Josh Kendall

SEC West Q&A: What’s the biggest question for Tide, Tigers and the rest?

Arkansas must find a replacement for RB Rawleigh Williams III (22), who had to give up football because of an injury.
Arkansas must find a replacement for RB Rawleigh Williams III (22), who had to give up football because of an injury. AP

Spring football has ended at every SEC school and the league’s 14 head coaches participated Monday in a teleconference to update the progress of their teams.

South Carolina will play Texas A&M and Arkansas form the West this season.

Here’s the No. 1 question (and the best guess at the answer) for the seven Western Division schools:

Alabama

Q: Who are all these new guys?

A: The Crimson Tide welcomed 16 midyear enrollees for spring practice. That’s an amazing number and the fact that five of them are five-star prospects proves Alabama is reloading again after a national runner-up finish. “I said after spring practice was over, I don’t think we’re an elite team,” coach Nick Saban said. “Probably adequate, but we don’t want to settle for that. We have a lot of things to improve on. We have a lot of challenges early .” The Tide plays Florida State in its season-opener on Sept. 2 so they the extra time will benefit the newcomers. “It’s sort of a work in progress to get where we want to be,” Saban said.

Arkansas

Q: How do the Razorbacks replace Rawleigh Williams?

A: Williams was the third-leading running back in the SEC last year with 1,360 yards, but he suffered a second significant neck injury in Arkansas’ final spring scrimmage and decided to give up football. That leaves sophomore Devway Whaley, who had 602 yards last year as the presumptive starter heading into the fall, and it also means the Razorbacks will have to get some young backs ready. “There is never a good part, but the timing of it allowed the reality of it to set in for our football team,” coach Bret Bilema said. “It does give us an opportunity to make some plans.”

Auburn

Q: Will new OC Chip Lindsey make the difference?

A: Head coach Gus Malzahn navigated a bounce back season last year for the Tigers, finishing 8-5 overall and 5-3 in the SEC. Now, he thinks his new hire at offensive coordinator could get Auburn back to contending. Lindsey is a longtime high school coach who served as an offensive analyst at Auburn in 2013 and the offensive coordinator at Arizona State last year. The Tigers led the SEC in rushing last year but were last in passing, and Malzahn thinks Lindsey’s experience working with quarterbacks will help. “Our goal in the spring was to be more balanced, and I think we did that,” Malzahn said. “Our offensive players are excited and our quarterbacks are and I am too..”

LSU

Q: Now what Ed?

A: Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron is an interim no more and has now gone through his first recruiting cycle as the head coach. “It’s our team now,” he said. Orgeron has two of the most respected coordinators in college football after hiring Matt Canada to run the offense and leaving Dave Aranda in charge of the defense. Now LSU needs to get back to competing in the SEC West, which means its quarterback play needs to be better. Senior Danny Etling held onto the job during spring practice, and Orgeron thinks he’s up for the task this fall. “Danny’s a guy who can manage the game,” Oregon said. “I think when he’s healthy, he’s going to be tough to beat.”

Mississippi

Q: How much longer will Hugh Freeze be around?

A: The Rebels head coach didn’t address that with the media this week, but it’s the No. 1 question hanging over the program. Freeze has gotten to the Ole Miss program to heights it hasn’t seen in a while, and he’s got a good young quarterback in sophomore Shea Patterson, but the NCAA has charged the school with 15 Level I violations and a lack of institutional control so who knows what’s next for Freeze. Whoever is coaching the team will enjoy Patterson, a five-star prospect who had his redshirt removed late last season and looks poised for a big career with the Rebels.

Mississippi State

Q: What’s the deal with Nick Fitzgerald?

A: The Bulldogs quarterback finished third in the SEC in rushing last year with 1,375 yards and a 7-yard per carry average that was the second-best in the league. He threw for 2,423 yards, the eighth-best total in the league. Is the junior really that good? He could be if he works at it, head coach Dan Mullen said. “This is a huge summer for Nick,” Mullen said. “This was his best performance in spring, but he has to take a huge step forward before we get into training camp.”

Texas A&M

Q: Can the Aggies finish a season?

A: Texas A&M’s fast starts and flop finishes have become such a cliché that head coach Kevin Sumlin decided he had to make a change. That meant moving Larry Jackson, his head strength coach since taking over the program, to another job and hiring Mark Hocke. Hocke has worked at Alabama, Florida State and Georgia, and his job will be to keep the team healthy and strong in the second half of the season. “There is no doubt we need to play better at the end of the season. We need to finish,” Sumlin said. “In the things we are doing really good we need to stay head of the curve. Things that we aren’t, we need to make changes and we did that.”

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