On Monday, we checked out the stock reports of the seven SEC East teams coming out of spring practice. Today, we're checking in on the SEC West to see where those teams are heading into summertime.
Coming off of a loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship, the Crimson Tide continues to be the team to beat in the SEC. Nothing happened to change that this spring. Jalen Hurts took some valuable steps forward as a passer, while running back, receiver, and the offensive line should be fine. Defensively, you can't ignore the fact that the NFL draft took away Alabama's top four players in terms of sacks and tackles for loss in 2016. Five starters from the front seven are gone, but there’s a wealth of talent ready to break out. We still aren't sure what to make of the secondary just yet, but a vengeful Nick Saban bodes well for that group.
There were already a lot of questions entering the spring for the Hogs, and while coaches were pleased with improvements made on defense, finding consistent playmakers on that side of the ball is still a tall task. Arkansas is also still looking for viable receiver depth, as 135 catches and nearly 2,000 receiving yards are gone. To make matters worse, star running back Rawleigh Williams III retired from playing football after suffering a second neck injury in two-plus seasons.Thankfully, four starters return to the offensive line.
Yes, we've seen this movie before and it didn't end well for the Tigers -- or the sport writers who bought into the Auburn hype. BUT things are trending up on the Plains. For starters, former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham is the run-throw threat coach Gus Malzahn needs for his offense. Stidham had a limited career at Baylor, but what we saw of him was pretty impressive. He has a talented -- buy young -- group of receivers to work with and a loaded backfield, led by 1,200-yard back Kamryn Pettway. The defensive front seven has the chance to be one of the SEC's best, while the secondary could be a top-five group in the league.
These Tigers lost valuable defensive talent to the NFL draft and a weather-shortened spring game showed that even with Matt Canada running the offense, that side of the ball still needs a lot of work, especially with quarterback Danny Etling struggling as much as he did. Don't be surprised if there's a bit of a quarterback battle this fall, especially with talented freshman Myles Brennan enrolling soon. Derrius Guice should be just fine filling in for Leonard Fournette full-time, but he'll need help. Right now, help isn't exactly guaranteed. Not having Arden Key this spring left the defense searching for pass-rushers, and while the secondary is talented, the safety position has more questions this time around.
Mississippi State: Rising
Here's a team that could be one of those trendy dark hose picks in 2017. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald can do a lot of good things with his legs, but he threw the ball better this spring, which is very important because outside of Donald Gray, there is no proven talent at wide receiver. Fitzgerald's arm will help, as will the continued improvement of running back Aeris Williams, who will help take pressure off the passing game. Defensively, new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has a lot of experience to work with and should see an immediate boost with eight JUCO transfers.
Ole Miss: Falling
The Rebels have the talent to make some noise this fall, and freshman quarterback Shea Patterson has star written all over him. Unfortunately, Ole Miss can only play spoiler in the West after self-imposing a postseason ban from a very long NCAA investigation. The defense has a ways to go after a poor 2016, but the offense should be a lot of fun to watch. Still, this team will be playing for pride in 2017. And you have to wonder what will happen to the psyche the first time this team loses.
Texas A&M: Even
Nothing earth-shattering happened one way or the other in College Station this spring. The quarterback position started and ended as a three-way battle, the defense has a lot of holes to fill up front, and other than Christian Kirk, receiver is an unknown. But we all knew that going into spring. The offensive line lost both tackles, but returning the core of a pretty solid interior should help smooth things over for a while. The front seven did lose Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, but the line as a whole could be sneaky good this fall.