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Spring Preview 2010 - SEC West
Alabama QB Greg McElroy
Alabama QB Greg McElroy
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Mar 24, 2010


As spring ball is rolling, here are the big questions, the most important positions and more for each SEC West team.


Spring Preview 2010

SEC West Spring Preview

2010 Spring Preview
- 2010 SEC East Spring Preview  
- 2010 SEC Player You Must Know - Kentucky WR Randall Cobb 
- 2010 Spring Question ... Is the SEC title the same as the national title? 
- 2010 SEC Offseason Lookback & Lookahead 
- 2010 SEC East Schedule Breakdown
- 2010 SEC West Schedule Breakdown
- 2010 SEC Composite Schedule  
- 2010 SEC Pre-Preseason Rankings 
- 2010 SEC Recruiting Rankings 
 
By Pete Fiutak

West
Alabama
Spring Practice Begins: March 12 Game: April 17

The early spring buzz: With all the turnover and all the concerns in several areas, one plus is at linebacker where Dont’a Hightower is back from a bad knee injury and should provide a talented playmaker to help ease the loss of Rolando McClain. Also healed up is quarterback Greg McElroy after rib problems he played through in the national championship. Overall, the team is taking on the swagger and the attitude of a national champion, and while no one’s assuming it’s a foregone conclusion that a national title is on its way in the next few years, it really is a BCS Championship or Bust mindset for a team this good. Last year appears to be just the beginning, and it’s a slight departure from last year when the team was focused on coming out roaring.
The big spring question is … How can the offense get Julio Jones the ball? How do you stop the best receiver in the 2011 NFL Draft (assuming he bolts early)? Put him on Alabama. Jones hasn’t been 100% healthy, but he also hasn’t been featured as much as he should even though the ground game is so devastating. For a player of his caliber and his potential, 101 catches for 1,520 yards and eight touchdowns in two years is a bit paltry. While the Tide won’t change things up much from the formula that works, it’ll be interesting to see how much more No. 8 gets the ball in offseason practices.
The most important position to watch is … defensive tackle. Yes, there are some major losses at linebacker, and yes, the secondary is an issue after losing three starters, but the biggest hole to fill, literally, is in the middle of the line where 354-pound (on a lucky day) Terrence Cody isn’t around to stuff things up anymore. While Bama always used a rotation with Josh Chapman seeing plenty of action, this spring session will be about seeing if Kerry Murphy, one of the team’s biggest players, and Nick Gentry can handle the work and the pounding.
Spring attitude: Don’t take anything for granted. You’d never know that Nick Saban was a two-time national title winner and coming off his most successful season as a head coach. Now Alabama is the hunted, when last year that honor belonged to Florida, and everyone is measuring themselves against the defending champions. While it might be too dramatic to say that anything less than a national title this season would be a failure, anything less than a national title this season would be a failure.

Arkansas
Spring Practice Begins: March 30   Game: April 24

The early spring buzz: All eyes will be on the passing game to see how it progresses and how it improves now that the receiving corps, with all the key parts back, has had a year to figure out what it’s doing and with QB Ryan Mallett choosing to stick around for another year. The big story throughout the spring will be new offensive coordinator Garrick McGee who’ll replace Paul Petrino (who left for Illinois). However, Mallett won’t be around for spring ball as he recovers from a broken foot, who this will be a time for Tyler Wilson to show that he could be the main man for 2011.
The big spring question is … Will the defense show up this season? The offense has been able to carry the load at times, and while the defense hasn’t been a total disaster, and hasn’t been bad at keeping points off the board, the secondary has been an issue and the run defense has hardly been a brick wall. The Hogs finished last in the SEC in yards allowed and last in pass defense, but three starter return to the secondary and seven starters are back on D. More than getting the veteran starters work, spring ball will be about determining a solid pecking order and developing depth.
The most important position to watch is … running back. With a quarterback like Mallett and a passing game like the Hogs have, it’s easy to ignore the ground game at times. Michael Smith was supposed to be the main man last year, but he had problems staying on the field. Now the spotlight will be on a slew of backs who bring different things with massive junior Broderick Green the power runner and sophomore Knile Davis, junior Dennis Johnson, and sophomore Ronnie Wingo all taking turns at bat. Wingo, a slippery 6-3, 218-pounder, is likely to emerge as the star of the show.
Spring attitude: Bludgeon everyone with the offense. The defense is expected to make some strides and it’s not going to be as bad as last year, but the Hogs will be winning games with its explosive offense. The passing game will be unstoppable at times, the running backs are veterans and talented, and the line gets back four starters. It’ll be a mega-disappointment to not finish the season averaging at least 450 yards and 40 points per game.

Auburn
Spring Practice Begins: March 22 Game: April 17

The early spring buzz: For all the questions about a good Auburn team that’s coming off a nice rebound season in Gene Chizik’s first go-round, the main topic of Tiger conversation always lead back to one thing: Alabama. The Tigers have work to do in the offensive backfield and need to be far more consistent overall, but the Tide’s national championship and the new status as college football’s standard-bearer has only turned up the pressure in Auburn that much more. It’s one thing for Florida or LSU to want to win the SEC title, but it’s another for Auburn to have to sit back and groove on the Tide’s national title. Needless to say, it’s been a rough few months for the fan base.
The big spring question is … Can the defense produce, and more importantly, can Chizik actually coach? For all of Auburn’s problems over the years, the athleticism was supposed to be undeniable. Last year’s Tiger defense could run, but it couldn’t stop anyone with a pulse finishing last in the conference in scoring defense and allowing fewer than 20 points just once all year (the opener against Louisiana Tech). That’s a problem when the head coach, Chizik, made his bread by being a defensive wizard. He didn’t do much with the defenses at Iowa State, and his first year as the Auburn leader was hardly stellar considering his résumé. This year, the offense will probably be better and more consistent, but if the defense doesn’t come around it’ll be time to worry.
The most important position to watch is … quarterback. The passer under offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is supposed to be a superstar (remember Tulsa’s playmakers a few years ago?). The system is proven and the system works, but it didn’t do enough after the first few weeks of last season. Cameron Newton is a very big, very promising prospect who could be a superstar with a little bit of time. But he’ll have to fight off Neil Caudle, a senior who’s the safe choice after Tyrik Rollison, a young, dynamic playmaker who was suspended last season, took off (or at least that’s what he’s saying he’s doing).
Spring attitude: Don’t worry about anyone other than Auburn. Alabama is Alabama, and no one in college football appears to be at that level going into the season. The Tigers can’t measure themselves after their hated rivals and have to mostly work on getting all the young pieces in place for the next few seasons. Chizik has done a fantastic job of recruiting and the talent is coming in, but patience will have to be a virtue.

LSU
Spring Practice Begins: February 26 Game: March 27

The early spring buzz: The team is looking good. The defense has been fantastic so far even with so many new faces in key spots. Head coach Les Miles has been praising the tackling and the physical play of the group. There have been a few problems with all the flying around, though, as center T-Bob Hebert broke his leg and will have to spend the next several months getting healthy to be ready for the start of the year. Overall, though, the team has been playing well early on in spring ball and the reviews have been solid. For the most part the athleticism is coming through and the health is allowing the coaching staff to work on several things.
The big spring question is … will the line play be any better? The defensive front didn’t play up to LSU snuff last season and now it has to replace three key starters. The offensive line was a disaster, even with NFL prospects like Ciron Black and Lyle Hitt leading the way, and it’ll be next to impossible for the production to be as bad again. Jordan Jefferson is a big-time talent, and he has the potential to be the best quarterback in the SEC, but he needs time to work.
The most important position to watch is … running back. Of all the disappointing aspects of last year’s team the running game was the biggest dud averaging just 123 yards per game. Keiland Williams led the team averaging just 33.45 yards per game and now the job is wide open. QB Russell Shepard will see plenty of action out of the backfield. Richard Murphy is still trying to get past a knee problem, thumping junior Stevan Ridley will get more of a role, and Michael Ford is looking like a potentially special runner with Murphy needing more time to heal.
Spring attitude: If the team could be that bad last year and still finish 9-4, imagine what could happen if there was an offense. The Tigers were awful finishing last in the SEC and 112th in the country in total offense, while the defense was just average. Even with all the problems, the Tigers still got to a New Year’s Day bowl game, so while there are several problems on defense and the offense still has to prove itself, the future looks bright.

Ole Miss
Spring Practice Begins: March 17 Game: April 17

The early spring buzz: Since last year didn’t work out as planned, the team needs to undergo a major overhaul. 2009 wasn’t a complete disaster, but now there won’t be the expectations to deal with and there are several major changes to be made across the board starting with the offense. Longtime coach Dave Rader is still a big name with a great résumé, and he has a big wad of clay to mold. It’s going to be a fun offseason with all the changes and all the new faces, but the athleticism and young talent are there.
The big spring question is … if the offense can stop giving the ball away. Not having Jevan Snead around to throw bad interceptions anymore is a good first step, but the team lost the ball 31 times last season with only one team (Miami University) giving it away more. With all the new starters in place it’ll be vital for the O not to shoot itself in the foot meaning ball security is job one starting from day one.
The most important position to watch is … Quarterback. The spotlight will be on the defensive ends with JUCO transfer Wayne Dorsey trying to take the heat off of Kentrell Lockett, and the running backs will be jockeying for position with Dexter McCluster gone, but the real job will be to find a replacement for Snead. Sophomore Nathan Stanley got the most work last year and has great size and excellent upside, while Raymond Cotton, another big bomber, will have to shine before JUCO transfer Randall Mackey hits campus this summer.
Spring attitude: Enjoy the anonymity. It’s Alabama’s division, and national title, to lose, while the expectations are high for Arkansas, Auburn and LSU. Ole Miss is supposed to be in a rebuilding phase and it has a tough schedule to deal with and few big breaks over the second half going on the road to face Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, and LSU with a home date against Auburn. No one will be looking for much out of the Rebels, but this should be an interesting year for a team with just enough talent to ruin someone else’s year.

Miss State
Spring Practice Begins: March 23 Game: April 17

The early spring buzz: The big news story for the program happened away from the field as athletic director Greg Byrne is leaving to be the AD at Arizona. So how does this affect the football team? It’s not that big a deal considering Dan Mullen was the key hire last year and is expected to be around for a while. On the field, the excitement is high after the Bulldogs closed out last season with a thumping of Ole Miss and after leading the SEC in rushing.
The big spring question is … will there be any semblance of a passing game? Thanks to a monster year from Anthony Dixon, the Bulldogs averaged an SEC-best 228 yards per game. While the plan is to keep the production rolling with the Mullen offense, the passing attack has to do something to try to balance things out after finishing 113th in the nation and 105th in passing efficiency. Junior Chris Relf is a mobile option who has a little bit of experience, but Tyler Russell is the star-in-waiting with the passing skills to change things around.
The most important position to watch is … running back. So if Relf, a runner, isn’t the quarterback, and Dixon and his 3,994 career yards and 42 touchdowns is gone, who’s ready to step up? Robert Elliott ran for 221 yards and a touchdown, and he’s the crusty veteran of the group. Montrell Conner has the biggest upside and the most talent, while JUCO transfer Vick Ballard will get a few chances. Instead of working the ground game with one back, expect more of a running back by committee approach early on.
Spring attitude: Get the new guys out there and hope for the best. While the hope will be to come up with one more win than last year to get bowl eligible and take another step forward, the best option might be to throw the youngsters to the wolves and prepare them for down the road. Russell and Conner are big-time talents who were nice gets for the program, and they need to get as much experience as possible to see if they’re the types of players to build around for the next few years. With the brutal schedule MSU has to deal with facing LSU, Houston, Florida, Alabama, and Ole Miss on the road, while still having to face Auburn, Georgia, and Arkansas at home.

- 2010 SEC East Spring Preview