ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

It's three months before preseason practice and four months from today before anything more meaningful than bragging, boasting or bad-mouthing.

Spring football practice is in the books for each Southeastern Conference program, and the true divide that has shaped college football's top league remains.

There's Alabama and there's Florida, and there's everyone else who wants to be.

The NFL draft showed again that the SEC is talent-laden: There were 49 SEC players drafted last month, the most in the modern era for the league and 15 more than the runner-up Big Ten.

Every league team had at least one player drafted, and every team had at least one major question going into spring practice. The ultimate answers will not be known until September, but until then, here is the pecking order of college's best conference.

ALABAMA: Nick Saban said he has the "best situation we've ever been in" at quarterback with starter Greg McElroy. True. But there are still issues with a defense that was dominating during last year's national-title run. They're not say, Arkansas-level issues, but compared to a Tide offense that is loaded, the defense has to be the weaker spot. Right?

FLORIDA: Yes, Tim Tebow is no longer in college football. And yes, they are going to have a college football season anyway. Who knew? That said, the Gators had an NCAA-best nine draftees. That's a lot of talent to replace, but there's a lot of talent in Gainesville.

LSU: Coach Les Miles has won 51 games and a national title in the last five years. And his seat's warm. Yep, it's the SEC. Miles praised the core of his defense and playmakers Terrance Toliver and Russell Shepard. Truthfully, the Tigers' hopes -- and the coach's to some degree -- rest on how the following statement ends: "If Jordan Jefferson plays well at quarterback ...." We'll see.

ARKANSAS: The Razorbacks have the league's best quarterback in Ryan Mallett and a bevy of offensive weapons around him. But whether they are dark horse contenders or offseason pretenders rests on the improvement of a defense that was last in the SEC and 99th in the country against the pass last year.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Always quotable coach Steve Spurrier said his team can "compete almost with everybody." He may be right, as long as quarterback Stephen Garcia takes care of the football. If Garcia struggles -- again -- freshman Connor Shaw will get a long look in August, and Spurrier and Garcia will have to explore who gets custody of the linemen.

AUBURN: The West's biggest enigma, the Tigers have an offense that could outscore anyone and a defense that may force them to try. During last week's teleconference, coach Gene Chizik said Auburn is an "average" team, not a "good" team. Sounds about right.

GEORGIA: The SEC's biggest enigma. Two new faces -- new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and quarterback Aaron Murray -- will determine what's the ceiling and the basement for the Bulldogs. With 10 offensive starters back, if Murray is competent, Georgia could be dangerous.

OLE MISS: The good thing about last year's disappointment is this year's expectations are lower. Much, much lower. And in truth, Houston Nutt always has been a much better coach with lower expectations.

TENNESSEE: The Vols had the most questions entering spring and have the most exiting spring. The roster lost two first-round picks, Eric Berry and Dan Williams, and three returning starters -- quarterback Nick Stephens, tackle Aaron Douglas and running back Bryce Brown -- have left the team. New coach Derek Dooley has his hands full, but there are playmakers at receiver and running back and talent at linebacker and in the secondary.

MISSISSIPPI STATE: Coach Dan Mullen expects the Bulldogs to get to a bowl game, and after a hearty two-touchdown thrashing of Ole Miss to end the season, who can blame him? If the Bulldogs can start quickly, who knows? An early date with Auburn at home on a Thursday night could be the start of something big for Mullen and Co.

KENTUCKY: The Wildcats are riding a program-best bowl streak. If new head coach Joker Phillips is going to take UK to the postseason for a fifth straight season, he'll keep Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb prominently involved. And Phillips will find some help across the lines of scrimmage.

VANDY: Despite the ACL tear for defensive tackle Adam Smotherman, the defense should be good. The problems on offense, well, that may take longer than four months to solve.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT