With SEC media days less than a week away (yeah, I know), the college football season truly is drawing near.
SEC media days serves as the unofficial start to the college football season, and it also begins a long line of questions for every SEC team.
But what are the most important questions for all 14 SEC teams entering the 2017 season? Well, that's what we're here for. Today, we'll look at the most important questions that each SEC East team must answer this fall. On Thursday, we'll check out the SEC West.
Florida: Is Malik Zaire really the answer to the Gators' quarterback and offense issues?
It's a new year and a new quarterback issue at Florida. The Gators went back to the graduate-transfer ranks to bring a quarterback to campus in former Notre Dame starter Malik Zaire. Zaire is an enigma because we really haven't seen much of him. He's played in 15 career games (more than any other UF quarterback on the roster), but an injury limited him to just two games in 2015 (after a breakout performance against Texas). He's more mobile and experienced than any of Florida's current quarterbacks, but is he the answer to a near-decade-old issue for the Gators?
Georgia: Will the Bulldogs have a more threatening passing game this fall?
There's no question that Jacob Eason has all the talent to be a special player, but his right arm needs help. For starters, he needs to get more comfortable with offensive coordinator Jim Chaney's offense and more comfortable reading opposing defenses. That improved this spring, but Eason also needs his receivers to stretch the field better. With Isaiah McKenzie gone, Terry Godwin returns as the Dawgs' top receiver -- he had 39 catches and 397 yards last year. Tight end Isaac Nauta could be one of the top SEC tight ends, but can youngsters such as sophomore Riley Ridley and freshman Jeremiah Holloman pump some life into this passing game?
Kentucky: Is this defensive line ready to be an SEC caliber unit?
Kentucky's defensive line was one of the SEC's worst last year, registering just two sacks and 13 tackles for loss. That led, in part, to a change in direction in coaching up front, as Jimmy Brumbaugh left to be Maryland's co-defensive coordinator and former North Texas assistant Derrick LeBlanc was hired in his place. There's potential up front for the Wildcats, but it's up to LeBlanc to help tap into that, starting with finally getting nose guard Matt Elam to play to his four-star promise.
Missouri: Will getting back to basics be enough for a defensive turnaround?
Last year, Missouri's defense took a major hit when the scheme for the defensive line changed to a more read-and-react system. Frankly, it was an awful idea. The Tigers went from being consistently among the best defenses in the SEC to one of the nation's worst, ranking 118th nationally after giving up 479.7 yards per game. The Tigers will return to a more attacking style and Odom will continue to call plays on defense, as he did during the second half of last season. The Tigers lost top lineman Charles Harris and top cornerback Aarion Penton, and are hoping that interior lineman Terry Beckner Jr. can return to full health after suffering another season-ending knee injury last October.
South Carolina: Will the Gamecocks get to the quarterback in 2017?
Will Muschamp knows defense, but he has to figure out how to get his defense to get to opposing quarterbacks a lot better than it did in 2016. Last year, the Gamecocks had just 21 sacks in 13 games. One of the biggest problems is that the Gamecocks must replace their top sack artist from last season, Darius English (nine sacks). The only returning players who had at least two sacks last year were linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams and defensive lineman Keir Thomas. All eyes will be on senior Dante Sawyer, a former top recruit who has just 3.5 career sacks.
Tennessee: How will the offense work without Joshua Dobbs?
It's been a long time since Dobbs wasn't the quarterback at Tennessee, and fans might not like early life without him. Dobbs accounted for 9,360 yards of offense (7,138 passing, 2,160 rushing, 62 receiving) and went 23-12 (including 3-0 in bowls) as the Vols' starter. Now, Tennessee is relying on either Quinten Dormady or Jarrett Guarantano. Dormady is a more or a pro-style quarterback and has game experience, making it into 10 games and throwing for 357 yards. Guarantano is more mobile and built similar to Dobbs. He redshirted last year and struggled with the speed of the game at times this spring. He might have more upside, but he's still behind Dormady at the moment.
Vanderbilt: Is the offense going to look the way it did last November, or more like the early-season unit?
In quarterback Kyle Shurmur's last four games of the regular season, he averaged 290.5 passing yards per game. Vandy went 2-2 and averaged 436.5 yards and 29 points per game. Before that, Shurmur threw for 200 yards just once in the previous eight games, while the offense hit 400-plus yards just once and was held under 20 points five times. So which one will it be this season? Shurmur was on a roll at the end of the year, but an injury in the Camping World Independence Bowl held him and the offense back in a blowout loss to NC State.