SEC spring preview: Western Division

Here are a few storylines to watch this spring in the Western Division. Edward took a look at the Eastern Division on Monday.


Start date: March 16

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

  1. Battling complacency: Alabama is gearing up for yet another title defense. Will complacency finally rear its ugly head? Not if Nick Saban has anything to do with it. The head coach will no doubt remind players of the targets on their backs and what little they've accomplished as presently constituted.

  2. Opening up the passing game: The return of AJ McCarron, coupled with a talented, deep crop of receivers, could mean a more wide-open passing game in Tuscaloosa. If true freshman tight end O.J. Howard develops as some expect, the offense could become even more dynamic.

  3. Offensive line makeover: Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker are gone. And with them the best offensive line in college football has vanished. Veterans Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen return, but few experienced players are waiting in the wings for Alabama.

    -- Alex Scarborough, TideNation


Start date: March 10

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

  1. Bielema’s stamp: They won’t remember 2012 very fondly in Arkansas. It started with Bobby Petrino’s embarrassing ouster last spring and ended with a forgettable 4-8 season. The Hogs are starting all over with Bret Bielema, who led Wisconsin to three straight Rose Bowl appearances. This spring will be Bielema’s first real chance to put his stamp on the program and introduce the Hogs to his brand of power football.

  2. Offensive overhaul: Bielema was known at Wisconsin for running the football behind big, physical offensive lines. His offensive coordinator, Jim Chaney, has more of a passing pedigree. It will be interesting to see how it all comes together offensively for the Hogs, who are losing their top passer, top two rushers and top three receivers from last season. Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell will vie for the starting quarterback job.

  3. Defense takes the lead: The Hogs won under Petrino thanks to their high-scoring offense, and at times, in spite of their defense. But in 2013, the defense may have to carry a lot more of the load. First-year coordinator Chris Ash inherits a veteran front, some young talent at linebacker and a secondary that also should be much improved. It’s a unit that will need to mesh quickly, and that starts this spring.


Start date: March 27

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

  1. Malzahn’s back: Gus Malzahn returns to the Plains as head coach, which means this spring will be critical in re-installing his hurry-up, no-huddle offense. The first task will be finding a quarterback. Kiehl Frazier struggled last season, but was handpicked by Malzahn when Malzahn was at Auburn the first time. The Tigers need to rediscover their passing game after finishing with eight touchdown passes and 15 interceptions a year ago.

  2. Power running game: Tre Mason was a pleasant surprise last season for the Tigers and rushed for 1,002 yards. With heralded junior college newcomer Cameron Artis-Payne on campus and set to go through spring practice, Auburn would like to establish him as that power back with size and speed to serve as a complement to Mason.

  3. Getting defensive: Veteran defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson looks to revive an Auburn defense that has fallen on hard times each of the past two seasons and will put in his 4-2-5 scheme this spring. The key will be finding players who fit. The Tigers will have 18 defensive linemen on the roster in the fall and aren't lacking for talent. Kris Frost could be a fit for that hybrid linebacker/safety spot in Johnson’s defense.


Start date: March 14

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

  1. Cam's influence: When you think of LSU, you think of defense, special teams, defense, a quirky coach and defense. Never offense. Cam Cameron, most recently of the Baltimore Ravens, has been brought in as the new offensive coordinator to try to jump-start an offense that sometimes sputters, especially in big games. We won't really have any answers until this fall, but will we see signs of offensive progress in the spring?

  2. Rebuilding the front: LSU lost all four starters from its vaunted defensive line, plus middle linebacker Kevin Minter. Can defensive coordinator John Chavis find playmakers up front ... or a new leader at middle linebacker?

  3. Anchoring the line: Some were surprised to see left tackle Chris Faulk leave for the NFL after missing all but one game with a knee injury. It happened, and LSU has a question mark in what was otherwise a solid returning offensive line and offense in general. Who will fill the void? It could be left guard La'el Collins. If so, who plays left guard? The offensive line will be an interesting puzzle for Cameron.

    -- Gary Laney, GeauxTigerNation


Start date: March 21

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

  1. Catching on: Quarterback Tyler Russell made tremendous strides last season and set school records with 2,897 passing yards and 24 touchdowns, but all of his top receiving targets are gone. This is a big spring for sophomore Joe Morrow, who was impressive last spring, but didn’t do much during the season. Junior Robert Johnson and junior college newcomer Jeremey Chappelle will also figure prominently in the rotation.

  2. More pressure: Mississippi State didn’t get much pressure on the quarterback last season and also finished 11th in the SEC against the run. Tackle Josh Boyd is gone, which means the door is wide open for sophomores Quay Evans and Nick James to make moves after playing as true freshmen a year ago. The Bulldogs also need more production from senior end Denico Autry.

  3. Secondary makeover: The Bulldogs are losing three starters in their secondary, including Jim Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks at cornerback. There will be some serious competition for spots this spring. Somebody to watch is junior college newcomer Justin Cox, who may be an immediate starter at cornerback. He’s one of the fastest players on the team.


Start date: March 17

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

  1. Brunetti's chance: Starting quarterback Bo Wallace will miss the spring while recovering from clavicle surgery. That means Barry Brunetti will get most of the first-team reps. He needs to become a better quarterback and give the coaches confidence that he can be the guy if something should happen to Wallace. Right now, he’s more of a runner playing quarterback. He’s a good enough athlete that he could play elsewhere on offense in the fall.

  2. Lining up: The Rebels’ defensive line has big-time potential, especially with the arrival of coveted defensive end signee Robert Nkemdiche this summer. But this spring, sophomore end Channing Ward and sophomore tackle Issac Gross will be under the spotlight. Gross is trying to beef up, and the Rebels would like to see him around 285 pounds after he played at 265 last season. Also, junior college newcomer Lavon Hooks will get a chance to show what he can do at tackle.

  3. Shackelford's return: D.T. Shackelford hasn’t played in two seasons after undergoing multiple surgeries on his right knee, but he’s raring to go this spring and should be 100 percent healthy. Not only does Shackelford give the Rebels another experienced linebacker, but he’s one of the strongest leaders on the team. Just having him back on the practice field should do wonders for the Ole Miss defense.


Start date: March 2

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

  1. Who's Manziel throwing to?: Three of the four starters at receiver from the Aggies' 2012 team were seniors, so they're gone now, including Ryan Swope. Mike Evans, who had a sensational redshirt freshman season, is back, but who is going to surround him as targets for Johnny Football?

  2. Thunder and lightning: Two running backs -- Brandon Williams (transfer from Oklahoma) and Tra Carson (transfer from Oregon) will join starter Ben Malena and young Trey Williams in the backfield after sitting out last season per transfer rules. Carson brings heft (230-240 pounds), while Williams, who is nicknamed "Slim," could be a game-breaker.

  3. New coaches: Running backs coach Clarence McKinney has been promoted to offensive coordinator and will call the plays, succeeding Kliff Kingsbury in that role. The Aggies also welcome a new quarterbacks coach (Jake Spavital from West Virginia), linebackers coach (Mark Hagen from Indiana) and special-teams coordinator (Jeff Banks from UTEP).

    -- Sam Khan Jr., GigEmNation