College Football Spring Practice: SEC Storylines

College Football Spring Practice: SEC Storylines

This article is part of our Spring Practice Storylines series.

SEC Spring Practice Storylines

With extra years of eligibility and more relaxed transfer rules, the portal has become an increasingly useful way to instantly upgrade your program at various positions instead of relying only on incoming freshmen to infuse new life and talent into your squad.  The SEC, still being the crown jewel of college football, has caused transfers to flock to the conference in the hopes of playing against elite competition, vying for a National Championship, and showcasing their talents en route to being drafted into the NFL.  The upcoming transfer window will only further put the depth charts in flux.

There is no shortage of job battles during spring practice.  This article will highlight intriguing position competitions among the schools in the Southeastern Conference, focusing on those units with a certain level of uncertainty attached.  It is also worth mentioning that Oklahoma and Texas will join the conference for the first time in 2024, leaving the SEC with a staggering 16 participants in this new college football landscape.

Let's jump right into this year's preview, beginning with a high-profile program moving on from its legendary head coach. 

Alabama Crimson Tide

Tide Won't Rush to Judgment With Running Back Room

Last season, the Tide were forced to replace Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young at quarterback.  While the season started slow, Jalen Milroe pulled a 180 after being benched, leading the Tide to yet another College Football Playoff.  While Milroe returns, Alabama is replacing virtually all of its other skill players, including all three starting wide receivers and both of its leading rushers from a season ago.  Jase McClellan is headed to the NFL, while Roydell Williams transferred to Florida State.  That leaves plenty of uncertainty at the position, with junior Jam Miller, sophomore Justice Haynes and redshirt freshman Richard Young vying for touches under new head coach Kalen DeBoer.  The trio combined for just 75 carries a season ago.  Miller saw the most work, but Haynes averaged a stellar 6.7 yards per tote.  Alabama is still likely set up player-wise to focus on running the football despite the departure of Nick Saban, so one of these backs could emerge as the featured option out of relative anonymity.

Arkansas Razorbacks

Hogs Get a Fresh Face Under Center

KJ Jefferson was a staple under center for Arkansas but transferred as a graduate student to UCF.  Boise State transfer Taylen Green is the frontrunner to replace Jefferson, bringing dual-threat ability.  Green is 6-6, 223 lbs and threw for almost 3,800 over the last two seasons with the Broncos.  He also rushed for over 1,000 yards and an impressive 19 touchdowns over that span as well.  If Green falters, Jacolby Criswell should be the backup; Criswell has played sparingly during his collegiate career, from North Carolina to Arkansas last year.  However, the senior could push Green in his final season.  Malachi Singleton is the wildcard; he redshirted last season but was considered one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks coming out of high school.  Virtually all of the wideouts for the Hogs return, so whoever is distributing the ball will have extremely capable targets at their disposal.

Auburn Tigers

Transfers and a Sensational Freshman Give New Look to Wide Receiving Corps

The quarterback position for the Tigers was pretty dreadful last season, but at least starter Payton Thorne has a full season under his belt now.  Safety valve and red zone target Rivaldo Fairweather also returns, as does running back Jarquez Hunter.  However, leading wide receiver Ja'Varrius Johnson is gone, and leading returning receivers Jay Fair and Caleb Burton combined for just 550 yards receiving in 2023.  Enter true freshman Cam Coleman, one of the most highly-touted recruits to attend Auburn.  The 6-foot-4 homegrown wideout was the No. 5 overall prospect in last year's class.  It would be a mistake to overlook fellow freshman Bryce Cain as well, though.  Cain is another in-state product.  The Tigers also added transfers in the form of Robert Lewis from Georgia State, along with former Cal quarterback Sam Jackson.  Lewis snagged 70 passes for 877 yards and seven touchdowns in 2023.  The Auburn offense certainly cannot be worse than it was last season, but its relative productiveness will likely hinge upon the success of its wide receivers.

Florida Gators

Old Friends Reunite as Gators Look to Spark Passing Game

Like the Tigers above, the Gators return their starting quarterback (Graham Mertz) and running back (Montrell Johnson).  However, Florida also lost its top wideout from last year, Ricky Pearsall.  Eugene Wilson and Kahleil Jackson return, though Wilson is more of a possession receiver, while Jackson had just one touchdown a season ago.  Hopes are high for Wisconsin transfer Chimere Dike, who had 689 yards and six touchdowns in 2022 but battled injuries in 2023 before ultimately moving on to Gainesville.  Mertz was his quarterback with the Badgers, so the idea is that the pair will rekindle their chemistry.

Georgia Bulldogs

Bulldogs Attempt to Navigate Post-Bowers Era

How will the Bulldogs replace one of the most talented tight ends in college football in recent memory?  Brock Bowers will be in the NFL this Fall, leaving a massive void in the Georgia offense.  Junior Oscar Delp is comparable in size to Bowers and managed 24 catches for 284 yards and three touchdowns last season, even with Bowers in the mix.  He will get the first crack at being the new safety valve for returning quarterback Carson Beck.  Delp is a former wide receiver who has bulked up to fit at tight end but has retained much of his athleticism and explosiveness.  Delp's ability to run after the catch is also something to watch.  He should be used in various ways in this talented offense as Georgia attempts to return to the College Football Playoff.

 Kentucky Wildcats

Former Bulldog Finally Gets His Shot

The Wildcats boast a stellar receiving corps, giving Brock Vandagriff an excellent chance of finally breaking out at the collegiate level.  The graduate transfer from Georgia played behind the likes of Stetson Bennett and the aforementioned Carson Beck with the Bulldogs, but Vandagriff has the chance to write his own final chapter at Kentucky.  The job is not guaranteed, though, as Beau Allen returns to Kentucky after two separate stops, while freshman Cutter Boley comes to the Wildcats with some fanfare.  Still, the experience and pedigree of Vandagriff give him the upper hand, and he should reap the benefits of throwing to the likes of Dane Key and Barion Brown.

 LSU Tigers

Replacing Firepower on Offense

The Tigers will attempt to replace arguably the top pass-catching duo from a season ago in the form of Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas.  All the tandem did with Heisman trophy winner Jayden Daniels under center accounted for a staggering 2,746 yards and 31 touchdowns through the air.  While it is true that Daniels is also heading to the NFL, incumbent Garrett Nussmeier has played parts of three collegiate seasons, including acting as the backup for Daniels and coach Brian Kelly in 2023.  LSU landed Liberty transfer CJ Daniels, who averaged a robust 19.4 yards per catch for the Flames.  Mississippi State transfer Zavion Thomas was also added to the fold alongside Kyren Lacy, who transferred from Alabama the prior year.  Lacy collected 30 receptions for 558 yards and seven touchdowns in 2023 and could be primed for a true breakout performance.  Despite losing Nabers and Thomas, this wide receiving corps is still plenty talented.

 Ole Miss Rebels

Balanced Offensive Attack Could Key Success

Losing arguably the top running back in the nation will be a headline, and Quinshon Judkins transferred to Ohio State after back-to-back 1,100-yard rushing campaigns, including a combined 31 rushing scores.  Ulysses Bentley looks to have the inside track at the starting job, especially with the torn ACL suffered by LSU transfer Logan Diggs.  Bentley rushed for 913 yards and 11 touchdowns at SMU in 2020 but has been unable to replicate that success since then.  However,  he averages over five yards per carry for his career, his competition for touches is extremely limited and the Ole Miss passing game should draw plenty of attention with Jaxson Dart, Tre Harris, Jordan Watkins, and South Carolina transfer Antwane Wells.  Assuming Bentley is healthy (he has been battling a lower-body injury of his own), the experienced back could have the opportunity for massive production.

 Mississippi State Bulldogs

New Coach, New Quarterback, New Era in Starkville

The rebuild is on under new coach Jeff Lebby, starting at quarterback.  Former starter Will Rogers entered the transfer portal twice, ultimately ending up at Washington.  Blake Shapen joins from Baylor and appears to have the inside track at the starting job.  Shapen has completed over 62 percent of his passes during his collegiate career.  Shapen passed for nearly 2,200 yards last season for the Bears despite not missing four contests due to injury.  While Shapen is largely a pocket passer, backup Mike Wright brings the added element of some wheels.  Wright rushed for 324 yards last season, as he saw additional action due to injuries suffered by the aforementioned Rogers.  Lebby will likely side with the quarterback he brought in through the transfer portal, but Wright could still play a role when all is said and done.

 Missouri Tigers

Running Game Needs to Complement High-Octane Passing Attack

Expectations are high for the Tigers heading into the 2024 campaign.  Brady Cook returns under center and will have Luther Burden outside to play pitch and catch.  Burden is one of the top wideouts in the entire nation.  The Tigers will need to replace Cody Schrader at running back, though.  Schrader took the starting role last season and ran with it, literally, to the tune of 1,627 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground.  Mizzou will look to two transfers to fill the massive void: Marcus Carroll and Nate Noel.  Carroll rushed for 1,350 yards and 13 touchdowns at Georgia State in 2023.  Noel, meanwhile, is also an experienced back, having rushed for at least 500 yards in four straight seasons for Appalachian State.  That includes 1,126 yards as a sophomore and 834 yards as a senior in 2023.  Mizzou could choose one of the pair to lead the charge, lean on both rushers or simply ride the hot hand.  Regardless, the running game must complement the passing attack like last season for the Tigers to build off their impressive campaign.

 Oklahoma Sooners

How Will Sooners' Offense Fare in the Trenches?

Dillon Gabriel took his talents to Oregon as a graduate transfer, and virtually the entire offensive line is coming in via the transfer portal.  It will be interesting to see how Jackson Arnold can handle the pressure.  Arnold completed 26-of-45 passes for 361 yards and two touchdowns in the Valero Alamo Bowl, though he also tossed three interceptions in what was his only truly extended action of the season against legitimate competition.  The sample size is small, and Arnold can also use his legs a bit, which he was not entirely comfortable with a season ago.  Casey Thompson is the likely backup, though he is still recovering from an ACL injury suffered last season. Thompson is on to his fourth school, and, oddly enough, he started his collegiate career with bitter-rival Texas.

 South Carolina Gamecocks

New-Look Offense Hinges Upon Development of Young Quarterback

Spencer Rattler's time with the Gamecocks has ended, so a new face will run the show for South Carolina in 2024.  Hopes are pinned on redshirt freshman LaNorris Sellers, a beastly quarterback with a rocket arm who can bowl over defenders on the ground.  He will certainly bring a completely different element to the game than the aforementioned Rattler, who was a lesser-built pocket passer.  If Sellers struggles, the Gamecocks brought in former Auburn quarterback Robby Ashford.  A familiar face in the SEC, Ashford struggled mightily throwing the football during his time with the Tigers, though he does possess some running ability.  Davis Beville, a little-used graduate transfer who plated two seasons apiece at Pittsburgh and Oklahoma, rounds out the quarterback room.  Expect the Gamecocks to lean heavily on the running game with Arkansas transfer Raheim Sanders, North Texas transfer Oscar Adaway and South Carolina State transfer Jawarn Howell.

 Tennessee Volunteers

Former Five-Star Recruit Handed Reins to Offense

Joe Milton served as a placeholder last season, but he performed admirably under center for the Vols.  The future is now, though, as highly-touted phenom Nico Iamaleava is set to take hold of the starting job.  Iamaleava got a small taste in the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl versus Iowa, completing 12-of-19 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown.  He also rushed for three more scores in the 35-0 triumph over the Hawkeyes.  It is worth noting that Iowa only allowed over 20 points on three occasions last season, and the 35 points were a season-low for the vaunted Hawkeyes defense.  Knoxville is buzzing at the possibilities with Iamaleava under center.

 Texas Longhorns

Star-Studded Quarterback Room Needs Help From New Wideouts

Quinn Ewers and Arch Manning get an inordinate amount of pub for the Longhorns, which will not change anytime soon.  However, Texas is looking to replace its entire starting wide receiving corps in 2024.  Alabama transfer Isaiah Bond will look to replace speedster and NFL combine star Xavier Worthy as the squad's deep threat, but it was Adonai Mitchell who led last year's team with 11 receiving touchdowns, and Jordan Whittington was also no slouch with 505 yards through the air.  Along with Bond, the Longhorns also brought in Silas Bolden from Oregon State and Matthew Golden from Houston.  Texas also boasts talented freshmen like Ryan Wingo, Aaron Butler and Parker Livingstone.  Despite the new faces, the Texas passing attack could still be potent.

 Texas A&M Aggies

Plenty of Buzz in Aggieland at Quarterback Position

The intrigue at the quarterback position comes not from a change of scenery or a battle for playing time but rather the tantalizing upside of the incumbent, Conner Weigman.  Through last year's first three games, Weigman completed over 70 percent of his passes for 909 yards and eight touchdowns.  However, he suffered a season-ending leg injury in the fourth contest, and the A&M season spiraled from there.  Mike Elko is the new head coach, but Weigman should still be considered the heavy favorite to begin the season under center.  The Aggies also return running backs Amari Daniels and Le'Veon Moss, as well as wideout Moose Muhammad, Noah Thomas and Jahdae Walker.  In other words, Weigman should have plenty of weapons.  The bottom may have fallen out for A&M in 2023, but the 2024 campaign certainly looks a lot brighter with a healthy Weigman flinging the pigskin.

 Vanderbilt Commodores

Influx of Transfers Yield Possibilities to End Misery

The quarterback room for the Commodores will look completely different this season.  That could be a good change, though, as Vandy has struggled mightily in recent seasons to find stability under center.  Diego Pavia arrives from New Mexico State having accounted for almost 4,000 yards of total offense and 33 combined touchdowns for the Aggies a season ago.  Given his success and experience last year, the job appears to be Pavai's to lose.  In an odd twist, Pavia's backup at NMSU, Blaze Berlowitz, also transferred to Vanderbilt.  The duo will battle with another transfer, former Utah quarterback Nate Johnson, for the starting job.  Johnson played more sparingly for the Utes in 2023, though he has flashed a similar dual-threat skill set.  The Commodores return Sedrick Alexander at running back and Quincy Skinner at wide receiver, so whoever ends up starting should have some capable options.

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Jesse Siegel
Siegel covers college football, college basketball and minor league baseball for RotoWire. He was named College Sports Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.
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