Will Muschamp breaks down where Gamecocks improved this spring
Spring practice in the SEC is complete. The next time players take the field, the games will count, so let's check in with the league's teams.
Florida (hosts South Carolina on Nov. 10) – The last time Dan Mullen was a coach at Florida, he had Tim Tebow as his quarterback. Now that Mullen is back as the Gators head coach, he has to find a quarterback he can only hope will be half as good. Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask competed for the starting job this spring, and Trask closed the gap between the two. Trask had more passing yards than Franks in the spring game (178 to 117) although Franks made more plays with his feet. Early enrollee freshman quarterback Emory Jones participated in spring practice but didn’t push the two veterans. Jones completed three passes for 93 yards in the spring game.
Georgia (plays at South Carolina on Sept. 8) – Crank up the quarterback controversy. Jake Fromm, who led the Bulldogs to an SEC championship and the national title game as a true freshman last year, was outperformed in the spring game by early enrollee freshman Justin Fields. With 82,184 people watching a glorified practice, Fields completed 18 of 33 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown and had a 22-yard run, while Fromm was picked off twice. The conversation about who should start for the Bulldogs is just getting started. In other spring news, safety Richard LeCounte III is an emerging star, but the Bulldogs still are waiting for a running back to step up behind expected starter D’Andre Swift.
Kentucky (hosts South Carolina on Sept. 29) – The great Kentucky football renaissance never really got off the ground. The Wildcats look to be headed back to the bottom of the East Division on a consistent basis. Transfer quarterback Gunnar Hoak and athletic Terry Wilson competed for the vacant starting quarterback job this spring without either winning the job. Running back Benny Snell Jr. was limited in the spring game, so the Wildcats could get a longer look at A.J. Rose, who figures to be his top backup in 2018. Rose had more than 100 yards from scrimmage.
Missouri (plays at South Carolina on Oct. 6) – Whatever concerns Missouri fans had about head coach Barry Odom hiring Derek Dooley as his offensive coordinator weren’t alleviated by the spring game. Showcasing a much slower and more pro-style system than they had a year ago, the Tigers were sluggish on offense in their spring game. Quarterback Drew Lock said afterward that he doesn’t care about stats, which might be a good thing this year. Running back Damarea Crockett had a good spring, and defensive lineman Terry Beckner Jr. is back to lead a loaded group at defensive tackle.
South Carolina – The Gamecocks offense spent most of its energy this spring on installing and repping its new faster-paced offense. The new system got rave reviews from the South Carolina defense, but the real test will be Sept. 1 in the season-opener against Coastal Carolina. Defensively, South Carolina spent spring auditioning defensive backs but will head into the summer with just one – Steven Montac – whom the coaching staff really trusts. Expect that to be Will Muschamp's No. 1 concern when the fall arrives, too.
Tennessee (plays at South Carolina on Oct. 27) – The Jeremy Pruitt era is going to be fascinating. After a spring game that drew more than 60,000 fans, the Volunteers head coach had some criticisms of both his fans and his team. Pruitt’s personality will play great if he wins big. If he doesn’t, watch out. Returning quarterback Jarrett Guarantano was named MVP of the spring game but hasn’t been named the starter. Backup Will McBride and Stanford transfer Keller Chryst (who will arrive this summer) are in the mix.
Vanderbilt (hosts South Carolina on Nov. 22) – The biggest news at Vanderbilt is that running back Ralph Webb is finally gone. Much of spring practice was about finding his replacement, with Khari Blasingame seemingly at the front of the line. The spring game, which the Commodores call a spring showcase (which is more honest than calling it an actual game), didn’t make anybody feel better about Webb being gone. With a host of offensive linemen out, Blasingame had 37 yards and Jamauri Wakefield had 24 yards.
Alabama – The quarterback competition was always going to be the story of Alabama’s spring practice, and that spotlight got brighter when Jalen Hurts’ father Averion told Bleacher Report that Jalen Hurts will transfer if he doesn’t win the starting job this year. Hurts has started the past two seasons for the Crimson Tide, a span that has included two title game appearances and one national crown, however Tua Tagovailoa replaced Hurts at halftime of last year’s title game and led a second-half comeback against Georgia. In the spring game, Tagovailoa did not play because of a hand injury, Hurts was 19-for-37 for 195 yards, no touchdowns and an interception, and coach Nick Saban was caught by an ESPN microphone criticizing Hurts for a decision to run the ball. It’s looking a lot like Hurts will be transferring sometime soon.
Arkansas – The Razorbacks are still adjusting to the dramatic change of pace from former coach Bret Beilema to new coach Chad Morris. Beilema ran one of the few old-school offensive systems left in the SEC, while Morris wants to go faster and faster and faster. Arkansas ran 69 plays in the first half of the spring game, and Morris said that wasn’t fast enough. Junior Ty Storey and sophomore Cole Kelley are competing for the quarterback spot and played equally in the spring game. Defensive end Randy Ramsey is emerging as a star.
Auburn – Jarrett Stidham was limited during the spring after surgery on his nonthrowing shoulder, but he looked good in 7-on-7 drills during the spring game. Early enrollee freshman quarterback Joey Gatewood looked good, but is not pushing Stidham. The story of the Tigers spring was injuries. Receivers Eli Stove and Will Hastings tore ACLs, and defensive tackle Daquan Newkirk tore his Achilles. All three probably will miss the fall.
LSU – Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Tigers have a nasty defensive line and are a mystery on offense. Tyler Shelvin and K’Lavon Chaisson will be stars on the defensive line. Now, about quarterback. LSU has three players competing to replace Danny Etling — Justin McMillan, Myles Brennan and Lowell Narcisse. Brennan was supposed to be the front-runner, but McMillan had the best spring and spring game. The Tigers are working more shotgun and spread offensive formations this spring, and coach Ed Orgeron indicated only 35 percent of the new system is in.
Mississippi (hosts South Carolina on Nov. 3) – There’s been so much attention paid to quarterback Shea Patterson’s transfer to Michigan, lots of people are forgetting how well Jordan Ta’amu did replacing an injured Patterson last year. Ta’amu completed only six passes in the spring game, but they went for 188 yards, and Ta’amu might be a breakout star in 2018. Junior college transfer Scottie Phillips was the leading rusher in the spring game with 40 yards on nine carries.
Mississippi State – Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald competed only in 7-on-7 work in the spring game because he’s still rehabbing the ankle injury suffered last year against Mississippi. Keytaon Thompson, who showed plenty of promise after replacing Fitzgerald, was 26 of 44 passes for 316 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the spring game. Both quarterbacks still need to fully internalize new coach Joe Moorhead’s offense.
Texas A&M (plays at South Carolina on Oct. 13) – A school-record 48,129 showed up to watch Jimbo Fisher’s first spring game. The big crowd gave quarterbacks Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond a taste of what the winner will experience in the fall, when all that excitement about Fisher is fully realized. Starkel had 373 passing yards in the spring game compared to Mond’s 180, but Fisher won’t name a starter yet. Tight end Jace Sternberger could be the biggest beneficiary of Fisher’s system and excelled this spring.