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Last week, I shared the top storyline for each SEC East team heading into spring practice. This week, we head out to a division that would be considered the best conference in college football if it added four teams – the always intriguing SEC West.
Alabama Crimson Tide - Running Back
Yeah, yeah, I know. Trent Richardson is a stud. I get that, and you're absolutely right. But with running back Mark Ingram, wide receiver Julio Jones, quarterback Greg McElroy and offensive tackle James Carpenter all gone, Alabama has key holes to fill all over the place this spring. Richardson's transition to become the feature running back is the most important piece of a much larger offensive puzzle. Richardson has the potential to be a Heisman Trophy caliber running back, but he hasn't had to carry the load during his career. With McElroy and Jones gone, Richardson's transition to the top of the depth chart needs to be as quick and seamless as possible. If he can do that, it will allow quarterback A.J. McCarron and the rest of the pieces to fall into place quickly, which will go a long way towards a successful 2011 season.
Arkansas Razorbacks - Quarterback
Tyler Wilson won't be the preseason first team All-SEC quarterback; but if things go well for Arkansas in 2011, he could take the honor home in December. Wilson was outstanding filling in for an injured Ryan Mallett against Auburn in 2010, completing 25-of-34 passes for 332 yards and four touchdowns, in a 65-43 loss to the eventual national champions. With Mallett out last spring, Wilson took the majority of the first team snaps, which was crucial in his development as an SEC-caliber quarterback. He will get the benefit of having running back Knile Davis and receivers Greg Childs, Joe Adams and Jarius Wright all back, which will make his job much easier. If Wilson can develop some chemistry with his teammates, the Razorbacks could be scary good in 2011. I'm talkin' SEC Championship good – and maybe even better.
Auburn Tigers - Offensive Line
Contrary to popular belief, Auburn wasn't a one-man show last season. The Tigers' success was a total team effort, and one of the most important pieces of that roster was a senior-laden offensive line. With four starters gone, Auburn needs to figure out who's going to fill those spots this spring before an answer at quarterback can be determined. The Tigers will get former starter A.J. Greene back from an ankle injury, so while the preview magazines will say Auburn is losing four starters up front, two starting tackles – Green and Brandon Mosley – will also be returning. John Sullen will likely grab one of the open spots at guard, with early enrollee Reese Dismukes the likely starter at center. That's four spots that should be solidified this spring. If that happens, it will give offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn an entire summer to work out the rest of the kinks.
LSU Tigers - Quarterback
If I had to bet right now, I'd bet that LSU head coach Les Miles will remain loyal to returning starter Jordan Jefferson and let him open the season at quarterback against Oregon. But if junior college transfer Zach Mettenberger turns some heads this spring, I might change that bet before two-a-days. Before getting dismissed from Georgia last May for an off-the-field incident, Mettenberger arguably out-played Aaron Murray during spring practice. Murray won the job before Mettenberger was dismissed, but from what I saw, Mettenberger has what it takes to win in the SEC. I don't think LSU's quarterback situation will be settled this spring, but between Jefferson, Mettenberger and Jarrett Lee, one of them has to step up and take the reins, right? RIGHT?!?!?!
Mississippi State Bulldogs - The Defense
Former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz bolted Starkville after one season to greener pastures in Austin, Texas, leaving last season's co-defensive coordinator Chris Wilson behind to pick up the pieces of a Bulldog defense that has lots of holes to fill. The Bulldogs lose stud defensive end Pernell McPhee, and underrated linebackers Chris White and K.J. Wright off of a very opportunistic defense that led Mississippi State to a 9-4 record and a Gator Bowl win over Michigan. First and foremost, the Bulldogs have to replace three starting linebackers. Junior Cameron Lawrence will have the first crack at making noise this spring, but with no incumbents on the roster, the Bulldogs will clear the bench this spring to find out who is most deserving.
Ole Miss Rebels - The Defense
I could list just about every other aspect of the Ole Miss team here too, but let's face it, that defense was BAD last year. Sure, some of that had to do with the fact that the Rebs were without stud defensive end Kentrell Lockett missed the majority of the season with a torn ACL, but that doesn't excuse giving up 400 yards and 35 points per game. Head coach Houston Nutt could get some immediate help from junior college early enrollees Gilbert Pena and Wesley Pendleton at defensive tackle and corner back, respectively. But there's no denying that there's a serious shortage of talent at Ole Miss. Nutt and Co. will need to work overtime developing the players they have on campus. If they can't, it could be another disappointing season in Oxford.
Barrett Sallee covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @BarrettSallee
2010/2011 Off-Season Column Archive:
Six SEC West Spring Storylines – February 24, 2011
Kiffin and the Tennessee Issue – February 23, 2011
Six SEC East Spring Storylines – February 17, 2011
CFN Analysis – The SEC Schedule – February 10, 2011
Ealey Suspension Leaves Georgia In A Bind – February 9, 2011
SEC Signing Day Review – February 3, 2011
CFN Analysis – Signing Day 2011 – February 2, 2011
Dream Team Won't Save Richt – January 31, 2011
Five Thoughts On Kragthorpe – January 24, 2011
Ridiculously Early SEC West Rankings – January 23, 2011
LSU Hires OC Four Years Too Late – January 20, 2011
Ridiculously Early SEC East Rankings – January 19, 2011
CFN Analysis: Cam Turns Pro – January 14, 2011
BCS National Championship Review – January 11, 2011
CFN Analysis: Cotton Bowl – January 8, 2011
Five Thoughts On Why Auburn Wins – January 7, 2011
Five Thoughts On Dan Quinn – January 5, 2011
Tuesday Question: Should Rich Rod Be Fired – January 4, 2011
Five Thoughts on Charlie Weis – January 4, 2011
CFN Analysis: Charlie Weis as the Florida OC – January 3, 2011
CFN Analysis: Outback Bowl – January 1, 2011
CFN Analysis: Gator Bowl – January 1, 2011
CFN Analysis: Capital One Bowl – January 1, 2011
CFN Analysis: Liberty Bowl – December 31, 2010
CFN Analysis: Music City Bowl – December 30, 2010
End Of The Season Accountability – December 27, 2010
Pryor Can't Be Compared To Newton – December 23, 2010
Ranking The SEC Bowl Games – December 19, 2010
Malzahn Makes The Right Move – December 14, 2010
Five Thoughts on Muschamp – December 12, 2010
CFN Analysis: Florida Hires Muschamp – December 12, 2010
CFN Analysis: Cam's Heisman Landslide – December 11, 2010
Five Thoughts On Urban Meyer – December 9, 2010
Meyer Leaves Legacy, Question Marks – December 8, 2010
Click here for the 2010 regular season archive
Click here for the 2010 Three & Out archive