At last, at long last, we have some real football to cover as teams are finally going to report this week. But there is a lot to do between now and Sept. 3, when South Carolina goes to N.C. State.
As always, the landscape changes between the end of spring practice and now. So we’re going to spend the next few days looking at the most burning questions still surrounding the SEC and ACC as we head into two-a-days.
On the eve of preseason practice, here are my five burning questions about the SEC West:
1-The Alabama offensive line is going to eventually grow into a good unit. But will it happen in time for Virginia Tech? Head coach Nick Saban had a wonderful luxury last season. If the game seemed to be getting out of hand, he had the offensive line to just grind on people and re-establish control of the game. With three starters gone, including (Outland Trophy winner) Andre Smith and center Antoine Caldwell, there is much work to do for offensive line coach Joe Pendry. I really like LG Mike Johnson, who will be the bell cow of that unit. And there is talent there. But the offensive line really has to play with one heartbeat and I wonder how close this group will be on Sept. 5 when the Tide plays the ACC champs at the Georgia Dome?
2-What’s the future for LSU QB Jarrett Lee? The quarterback position was pretty much a nightmare for LSU in 2008 but nobody’s dreams were worse than those of Lee, a rising third-year sophomore. You really have to work at it to throw 16 interceptions, seven of which were returned for touchdowns. When I talked to coach Les Miles at SEC Media Days, he insisted that Lee is in the mix with sophomore Jordan Jefferson, who finally grew up and took over at the end of last season. But does Lee really come all the way back from last year’s disaster, especially with highly-touted recruit Russell Shepard waiting in the wings? I think we’ll find out in the first few scrimmage if Lee is going to be a factor.
3. How important is the NCAA’s decision to allow Broderick Green to be immediately eligible to play? This is huge-literally-for Arkansas. One of the problems a year ago is that the offense had to rely too much on running back Michael Smith, who is generously listed on the roster at 5-7, 176. Smith had 207 carries last season (for 1,072 yards) but by the end of the season he was beat up. Smith was also not a good goal-line option. Green (6-2, 248), an Arkansas native, got 32 carries for 168 yards and three touchdowns at Southern Cal in 2008. The NCAA granted him a waiver (sick grandmother) and last week he was declared eligible to play this fall. Now Arkansas has a power running game to complement Smith, which means that Ryan Mallett’s play-action passing game will be even more effective. This is a very important development for Arkansas, who I think can be a bowl team in Bobby Petrino’s second season.
4-What about that Auburn offensive line? Any chance they can stay healthy? While the whole world is worried about the starting quarterback-because it doesn’t appear that Auburn has one-it ain’t gonna matter much if the Tigers get a couple of offensive line injuries in preseason. The first unit, which includes proven players like LT Lee Ziemba and RG Bryon Isom, can play at the SEC level. But if anybody gets hurt, OC Gus Malhzan told me, then this offense will go into a scramble mode. I watched this happen at Georgia last season after LT Trinton Sturdivant got knocked out for the season early. It is not fun and it’s an aggravation new head coach Gene Chizik does not need.
5-Ole Miss finally cut signee Jamar Hornsby loose. Is that good karma or bad karma going into preseason practice? Hornsby may have set some kind of record by managing to get himself kicked off of two SEC teams in the space of two years. You might remember Mr. Hornsby. He was the guy who took the credit card of the dead girlfriend of Gator Joe Haden and ran up $3,000 in gasoline charges. After Hornsby did a stint in junior college, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt signed him last February. Jamar was so overjoyed at his second chance in life that he proceeded to get arrested on felony assault charges on March 1. Nutt was going to let the legal system run its course, but last Friday Hornsby was indicted on the charges and Ole Miss decided they had better cut their losses. Something like this probably has no impact on the rest of the team. But this summer we have also had a near-tragic auto accident involving RB Dexter McCluster, the Rebels’ most versatile offensive player, and DE Greg Hardy, their best defensive player. Do you believe in bad karma? Just asking.
Tomorrow we will take a look at the SEC East.
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