With spring football wrapped up and the start of another season just four months away, let’s take a look at what we’ve learned and what we still need to learn for each team in the SEC.
What did we find out about the quarterback situations at LSU, Ole Miss and Texas A&M, among other schools? How will Georgia replace all the talent it lost on defense? What does Alabama need to do to return to the top of the heap? Alex Scarborough and Chris Low break it all down.
Other spring recaps: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12
What we learned this spring: For all the talk about what he wasn’t last season, Stetson Bennett proved that he’s a championship quarterback, and that was only reinforced this spring. He’s also going to have a few prime targets at tight end, as LSU transfer Arik Gilbert showed that he’s ready for a breakout season after sitting out last season for personal reasons. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Gilbert is going to be a matchup nightmare for defenses, and when Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington — both of whom missed the spring practices with injuries — are added to the mix, good luck to teams trying to cover the Dawgs’ tight ends in 2022.
What do we need to learn by Week 1: Nobody is going to feel sorry for Georgia because of all the dynamic defenders the Dawgs are losing to the NFL, particularly in the front seven. Eight players from last season’s generational defense are headed to the NFL, with five taken in the first round. That’s a ton of talent exiting, even for a program that has recruited as well as Kirby Smart & Co. Who are the emerging stars on this next Georgia defense? There are plenty of candidates, and it helps to have a player as talented as defensive tackle Jalen Carter returning. But there are gaps to fill for the defending national champs on defense, which should make for a competitive preseason camp.
What we learned this spring: There’s no quarterback drama in Gainesville as Billy Napier takes over in his first season as head coach of the Gators. It’s Anthony Richardson’s job — case closed. Richardson battled injuries a year ago and spent much of the season as a backup to Emory Jones, who has since entered the transfer portal. The 6-4, 237-pound Richardson showed off his arm strength and other physical skills this spring. As important as Richardson’s talent is for Florida’s offense, the fact that there will be no guessing as to who the Gators’ quarterback will be should make for a smoother transition for the new coaching staff.
What do we need to learn by Week 1: Stopping the run was a problem for Florida last season, and there were heavy losses this offseason across the defensive line, both to the NFL and the transfer portal. Maybe that’s not a bad thing given that Florida finished 85th nationally a year ago in stopping the run (allowing 163.9 yards per game). Either way, the Gators are going to be counting on a bunch of new faces and younger players both at defensive tackle and defensive end in 2022. It’s not like Florida hasn’t recruited well at those positions. The real issue will likely be depth, more specifically creating depth during preseason camp.
What we learned this spring: As coach Mark Stoops has continued to elevate Kentucky’s program to heights the Wildcats haven’t enjoyed in decades, the offense has continued to improve. The return of quarterback Will Levis and running back Chris Rodriguez gives UK one of the best one-two punches in the SEC, and it’s always a plus to have a veteran quarterback returning. The loss of big-play receiver Wan’Dale Robinson to the NFL means other receivers will need to step up, but Stoops is optimistic that the Wildcats’ offense will be even more balanced and creative in 2022 with new coordinator Rich Scangarello coming over from the NFL, where he was the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterbacks coach.
What do we need to learn by Week 1: The Wildcats were able to keep defensive coordinator Brad White after LSU and coach Brian Kelly made a run at him, which was a huge win for the Big Blue. Kentucky finished fourth in the SEC in scoring defense a year ago (21.7 points per game), but the jury is still out on whether the Wildcats will be any better at stopping stronger passing games, especially with top pass-rusher Josh Paschal gone. In its three losses last season to Georgia, Mississippi State and Tennessee, Kentucky allowed 910 passing yards, eight touchdown passes and had no interceptions (with opposing quarterbacks completing 82.2% of their passes). Making matters worse, the Wildcats tied for 125th nationally in turnover margin. They forced only 12 turnovers and turned it over 23 times.
What we learned this spring: Regardless of who wins the starting quarterback job, he should be surrounded by plenty of talent at the skill positions. Five-star receiver Luther Burden looked the part this spring after enrolling early, and he wasn’t the only one to impress. Sophomore Dominic Lovett will play more in the slot, while returning receivers Barrett Banister, Tauskie Dove and Chance Luper all had touchdown catches in the spring game. Stanford transfer Nathaniel Peat is the favorite to replace Tyler Badie as the Tigers’ feature back.
What do we need to learn by Week 1: Most eyes will be on the quarterback competition between sophomore Brady Cook and redshirt freshman Tyler Macon, but the Tigers’ defense under first-year coordinator Blake Baker is a more pressing question. Several veteran players, particularly in the secondary, were missing this spring while recovering from injuries. Missouri added a few players who should help via the transfer portal, but it’s a unit that needs to be considerably better if the Tigers are going to enjoy their first winning season since 2018. They finished 113th nationally a year ago in scoring defense (33.8 points per game) and 106th in total defense (434.7 yards per game).
South Carolina Gamecocks
What we learned this spring: After starting four different quarterbacks a year ago, the Gamecocks have their starting QB for the 2022 season. Oklahoma transfer Spencer Rattler went through spring practice and drew rave reviews from his new teammates about his ability to make big throws down the field, put the ball in tight windows and the way he came in and let his work ethic and performance do his talking. Rattler will give the Gamecocks a dimension at quarterback they haven’t had in some time, and while the expectations will be off the charts, he’s highly motivated to prove that he’s truly one of the country’s elite quarterbacks.
What do we need to learn by Week 1: The Gamecocks still need to prove that they can run the ball better than they did a year ago, particularly around the goal line and in other short-yardage situations. All five offensive line starters from last season are back, but the Gamecocks’ issues in running the ball weren’t all on the guys up front. South Carolina ranked 95th nationally a year ago in yards per carry (3.78) and scored just nine rushing touchdowns in 13 games. MarShawn Lloyd and Juju McDowell are the returning running backs, but Christian Beal-Smith transferred in from Wake Forest after leading the Demon Deacons in rushing last season.
What we learned this spring: The Vols’ offense was outstanding in Year 1 under coach Josh Heupel, especially once Hendon Hooker established himself as the starting quarterback. With Hooker back for a second season in the same system and with the same coaches, he demonstrated this spring that he has a chance to be one of the top quarterbacks in the country. Hooker threw 31 touchdown passes and just three interceptions a year ago, and with an entire offseason for the Vols’ passing game to develop, they should be able to broaden their attack and do even more next season, especially with top target Cedric Tillman back.
What do we need to learn by Week 1: The majority of Tennessee’s defensive starters are back, although tackle Matthew Butler and cornerback Alontae Taylor were key losses. Either way, the Vols have to find third a way to get off the field on down and not give up as many costly plays on that down. They ranked 101st nationally in third-down defense a year ago and were especially porous on third down in close losses to Pittsburgh, Ole Miss and Purdue. It remains to be seen how much more effective Tennessee will be in pressing the quarterback, and the Vols also need to prove they can be better in the secondary in terms of giving up big plays. They tied for 109th nationally last season by allowing 49 passes of 20 or more yards.
What we learned this spring: There’s still some sorting out to do at the quarterback position, as neither Ken Seals nor Mike Wright established himself as the front-runner to win the job. Seals and Wright combined to throw just 13 touchdown passes a year ago compared to 15 interceptions, but the Commodores need to play better around whoever the quarterback is next season. Vanderbilt signed three quarterbacks in its 2022 class, including three-star AJ Swann, who shouldn’t be counted out in the quarterback chase. He threw a touchdown pass in the spring game to fellow freshman Jayden McGowan.
What do we need to learn by Week 1: It has been a recurring theme for Vanderbilt going back decades and will again be a huge challenge as Clark Lea enters his second season as coach: Can the Commodores develop the kind of depth necessary to be competitive in the SEC, especially on the offensive and defensive lines? It certainly didn’t help to lose offensive tackle Tyler Steen, who transferred to Alabama. Improvement in the offensive line will be vital if the Commodores are going to improve on their 2-10 record from a year ago, and the reality is that several younger players are going to have to grow up in a hurry in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
Alabama Crimson Tide
What we learned this spring: It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but Alabama coach Nick…