SEC coaches and players with the most to prove

Now that spring has come and gone and we learned that every team in the SEC has a chance to win the national championship, it's time to get geared up for the offseason. Soon, players will be trekking about their respective campuses without their head coaches to guide them. It's all about working together and hanging with that loud, no doubt raspy, strength coach.

With the offseason comes increasing confidence, renewed hope and questions. Who will take what they learned from spring and get better? Who will prove to us that they belonged in the early "favorites" conversation and who will make us (me) look silly?

That brings us to our immediate, post-spring (over)reaction to who has the most to prove in 2015 after 15 spring practices. No team can win the SEC in the spring, but plenty can win paper championships. Well, in a few months, prove it:



Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee

After Dobbs threw for 1,209 yards and nine touchdowns in the final six games of the season (the only games he played in, mind you) the Heisman Trophy posters were being manufactured at a frantic rate in Knoxville. With a starting record of 4-1 last season -- and the offense averaging 36.7 points and 431 yards per game in the process -- Dobbs left 2014 with that hype machine working overtime. He wasn't perfect, throwing six interceptions in those six games, but he really progressed from the timid, mistake-prone freshman we saw in 2013. Now, he's the guy in Knoxville, and with the Vols pegged as one of the teams to make a major jump in 2014, most of Tennessee's success rides on his shoulders.

This spring, Dobbs really improved his mechanics and took to new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord's offense. He has what appears to be a great supporting cast, even though the offensive line still has some question marks. However, it's going to take more than just a nice spring to push the Vols to the top of the SEC East. Dobbs has to show us live and in living color that the game is slowing down for him when guys not dressed in Creamcicle orange charge at him. Dobbs has to prove he can sit in the pocket and be patient while reading defenses and really understanding coverages. And he has to win, plain and simple.


Butch Jones, Tennessee

I'm guilty of praising a Tennessee team with offensive line and linebacker issues too soon. This is a team that was the definition of thin this spring and hasn't won more than seven games since 2007. While I think a healthy Tennessee team can certainly compete for the East title, Jones has to show that his highly-ranked recruiting classes mean something. He's had back-to-back No. 5 classes, and while the 2014 class probably won't be expected to do as much as the previous class, Jones has turn all the talent he's collected into a contender. This can't be a team that takes a minor step and says that next year is the year. No, next year should be the year because this fall was so impressive.

A slow start, similar to what we've seen in previous years, can't happen (hello, Oklahoma and Florida games). There's a lot of pressure on Jones to prove that the Vols aren't just front-runners in 2015. Eighteen starters return, Dobbs should be better and the East is still muddied. Prove you really belong near or at the top, Vols.



Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn

All spring, we've heard about how having Johnson, who has two career starts, behind center will make the Tigers' offense that much better because of how balanced it will be. Nick Marshall was an excellent athlete, but he was never an elite passer. The thought is that Johnson, who has thrown for 858 yards and nine touchdowns with two interceptions in 13 career games, can create even more plays through the air, which will prevent teams from stacking the box as much. That's scary when you consider how good Auburn's rushing game has been under Gus Malzahn.

But we have to realize that Johnson has never beaten out Marshall, the less talented passer. I'm not saying Marshall was a slouch by any means, but we've dumped a ton of praise on a kid who hasn't exactly been a world-beater during his college career. Johnson hasn't cut his teeth in week-to-week SEC play. He hasn't had to command a team yet.


Bret Bielema, Arkansas

I was tempted to put Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze or Mississippi State's Dan Mullen here, but I chose Bielema because he has a chance to do what both did last year -- compete for the SEC West title. Slowly, Bielema has brought the Hogs back to some sort of SEC relevancy during his two years in Fayetteville. This team absolutely has what it takes to make a strong SEC run this fall. No team has the 1-2 punch at running back that the Hogs have with Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, the offensive line could be better and more athletic and Brandon Allen is making strides at quarterback in Dan Enos' new offense. We still aren't sure about the playmaking ability at receiver, but Keon Hatcher left the spring as the clear No. 1 and incoming junior-college transfer Dominique Reed could be a game-changer.

I have some reservations about the front seven on defense, but Bielema seemed confident about that group coming out of spring, especially with the progress made by JaMichael Winston and Taiwan Johnson. There's depth on defense, and that's good. So, get it done, Hogs. You ended the season winning four of your last six. Bielema's punch-you-in-the-mouth formula is working, but he has to start winning more of the tougher conference games. He needs to put West teams on the ropes and then finish them off.