We had eight spring games in the SEC over the weekend. What did we learn?
Note to UGA fans: Don’t forget about Arkansas. Georgia goes to Fayetteville on Sept. 19. The Bulldogs would be wise not to lose focus on that trip.
It looks like the Hogs have found their quarterback in Ryan Mallett, the transfer from Michigan. Mallett completed 15 of 26 passes for 233 yards (2 TD, 2 INT) in the spring a game.
“Our ability to throw the ball down the field will be much better,” coach Bobby Petrino said.
Here is the other important change at Arkansas. Petrino has gone out and found reinforcements for running back Michael Smith, a small back (5-7, 173) who wore down with 207 carries last season. Arkansas recruited two big running backs who might be able to help. Knile Davis (6-1, 209) graduated from high school early and went through spring ball. Green (6-2, 240), a transfer from Southern Cal, is still waiting on an NCAA waiver that would make him eligible this fall. D’Anthony Curtis, a rising sophomore, rushed for 103 yards and had a 23-yard touchdown run on Saturday.
Unlike last season, when Arkansas’s entire offense was built around Smith, this team will be able to pound defenses and then throw the deep ball with Mallett. Like Ole Miss was a year ago, Arkansas will be the surprise team in the SEC this fall.
Florida gave opposing DCs something to think about: Just imagine that you’re a defensive coordinator who will face the Florida Gators this fall. Florida has the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner (Tim Tebow) returning for his senior season and will be going for his third national championship in four years. Just when you defense gets into some kind of rhythm against Tebow, in comes sophomore quarterback John Brantley, who has a cannon for a right arm.
It’s a little scary. Florida used its spring game to showcase Brantley and what opponents can look forward to after Tebow. He had completions of 26, 47, and 50 yards. The two longest ones went to Frankie Hammond, Jr. (Remember that name).
In short, Tebow spreads the defense horizontally and finds seams for all of those speedy backs and receivers. Brantley will then spread the defensive vertically and kill you throwing intermediate passes. Playing Florida in 2009 will mean a long week of preparation.
Nick Saban doesn’t need to say it. Greg McElroy is Alabama’s starting quarterback. During my visit to Alabama 10 days ago nobody was going to say on the record that the young Texan will, barring injury, take the first snap against Virginia Tech on Sept. 5. And head coach Nick Saban didn’t want to actually say the words after McElroy completed 16 of 30 passes for 189 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions last Saturday.
But 84,050 turned out for the spring game, which must be some kind of record for the third year under a coach. They now know that McElroy is the guy.
“Everybody knows who our players have the most respect for,” Saban told the media after the game.
Here is why you don’t name McElroy the starter now. Alabama has to develop a backup quarterback and there are two very young players (Star Jackson, A.J. McCarron) involved in the competition. Young players tend to sag when it becomes official that they are not the starter. Saban has to keep their heads into the competition because at some point this season Alabama is going to need one of them to help win a game.
Looks like T-Bob Hebert is good to go at LSU. The only question I have about the LSU offense is at center, where the Tigers have to replace All-American Brett Helms. Hebert, an Atlanta native (Greater Atlanta Christian) and son of former Falcons quarterback Bobby Hebert, was recruited to fill that position but missed the second half of last season with a knee injury. He’s made a rapid recovery and in the spring game was going full speed with full contact. He will compete for the starting job with two other players.
“I liked our center play,” coach Les Miles told reporters after the spring game. “I feel good about the position going into the fall.
If the LSU line gets solidified, I don’t see a lot of issues on that offense going into the summer.
Now Ole Miss has to live up to the hype: Ole Miss, the only team to beat Florida a year ago, will go from the hunter to the hunted this fall. There is a big difference.
Quarterback Jevan Snead completed 11 of 15 passes for 254 yards in the spring game. He is the best quarterback the Rebels had had since Eli Manning left campus in 2003 and the second best in the SEC behind No. 15 at Florida. So fans and some media are expecting the Rebels to challenge Alabama and LSU for the SEC West title.
But coach Houston Nutt told me that a big part of this spring and offseason will be dedicated to managing the expectations of his team and his fans.
“Some of our younger players were still wearing their Cotton Bowl hats the other day,” Nutt said. “They don’t understand that it took our veteran players 4-5 years to get in that position.”
Don’t get me wrong. I think Ole Miss will have another fine season. The Rebels will get Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, and Tennessee in Oxford. But Ole Miss has not won an SEC championship since 1963 and has never played in the SEC championship game. That is a lot of history overcome.
Can this team do it? I’d feel better if Michael Oher (a first round NFL pick) was back at left tackle and Peria Jerry was back at DT.