Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LIKE IT IS:
SEC West looks to fill holes, even Alabama
Alabama coach Nick Saban reacts to a breakdown with defensive players Alabama defensive back Jabriel Washington (23) and linebacker Dillon Lee (25) during Alabama's A-Day NCAA college football spring game Saturday, April 19, 2014, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
As spring football practices have wrapped up, or are wrapping up, here’s one man’s look at the SEC’s Western Division.
These are done in alphabetical order and Arkansas is not included. The Razorbacks play their spring game Saturday and it is open to the public.
ALABAMA The Crimson Tide were dethroned by archrival Auburn last year and apparently struggled to find someone to replace quarterback A.J. McCarron, who was there so long he should have had tenure. McCarron was a spectator at the A-Day game as was Jacob Coker, who backed up Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston at Florida State, graduated early and wisely chose to transfer. Coker will battle Blake Sims and Cooper Bateman for the Alabama starting quarterback job in the fall.
There will be pressure on Coker after the way Sims and Bateman played Saturday. Sims completed 13 of 30 passes and had 2 interceptions. His lone touchdown was a 55-yarder to Chris Black. Bateman was 11 of 24 for 156 yards and 2 touchdowns. Bama just needs someone to manage the game, of course, as they have great running backs. The Tide return seven offensive starters and five on defense.
AUBURN Nick Marshall is working on being a better passer, and after a slow start when he threw behind receivers, he finished strong with a 13-of-22 performance for 236 yards and 4 touchdowns. He’s always a threat to run.
Corey Grant carried five times for 128 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown. He appears to be the next Tre Mason. Of course, Coach Gus Malzahn is the key to Auburn’s success. His play-calling was incredible and his hurry-up offense clicked. The Tigers return eight offensive starters and six on defense.
LSU The Tigers are a great program and Coach Les Miles has the luxury of having depth at running back, and he might need them. Freshman quarterback Brandon Harris outplayed Anthony Jennings in the spring game and probably enters fall as the starter. Harris completed 11 of 28 passes but ran for 75 yards in the spring game. Jennings, who engineered the winning 99-yard drive late against Arkansas last season, was 9 of 17 for 157 yards but had two passes intercepted and returned for touchdowns, and he was sacked on three consecutive plays.
The thing that stands out for Miles is his players play hard for him. The Tigers return five offensive starters and seven on defense.
OLE MISS The Rebels look to be improved, especially on defense. Offensively, this team has quarterback Bo Wallace and running back I’Tavius Mathers back, both battle-tested, as well as a couple of top receivers.
Hugh Freeze continues to build a program through great recruiting and enthusiasm with the fans by having open practices. The Rebels return six offensive starters and nine on defense.
MISSISSIPPI STATE The Bulldogs are building off that dream overtime victory in the Egg Bowl last season when quarterback Dak Prescott showed true leadership skills. In the spring game, the three quarterbacks combined for 653 passing yards. Prescott was 7 of 9 for 131 yards. Coach Dan Mullen is still not on the hot seat.
The Bulldogs return eight on offense and defense.
TEXAS A&M The Aggies are going young after the departure of 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Kyle Allen was in high school in the winter but appeared to pencil himself in as the starter after spring practices, as did freshman running back Speedy Noil, who played quarterback, wide receiver and running back in high school.
Coach Kevin Sumlin likes to air it out, evidenced by the Aggies averaging nearly 335 passing yards per game in his two season. The biggest thing the Aggies have to overcome is the loss of Johnny Football. He was one of a kind. The Aggies return six on offense and nine on defense.
Sports, Pages 16 on 04/22/2014