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University of Alabama photo / Alabama running back Najee Harris rushed for 136 yards and two touchdowns during the 35-16 victory over Michigan in the Citrus Bowl on New Year's Day, and then he really pleased Crimson Tide fans by coming back for his senior season.

Move over XFL, spring football is cranking up around the Southeastern Conference.

Vanderbilt and South Carolina were the first SEC teams to start their 15 spring workouts allotted by the NCAA, doing so earlier this week. The Commodores and Gamecocks also will be the first to conduct their spring games, with Vanderbilt's finale scheduled for Friday, April 3, and South Carolina's the next day.

Given that those two Eastern Division programs combined to go 7-17 last season, these are some important days for Vandy coach Derek Mason and South Carolina counterpart Will Muschamp, but Muschamp did weigh in on the XFL this week when asked about the fledgling professional league during a news conference.

"I think the kickoff may be where we're headed," Muschamp said. "I think it's an interesting concept. It keeps the kickoff in the game, and it eliminates some of the collisions that I think we're trying to get away from, so I think that's a really, really interesting new rule that I think may be something we're headed to."

Here's a look around the SEC:

 

ALABAMA

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AP photo by Butch Dill / Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses signs autographs at the SEC's annual media days event for its football teams on July 17, 2019, in Hoover, Ala.

Spring game: April 18

Snapshot: The Crimson Tide's 14th spring under Nick Saban will be the first one without strength coach Scott Cochran, who left Tuscaloosa this week to become special teams coach at Georgia. Redshirt junior Mac Jones will have a head start in replacing Tua Tagovailoa as the starting quarterback, but a lot of eyes will be on sophomore Taulia Tagovailoa and five-star freshman Bryce Young. The talented roster includes several players who bypassed the NFL, most notably running back Najee Harris, left tackle Alex Leatherwood and inside linebacker Dylan Moses, but this will be the lowest A-Day crowd of the Saban era. Due to some construction at Bryant-Denny Stadium, the capacity for the spring game will be around 35,000.

 

ARKANSAS

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Staff file photo by C.B. Schmelter / Sam Pittman, Georgia's offensive line coach the past four seasons, is now the head man for the Arkansas Razorbacks. He was an Arkansas assistant for three years before heading to Athens.

Spring game: April 25

Snapshot: Sam Pittman and Feleipe Franks spent recent years at rival schools, with Pittman as Georgia's offensive line coach and with Franks as Florida's quarterback. Now they're the top faces of the Razorbacks, with Pittman having been hired as head coach to replace Chad Morris and with Franks arriving in Fayetteville as a graduate transfer. Arkansas tried to hold its spring game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock but had that request denied several days ago by SEC commissioner Greg Sankey.

 

AUBURN

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AP photo by John Raoux / Auburn quarterback Bo Nix looks for a receiver as Florida defensive lineman Luke Ancrum turns to pursue him on Oct. 5, 2019, in Gainesville, Fla.

Spring game: April 11

Snapshot: Replacing five starters on the offensive line and the terrific tandem of Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson on the defensive front will be among the top chores for eighth-year coach Gus Malzahn. Bo Nix, the SEC's freshman of the year, should be more seasoned at quarterback, and there is sizable hype surrounding a pair of early enrollees — running back Tank Bigsby and defensive end Zykeivous Walker. The A-Day game will kick off a lengthy celebration of Auburn's 2010 national championship team that had Gene Chizik as head coach, Malzahn as offensive coordinator and Cam Newton at quarterback.

 

FLORIDA

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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano (2) throws under pressure from Georgia linebacker Brenton Cox on Sept. 29, 2018, in Athens. Cox is now at Florida and could help the Gators as they try to make up for personnel losses in their pass rush.

Spring game: April 18

Snapshot: Not since the Tim Tebow era have the Gators had such stability returning at quarterback, thanks to Kyle Trask guiding Florida to an 11-2 record last season that culminated with an Orange Bowl win. Replacing edge rushers Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga will be among the objectives, with Georgia transfer Brenton Cox a possible replacement. Florida is making three practices before the spring contest — March 16, March 22 and April 2 — open to the general public.

 

GEORGIA

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AP file photo by Adrian Kraus / Former Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman has joined Georgia as a graduate transfer, and the Bulldogs are also adjusting to a new offensive coordinator this spring with Todd Monken now in charge on that side of the ball.

Spring game: April 18

Snapshot: The Bulldogs could have a new look offensively with the additions of coordinator Todd Monken and Wake Forest graduate-transfer quarterback Jamie Newman, but whether that's drastic or not remains to be seen and spring games are not often a showcase for such transformations. Still, given that Georgia returns most of the contributors from the nation's top scoring defense, it will be interesting to learn whether an offense without Jake Fromm, D'Andre Swift, Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson can move the ball with some success against veteran defenders. Georgia's coaching clinic will be March 26-28, and it includes a visit from the league's other Bulldogs coach — Mississippi State's Mike Leach.

 

KENTUCKY

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AP photo by Bryan Woolston / Kentucky center Drake Jackson calls out instructions to fellow offensive linemen during the Wildcats' 2019 season opener against Toledo in Lexington.

Spring game: April 11

Snapshot: In the past four seasons, the Wildcats have produced three 1,000-yard rushing performances by running back Benny Snell and last year's 1,468-yard outburst from receiver-turned-quarterback Lynn Bowden. Kentucky had one of the nation's top five offensive lines last year, according to Pro Football Focus, which rates center Drake Jackson, guard Luke Fortner and tackle Darian Kinnard as the SEC's most productive returning players at their positions. What Kentucky's offense looks like in 2020 will depend on the quarterback. Terry Wilson, who tore a patellar tendon in his left knee during the second game last season against Eastern Michigan, will not go through spring drills. That leaves an opening for Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood, who has yet to attain immediate eligibility for the 2020 season.

 

LSU

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AP photo by Gerald Herbert / LSU quarterback Myles Brennan is tackled by Utah State linebacker Kevin Meitzenheimer, right, as defensive end Tipa Galeai closes in on Oct. 5, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La.

Spring game: April 18

Snapshot: The reigning national champion is coming off the dominant surge of closing wins against Texas A&M, Georgia, Oklahoma and Clemson by a combined 122 points, but a whopping 16 members of that team were invited to the NFL combine currently taking place in Indianapolis. Myles Brennan will be under the microscope as the early candidate to replace Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow, with Scott Linehan now the passing-game coordinator, having replaced Joe Brady, who is now the offensive coordinator of the NFL's Carolina Panthers. Due to field resurfacing at Tiger Stadium, the LSU spring game will be held at Southern University's Mumford Stadium, which has a capacity of 28,500.

 

OLE MISS

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AP photo by Rogelio V. Solis / Ole Miss running back Jerrion Ealy dives into the end zone to complete a 5-yard touchdown run against New Mexico State on Nov. 9, 2019, in Oxford.

Spring game: April 18

Snapshot: Whether it was his one year at Tennessee developing Jonathan Crompton or his three years at Alabama working with Blake Sims, Jake Coker and Jalen Hurts, new Rebels coach Lane Kiffin owns a marvelous track record of quarterback enhancement. Kiffin enters his first spring in Oxford with two very different quarterbacks — Matt Corral and John Rhys Plumlee — seeking to run an offense that has standout sophomore running back Jerrion Ealy. Ole Miss has assembled quite the weekend for Kiffin's first spring game, with the Rebels hosting 2019 national champion Vanderbilt in baseball and preseason No. 1 Alabama in softball.

 

MISSISSIPPI STATE

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AP file photo by Rogelio V. Solis / Former Washington State and Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach is now in charge at Mississippi State.

Spring game: April 11

Snapshot: New Bulldogs coach Mike Leach has been synonymous with developing college football's top passing offenses, taking in the unheralded likes of Gardner Minshew and turning him into an 11-win quarterback. His primary options for his first starting quarterback in Starkville are Stanford graduate transfer K.J. Costello and returning sophomore Garrett Shrader. Leach has taken the reins just two years after Joe Moorhead was the new coach, and Moorhead's first spring game drew an announced crowd of 36,789, which set a program record.

 

MISSOURI

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AP file photo by Lynne Sladky / Wide receiver Damon Hazelton, after earning All-ACC recognition last season at Virginia Tech, has moved over to the SEC as a graduate transfer at Missouri.

Spring game: April 11

Snapshot: Eli Drinkwitz is among the SEC's four new head coaches for 2020, and he takes over the program with the best 2019 record of the four, with Missouri's 6-6 mark edging Mississippi State (6-7) and topping Ole Miss (4-8) and Arkansas (2-10). The Tigers were often a disaster up front on offense last season, which was reflected in five consecutive losses to SEC East counterparts in which Missouri averaged just 9.4 points. Aiding the offense this spring will be graduate-transfer receiver Damon Hazelton, who had 31 catches for 527 yards and eight touchdowns last season at Virginia Tech to earn All-ACC recognition.

 

SOUTH CAROLINA

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AP photo by Sean Rayford / South Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski (3) leads the Gamecocks onto the field before their home game against Vanderbilt last season.

Spring game: April 4

Snapshot: The Gamecocks started their fifth spring under Will Muschamp on Wednesday, and it's their first with offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, a former Georgia teammate of Muschamp who called plays for the Bulldogs under Mark Richt from 2007 to 2014. Bobo has the services of returning quarterback Ryan Hilinski, who has been cleared after tearing a meniscus late last season, but South Carolina returns just 20% of its rushing output and 43% of its receiving output from the team that disappointed with a 4-8 record. The Gamecocks must replace Javon Kinlaw and D.J. Wonnum along the defensive front, which is the responsibility of new position coach Tracy Rocker.

 

TENNESSEE

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Staff photo by Robin Rudd / Tennessee's J.T. Shrout (12) and Brian Maurer (18) watch fellow Vols quarterback Jarrett Guarantano warm up before the 2019 season opener against Georgia State in Knoxville.

Spring game: April 18

Snapshot: There is understood optimism across the Volunteer State following the six victories to close last season, but Tennessee has been better represented at the NFL combine compared to recent years. That has the replacement of receivers Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway and linebackers Daniel Bituli and Darrell Taylor as obvious objectives in the weeks ahead. Tennessee could use a far more stable season at quarterback compared to 2019, with Jarrett Guarantano having the slight edge over fellow returnees Brian Maurer and J.T. Shrout after rallying the Vols in the Gator Bowl. Joining the competition is early enrollee Harrison Bailey, who was a top-100 national signee in the 2020 class.

 

TEXAS A&M

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AP photo by Sam Craft / Texas A&M running back Isaiah Spiller stiff-arms Texas-San Antonio cornerback Corey Mayfield Jr. on Nov. 2, 2019, in College Station, Texas.

Spring game: April 18

Snapshot: No SEC team may receive more hype in the months ahead than the Aggies, who return top quarterback Kellen Mond, top rusher Isaiah Spiller, top receiver Jhamon Ausbon, and eight of their top 10 tacklers from last season. Texas A&M also has an unbelievably favorable schedule that starts with Abilene Christian, North Texas and four teams breaking in new coaches — Colorado, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Fresno State — before a trip to Auburn. Couple the excitement in Jimbo Fisher's third season with the renovations in Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa, and Texas A&M should have one of the largest SEC spring-game attendance figures.

 

VANDERBILT

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AP file photo by Mark Humphrey / Vanderbilt football coach Derek Mason, center, is preparing for his seventh season leading the Commodores, who were 3-9 overall and 1-7 in SEC play last year.

Spring game: April 3

Snapshot: The Commodores were the first SEC team to get things going, starting Derek Mason's seventh spring on Tuesday. No program within the league has a steeper climb, with Vanderbilt having to enhance a defense that allowed 436.6 yards and 31.8 points per game last season and retool an offense that no longer has running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn, receiver Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinckney. Todd Fitch and Ted Roof are Vanderbilt's two new coordinators with the towering tasks, and there is also the matter of the Commodores not having a quarterback who has taken an SEC snap.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

 

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