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University of Florida photo / Florida sophomore cornerback Kaiir Elam, a Freshman All-SEC selection last year, is among the many reasons the Gators have a lot of high expectations for the 2020 season. Those hopes have been placed on hold, however, due to the Southeastern Conference suspending spring practices until April 15.

There are several Southeastern Conference football programs that can reflect on recent months as reasons for optimism ahead.

LSU is the sport's national champion and returns the talented tandem of receiver Ja'Marr Chase and cornerback Derek Stingley. Georgia was without several standouts at the Sugar Bowl but still won it with ease. Alabama had several players who could have left for the NFL but chose to come back, while Auburn won its second Iron Bowl in three years and accomplished that with a freshman quarterback.

There is also the potential for memorable 2020 seasons at Florida and Texas A&M, but the shaping of this year's SEC race is on hold after the league suspended all athletic participation through April 15 as a preemptive strike to slow the spread of the coronavirus. This suspension also includes an NCAA-enacted dead period in recruiting for all sports until the same April 15 target date, at which all aspects will be reevaluated.

"It's really important that we're taking these steps," Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said Friday in a news conference. "The more drastic measures that can be taken now as soon as possible, it seems like we do have a better chance of getting through this and return to normal sooner than later, or sooner than we would otherwise."

Florida is coming off an 11-2 season that was capped by an Orange Bowl victory over Virginia and was scheduled to start spring practice Monday. The Gators welcomed a whopping 15 midyear enrollees in January, but those newcomers along with the veterans will have to wait another month before finding out when or if they will have a spring practice.

The Gators and Aggies have stability this spring with third-year head coaches and returning quarterbacks, but there are four league programs — Arkansas, Mississippi State, Missouri and Ole Miss — that experienced offseason coaching changes and could get impacted more by this delay.

"If we're off until April 15, when do you fit in evaluations, and when do you fit in spring practices?" Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said in a news conference. "If we don't have spring practice, what happens over the summer?"

When asked whether the start of preseason practice could be moved up to make up for lost time, Bjork said that was more of a longer-term look at a situation with too many unknowns.

Among the SEC's new coaches are the Magnolia State's two splash hires, Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss and Mike Leach at Mississippi State. Kiffin's Rebels had been scheduled to start spring practice Tuesday, with Leach's Bulldogs set to begin Thursday.

"Before I go to bed, remember this," Leach posted Friday night on Twitter. "We are all Americans! We will survive this. We always have. Take care of those you love, and remember that tomorrow is another day. We have survived a lot worse. Trust the authorities to handle it. Wait it out. Then let's roll!"

Kentucky and South Carolina managed to get in five practices before spring football was suspended, while Vanderbilt practiced four times. LSU and Missouri each held three workouts, while Tennessee practiced twice.

That has left eight of the 14 league members — Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Texas A&M — without having conducted the first spring drill.

"We're all impacted by this," Bjork said. "We thought we were just athletic directors or coaches or media members, but now we're all part of this health matter. We have to take this seriously, and that's what we're trying to do.

"I'm not a medical expert, but I know that we haven't reached the peak yet."

 

Getting a taste

Missouri first-year coach Eli Drinkwitz labeled his opening workouts as the "Underwear Olympics" because players are unable to put on full pads right away. The Tigers had Clemson graduate transfer Kelly Bryant as their obvious starting quarterback this time last year and possessed current Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock before that, but the Tigers do not have an established commodity at that position right now for the first time in more than a decade.

"There is no No. 1 quarterback," Drinkwitz told reporters this week. "There is no No. 1 number anything. It's a new team. It's a new coaching staff. I told our guys that there will be no starting positions coming out of spring. I don't care how good they play in the spring.

"August will determine who plays that first play."

 

A mending Roof

New Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Ted Roof missed the fourth and most recent practice by the Commodores this week after undergoing a medical procedure.

"He's going to be out for, hopefully, a short amount of time," Vandy head coach Derek Mason told reporters. "We've made some contingency plans and made sure we're going to continue moving forward. I ask that you respect him and his family's privacy in terms of the medical procedure, and we'll just continue to move forward."

Roof had stints as Georgia Tech's defensive coordinator under George O'Leary and Paul Johnson and in between held that role for Auburn's 2010 national championship team. He was Drinkwitz's defensive coordinator at Appalachian State last season, when the Mountaineers went 13-1.

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

 

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