Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Ahh yeah, spring football.
There's nothing like it, especially in the SEC. Crowds in excess of 50,000 turned out for spring games at Alabama, Florida and Tennessee, and ESPN carried the spring games at Alabama and Georgia live.
Never mind that the real object of spring games in this day and age is to show as little as possible.
Still, it's a glimpse of what we can expect in the fall. New faces emerge. Familiar faces take on new roles, and teams start to establish identities.
What did we learn this spring around the SEC? Here's a taste:
1. Defense is still king in the SEC: It's been nearly four months since Florida polished off Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game, but the debate rages on as to whether the defenses were that good in the SEC last season or if the offenses were simply that bad. The statistics say that 11 of the top 40 defenses in the country last season belonged to SEC teams. Only Arkansas fell outside the top 40 in total defense. Get ready for more of the same in 2009. Alabama, Florida, LSU and Ole Miss all appear to be loaded again on defense. Any coincidence that those four will probably be the highest rated SEC teams heading into the season?
2. Rebels are ready to challenge: The last time Ole Miss won an SEC championship, Houston Nutt was in the first grade. It's been that long. The Rebels finished 5-0-1 in the league in 1963, their second straight title under the legendary John Vaught. They haven't won one since and have factored into the Western Division race only once since the league expanded in 1992 and added a championship game. Is this the year that drought ends? The Rebels would seem to have all the pieces for a championship run. Jevan Snead is a franchise quarterback surrounded by speedy playmakers, and there might not be a deeper defensive line in the country. This is all new ground for the Rebels, though. How they handle the expectations will go a long way toward determining whether they're in Atlanta on Dec. 5.
3. Quarterback questions persist: Florida's Tim Tebow and Ole Miss' Snead will rival Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Texas' Colt McCoy as the best quarterback duo in any one conference in the country. But after Tebow and Snead, there are more questions than answers in the SEC when it comes to the quarterback position. In many ways, it's similar to last season when Matthew Stafford and Tebow were the proven quarterback commodities in the league. Who will be this year's version of Snead, the guy who emerges from the shadows to have a big year? Arkansas' Ryan Mallett is a great fit for Bobby Petrino's system after coming over from Michigan, and look for Jordan Jefferson to show his entire repertoire at LSU now that he's gotten a taste of SEC defenses.
4. Richt going back to his roots: Georgia's Mark Richt might be the most tenured coach in the SEC at his current school, but he's treating the 2009 season like it's his maiden voyage. In other words, there won't be any shortcuts. Richt thinks his team might have lost sight last season of how important attention to detail is when it comes to the razor-thin margin of winning championships in this league and winning enough games to go to a decent bowl. The Bulldogs' approach in the offseason and in the spring has been reminiscent of what it was like when Richt first arrived in Athens. "We're not leaving anything to chance," said Richt, who likes the physical, hard-edged mentality he's seen from his club after a glut of injuries forced the Bulldogs to change the way they practiced and prepared a year ago.
5. Climbing aboard the Lane Train: Regardless of what Lane Kiffin does with the Tennessee program next season, it won't be fair to fully judge him until he's had a chance to bring in at least two more recruiting classes. He's off to an impressive start in the department of wooing talent. Getting the likes of Bryce Brown, Nu'Keese Richardson, Janzen Jackson and Darren Myles in such a short period of time was a coup for the Vols. He's also galvanized much of the Tennessee fan base with his energy, brashness and penchant for calling out the likes of Urban Meyer, Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier -- three guys who've combined for four national titles. Can the 33-year-old Kiffin back up his big talk? We won't have to wait long to find out. The Vols pay a visit to the Swamp on Sept. 19.