Nick Saban fields questions at Bama's pro day. - USA TODAY Sports
Roll Bama Roll surveys the conference landscape as spring football kicks off.
Yesterday, we took a quick look at the SEC East teams. Today, we'll share a few thoughts about the state of the SEC West programs as spring football begins:
As I'm sure you've heard, this team has been on a bit of a tear lately. The defending national champs start spring practice this Saturday. The Tide return 6 starters on both sides of the ball, with most of the impact of the losses being felt on both lines. Word on the street, though, is that Bama has a load of talent lined up for both the defensive line and offensive line, untested thought it may be. Those position battles should be fun for the die-hard fans, while others should get a kick out of seeing a few stars (specifically Derrick Henry and OJ Howard) from the recent recruiting haul in live action. Finally, it will be interesting on April 20th to find out the answer to the age old question "How is playing time in the A day game allotted when you have seven quarterbacks?"
The Hogs opened spring practice this past Sunday. We'll have to wait, though, until the fall to see whether Scumbag Bret had a had a change of heart after moving into God's country, or if he still wants to be "nothing like the SEC". One thing Bret has going for him - he's all but guaranteed to have a better season than last year's team, since performing worse would require deliberate sabotage or a criminal amount of ineptitude *cough cough* John L. (Speaking of John L., here's an article I came across that should give you a good laugh, and change your mind if you ever thought to put weight in the opinion of a talking head.)
Arky returns 7 defensive starters and 5 offensive starters. The defense returns their biggest sack producers in DEs Chris Smith and Trey Flowers, as well as a solid player at each of the other levels in LB AJ Turner and CB Tevin Mitchell. On offense, the hogs lost both of their top rushers (Dennis Johnson and Knile Davis) their top WR (Cobi Hamilton), and their QB (Tyler Wilson). It seems that the heirs are not so apparent in this case, and there is a heated battle underway between Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell to be the hog's next signal caller. Arky's spring game is on April 20th.
Unsurprisingly, given the constant refrain of "we're young", Auburn will return 9 of their defensive starters this year. One of the two missing, Corey Lemonier, was the best defender on a very bad defense. As bad as the defense was, though, the offense was on a whole other level of "suck", ranking 114th in country. Like Arkansas' Bielema, new Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has the fortune of low expectations, as he is following what was probably the worst Auburn team of any of our lifetimes.
The Auburn offense returns 6 starters from last year's squad, including four on the offensive line. This team will only go as far as the quarterback takes them, though, and who the field general will be is anyone's guess. Auburn's will play their "B Day" game on April 20th.
Despite all the jokes made a couple of months ago about LSU losing the whole team to the NFL, the Tigers' cupboard is far from bare. LSU returns four starters on defense including freakshow DT Anthony Johnson and SS Craig Loston. Throw in two returning cornerbacks, and the defensive backfield looks to be solid. The biggest question on defense will be whether the new defensive linemen can step up and fill the huge holes left by the star players that moved on.
On offense, LSU gets four offensive linemen back, as well as both parts of the "offending duo" - leading rusher Jeremy Hill and quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Leading receivers Odell Beckham Junior and Jarvis Landry return as well, but LSU is going to need to use all these weapons to actually put points on the board this year, as they ranked 57th in the country last year.
I'm going to go ahead and say this: this year's Ole Miss is not to be overlooked. Yes, they only finished with a 7-6 record, but of the six losses, three were close losses to Texas A&M, LSU, and Vanderbilt. The other three losses were ugly, true, but I think Ole Miss could be a nine or ten win team this year. No team in the conference returns more talent than the rebellious black ol' bears, who return 8 offensive starters and 9 defensive starters.
The biggest loss of the offseason was Randall Mackey, but Ole Miss returns QB Bo Wallace, RB Jeff Scott, and WR Donte Moncrief, as well as four offensive linemen. Both the offense and defense were middle of the road last year, but both sides should benefit from another year of seasoning in a new system, and both sides will receive a bit of a shot in the arm courtesy of the Rebel's recruiting haul. On offense, expect to hear the name of five-star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell early and often. And on defense, there's a fellow named Nkemdiche you may have heard about.
After four years with the Bulldogs, you have to wonder how much longer Dan Mullen will be happy languishing near the bottom of the SEC west. Moreover, it's a valid question to wonder whether his flame has diminished such that significantly better opportunities are now beyond him. Under Mullen, State has done a decent job of winning the games they were supposed to win, but tend to lose the others badly. I don't know that I see that trend reversing this year.
State returns 5 defensive starters. The story, though, is in the losses, as they lost their leading tackler (Cam Lawrence), as well as their star cornerbacks Darius Slay and Johnthan Banks. While the Bullies do return seven offensive starters, including four offensive linemen, it may not be enough to stave off the defensive regression that should be expected.
Do you see that light streaking across the night sky? It's a falling star soon to meet its end. First off, hats off to Manziel, who played great last year. But this season's song will be much closer to a dirge than a true encore. The Aggies return 6 offensive starters, but lose two offensive linemen, and one of Manziel's favorite targets, Ryan Swope. Admittedly, the core skill positions are intact, with Manziel, leading rusher Ben Malena and leading receiver Mike Evans all returning. That offensive firepower will all but certainly be needed, given the hit that the Texas A&M defense is taking.
Last year's defense was severely outshined by the offense, but the Aggies actually had a top 25 defense. Unfortunately for them, they only return 4 defensive starters. The defensive backfield looks somewhat solid, but the front seven will be young and green. Especially early in the season... I'm sure that won't cause them to be embarrassed on a big stage in a nationally-televised contest...