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SEC spring storylines

Alabama's Richardson and Shelley celebrate after they defeated LSU in the NCAA BCS National Championship college football game in New Orleans Reuters

Six straight BCS championships later, the SEC is undeniably the king’s conference of college football. There’s just one problem: the SEC’s vice grip on the BCS championship is going to end.

(Eventually)

Captain obvious, I know, but it’s just not wise to be picking against the SEC these days — especially the SEC West, which is home to the last three national champs and could very well make a run for its fourth in 2012. Alabama, Arkansas and LSU will all be in the limelight again as Top 10 teams.

Where the SEC needs some help is the overall depth of the conference, specifically in the East division. When traditional powers are good, the perception of the conference rises, and no team needs to elevate their game like Tennessee. The Vols are in a horrible slump and if Derek Dooley doesn’t turn it around soon, the heat beneath his coaching seat will be rising fast.

But there’s a lot to look forward to this spring in the SEC, including the new additions of Missouri and Texas A&M. Here’s what we’re watching:

The newbies 
Duh. The latest round of conference realignment started at the end of last summer when Texas A&M “resurrected its courtship” with the SEC, which resulted in the Aggies and Missouri joining as the conference’s 13th and 14th members. But now it’s about to get real. Can the former Big 12 members succeed in the SEC? It’ll be a tougher road for A&M right away; the Aggies are breaking in a new coach in Kevin Sumlin and replacing some key starters in what will undoubtedly be the toughest division — again — in college football. Missouri is a foreigner, a Midwest school going to places like Columbia and Gainesville. As spring practices commence, folks in SEC country are going to have a lot of interest in how Mizzou and A&M look.

Memo to the SEC East: let’s be a little more competitive, okay?
The SEC East posted a 6-13 record against the West last season, with half of those wins coming from East division champ Georgia. Granted, the West was top-heavy, housing three of the best five or six teams in college football and the bottom of the East was atrocious. But the last time the SEC East did anything significant was Florida’s 2008-09 BCS championship run. It’s uncertain if the East will improve this year, but it has the potential. Georgia and South Carolina will, again, be getting the preseason pub, but Florida, Vanderbilt — yes, the Commodores — and Missouri can all be considered in that next tier mix. Of course, everybody comes out of spring feeling pretty optimistic, but we’ll be watching to see if any team actually looks like they can challenge the West for the SEC crown — as tough as that may be to gauge.

Arkansas “offensive” O-line 
The Razorbacks managed to net just under 1,800 yards on the ground last season without Knile Davis, who sat out 2011 because of an ankle injury. Not bad for a group run by committee through an offensive line that had its fair share of struggles. Also, the fact that quarterback Tyler Wilson isn’t currently in iron lung after the shots he took last season is a feat within itself. If Arkansas is going to stay par for the course with their offensive production, they need Wilson to stay healthy, which means the O-line has to do a better job of protecting him while providing plenty of holes for the returning Davis. O-line improvement is a must for the Hogs this spring.

Copied and pasted from last year: Alabama, LSU favorites again 
Anyone ready for round two? Or, I guess, round three, maybe four? Months after meeting in the BCS championship game, all eyes will be on the defending national champion, Alabama, and the team that beat the Tide during the regular season but eventually lost when it matter most, LSU. Both lose a ton of talent to the NFL, especially on defense, but there always seems to be plenty of able and willing replacements to step in to starting roles. The quarterback situation for the Tide and Tigers is interesting, too. AJ McCarron showed remarkable improvement in the BCS championship and may be more than a “game manager” for Bama in 2012, and Georgia transfer Zach Mettenberger appears to be the favorite to lead LSU out of its quarterback slump.

Doo(ley) or Die time in Knoxville?
It’s sort of wild to think that Derek Dooley could be out after three years at Tennessee if he doesn’t turn it around and fast, but that seems to be the feeling as the Vols enter spring practice. After a decent inaugural year for Dooley that included a Music City bowl appearance, things took a turn for the worse last season when Tennessee went 5-7, finished last in the SEC East and lost to Kentucky. Woof. The Vols are filled with young talent, not to mention plenty of new coaches, but things haven’t completely come together yet. It’s a shame, too. Dooley’s a likeable (and quotable) coach, but mercy isn’t exactly at the front of everyone’s minds in Knoxville. Plus, there’s a new athletic director in town… who didn’t hire Dooley. It’s time to impress.

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15 Responses to “SEC spring storylines”
  1. woebegong says: Mar 2, 2012 8:20 AM

    I believe you will get your wish about SEC east teams this year from at least two candidates. Georgia and South Carolina just might shake some limbs on the SEC tree this year. The SEC has always been cyclical as far as conference domination goes. LSU has got to start a lot of its offense over again, Alabama has a lot of athletes, but is replacing a lot of experience on it’s defense with new guys. Arkansas has a good offense, but their defense still needs to gel to make the big times. The SEC always has teams in the running and this year, I believe both sides of the SEC have teams perfectly capable, of getting a few breaks, and causing some serious heart burn this year. The hope of the other conferences lies in the fact that the SEC will probably go to nine conference games next year, and they will beat the heck out of themselves during the season, thus making a no loss-one loss, season a little harder.

  2. cometkazie says: Mar 2, 2012 8:31 AM

    What are the dates of spring practice?

  3. woebegong says: Mar 2, 2012 8:36 AM

    I think you can go to the 247sports web site and find out the individual spring practices. UGA , I think starts theirs on March 20th, and the spring game is April 14th. Alabama has the same spring game day, so I imagine they start about the same time. I think LSU starts theirs today.

  4. John Taylor says: Mar 2, 2012 9:15 AM

    Or you could go right here: http://collegefootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/02/16/2012-spring-practice-dates/

  5. woebegong says: Mar 2, 2012 9:23 AM

    Works for me. To tell you the truth, as long as I know when my team starts, and go to the spring game, I usually don’t bother with the rest of them. I think the proper terminology to describe me is a homer, LOL.

  6. cometkazie says: Mar 2, 2012 9:26 AM

    Thanks for the help. I live in Kentucky now and football doesn’t get much press.

  7. Deb says: Mar 2, 2012 11:26 AM

    Nice write-up, Ben. Although I’m hoping the Tide will dominate the conference, I’d like to see a stronger showing from the east as well. It’s going to take a while to adjust to my alma mater, Mizzou, being in the SEC, an I hate that they’re playing Bama in the first year. But hope they’ll have a good season. Will be interesting to see how the Tide regroup from losing so many defensive starters and how LSU handles the loss of so many coaches.

  8. lasseter1113 says: Mar 2, 2012 2:36 PM

    Very good read. I can not wait until football starts again. Thank God for Braves baseball. We have some really bad storms all over the south today. Everybody be safe.

  9. cometkazie says: Mar 2, 2012 3:07 PM

    Deb says:
    Mar 2, 2012 11:26 AM
    It’s going to take a while to adjust to my alma mater, Mizzou, being in the SEC, an I hate that they’re playing Bama in the first year. But hope they’ll have a good season. Will be interesting to see how the Tide regroup from losing so many defensive starters and how LSU handles the loss of so many coaches.
    +=+=+
    If you can believe all the Bubbas, one LSU loss with be positive – that of #9.

    To me the flux can be a good thing and part of what makes college football so interesting.

    We are watching the storms. One hit Athens, Ala. We used to stay at the Best Western there but now prefer the LaQuinta in Decatur.

    Be safe. There are more important things than football.

  10. Deb says: Mar 2, 2012 6:44 PM

    @Tom …

    Thank you. I’m in Florida, and it’s quiet here. But my family is in Tuscaloosa and the Huntsville area, and all lost friends during last spring’s tornadoes. We’re just praying for everyone’s safety throughout the storm area.

  11. cometkazie says: Mar 2, 2012 7:01 PM

    There have been storms all around but they didn’t come here to Danville and seem to have passed us by. Same with my daughter a few miles up the road.

  12. mrslay1 says: Mar 2, 2012 7:58 PM

    Nice Artical BEN!!! You hit it all on the head. I think Florida should bbe better by a game or 2 this year, but South Carolina and Georgia (in that order) should be the class of the east. You have to love Mark R, but certainly no more than Coach Spurrier! What he has done at USC is nothing short of amazing! These are 2 of the best coaches in the game. But the west should sill domonate. Lsu can always be in it and this is Arkansas best chance yet to win it all in Petrino’s rein. But like them or not, you just have to say that Bama is the strongest program and reloads better than anyone. I don’t see anyone knocking of the SEC west, but as before mentioned, Sec beats itself up so much that they will be what costs them a championship, not another team even that wins a game.

  13. gator2006 says: Mar 2, 2012 11:59 PM

    Well, the Gators did win the 2010 Sugar bowl with one loss, so the SEC East did something relevant the next year.

  14. callmecynical says: Mar 4, 2012 1:00 AM

    For me, the resurrection of Tennessee will be the story line in the SEC. College football is better when the truly great teams (read chance to play for it all are relevant). I lived in KnoxVegas for 3 years and they are still my favorite SEC team. I would love to see the 3rd Saturday in October return to relevance (outside of the blocked field goal a couple years back). Give Dooley at least 3 more years, good lineage, more importantly he is NOT LANE KIFFEN who will probably mis-coach USC away from a potential shot at the NC. Love to see the Vols against the Trojans, but will settle for a vastly improved Michigan against ‘Bama.

  15. bamasleeper13 says: Mar 5, 2012 3:07 PM

    Great article,I can’t wait to get going. Too long till Sept and then over too quickly.

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