this bunch to really grow together over the next couple of years. But that first step, with a new position coach, will set the tone.
Mississippi State — Who are we?
There’s a lot here for new head coach Joe Moorhead, including maybe the league’s best quarterback. But this isn’t the same personnel he had at Penn State. I’m not talking Saquon Barkley — there’s more than enough to put a strong running game together. I’m talking about Mike Gesicki, DaeSean Hamilton and the rest of the big-play Penn State receiving corps. The leading returning receiver for State averaged 10 yards a catch last year, and chucking it down the field isn’t exactly Nick Fitzgerald’s game. Fitting the scheme to the talent will be the key here, but coaches can sometimes get caught up in trying to do the inverse.
Missouri — A stop, any stop?
Look, Derek Dooley was an...interesting...choice to succeed Josh Heupel at OC, but he’s going to have to actively try to have a bad offense with Drew Lock and all these returnees. Mizzou has allowed more than 31 points per game in each of the last two seasons. There are three returning linebackers, both corners and Terry Beckner. There’s gotta be some level of improvement, right?
Ole Miss — Are we just Mizzou west?
Same deal here. Ole Miss has a pretty good quarterback and the best receivers in the league, but they couldn’t stop anybody last year and it’s hard to see that improving without Breeland Speaks or Demarquis Gates.
South Carolina — Can we break the cycle?
If Will Muschamp is ever going to have a strong offense, it’s now or never. Jake Bentley is a solid talent, there’s an explosive talent at one wideout spot in Deebo Samuel and another 60-catch guy in Bryan Edwards. They also made an OC change but promoted from within with Bryan McClendon. If Big Dumb Will Muschamp Football is ever going to change, it’s gotta be this year.
Tennessee — Where do we even start?
I can’t look at this depth chart and even think of where Jeremy Pruitt’s coaching staff can start to put an offense together. Keller Chryst gives them a veteran hand at quarterback, but no more John Kelly...one offensive lineman of any renown, one receiver that showed some flashes in Marquez Callaway. But what do you even do with that? Offensive coordinator Tyson Helton will have his work cut out for him.
Texas A&M — Who is the quarterback?
Pretty straight forward here, especially with Jimbo Fisher, who really relies on the QB to make things go for his attack. Personally, I thought Nick Starkell showed some potential, but there’s an impressive athlete in Kellen Mond, and there’s always the seduction of youth when you’re in a rebuild.
Vanderbilt — Who replaces Ralph Webb?
Kyle Shurmur had a nice 2017, but Webb was a strong constraint as a running back for a few years now. And the top returning back has all of 147 yards. Is this going to be a sling-it-around attack?