What Early Storylines Say About SEC Teams

Sep,15 2012; Nashville, TN, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels (6) drops back to hand off against the Presbyterian Blue Hose during the first half at Vanderbilt Stadium. The Commodores beat the Blue Hose 58-0. Mandatory Credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

What do stories say local stories say about your team in August?

In many cases, they speak volumes about the likely course of the season. There are, of course, exceptions – the best of which being Texas A&M still searching for a QB1 last season with the season opener nearing.

This is a look, based on most of the stories featured on the ESPN SEC Blog’s Lunchtime Links, at what the early camp stories of your teams say about their prospects of winning in 2013. Some teams will be largely ignored because ESPN has not highlighted stories on them, the primary news sources are behind pay walls or both.

Here is the look:

 

Alabama

Stories

Alabama looks for QB of future

Tide has sweet new facilities

Alabama’s LBs among team’s deepest units

Five questions: RB2, K1, Who will play what position in DB?, Will O-line lineup remain the same from the end of spring?, Which newcomer will play immediately?

 

What they mean

So… Alabama is searching for its QB1. For next year. Life is tough under Nick Saban, huh? Especially in those plush new digs. The other biggest problems facing the Crimson Tide involve who will be the “other” RB to superstar T.J. Yeldon, who will be the starting kicker and which experienced defensive back will fill which role. Oh, and the team has unreal depth at linebacker. Sweet. Translation: Life is good in Titletown.

 

Arkansas

No stories on ESPN SEC Blog, largely thanks to pay walls.

 

Auburn

Stories

Next four days critical in QB competition

Players excited about Malzahn’s offense

Five questions: QB1, Go-To WR?, Can secondary put problems behind it and create turnovers?, August star, Players buying in

Malzahn sticks with up-tempo offense amid criticism

 

What they mean

Well, for starters, they mean that Auburn has a new coach, a quarterback competition capable of blowing up into a controversy, no experienced WRs and a secondary that appeared porous in 2012. Good luck with that. It’s not impossible for the Tigers to have a respectable season. Remember, in 2009, Gus Malzahn – then a coordinator – inherited a very similar situation and helped turn it into a 7-5 campaign. Let’s guess that Malzahn’s offense won’t sneak up on teams as it did then.

 

Florida

Stories

RB Matt Jones (viral illness) leaves a void

QB2 Tyler Murphy ready to fill in for Jeff Driskel

Gators try to develop safety depth

Five questions: QB2, Solve LB position, Second S, What’s Purifoy’s role on offense?, K1

Program still trying to sell out tickets

 

What they mean

Having health concerns about your backfield isn’t comfortable in August, but both have time to be at full strength by the time the season begins. The questions are similar to those of Alabama’s – who is QB2? Who is the starting kicker? Who will man the lone vacant safety position? How will Florida replace suspended LB Antonio Morrison for the two games he’ll miss? These are first-world problems. It is worth noting, however, that Florida hasn’t sold out its tickets this year – one season removed from a Sugar Bowl run. Also, parenthetically, QB1 Jeff Driskel seems to be receiving an unbelievable pass on uneven (a generous description) play in 2012.

 

Georgia

Stories

Walk-on DB Connor Norman might need to fill in for suspended S Josh Harvey-Clemons

Special teams are a priority

WRs will be good if they stay healthy

D-line coach has little use for players doing job incorrectly

Questions: Filling secondary, K2 filling in for potential suspension to K1 Marshall Morgan, Will five starting o-linemen trade spots, Filling d-line

 

What they mean

Harvey-Clemons will miss one game. It’s a really big game. College GameDay will be there. But it’s one game. Then again, that’s an obvious storyline when other concerns are special teams needing to be good and WRs simply needing to stay healthy. The defensive line seems like a valid concern and it has been covered pretty significantly and the secondary is the other major concern. Coordinator Todd Grantham has built a strong reputation, though, and earns a benefit of the doubt.

 

Kentucky

No stories on ESPN SEC Blog.

 

LSU

RB Jeremy Hill has been reinstated

 

What it means

It’s been a fairly quiet preseason for the Tigers on the ESPN site, which is ironic because there are seemingly plenty of questions to be asked for a team that could potentially contend for a national title or fall a rung in the SEC West. Hill has been the most interesting storyline – and he is back, though it appears he will start the season down the depth chart. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is new and will work with QB Zach Mettenberger, who was inconsistent in 2012. Mettenberger’s off-and-on struggles were only partly his fault. He struggled with a makeshift offensive line and bad drops from talented receivers. Plus the perennially dominant defense lost numerous starters.

 

Mississippi State

Stories

Bulldogs look to replace top four pass catchers

Program sells out tickets for fourth consecutive year

 

What they mean

Start with the encouraging ticket sales: This is a great sign for a program that started 7-0 last year. It’s a better sign for coach Dan Mullen, who has done enough to inspire the fan base to continue fully backing his regime in Starkville. That the Bulldogs lose their top four pass catchers this season is only as problematic as one’s confidence – or lack thereof – in QB Tyler Russell. The senior is expected to have a strong final campaign. Therein also lies the future of the 2013 Mississippi State season: It could see the program take a step forward and reclaim the Egg Bowl or the Bulldogs could plummet toward the bottom of the division.

 

Missouri

Stories

O-line aims to stay healthy after injury-filled 2012

Pinkel tries to fight way off hot seat

 

What they mean

Gary Pinkel undoubtedly starts the season on the SEC’s hottest seat. Ironically, as the column points out, Pinkel is one of Missouri’s most successful coaches in program history. He elevated the Tigers from the disaster they were for most of the 1990s and early 2000s. Now, after earning Missouri enough respect as a program to earn a spot in the SEC, he enters Year 2 in the nation’s toughest conference in a must-win spot. Must-win, in this case, likely means “make a bowl game,” but it’s still a hot seat. Though QB James Franklin is the biggest question mark, the offensive line is certainly another huge story – specifically because part of Franklin’s biggest problem came from getting crushed as a passer. The emergence of a talented WR unit will be big as well. The top storylines, however, tell that this is a pivotal season for Missouri. It’s difficult to imagine the Tigers will get a better coach than Pinkel, but the sheer economics might force them to make a move.

 

Ole Miss

Stories

WR Vince Sanders broke his collarbone

DE Robert Nkemdiche works with first-team D

Five questions: D improvement, Fifth O-lineman, Short-yardage situations, Freshmen immediate playing time, Can coaching staff gel better in Year 2 under Freeze?

 

What they mean

For starters, the defense has to improve and that’s where the focus has been. There is reason for optimism with Nkemdiche, who has drawn early comparisons to South Carolina superstar Jadeveon Clowney. How good the Rebels are in 2013 will likely hinge on how much the defensive improves. WR Vince Sanders is a pretty big loss, but he should return in time for the majority of the key games. Other things, such as short-yardage situations, are important but are questions raised when there are a number of answers already in hand.

 

South Carolina

Stories

LB Cedrick Cooper impresses in bid to earn starting nod

Five questions: How will QBs divide reps?, RBs, Young LBs, WRs without Ace Sanders, Offensive line adjusting to changes

 

What they mean

Led by the most dominant defensive player in college football today, South Carolina should boast one of the best units in the game. Whether that becomes valid hinges on how the new linebackers fare. The other questions are easier to answer, meaning the answers outnumber the questions at this point – a strong indication for the coming season. How will QBs divide reps? Well, that can be a negative unless a program has two players with the talent of Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson. RBs Brandon Wilds and Mike Davis have already established themselves as being capable SEC backs when Marcus Lattimore suffered season-ending injuries in consecutive seasons. This, again, is really a choice between two strong options. The WR issue is a good one, but one the team can overcome.

 

Tennessee

Stories

Three defensive starters return from injury in 2012

QB Worley working with 1s

DBs sick of getting criticized

DB Eric Gordon won’t play in 2013

Five questions: QB1, Freshman WR MarQuez North, LB Curt Maggitt’s health, Can the secondary improve?, Practice changes

 

What they mean

Obviously the secondary is an enormous concern, as is the defense on the whole after it played so poorly in 2012. The return of S Brian Randolph helps. How much, though? DB Eric Gordon, the nickelback a year ago, is no longer with the program. Another key question to be answered is who will play quarterback. Justin Worley seems like the logical choice and he worked with the first-team offense during a recent scrimmage. Nathan Peterman is currently listed atop the depth chart with Worley. How quickly key players can hit their strides – either during their freshman seasons or in returning from injury – will likely determine if coach Butch Jones can immediately turn around the program.

 

Texas A&M

Stories

Johnny Manziel needs football

A&M hires law firm that defended Auburn, Newton

 

What they mean

There were plenty of stories to write on the Texas A&M beat this year. Then there was one story to write. And write. And write. Aggies QB Johnny Manziel dominated throughout most of the 2012 football season. He has dominated even more on the front-page headlines. His latest issues – allegations that Manziel took money in exchange for autographs on memorabilia – raise questions about his eligibility for the 2013 season. Of course, the way the NCAA has gone lately, it would be stunning if Manziel missed a single game even if a paper trail surfaced. Manziel is arguably the most valuable player in college football and he will thusly remain the nation’s biggest story until his situation is resolved. If Manziel were to miss time, it would obviously hurt the Aggies tremendously.

 

Vanderbilt

Stories

Still feeling lack of respect

Five questions: Austyn Carta-Samuels, TE1, pass rush, P1, Passing game intra-squad battles

 

What they mean

Even with a nine-win season – on the heels of a six-win campaign in 2011 – the Commodores aren’t receiving the respect they think they have earned. If that’s one of the biggest storylines, that’s a good thing. Of course, Vanderbilt is also breaking in a new starting QB – likely Carta-Samuels but that has not been confirmed. Other top questions aren’t as concerning. Who is going to play tight end, who is going to be the punter – these aren’t the questions of a team struggling to maintain seven wins.

Topics: Alabama Crimson Tide, Arkansas Razorbacks, Auburn Tigers, Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs, Kentucky Wildcats, Louisiana State Tigers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers, Ole Miss Rebels, SEC, South Carolina Gamecocks, Tennessee Volunteers, Texas A&M Aggies, Vanderbilt Commodores

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