Spring Practice Preview: SEC Storylines

Spring Practice Preview: SEC Storylines

This article is part of our Spring Practice Preview series.

2023 Spring Practice Preview: SEC Preview and Storylines

With extra years of eligibility and more relaxed transfer rules, the portal has become an increasingly useful way to instantly upgrade your program at a variety of positions, instead of only relying on incoming freshmen to infuse new life and talent into your squad.  The SEC still being the crown jewel of college football has caused transfers to flock to the conference in the hopes of playing against elite competition, vying for a National Championship, and showcasing their talents en route to being drafted into the NFL.

There is no shortage of job battles as Spring Practice begins in earnest.  Of particular note, several schools are looking to replace high-profile departed stating quarterbacks, or still in search of that special someone.  This article will highlight intriguing position competitions among the schools in the Southeastern Conference, focusing on those units with a certain level of uncertainty attached.

Let's jump right into this year's preview, beginning with a high-profile program trying to replace a former Heisman Trophy winner and potential No. 1 overall selection in this year's NFL Draft. 

Alabama Crimson Tide Spring Storyline

Replacing an All-Time Program Great at QB

Bryce Young is set to be a highly coveted asset at the next level, leaving a massive void under center for the Tide.  Jalen Milroe will likely get the first crack at the job and has off-the-charts athleticism, though he has battled accuracy and turnover issues during his brief stints on the field.  He threw just 53 passes last season, completing 58.5 percent of his throws, though averaged 8.5 yards per tote on the ground.  The Alabama offense would likely look more like it did under the direction of Jalen Hurts than what it looked like with Bryce Young if Milroe ends up winning the spot.

His chief competition will be redshirt freshman Ty Simpson, who threw just five passes a season ago.  Simpson is a capable athlete but is also considered a polished passer; the latter trait could be his ticket to potentially outshining Milroe.  However, it would appear that Milroe would have the inside track for the starting slot at this juncture.  Four-star freshmen Eli Holstein and Dylan Lonergan could also see some reps, but are unlikely to be serious contenders to start Alabama's season opener against Middle Tennessee State.

Arkansas Razorbacks Spring Storyline

Improving the Wide Receiver Room

KJ Jefferson and Raheim Sanders return for the Razorbacks, so the Arkansas rushing attack should be as potent as ever this upcoming season.  Who will be catching passes from Jefferson will provide the real intrigue for the Hogs.  The top four wideouts from a season ago are gone, and that does not include tight end Trey Knox, who has taken his talents to South Carolina.  The leading returning receiver, Bryce Stephens, caught nine balls last year.

Arkansas has brought in a stable of mammoth transfers, including 6-7 Tyrone Broden from Bowling Green.  Broden has averaged over 16 yards per grab for his collegiate career, while finding the end zone 12 times over the last two seasons.  Andrew Armstrong was plucked from the FCS ranks, and at 6-6, amassed over 1,000 yards receiving at Texas A&M-Commerce last season while scoring 13 touchdowns.  Division II transfer Isaac TeSlaa transfers from Hillside College, where he had 68 catches for 1,325 yards and 13 touchdowns.  TeSlaa is the shortest of the trio at 6-4.  All three wideouts are expected to make immediate impacts for the Hogs in their request to replace over 125 receptions from a season ago.

Auburn Tigers Spring Storyline

Sorting out the Quarterbacks

Auburn is in the same position as a season ago in terms of the quarterback position, with no clearer picture as to who will ultimately take the reins of the offense. Robby Ashford saw the most reps last year, showing ample rushing ability with 710 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.  However, he completed fewer than 50 percent of his throws and tossed just as many interceptions as touchdowns (7).  T.J. Finley started the season under center, but a shoulder ailment sidelined him for the majority of the campaign.  Finley did not exactly light it up even when on the field, failing to pass for over 200 yards in any game, while compiling a 1:4 TD:INT ratio.  He decided to return to Auburn even with the firing of head coach Bryan Harsin, though it would still appear Ashford is the incumbent for now.  Sophomore Holden Geriner remains in the mix and cannot be counted out despite his lack of experience, especially given the struggles of both Finley and Ashford.

Florida Gators Spring Storyline

Replacing Richardson

Anthony Richardson has the chance to be a top-5 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, largely based on his freakish athletic ability.  The Gators brought in Graham Mertz from Wisconsin in the transfer portal, though Mertz represents a play-caller standing in stark contrast to Richardson.  Mertz is a pocket passer, though has completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes during his collegiate career.  He did throw a career-high 19 touchdowns a season ago, but has not lived up to his lofty billing as a recruit.  

If the change of scenery does not help Mertz, then former Ohio State transfer Jack Miller is next in line.  Miller started the Las Vegas Bowl for the Gators, completing 13-of-22 passes for 180 yards.  Florida should lean on its very talented backfield this season, but will obviously need production out of Mertz, Miller or Max Brown to stand any chance against Georgia in the SEC East.

Georgia Bulldogs Spring Storyline

Crowded Quarterback Room

Stetson Bennett executed John Belushi's seven-year college plan from Animal House to perfection.  Bennett led the Bulldogs to back-to-back National Championships and ended up a Heisman trophy finalist last season.  With Bennett's dream career at Georgia finally in the books, the Bulldogs must move into the great unknown again.  Carson Beck has served as the backup, throwing 58 passes combined over the last two years, though this will be his fourth season with Georgia.  Brock Vandagriff has also spent two years with the program, though has thrown just three passes in total over that span.  Redshirt freshman Gunner Stockton is also a possibility, though his lack of experience will likely relegate him to the bench early on.  Beck is the frontrunner, but Vandagriff and Stockton are talented enough to push him.  There are also fewer guarantees with a new offensive coordinator in Mike Bobo.

Kentucky Wildcats Spring Storyline

From Levis to Leary

Will Levis appears to have the size, skills and arm strength to make the jump to the next level, which leaves Kentucky with big shoes to fill.  Devin Leary looks to be the man for the job, though, as the four-year starter from NC State moved to the Wildcats in the offseason.  Leary is recovering from season-ending pectoral surgery in October, though is expected to be healthy for the season.  Leary posted a 35:5 TD:INT in 2021, but missed his last six games in 2022.  If healthy, Leary's status as a four-year collegiate starter will be difficult to ignore, though Kaiya Sheron did perform admirably in relief of the aforementioned Levis in a spot start versus South Carolina last season.  Redshirt freshman Destin Wade rounds out the quarterback room for UK.

LSU Tigers Spring Storyline

Wide Receivers

Quarterback Jayden Daniels was as good as advertised during his first campaign in Baton Rouge, both with his legs as well as through the air. Daniels will also have a stable of backs returning, including Josh Williams, Armoni Goodwin and John Emery. Meanwhile, wideouts Kayshon Boutte and Jaray Jenkins have both left the program, while leading returning receiver Malik Nabers was recently arrested on a weapons charge, though he's not expected to miss additional time in-season.  That puts the onus on Brian Thomas, Kyren Lacy and Alabama transfer Aaron Anderson to establish themselves this spring.  Thomas snagged 31 passes for 361 yards and five touchdowns last year, while Lacy caught 24 balls for 268 yards.  Anderson missed almost the entire season while with the Tide due to injury, but the 5-9 receiver was held in high regard coming out of high school and should be an excellent slot option in this offense.

Mississippi Rebels Spring Storyline

Restocking at Receiver

The Rebels return Jaxson Dart at quarterback, and perhaps the best running back in the nation in the form of Quinshon Judkins.  The tight end position should get a jolt from transfer Caden Prieskorn, who was seventh nationally among tight ends in receiving yards a season ago.  Ole Miss loses its top two wide receivers, though, as both Malik Heath and Jonathan Mingo nearly broke the 1,000-yard receiving mark and averaged over 16 yards per grab.  Jordan Watkins and Dayton Wade were possession receivers a season ago, but along with JJ Henry will be asked to stretch the field a bit more this year.  The trio will be tasked with replacing a lot of production, specifically: 111 catches, 1,832 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air.

Mississippi State Bulldogs Spring Storyline 

Reloading at Receiver

With heavy hearts, the Bulldogs will take the field this season without beloved head coach Mike Leach, who passed away suddenly late last year.  The "Air Raid" offense made famous by Leach is likely to stay for MSU with Will Rogers under center.  Three of State's top four receivers from a season ago are gone, though, including the transfer of leading receiver Rara Thomas to Georgia.  Rufus Harvey, Jaden Walley and Justin Robinson were all with the program a season ago, but figure to play much more prominent roles in 2023.  Walley will be one in particular to watch; after catching over 50 passes for at least 625 yards in each of his first two campaigns with the Bulldogs, he managed just 34 grabs for 348 yards as a junior.  With fewer mouths to feed, Walley could return to his former production, and perhaps even move to greater heights.

Missouri Tigers Spring Storyline

Getting More From the Receivers

While the jury is still out on quarterback Brady Cook, only freshmen are left on the depth chart behind him, so Cook will get the benefit of the doubt once again this season.  Cook will be dealing with an almost entirely revamped wide receiving corps, though, as the Tigers lost four of their top five receivers from a season ago.  The lone return comes from Luther Burden, who led the Tigers in touchdown grabs and could be primed for a breakout campaign as a sophomore.  Mekhi Miller had the most experience with the squad last season after that, and Miller's resume included just eight catches for 128 yards.  The intrigue starts with transfer Theo Wease from Oklahoma.  A former five-star recruit, Wease never truly lived up to his potential in Norman, though certainly flashed big-play potential at times, including averaging nearly 20 yards per catch last year.  Ole Miss transfer Dannis Jackson also can take the top off of a defense, and could see opportunities due to the aforementioned departures as well.

South Carolina Gamecocks Spring Storyline

Life After Lloyd

Oklahoma transfer Spencer Rattler finally appeared to find his groove towards the end of the season, and leading receiver Antwane Wells returns as well.  That leaves the running back position as the spot to watch following MarShawn Lloyd's departure, and Division II Newberry College transfer Mario Anderson could be turning some heads.  Anderson rushed for 1,560 yards and 19 touchdowns in 10 games last season, ending up as one of the finalists for the Harlon Hill trophy.  Anderson will have competition in the form of Juju McDowell, who has at least 50 carries in each of the last two seasons, though averaged just 3.5 yards per carry last season and did more damage as a receiver.  

Tennessee Volunteers Spring Storyline

Tough Call At Quarterback

Hendon Hooker led the Vols to great heights last season and was a Heisman candidate before getting injured.  He's taking his talents to the NFL, so the Vols need to find a replacement.  Joe Milton gets yet another chance to resurrect his career.  The former Michigan Wolverine tossed 10 touchdowns in relief of Hooker, including a dazzling performance in the Orange Bowl in which he threw for 251 yards and three scores in the 31-14 triumph.  The sample size was small last season, though (less than 100 passes), so Milton will need to prove all over again that he can be the man.  Consistency will be the key; otherwise, the Vols could turn to highly touted true freshman phenom Nico Iamaleava.  There will be early calls for the neophyte if Milton struggles out of the gate.

Texas A&M Aggies Spring Storyline

Replacing Achane 

Last season was something of a nightmare for the Aggies, but at least they had Devon Achane to lean on in a pinch for most of the year.  Achane will be playing in the NFL next season, though, so replacing its most potent offensive weapon will be of vital importance for A&M.  Sophomore Amari Daniels could be that player, as he has averaged over 5.5 yards per tote in each of his first two campaigns with the Aggies.  However, Daniels has not seen the field much with just 56 carries over that span.  Le'Veon Moss saw the field about as much as Daniels last season, rushing for 114 yards and a touchdown.  72 of those yards came against UMass in November once Achane went down due to injury.  Five-star running back Rueben Owens is the wildcard; Owens rushed for a staggering 7,089 yards and 101 touchdowns in four high school seasons.

Vanderbilt Commodores Spring Storyline

Sorting out the QBs

Unfortunately, it always seems to be about the quarterback for the Commodores.  In fact, Mike Wright transferred away despite likely having a way better shot at starting at Vandy than his new school, Mississippi State.  The Commodores are left with familiar, satisfactory faces.  Sophomore AJ Swann largely split work with Wright a season ago, throwing for 1,274 yards, 10 touchdowns and two picks while appearing in parts of nine games.  Ken Seals remains in the mix; Seals had a promising freshman season in 2020 but battled injuries and inconsistency in 2021, and did not even throw a pass in 2022.  That trend of events does not bode well for Seals, though options remain limited at quarterback otherwise for Vandy.  Redshirt freshman Walter Taylor completes the quarterback room; Taylor is a physical specimen at 6-6, 225 lbs and could provide a spark if the more experienced options sputter.

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Jesse Siegel
Siegel covers college football, college basketball and minor league baseball for RotoWire. He was named College Sports Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.
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