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 …
Spring football is well underway again in the SEC, where 11 teams have already held their first practice sessions of the offseason. And like last year, a handful of high-profile quarterback battles will shape the spring ball story lines over the coming weeks.
As they should. Quarterbacks may draw undue praise and criticism at times, but mediocrity at that position will obviously restrict otherwise good offenses. We saw that across the conference last season at places like Auburn, Florida and LSU.
Spring practice won’t always provide a final answer for teams with question marks under center. With coaches so intent on controlling what the public can and can’t see, we often learn very little of substance — especially when it comes to quarterbacks. It’s always an open competition with no timetable set, and if none of the candidates play especially well, there’s no need to name a starter before fall camp.
However, the spring can give fans a glimpse of what’s to come in the fall. Jalen Hurts broke out at Alabama’s A-Day scrimmage, and Jacob Eason flashed his NFL arm during Georgia’s spring game. So, with that said, let’s take a brief look at the SEC’s biggest battles right now:
- The favorite: Danny Etling
- The other contenders: Justin McMillan, Lindsey Scott
- The dark horse: Lowell Narcisse
- Not yet on campus: Myles Brennan
LSU won’t be able to rely on the same names who propelled the program to 8-4 last season. The offense loses Leonard Fournette, Ethan Pocic, Josh Boutte, Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural, while the defense waves goodbye to Jamal Adams, Tre’Davious White, Kendell Beckwith, Davon Godchaux and Duke Riley. That’s a ton of talent for coach Ed Orgeron to replace.
LSU will absolutely need more production out of the quarterback in 2017 to avoid a drop-off.
Etling, the ex-Purdue incumbent, ran the first-team offense during LSU’s first practice last weekend. The senior holds the most game experience by far and gives the Tigers a reliable game manager, if nothing else. But he may not be the best fit for new coordinator Matt Canada’s system — one that, among other things, should feature far less I-formation ground and pound than the Les Miles era did. (And across the state of Louisiana, there was much rejoicing.)
Publicly, Orgeron has deferred all quarterback questions to his offensive chief. Canada did start senior pocket passer Nathan Peterman at Pittsburgh last season, for whatever that’s worth. How he divides up reps this spring, particularly with dual-threats Scott and Narcisse in the mix, will be interesting to follow.
- The favorite: Feleipe Franks
- The other contenders: Kyle Trask, Luke Del Rio
- The dark horse: Kadarius Toney
- Not yet on campus: Jake Allen
We’re entering our third season of Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier at Florida, and the program is still looking for reliability at quarterback. So, whomever those two pick should draw scrutiny one way or the other.
After taking a redshirt during his first year on campus, Franks looks poised to seize the starting job with Del Rio sidelined by shoulder surgery. The former 4-star recruit opened spring practice as the Gators’ first-team quarterback and looked good leading the offense, too.
Franks possesses an SEC-caliber arm, sure. But have his accuracy and decision-making abilities improved since he arrived at UF? That’ll be the question of the spring for this team.
Trask, another redshirt freshman, can also put some muscle behind his throws and possesses ideal size (6-foot-4, 238 pounds). Del Rio, who completed 57 percent of his passes for 1,358 yards, 8 touchdowns and 8 interceptions last season, will still factor into the mix once he has fully recovered.
The battle features a pair of wild cards, too. Toney, a shifty 3-star athlete who enrolled early, has received reps at quarterback this spring. Fellow 2017 signee Jake Allen hasn’t made it to campus yet, but Florida fans shouldn’t totally count out the fiery newcomer.
- The favorites: Jarrett Guarantano, Quinten Dormady
- The other contender: Sheriron Jones
- The dark horse: Will McBride
Josh Dobbs might be gone, but Tennessee has strong candidates to replace him in what is essentially a two-man race. Interestingly enough, they possess noticeably different skill sets.
Dormady, a junior and more of a pocket passer, spent the past two seasons as Dobb’s primary backup. Guarantano signed with the Vols as a 5-star recruit — the No. 1 dual-threat prospect in the Class of 2016, in fact — and redshirted during his first year on campus. Both have been widely acknowledged as front-runners to earn the job this spring; Jones and McBride, in all likelihood, won’t seriously factor into the competition.
Given the offensive success Butch Jones enjoyed with Dobbs at the helm and the up-tempo spread scheme he employs, you’d think Guarantano might have a slight edge here. Dobbs started games as a true freshman and sophomore before taking over the job full time in 2015, so lack of experience won’t necessarily work against Guarantano this spring, either.
Tennessee lost a ton of talent across the board this offseason. In addition to graduating Dobbs, the Vols will feature new starters at tailback, receiver, defensive end, linebacker and cornerback this fall. Why not get a completely fresh start under center in what certainly looks like a rebuilding year?
- The favorite: Jake Hubenak
- The other contenders: Kellen Mond, Nick Starkel
- The dark horse: Connor Blumrick
Kevin Sumlin will be coaching for his job in 2017, and whoever he tabs to succeed Trevor Knight should draw plenty of scrutiny because of it.
Trying to predict who he’ll name, however, seems like an exercise in futility. Hubenak has the most experience, obviously, but didn’t exactly wow anyone while filling in for Knight last fall. Starkel, a 3-star signee who profiles as more of a pocket passer, redshirted last season. Mond and Blumrick are the newcomers.
So, that’s one senior journeyman and three guys with a total of zero games played in college. Just how Texas A&M drew it up, right?
The Aggies famously made Johnny Manziel their starter as a redshirt freshman, and athletic quarterbacks certainly seem to thrive under Sumlin. So, my money’s on Mond, the 4-star freshman who enjoyed a great senior season starting for IMG Academy: 1,803 yards passing, 757 yards rushing and 36 total touchdowns in 10 games. Yeah, that should do.
The rest of the Texas A&M offense will undergo major transition, as well, with the departures of Ricky Seals-Jones, Speedy Noil, Josh Reynolds, Jermaine Eluemunor and Avery Gennesy. Whether it’s Mond or someone else who wins that job, the 2017 season might not be pretty.
- The favorite: Jarrett Stidham
- The other contenders: Sean White, Woody Barrett
- The dark horse: Malik Willis
- Moving to receiver: John Franklin III
Technically a battle, but in actuality this has to be Stidham’s job to lose. White can’t stay healthy, while Barrett and Willis haven’t seen a college snap yet. Can Baylor’s boy wonder can thrive in the SEC West? Gus Malzahn sure hopes so.
Anywhere else? We have one school in mind
Every other SEC team returns its starting quarterback from last season, so, in theory, there shouldn’t be a position battle. Stephen Johnson should keep the job at Kentucky and Shea Patterson has taken the reins at Ole Miss. But there’s one school that could provide a little drama this spring.
That’s Alabama, which hired Brian Daboll as offensive coordinator after Steve Sarkisian left for Atlanta. Jalen Hurts, as I’ve written before, didn’t truly progress as a passer and over-relied on his athleticism in 2016 as a true freshman.
Hurts will run with the first team when spring practice begins, as he should. But a slew of transfers at quarterback means mid-year enrollees Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones are in line to be his primary backups at the very least. They could pressure Hurts for the job once they get up to speed on offense.
Of course, Hurts will be learning a new offense, too, and Daboll’s scheme sure sounds like it’ll be more pro style than what Lane Kiffin ran last season.
Imagine if Hurts lost his starting job after leading Alabama to the national championship game as a true freshman. How insane would that be? Then again, the Crimson Tide recruit at an equally insane level.
Is SEC basketball close to taking the next step?
The conference got five teams into the Big Dance this season, thanks to Vanderbilt’s late surge. Kentucky’s John Calipari thinks the SEC can get nine teams into the NCAA Tournament sometime soon.
“As good as we’ve been since I’ve been here. This is it,” Calipari said. “And we’re young. Our youngins are leaving, but that’s OK because I’ve got the cavalry coming in behind.”
When you look some of the great coaches the SEC has hired lately, I have to agree with coach Cal. Avery Johnson at Alabama. Rick Barnes at Tennessee. Ben Howland at Mississippi State. Mike White at Florida. Frank Martin at South Carolina. Bruce Pearl at Auburn.
Compare that to when Calipari first arrived at UK in 2009, when the coaching names included Jeff Lebo, John Pelphrey, Trent Johnson and Darrin Horn.
The SEC’s talent base should continue to improve along with the coaching. Alabama just pulled in a top-5 signing class and Mississippi State secured the nation’s No. 9 class in the previous recruiting cycle. Vandy made the tourney in Bryce Drew’s first season as coach and Florida is already dancing again in White’s second season.
Why didn’t everything come together for the SEC this past season? As Calipari pointed out, youth and inexperience played a part. Arkansas thrust a trio of junior college signees into prominent roles. Four of South Carolina’s top six scorers were either sophomores or freshmen. Mississippi State and Alabama both feature young studs such as Quinndary Weatherspoon and Braxton Key, respectively.
Also consider the addition of former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese as SEC basketball consultant and the conference’s future on the hardcourt actually looks pretty bright.
4 easy picks to keep your bracket intact
With Selection Sunday past us, we’ve got a few days to conduct the most maddening exercise in the world of sports predictions: filling out the tourney bracket.
By Saturday, a litany of first- and second-round upsets will have your bracket in flames, dooming you to be shamed by everyone else in the office pool. I’m no bracket expert by any means — I reached my pick ’em peak back when Steph Curry was dropping 3-pointers for Davidson — but, because I’m a charitable sports writer, here are a few easy “upset” picks to make this week.
1. SMU over Baylor
Assuming both advance to the Round of 32, SMU will have extended its winning streak to 17 games. The Mustangs are red hot and full of perimeter scoring threats, including former Duke player Semi Ojeleye. That’s a dangerous combo.
2. Princeton over Notre Dame
Rule 1: Always pick the Ivy League team. Rule 2: Always pick against Notre Dame.
3. Wichita State over Dayton
What was the committee thinking here? Wichita State deserved much better than a No. 10 seed, and now poor Dayton will have to take a beating because of it.
4. Middle Tennessee State over Minnesota
Overrated Minnesota lost five straight to Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Maryland. Sad!
Headlines from around SEC Country
- EXCLUSIVE: Derek Willis thanks Big Blue Nation for being there for him (Kyle Tucker)
- Arkansas staffer jabs Malik Monk before SEC title game (Kyle Tucker)
- Next Generation: How a former Gator, hard-knocks youth football turned Jake Allen into Florida QB (Zach Abolverdi)
- Tennessee coach Rick Barnes’ painful parting thoughts from SEC Tournament (Mike Griffith)
- South Carolina players ‘shocked’ by Brandon McIlwain’s transfer (Mike Wilson)
- 5 things you need to know about Alabama basketball vs. Richmond (Ken Bradley)
- Arkansas and Seton Hall awfully similar — and 3 more things about Hogs’ first-round opponent (Eric Bolin)
- Jeremy Johnson: Not dwelling on disappointments, former Auburn QB working for another chance (Lauren Shute)
- LSU football: Overreacting to early spring football happenings (Nick Suss)
- The 13 best dunks, swats and other highlights from the SEC Tournament (Alex Martin Smith)
- From SEC to FCS, Brendan Langley reflects on decision to leave Georgia: ‘Very humbling experience’ (Alec Shirkey)
What you need to know (besides football)
The Ringer produced a very fine work of journalism titled “THE TOP 50 FAST FOOD ITEMS IN AMERICA.” Chick-fil-A accounted for four of the top 13 spots on the list (fries, original sandwich, nuggets and spicy sandwich), because The Ringer is good and just. Supporters of any other fast-food establishment can get out of here, because Chick-fil-A blows them all away. And for those who would call me a homophobe just for liking its chicken — let enjoy my damn sandwich in peace, OK?
The inclusion of Five Guys (meh), McNuggets (yuck) and faux-ice cream shake hybrids such as the Frosty anywhere near the top 10 are highly questionable at best, as is the utter absence of Cook Out.
Here’s a real fast food ranking:
- Chick-fil-A sandwich
- ShakeShack burger
- Raising Cane’s chicken fingers
- McDonald’s fries
- Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supreme
Final Word: Everybody hates Tim Tebow
All the vitriol produced by Tim Tebow, the New York Mets outfielder, is so peculiar to me. Why all the hate?
If you hate him for being bad at baseball, which he is, consider that he hasn’t actively played the sport since high school. If you hate him because he continues to stay in the spotlight, something he clearly loves, consider that he is a model human being in almost every other way. And if you hate him for the unwarranted media coverage of his baseball career, of which there is plenty, maybe ask yourself why Tebow gets so much attention.
Spoiler: It’s because people, whether out of love or hate, are really interested to see how he fares this spring. The most-read article on SEC Country this month? You guessed it: Tim Tebow gets amazing standing ovation after run-scoring double play. The days of the two-sport athlete are no more and we haven’t seen an athlete of this magnitude try to make a mid-career switch since Michael Jordan tried (and failed) to leave basketball behind.
If anything, the hatred here should be directed toward the New York Mets for clearly using Tebow’s celebrity as a way to curry up attention and interest at a time when most casual fans are busy following March Madness.
Besides, Tebow won’t even sniff the Major League roster. By April, he’ll be playing for some obscure Mets affiliate and, to the pleasure of all you haters, out of the spotlight.
By the way, he got his first hit Monday.
After an 0-8 start in the Grapefruit League, Tim Tebow gets his first hit vs the Marlins today: pic.twitter.com/tGXKPSWnGj
— Paxton Boyd (@paxton) March 13, 2017