ALABAMA: Ball-control theme
Alabama fans have toned down their mania over coach Nick Saban — barely. The spring game on April 12 drew 78,200, the secondmost in school history after last year’s capacity crowd of 92,000. Offensive coordinator Jim McElwain was brought in from Fresno State, but hasn’t tinkered too much with the offense, which still has Saban’s ball-control theme. The Crimson Tide didn’t find out much about their receivers, after losing three to graduation, and unexpected losses at linebacker forced two players to be switched from other positions.
ARKANSAS: Running back openings
New coach Bobby Petrino has been installing his complicated spread offense, which will be on display in Saturday’s spring game. Quarterback Casey Dick is back and has received good reviews from the staff. The question is who he’ll hand the ball off to, with the departures of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. Petrino has been high on tailback Michael Smith, who seems to have the edge. Defensive players have had to adjust to new defensive coordinator Willy Robinson.
AUBURN: Two new coordinators
Auburn spent the spring installing new systems on both sides of the ball, thanks to the hiring of new coordinators on offense (Tony Franklin) and defense (Paul Rhoads). It was Franklin’s first real chance to install his spread offense, and he also had to decide on a new quarterback. He didn’t, and will go into fall with holdover Kodi Burns and junior college transfer Chris Todd as co-starters. There’s a good chance they’ll go into the season that way, since Burns is a running threat and Todd is a pocket passer.
LSU: Who’ll play QB?
The big story around the Tigers this spring was the absence of a much-discussed quarterback who was suspended for most of the spring, and missed the spring game, after several run-ins with the police. Ryan Perrilloux should have inherited the starting quarterback job from the Matt Flynn, but ran into more off-field trouble this semester. Still, it appears coach Les Miles will give Perrilloux every chance to earn the starting job when fall practice begins.
MISSISSIPPI: Everything is new
Almost everything is new in Oxford. Coach Houston Nutt came in from Arkansas, then hired Tyrone Nix away from USC to run the defense. Nutt’s first order of business on offense was finding his playmakers, and he liked what he saw from quarterback Jevon Snead, who enters the fall as the starter. Nix’s defense will have question marks, chief among them what happens with defensive linemen Jerrell Powe (academics) and Greg Hardy (off-field issues).
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Counting on the defense
Judging by the spring game — which ended with a score of 6-0 in overtime — defense will once again carry the Bulldogs. That’s even after Anthony Johnson left school. The defensive back had a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown against Alabama last year. Five other players, including reserve quarterback Josh Riddell, also left or were dismissed from the team.
— Seth Emerson
FLORIDA: Don't dent the Heisman
The Gators are trying to reduce the pounding on Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow, who led the Gators in rushing last year but played through a bruised shoulder. Southern Cal transfer Emmanuel Moody, who bench-presses 400 pounds, should lessen much of Tebow’s running load. The surest sign the Gators plan to do more sledding between the tackles: spread-option architect Urban Meyer put in a double tight end formation.
GEORGIA: Living up to the hype
These are heady times in Athens, with REM touring to promote a new album and the Bulldogs a popular choice as the preseason No. 1 team in the country. How deep are the ’Dogs? Heisman Trophy candidate Knowshon Moreno created less buzz at the spring game than redshirt freshman tailback Caleb King, who rushed for 31 yards on six carries. Concerns remain about the offensive line, which was without right guard Clint Boling (mono).
KENTUCKY: New faces on offense
With quarterback Andre Woodson, tailback Rafael Little, wideout Keenan Burton and tight end Jacob Tamme departing, the Wildcats lose their top passer, rusher, receiver and punt and kickoff returners. Curtis Pulley and Mike Hartline (brother of Ohio State wideout Brian) are in a tight race for the quarterback spot. Though he will not be a 25-carry back, Derrick Locke, who owns Kentucky’s long jump record, is undersized but explosive, according to Rich Brooks.
SOUTH CAROLINA: In a rush
While quarterback play was the prevailing story line, the Gamecocks need to improve a rushing attack that has ranked among the 20 worst in Division I in two of Steve Spurrier’s three seasons. A hamstring injury kept Mike Davis from doing much, but Brian Maddox gave coaches reason for optimism by rushing for 87 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries in the spring game. The key will be how quickly center Garrett Anderson and the rest of the linemen come together.
TENNESSEE: New coordinator, new QB
After a turbulent offseason that saw nine players arrested, dismissed or disciplined, Vols coach Phillip Fulmer said it was “refreshing” to hit the practice fields this spring with first-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson, who takes over for new Duke coach David Cutcliffe. Clawson, who was Richmond’s coach, has spiced up the Tennessee’s I-formation by bringing elements of the spread offense. After waiting in the wings behind Erik Ainge, quarterback Jonathan Crompton will try to keep the Vols atop the East.
VANDERBILT: Looking for linemen
It was open tryouts along the offensive line this spring at Vanderbilt, which must replace all five starters. The biggest void was left by tackle Chris Williams, who is hoping to become the Commodores’ first offensive lineman to get picked in the first round of the NFL draft since Will Wolford 22 years ago. Whichever quarterback wins the starting job — Chris Nickson or Mackenzi Adams — better be quick on his feet.
— Joseph Person