Welcome to The Crock Pot, your one-stop shop for all the SEC news, notes, quotes and mishaps of the past week. Here’s what we’ve been stewing over …
Seven of the SEC’s 14 spring games are already behind us, with five taking place last weekend, and two more will kick off this Friday and Saturday (Kentucky and Missouri, respectively).
Soon enough, summer will arrive, and with it little of major substance occurring in the college football world. So we’re going to maximize the time we do have to discuss the SEC gridiron while spring practice is still underway for half the conference.
The weekend that was: A recap of sorts
Florida: The Feleipe Franks hype grows
By all accounts, the redshirt freshman quarterback enjoyed a commendable performance in the Gators’ spring game Friday night, completing 8 of 14 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown.
With incumbent starter Luke Del Rio sidelined all spring while recovering from two shoulder procedures, Franks and fellow redshirt freshman Kyle Trask have dominated the Florida QB talk of late. But the spring game underscored just how far ahead Franks, a former 4-star recruit, is compared to his competition.
Trask finished just 6 of 15 for 66 yards and an interception. True freshman Kadarius Toney also joined the mix at quarterback, and though his dual-threat skills make him an exciting newcomer, he naturally has some catching up to do to learn the scheme.
Del Rio will get a chance to keep his job in fall camp, and as Florida great Danny Wuerffel notes, fans shouldn’t totally count him out of the competition just yet. Del Rio may not have wowed anyone last fall, when he threw for 1,358 passing yards, 8 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in 6 starts, but he also played hurt. The redshirt junior should push Franks to continue getting better as the season approaches, at the very least.
Whether or not Franks starts against Michigan, Gators fans have to feel optimistic about his spring. Excluding Will Grier’s half season in The Swamp, they haven’t had a true passing threat under center since … well, Tim Tebow. Franks may not be there quite yet, but his arm talent alone has to give Florida hope that maybe the program’s quarterback drought is close to ending.
“I think he’s ahead. There’s no doubt about it,” coach Jim McElwain said of Franks.
It's remarkable how far Feleipe Franks' fundamentals have come along in a year pic.twitter.com/ffuhL4mCVH
— SEC Chalkboard (@SECchalkboard) April 10, 2017
Auburn: Jarrett Stidham looks like ‘the guy’
Weeks ago, I wrote that the Auburn quarterback job was Stidham’s to lose, and on Saturday the Baylor transfer looked the part of starter.
In one half of action, Stidham went 16 of 20 passing for 267 yards and added a 1-yard rushing touchdown. A 50-yard completion to Nate Craig-Myers highlighted his standout performance.
“I thought he managed the offense well,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “I thought that he protected the football, that’s really where it starts. It was good for him to get out there in front of a crowd. He hasn’t been in front of a crowd playing football in a long time, so I think overall it was good for him and it looked like the receivers made some plays, too.”
Of the SEC quarterbacks mired in battles this spring, Stidham’s showing might be the most important by simple virtue of the other talent Auburn returns. Kevin Steele has done a tremendous job of rebuilding the Tigers defense, which ranked in the upper half of the conference last season, and his unit has blue-chip studs like Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson poised to replace outgoing stars Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams.
And the offense promises to feature a dangerous collection of young playmakers, including Craig-Myers, Darius Slayton, Eli Stove, Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson.
Last year’s 8-5 Auburn squad was stout at almost every position save for quarterback. If Malzahn has finally addressed that need with Stidham, the Tigers look like the team that could challenge Alabama in the SEC West.
— Scott Griffin (@griffsz) April 8, 2017
Ole Miss: New faces everywhere, but will it feel different?
A bowl ban and an offseason of major change will define the 2017 Rebels, who are hoping to distance themselves from last season’s 5-7 mess as quickly as possible.
Gone from Oxford are last year’s offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, starting quarterback and top two receivers. Long gone are most of the stars from the team’s 2015 Sugar Bowl run. Ole Miss entered spring young at the skill positions and in the secondary, and there’s been urgency to develop those projected starters this spring.
Shea Patterson will get a full offseason working with the first-team offense after Chad Kelly’s injury pressed him into action last November, and the good news is that he’ll have plenty of studs to target. Van Jefferson, A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf highlight a smattering of young talent at receiver, which should ease the sting of losing Evan Engram, Quincy Adeboyejo and Damore’ea Stringfellow.
Coordinator Phil Longo’s air raid offense was absurdly efficient at Sam Houston State and should maximize what talent Ole Miss already has at those spots, too.
On defense, Wesley McGriff hopes to revitalize a unit that got absolutely torched in 2016, and from what I saw in practice, the former Auburn coach had his guys flying around the field full-throttle.
“He expects more out of the DBs than any group on the field, because we’re the last line of defense. I’ve never had a coach that’s pushed me to reach higher levels and better myself like that. I appreciate him and all he’s brought,” sophomore Myles Hartsfield said.
That Ole Miss players appear motivated now is a good sign, because that’ll be the single-biggest factor for a team without any hope of making the postseason.
Shea Patterson to A.J. Brown pic.twitter.com/HY36Qdckup
— Land Shark Nation™ (@LandSharkNation) April 8, 2017
Mississippi State: Promising signs on defense
I wrote about MSU’s spring game at greater length here after spending my Saturday in Starkville, but here’s the abridged version:
Nick Fitzgerald threw 4 interceptions and backup Keytaon Thompson finished 6 of 20, but neither is cause for any real concern. That’s because Mississippi State’s top three returning wideouts didn’t play at all, nor did two starting offensive linemen.
The Bulldogs ran out a bunch of unproven guys at receiver, including guys like Reggie Todd, Jamal Couch and Jesse Jackson, and Fitzgerald didn’t hesitate to launch some 50-50 balls toward the end zone. So maybe it’s no surprise the secondary came away with so many picks.
At the same time, the scrimmage wasn’t a bad look for new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who takes over a unit that finished 110th in total defense last season. The secondary struggled in particular, which makes the positive play we saw — Jamal Peters, Cameron Dantzler and JUCO safeties Jonathan Abram and Brian Cole highlighted the standouts — worth noting.
The kicking game, however, still looked shaky. Westin Graves hung up his cleats this offseason following back surgery and going 11 of 19 on field-goal attempts last year, and the two guys Dan Mullen trotted out for field goals went a combined 1-for-3. Tucker Day, a 2017 signee who arrives in the fall, could join the fray early.
This brutal hit by Jonathan Abram on Bennie Braswell ended Mississippi State's spring game early. pic.twitter.com/Yvlq3sJPIu
— William McFadden (@willmcfadden) April 8, 2017
Texas A&M: Will it be a lame duck year in Aggieland?
It’s no secret that many people in College Station and beyond are not happy with Kevin Sumlin, whose teams always seem to falter when confronted by the meat-grinder portion of their SEC schedule.
A prohibitively costly buyout is most likely what kept Sumlin around for 2017, and with expectations at Texas A&M higher than ever, anything short of a spectacular season won’t save him next time around.
That brings us to this year’s squad, which loses:
- Trevor Knight
- Three of its top four receivers, including the SEC’s receiving yards leader Josh Reynolds
- Both of its starting offensive tackles
- Star pass rushers Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall
- Standout safety Justin Evans
Freshman quarterbacks Kellen Mond and Nick Starkel have spent the spring trying to unseat Jake Hubenak at quarterback, but the spring scrimmage Saturday saw that trio combine to go 22 of 52 passing. Hubenak, a journeyman who has made spot starts in each of the past two seasons, is the least risky of the bunch but also offers limited upside. Mond and Starkel — two completely different molds of quarterback, it should be noted — clearly still have room to develop.
The Aggies’ 2017 gauntlet of opponents contains the usual divisional powers, but it also features road trips to UCLA (Week 1) and Florida (Week 7, immediately after the Alabama game). Throw in a potential upset bid by Arkansas or South Carolina, and it’s entirely possible A&M enters its bye week at 3-4 without having played Auburn or LSU.
This fall could get ugly fast if A&M can’t find reliable quarterback play early. Up the road, Texas is likely to bounce back with Tom Herman at the helm. Did Sumlin miss his window to win?
Highlight of the week: Tim TeGlow
As long as Tim Tebow keeps hitting home runs, I am contractually obligated to continue writing about them.
Fact: Tebow has hit more home runs than Kris Bryant in 2017.
— Columbia Fireflies (@ColaFireflies) April 9, 2017
Bad idea of the week: AJian
According to Alabama’s student newspaper, former Tide quarterback AJ McCarron is set to open a sushi restaurant in downtown Tuscaloosa, which is an absolutely perfect representation of McCarron’s personality. It’s called “AJian,” because of course.
But wait, here’s the best part:
Ajian Sushi will maintain the traditional proteins like smoked salmon and spicy tuna, but will also provide options like the flamin’ hot Cheeto roll, peanut butter and jelly roll and the banana and Nutella roll for more daring customers.
Ah, yes, cheesy industrial-quality American snacks paired with fine Japanese cuisine — a match made in heaven.
If Herschel Walker’s failed Athens restaurant venture has taught us anything, it’s that famous athletes should stick to being TV pitchmen for pizza and Gold Bond.
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) April 10, 2017
Headlines from around SEC Country
- Top Kentucky football signee Lynn Bowden not focused on comparisons: ‘I can only be me’ (Joe Mussatto)
- Kentucky hoops recruiting: Latest on Mohamed Bamba, Kevin Knox (Kyle Tucker)
- Alabama scrimmage recap: Jalen Hurts finding No. 1 target, RB depth is insane (Marq Burnett)
- Kerryon Johnson ‘just has to keep pushing’ after spring game ankle injury (Lauren Shute)
- Arkansas’ rushing attack may be best in the SEC next season (Eric Bolin)
- LSU loses commitment from JUCO WR Stephen Guidry (Sam Spiegelman)
- For former LSU center Ethan Pocic, waiting for the NFL is the hardest part (Alex Hickey)
- South Carolina DE targets with Xavier Thomas now off the board (Hale McGranahan)
- Report card: QBs Feleipe Franks, Kadarius Toney steal show in Florida’s spring game (Zach Abolverdi)
- Tennessee defensive playmakers emerge in Saturday scrimmage (Mike Griffith)
- The maturation of Jacob Eason at Georgia (Seth Emerson)
- Uber-confident Mississippi State RB Aeris Williams promises to be a workhorse in 2017 (Alec Shirkey)
What you need to know (besides football)
- Baseball: Mississippi State took two of three at home against SEC East leader Kentucky this weekend, thanks in large part to Brent Rooker’s spectacular week at the plate. He hit .625 with 6 home runs and 13 RBIs in 5 games. Elsewhere, LSU won its series against Arkansas and Texas A&M did the same vs. Auburn, resulting in a three-way tie atop the SEC West. We’ve got a handful of in-state matchups set for Tuesday night, highlighted by Florida-Florida State and Georgia-Georgia Tech, followed by a big weekend series between the Gators and Vanderbilt in Nashville.
- Softball: Texas A&M’s Lexi Smith pitched a complete game one-hitter on Sunday as the Aggies blanked Oklahoma, 7-0. That kept them riding shotgun in the SEC standings (35-3) behind Florida, which has won seven straight games entering Monday night. UF will face off with No. 2 Florida State on Wednesday and then travels to Lexington for a weekend series at Kentucky.
- Gymnastics: Four SEC squads qualified for the national semifinals, which take place on Friday: LSU, Alabama, Georgia and Florida. All four of those teams also happen to be competing in the same group of 12 semifinalist teams; only three of them can advance to the “Super Six” finals on Saturday. LSU and Florida, which entered regionals ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in the country, respectively, are considered the favorites. Alabama is ranked No. 6, and Georgia No. 10.
- Women’s basketball: Mississippi State and South Carolina both celebrated their respective runs to the national championship game this weekend. In Starkville, coach Vic Schaefer addressed a throng of MSU supporters in the center of town on Friday, while several players stuck around to pose for pictures with fans and sign autographs. The autograph signing continued on Saturday.
The line of people waiting to get autographs from the MSU women's basketball team. pic.twitter.com/aydOUJTn9G
— Gene Swindoll (@GeneSwindoll) April 8, 2017
Final Word: Read of the week
ESPN’s Sam Alipour published an interesting Q&A with Myles Garrett, the widely-projected No. 1 pick in this month’s NFL draft. Not all of the information is new. Garrett’s love of poetry and dinosaurs, for instance, have been written about by a handful of different reporters.
But there are also a few revealing moments where Garrett’s personality shines through. He takes a funny shot at the draft’s uncomfortable Roger Goodell hug-fest, too.
No, thank you. An awkward photo doing a side hug with the boss? I’d rather be hugging my family and friends.
It’s worth a read, if you have 10-15 minutes to kill.