SEC Football: 10 Bold Predictions for Fall Camp
Summer workouts are underway, the schedule for SEC media days is set and watch lists are being released.
Before we know it, pads will be popping and fall camp will be underway around the southeast.
Quarterback battles will dominate headlines, but there are other issues around the SEC.
Which position battles will be resolved, and which will linger into the season? Our top 10 bold predictions for fall camp are in this slideshow.
Texas A&M's QB Battle Will Last Longer Than Anticipated
The battle to replace Johnny Manziel as Texas A&M's quarterback is one of the biggest storylines of this offseason, and it will last well into fall camp.
Matt Joeckel transferred out of the program following spring practice, leaving sophomore Kenny Hill and true freshman early enrollee Kyle Allen vying for the top spot on the depth chart.
With South Carolina looming on Aug. 28 on the road to open the season, head coach Kevin Sumlin better make the right choice, because one conference loss in the SEC West eliminates all margin for error in the race for the division title.
Sumlin knows this, and he knows what's at stake with this decision. Sure, taking his time does eliminate first-team snaps from the eventual winner. But since Hill is a dual-threat and Allen is more of a traditional pro-style quarterback who can move, they're both running different variations of the same offense anyway.
That will allow Sumlin to take his time to see which direction he wants to go with the offense. Will the quarterback battle last to game week? Maybe not that long, but 10 days from kickoff is a reasonable possibility.
Missouri Will Struggle to Find Its New Offensive Identity
The dismissal of former blue-chip wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham will undoubtedly be a concern, but Missouri's problems at wide receiver run much deeper than that.
Leading receiver L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas are both gone as well, which leaves Bud Sasser (26 rec., 361 yards, 1 TD) as Missouri's leading returning receiver. All of the sudden, the downfield passing game—which was in good hands with Green-Beckham and quarterback Maty Mauk—is more of a concern than initially anticipated.
Can Sasser step up? How will fellow senior Jimmie Hunt factor into the mix? Will former Texas Longhorn and 5-star prospect Darius White live up to the hype? Those questions won't be answered this spring.
Green-Beckham's departure could change the dynamic of Missouri's offense, and it came at a bad time—late in spring practice. Whether he was getting the ball or not, DGB would have drawn attention and allowed the Tigers offense to filter around him. Now Missouri has to find a new offensive identity, which will take some time during fall camp.
South Carolina Will Find Depth in the Trenches
Defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney is gone, as are Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton. So South Carolina will struggle, right?
J.T. Surratt is an established defensive tackle who's been around the block, Darius English is quick off the edge and has what it takes to be a force in passing situations, Gerald Dixon is a bigger defensive end who's perfectly suited for the strong-side end in defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward's scheme and Gerald Dixon Jr. is a solid defensive tackle who can take up multiple blocks inside.
On top of that, newcomer Abu Lamin could provide depth in the middle, and Phillip Dukes and Kelsey Griffin will push starting roles
Despite losing three starters up front, South Carolina has all the pieces to boast a stellar two-deep up front in 2014.
Justin Worley Will Be Tennessee's Starting QB
Tennessee's four-man quarterback battle was reduced to three after spring practice, when news surfaced that redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson is expected to transfer, according to Evan Woodbery of GoVolsXtra.com.
That leaves senior Justin Worley, redshirt sophomore Nathan Peterman and true sophomore Joshua Dobbs battling for the job in fall camp.
Worley will win that battle.
The 6'4", 224-pounder sat out the final month of the 2013 season with a thumb injury, but he had his two best games of the season prior to getting injured versus Alabama, completing 55.3 percent of his passes for 394 yards, two touchdowns and zero picks against Georgia and South Carolina.
Are those eye-popping stats? No. Not by any means. But Dobbs threw six picks over the final four games of last season, and the last thing Tennessee needs is a quarterback who makes mistakes.
Worley struggled with accuracy downfield last season, but wide receivers Marquez North, Josh Malone and Von Pearson can help him out and another year in the system will help his confidence.
Georgia Will Find Playmakers in Its Secondary
Starting safety Josh Harvey-Clemons—gone. Possible starting cornerback Shaq Wiggins—gone. Starting safety Tray Matthews—gone.
Three of the four holes on Georgia's defense exist because of transfer or dismissal, which makes new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's job more like solving a Rubik's Cube than a jigsaw puzzle. But it's not impossible.
Georgia's secondary was awful last year, but it wasn't due to lack of talent. It was due to lack of coaching.
That's fixed thanks to Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino's decision to hire Todd Grantham away from Athens and Pruitt's arrival between the hedges. Players like Corey Moore, Quincy Mauger and J.J. Green will be fine at the safety spots. Brenden Langley could come back to the defensive backfield from wide receiver, Reggie Wilkerson could push for playing time at corner or safety after bursting on to the scene last spring prior to tearing his ACL and Tramel Terry is still a work in progress after moving from wide receiver. The Bulldogs also could get a boost from junior college transfer cornerback Shattle Fenteng.
There are options—talented options. That will become apparent by mid-August.
Ole Miss Will Get Bigger at RB
Head coach Hugh Freeze has used perimeter running game to get to back-to-back bowl games, with quarterback Bo Wallace shouldering most of the load between the tackles. The result has been fantastic for the team, but painful for Wallace—who's dealt with nagging shoulder issues for the last two seasons.
That will change in 2014.
Mark Dodson (5'10", 198 pounds) and Jordan Wilkins (6'1", 209 pounds) give Freeze options between the tackles, which will help keep defenses honest, Wallace healthy and allow those smaller running backs like I-Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton even more room outside to work with.
Ole Miss will evolve more into a Gus Malzahn-style ground-and-pound attack in 2014 thanks to between-the-tackles runners and open passing lanes for Wallace, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and tight end Evan Engram.
Florida Will Find Its Downfield Threat
Quarterback Jeff Driskel takes a lot of the heat, but a big reason Florida's offense has been so mediocre over the last few years is an absence of a downfield threat in the passing game.
Demarcus Robinson is that threat.
The rising sophomore was in and out of head coach Will Muschamp's doghouse as a freshman last season, but he showed flashes of brilliance this spring, including five catches for 53 yards and a touchdown in the spring game, according to stats released by Florida.
A nice foundation, sure. But the best is yet to come.
Robinson will take the next step and become Driskel's go-to guy this August. As a result, the rest of the Gators offense will open up for Driskel and new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper.
Auburn Will Be Unsettled Along the Defensive Line
A big reason Auburn was successful in 2010 and 2013 was a defensive line that rotated eight and nine players up front, allowing the Tigers to stay fresh in the trenches for a full game.
They'll be able to do that again in 2014, but the specific roles won't be defined until late in fall camp or early in the season. Defensive end Carl Lawson's status is up in the air after offseason knee surgery, according to Brandon Marcello of AL.com. His absence, along with fellow defensive end LaDarius Owens, forced Auburn to play primarily out of its "rhino" package—which features defensive tackle Gabe Wright lining up at end—during the spring game.
If Lawson's injury forces him to miss games, it could force that package to become more prevalent in games and/or some freshmen to take on bigger roles as dedicated pass-rushers.
Auburn knows what it has with tackles Wright, Montravius Adams and Lawson when he's healthy. But the uncertainty with Lawson will force defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson to mix-and-match different players into different roles throughout fall camp, which could give off the perception that Auburn is panicking a bit—even though it isn't.
2 Freshmen Will Start at CB for Alabama
One of Alabama's biggest question marks heading into the 2014 season will be at cornerback, where several candidates will vie for the two open spots.
Two freshmen will win those spots.
Tony Brown already established himself as a bona fide candidate this spring, capping it off with a pick in the spring game and praise from Bleacher Report's Lead Alabama Writer Christopher Walsh. Marlon Humphrey will join the battle this summer, which features Cyrus Jones, Bradley Sylve and several other veterans, none of whom could solidify a spot last year.
Brown and Humphrey—both of whom were 5-star prospects—have the most upside in a talented, yet underachieving defensive backfield. They'll be starters come kickoff in the Georgia Dome against West Virginia.
Brandon Harris Will Be Named LSU's Starting QB Early in August
Before spring practice, it'd be a stretch to think that LSU head coach Les Miles would trot out a true freshman quarterback against Wisconsin in the opener with so much other uncertainty on the roster.
After spring practice, it became much more of a possibility after Anthony Jennings struggled and Brandon Harris displayed dynamic dual-threat playmaking ability in the spring game.
In August, it will become a reality—despite the fact that Jennings is labeled as the "likely starter" on his bio on LSU's website.
Harris will win the job outright over Jennings early in fall camp and be announced as the LSU starting quarterback after just two weeks of practice. He has the passing ability to make all the throws that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron wants and the legs to be a weapon when things break down.
He'll make some freshman mistakes, but the upside will be apparent from Day 1.