A quick look around the SEC reveals lots of new faces in important places.
Three marquee quarterbacks played their final seasons in 2005 – D.J. Shockley at Georgia, Brodie Croyle at
Alabama and Jay Cutler at Vanderbilt. Shockley led the Bulldogs to the SEC Championship. Croyle guided the
Tide to a strong season in the SEC West and Cutler propelled the Commodores to their first five-win season
Even the schools with returning quarterbacks are not without controversy. Tennessee suffered the first losing
season during Phillip Fulmer's 14 seasons in Knoxville and the Vols still haven't decided on a
signal-caller. Heavy QB competition also is expected at Arkansas LSU and Kentucky.
But don't fret for the SEC. This still is one of the top leagues in the country, and it probably will have a
couple of teams in the hunt for the national title into December.
Here's a look at what's happening as spring gets into full swing:
The best thing you can say about the Gators that you can't say about most of their brethren in the East is
they have an established quarterback. How well he fits this offense is a matter for debate. Then again, at
Urban Meyer's last two stops the offenses exploded in his second year. There are problems along both lines and
in the secondary.
There was total disarray in the house of the Vols last season, but new offensive coordinator David
Cutcliffe will help Phillip Fulmer restore order. The big question revolves around the
quarterback situation: Will Erik Ainge step forward or yield to redshirt freshman Jonathan
The offense returns almost all of its firepower, but there are questions on the offensive line - which lost
three starters. The defense also has some holes that need to be filled, especially at linebacker.
The secondary figures to be the strong suit for an improved defense. The quarterback situation still has to be
worked out, and wide receiver is a concern. It is nice, though, to have Rafael Little to take a
little of the edge off for UK.
Without Jay Cutler to keep the Commodores in games, it may be a return to years past - and that's not a good
thing. The defense also lost its glue, All-SEC linebacker Moses Osemwegie.
The Tigers will be looking for some new blood on the offensive and defensive lines, but they're loaded at the
skill positions and signed another great recruiting class. LSU also should have lots of swagger after its
throttling of Miami in the Peach Bowl.
All you need to know about the Tigers is QB Brandon Cox and RB Kenny Irons are back. The
offensive line needs tweaking, but the questions are on defense - specifically at tackle and at safety.
Will Muschamp is the third defensive coordinator for Tommy Tuberville in three years.
A maligned offensive line returns with plenty of experience and adds five-star recruit Andre Smith,
which is good because it no longer has a heady senior QB to bail it out. The defense also suffered heavy
graduation losses, including All-American LB DeMeco Ryans.
One thing is certain: Rivals.com Freshman All-American RB Darren McFadden can run it and will run it
behind a talented offensive line. There is some young talent on defense, too, and Houston Nutt may
need it all to come together quickly.
Brent Schaeffer and a host of other recruits will step into major roles right away. You can at least
figure on the Rebels being more fun to watch.
The defense must carry the load for an offense that has questions at almost every position. The secondary
figures to be the backbone.
Five players who will emerge this season
1. Mohamed Massaquoi, So., WR, Georgia:
The Charlotte, N.C., native had a respectable freshman season with 505 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 38
receptions. It may be unreasonable to expect him to double those numbers, but he should be closer to that than
a repeat of last year's statistics.
2. Jarvis Moss, Jr., DE, Florida: For a
guy who didn't start last season and didn't register a tackle until the fourth game, Moss sure spent a lot of
time in opponents' backfields. The Texas native finished as Florida's leader in sacks (7.5) and tackles for
loss (11). He'll build on those numbers with full-time duty this season.
3. Robert Ayers, So., DE, Tennessee: The
6-3, 230-pound South Carolina native was first on the lips of his head coach and teammates when they were
asked to name a player who could have a breakout season. They say he's quick and can really get off the
4. Jeff Owens, So., DT, Georgia: Played
as a freshman out of necessity and saw action in all 13 of the Dawgs' games last season. Owens posted 2.5
sacks, 16 tackles and 16 quarterback pressures. With a year under his belt and more help alongside, he should
5. Robert Lane, Sr., TE, Ole Miss:
Everyone in the conference knows Lane (6-3, 225) is a phenomenal athlete. The Rebels may have found the best
place for him after allowing him to compete for the QB job then switching him to fullback. He caught 17 passes
last season for 213 yards and a touchdown. As a full-time TE with Brent Schaeffer throwing to him in Dan
Werner's offense, the sky is the limit.
Five Impact Newcomers (freshmen or transfers)
1. Matthew Stafford, Fr., QB, Georgia:
The bet here is Mark Richt will have Stafford, Rivals.com's No. 1 QB in the class of 2006, ready to
go for the first snap in the opener against Western Kentucky. Why waste an opener against a Division I-AA team
on anyone other than the guy you hope will man the job all season?
2. Brent Schaeffer, Jr., QB, Ole Miss:
In case you don't remember him running around as a freshman at Tennessee, he's that much better now. Witness
his junior college season numbers: 40 TD passes, six interceptions, nearly 3,000 passing yards. And he rushed
for 854. SEC West, consider this your notice.
3. Andre Smith, Fr., OL, Alabama: Scouts
throughout the country believe he is one of the best linemen ever to enter the college game. There's no
question he starts for the Tide from Day One.
4. Percy Harvin, Fr., WR, Florida: The
Gators' fastest receiver (Chad Jackson) left early for the NFL, making room for the new fastest receiver.
Harvin was Rivals.com's No. 1 recruit in the nation. Chris Leak should fall for him quickly.
5. Greg Smith, So., DT, Auburn: The
five-star prospect steps out of the junior college ranks and will have every opportunity to start right away.
At 6-3, 315, he had 37 tackles for loss in one season at Northeast Mississippi Community College.
Position Battles to Watch
Alabama: Linebacker. The Tide has the unenviable task of finding replacements for DeMeco Ryans and
Freddie Roach, which wouldn't be easy no matter the depth. The Tide will look to junior Matt Collins,
a former walk-on, and redshirt freshman Prince Hall.
Auburn: Weak side linebacker. Sophomore Merrill Johnson and redshirt freshman Tray
Blackmon will battle through the spring to shore up a linebacking corps that lost a couple of starters.
Florida: Running back. Junior DeShawn Wynn is the incumbent, but he has a tendency to work his
way into the doghouse. Some in Gainesville believe sophomore Kestahn Moore may be headed for a
breakout season. Markus Manson is in the mix, too.
Georgia: Quarterback. Mark Richt has said he wants to give all four candidates snaps with the
first team during the spring. That means senior Joe Tereshinski, sophomore Blake Barnes,
redshirt freshman Joe Cox and five-star freshman Matt Stafford all have a shot to be under
center for the Dawgs.
Kentucky: Wide receiver. With three of last year's top four targets gone, it's wide open at wide
receiver in Lexington. Of course there also is the mystery to be solved as to who will be throwing to the new
guys, Andre' Woodson or Curtis Pulley.
LSU: Defensive tackle. Both starters need to be replaced in the interior, with one spot almost
assuredly going to Glen Dorsey. The battle for the other spot figures to be chiefly between
Charles Alexander and Ricky Jean-Francois. One could wind up playing some at end.
Mississippi State: Running back. The departure of all-time leading rusher Jerious Norwood leaves a
gaping hole in an already-suspect offense. Sophomore Brandon Thornton will get the first crack at
filling Norwood's shoes, with fellow sophomore Brandon Hart also in the mix.
Ole Miss: Linebacker. It's nice to have Patrick Willis in the middle. That said, the Rebels
will look throughout the spring at who will get to play next to the All-America candidate. On the weak side,
the top contenders for playing time are Quentin Taylor and Antonio Turner, a converted
running back. On the strong side, Garry Pack will duel with Leron King.
South Carolina: Wide receiver. Who's going to keep Rivals.com National Freshman of the Year Sidney
Rice from constant double-teams? The candidates to play opposite Rice include sophomore Kenny
McKinley, who had some moments last year but not enough (25 receptions for 291 yards), and senior
Noah Whiteside, who was injured in last year's spring game and never fully recovered. A pair of
redshirt freshmen also could be factors: O.J. Murdock of Tampa, Fla., was a four-star recruit, and
Freddie Brown III was a three-star recruit out of in-state powerhouse Duncan Byrnes.
Tennessee: Linebacker. The Vols must replace their entire starting unit from a year ago, though there
are plenty of excellent candidates. Heading into spring, the starters appear to be Jerod Mayo on the
weak side, Marvin Mitchell in the middle, and Rico McCoy on the strong side. Ryan
Karl also could figure in somewhere.
Vanderbilt: Linebacker. The Commodores have to replace two of three linebackers, including Moses
Osemwegie, their leading tackler for three consecutive seasons and an All-SEC first-teamer last year. The
contenders include Marcus Buggs and Brandon Bryant.
Teams with new schemes
Arkansas offense: Former Springdale (Ark.) High School head coach Gus Malzahn makes his jump
to the college ranks to be offensive coordinator for Houston Nutt. He comes along with his
quarterback, five-star prospect Mitch Mustain. Now, how much of his hurry-up, no-huddle offense is
coming with him remains to be seen. A call to the Arkansas football office garnered a reply of: "Tell them
we'll be multiple." Malzahn's offense had some spread option and run-and-shoot elements. Expect a lot of
shotgun formation with RB Darren McFadden alongside the quarterback.
Auburn defense: The Tigers will stick with a 4-3 under new coordinator Will Muschamp. He says
he also will mix man and zone coverages and see how his personnel adjusts. "I think the bottom line is you
have to be multiple," Muschamp said. "There are a lot of good coaches and good players out there and if you
become too one-dimensional then the good teams will end up getting you. … That's my No. 1 goal and job is to
get out there early in the spring and decide if we can be a team that can mix coverages and be
Ole Miss offense: One-back set, two TEs. Multiple. Dan Werner comes over from Miami with some
interesting weapons at his disposal, including junior college QB Brent Schaeffer, freshman RB
Cordera Eason and converted QB Robert Lane at tight end. Lane is a terrific athlete who
caught 17 balls playing at fullback last season. He could have a breakout year similar to Greg Olsen's 2005
season at Miami. The Rebels also are making a number of position changes on offense, so it will be almost an
entirely new look.
Tennessee offense: Two-back set. Multiple. Phillip Fulmer told Rivals.com that ideally his offense would be 50 percent run/50 percent pass. We're not sure we buy into that or that he and returning offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe do either. While coordinator in Knoxville from 1993-98, Cutcliffe called 56 percent running plays. Keep in mind that includes all four of Peyton Manning's seasons, when UT was throwing the ball more than it had at any time in its history. In the Vols' national championship season in 1998, they ran more than 65 percent of the time. Look for Cutcliffe to ground the Vols, take some pressure off his quarterbacks and control the clock.
Rivals.com is committed to covering Spring Football like no one else. Our national writers will be visiting campuses all over the country to bring you the very latest news and give you an inside look at Spring Practice. This is the second in a series of Spring Football conference previews.