Every SEC football team’s top priority headed into the offseason
The national championship has come and gone, and the long, dark offseason is officially upon SEC Country.
It was a fascinating year of parity for the conference, with 10 teams finishing the regular season with somewhere between six and eight wins. For many teams, that was a huge accomplishment – for others, it was a disaster that immediately earns coaches spots on the hot seat.
But now, every coach has a long to-do list before the 2017 season starts in just 227 days. Here is what each SEC team’s top priority should be headed into the 2017 offseason.
Alabama: Watch the title game on repeat
Alabama has nothing to be ashamed of after losing one of the best national championship games of all time. Even though the Crimson Tide lost, they played a fantastic game and still deserve to be thought of as a transcendent football team. Unfortunately, that won’t make the offseason any friendlier. Expect Nick Saban to recruit even more five-stars, then retreat into a football bunker until he figures out the perfect defense for a wide receiver pick play. The Empire will strike back.
Arkansas: Find a defensive coordinator
In a strange move, Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck poached defensive coordinator Robb Smith away from Arkansas. Considering the Razorbacks ranked No. 63 in defensive S&P+, Razorbacks fans are generally ready to move on. Bret Bielema is a former defensive coordinator, but the Razorbacks need to do better on that side of the ball. There are strong rumors that Bielema might promote defensive backs coach Paul Rhoads. He’s the former head coach at Iowa State and was a decent coordinator at Pitt and Auburn. However, the pressure will be high.
Auburn: Resolve the quarterback position
Heading into the 2016 season, Auburn struggled to find even one quarterback to toss onto the field. After Sean White’s emergence, the Tigers have a legitimate quarterback battle on their hands. Former five-star Jarrett Stidham will join the Tigers with three years of eligibility remaining. Stidham is a more talented player than White, but will Gus Malzahn take the starting job from a proven commodity? Only time will tell.
Florida: Figure out that offense
Florida has been the most consistent program in the SEC East. In fact, when Steve Spurrier, Gary Pinkel and Mark Richt departed during or after the 2015 season, it left Jim McElwain as the only SEC East coach who has won an SEC East championship at their current school. That said, McElwain is supposed to be an offensive coach, but Florida has been winning with Will Muschamp’s defensive recruits. With those players starting to graduate and defensive coordinator Geoff Collins gone to Temple, this will be a vital proving ground for McElwain.
Georgia: Find some linemen
Georgia featured two of the best running backs in America, but both struggled to produce behind an inconsistent offensive line. Now that Greg Pyke, Brandon Kublanow and Tyler Catalina are all graduating, it could get even worse. However, the Bulldogs currently boast the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation. It features three offensive linemen ranked in the top 100, and a four-star junior college tackle to boot. Offensive line is one of the toughest positions to gain instant contributors, but Georgia has a few who should play right away.
Kentucky: Sell recruits on momentum
Mark Stoops has been able to recruit for a while, but he can finally sell incoming high schoolers on results instead of just hope. The Wildcats are off to a good start. Kentucky boasts the No. 23 recruiting class in the nation. However, this is a chance for Stoops to push for some of the higher prospects.
LSU: Innovate on offense
As every SEC fan will remember, LSU’s defense had a performance for the ages against Alabama. Even though it ended in a 10-0 loss, the defense is there. Now, the offense must follow. New offensive coordinator Matt Canada has an outstanding running back in Derrius Guice. The rest of the field is a little more questionable. Canada led a hyper-productive offense at Pittsburgh. Finding new ways to use LSU’s talent advantages will be his first priority.
Mississippi State: Surround Nick Fitzgerald with talent
Obviously, Mississippi State took its expected step back after losing all-time great quarterback Dak Prescott to the Dallas Cowboys. While he’s considered one of the best signal-callers in recent memory, his tenure with the Cowboys might have grown his legend. Nick Fitzgerald is no Dak, but he’s quickly developing as a player. In fact, Fitzgerald finished with just under 3,800 total yards and 37 touchdowns in his first season. Now, Dan Mullen needs to find quality players to fit around his newfound quarterback.
Missouri: Find an identity
For years under Gary Pinkel, Missouri was one of the most underrated programs in the nation. In fact, the Tigers won a pair of SEC East championships and even earned a top five ranking. However, the program was thrown into peril after the protests at Missouri last year. Barry Odom tried to hold it together in 2016, but the Tigers were the worst program in the SEC. Odom will have plenty of time to figure things out, but Missouri needs to regain its identity. Whether it’s the high-flying air raid, or finding more underrated defensive linemen, the Tigers just need a “thing” again.
Ole Miss: Build relationships, consistency
The Rebels are in a tough position after replacing both the offensive and defensive coordinators on a 5-7 team. New offensive coordinator Phil Longo is a fascinating hire after leading Sam Houston State to the best FCS offense in the nation. Defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff is more familiar after formerly serving as a position coach for the Rebels. However, both will quickly need to acclimate themselves with the personnel during the offseason. The Rebels only have three tune-up games before facing Alabama and Auburn in consecutive weeks in 2017.
South Carolina: Recruit, recruit, recruit
If there’s one thing that has never been in question, it’s Will Muschamp’s recruiting ability. South Carolina was an underdeveloped roster thanks to shortcomings in Steve Spurrier’s final seasons, but Muschamp is the perfect man to turn that around. The Gamecocks already have a top 15 recruiting class that features five top 300 players. If Muschamp can get few more top prospects in the final month, it will be the perfect bow on his first season.
Tennessee: Rebuild star talent
Despite the poor finish, Tennessee featured plenty of superstars on the roster. Derek Barnett had an argument for best player in the conference, while Cameron Sutton and Jaylen Reeves-Maybin also ranked near the top of their positions when healthy. Josh Dobbs, Alvin Kamara and Josh Malone made for a dynamic set of triplets on offense. All six of those players are gone. Butch Jones has his work cut out trying to replace the group, who could all be NFL draft picks.
Texas A&M: Find a quarterback
Remember the days when Texas A&M had quarterback talent for days on the roster? Well, after a series of wild weeks in 2015, five-stars Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray both left. Trevor Knight was an excellent stopgap, but now Kevin Sumlin will have to decide between former JUCO Jake Hubenak, redshirt freshman Nick Starkel or true freshmen Kellen Mond or Connor Blumrick. Hubenak probably will come away with the job, but Sumlin showed little faith in him during the season.
Vanderbilt: Build recruiting momentum
It will always be difficult to recruit top talent to Vanderbilt, but the Commodores have fallen on hard times. James Franklin’s final class was ranked No. 26 in the nation and featured Zach Cunningham, Ralph Webb and Oren Burks. The 2017 class is ranked No. 64 in the nation and by far the worst in the SEC. That ranks behind UCF, Colorado State and Rutgers. Vanderbilt now has momentum to sell. Derek Mason needs to capitalize.