Wednesday, July 6, 2022

SEC spring football overreactions: Alabama RB poised to power offense, Heisman contenders in SEC East

Spring practices have wrapped up around the SEC and “talkin’ season” is about to crank up, which means the takes will be flying. Fans around the country got a glimpse of what each team will look like over the last two months, and there’s no doubt that the hope of conference and national championships will blanket the region. 

Will Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett IV make another step forward and help the offense become one of the nation’s best? What will the 2022 Alabama offense look like? Is there a sleeper who could become a Heisman Trophy candidate? It’s time to overreact to everything we saw around the SEC this spring. Keep in mind: these are overreactions, not actual predictions.

Alabama

Running back Jahmyr Gibbs will lead the nation in rushing: OK, leading the nation might be a bit aggressive since the Crimson Tide is a pass-happy offense under QB Bryce Young. In the spring game, however, Gibbs looked the part. He had 100 yards on nine carries, which included a 75-yard touchdown run in the second half. Perhaps more important is the fact that he did so behind an offensive line that didn’t exactly look like it had fixed its issues from last season. Gibbs was one of the most highly touted transfer players in the country, and he landed in the perfect spot to shine.

Arkansas

The linebacking corps will be the best in the SEC: It was difficult to take much away from the Razorbacks’ spring game since weather forced it inside, but the linebacking corps looks like it won’t miss a beat without Grant Morgan and Hayden Henry. All-name team member Bumper Pool is a seasoned veteran who has already established himself as one of the best in the nation, and Alabama transfer Drew Sanders appeared to have the same kind of potential. 

“Drew Sanders. He’s a huge asset to the team,” quarterback KJ Jefferson said (via 247Sports). “What he brings on the defensive side of the ball is just great. He’s always around the ball, fast in space, makes plays, a guy that will come down in the box and hit you — thump you. Just him coming to Arkansas and just what he brings is awesome.”

Auburn

Robby Ashford will be QB1: The Oregon transfer looked good in the spring game when he completed 12 of 16 passes for 132 yards, and is by far the most versatile weapon in the four-man quarterback battle. It’s difficult to gauge rushing ability in spring games since quarterbacks aren’t tackled to the ground, but it looked like Ashford could have had a great day on the ground under normal circumstances. Zach Calzada has plenty of experience from his time at Texas A&M, TJ Finley started the last three games for Auburn last year and Holden Geriner could be the future; but Ashford has the upside to be a star this fall.

Florida

QB Anthony Richardson will be a Heisman Trophy finalist: The dual-threat weapon who saw sporadic playing time last year completed 18 of 24 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns in the Gators’ spring game and led touchdown drives on each of the first three drives. He added a rushing touchdown, too, but it’s hard to gauge how quarterbacks look on the ground when they aren’t tackled. With that said, he rushed for 401 yards, three touchdowns and averaged 7.86 yards per carry last year (which includes sack yardage). A multi-faceted quarterback who is on a high-profile team that is looking to lead a program turnaround in Year 1 is the perfect Heisman Trophy recipe.

Georgia

Stetson Bennett IV will throw for more than 3,500 yards: This is the first time in Bennett’s college career that he has received first-team snaps in the offseason, and it will pay off in a big way in the fall. He threw for 2,862 yards last year despite platooning with JT Daniels during the first half of the season. The wide receiving corps will look a little different, but the combination of experience, great recruiting and the best tight end room in college football history will vault Bennett into elite company in the Georgia quarterback record book.

Kentucky

QB Will Levis will vault into the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft: SEC fans know about Levis, and the rest of the world is about be introduced him as a bona fide stud. He already is creeping around the first round of some way-too-early mock drafts but will leave no doubt after what is sure to be a stellar senior season. He was 7-of-8 passing for 98 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game, and there’s way more from where that came.

LSU

The Tigers are a top-tier defensive front: Georgia’s defensive front led its push to the national title last year, and LSU’s will look rather similar. New defensive coordinator Matt House has a solid foundation to work with, including edge threat BJ Ojulari and veteran Ali Gaye. House isn’t married to a specific scheme, and that showed in the spring game with several different looks. The versatility and creativity on that roster will make it a force this fall.

Mississippi State

Will Rogers will top 50 touchdown passes: The Bulldogs spring game was moved inside and we weren’t able to get a glimpse of it on television. With that said, expect Rogers to absolutely light up opposing defenses in 2022. He threw 36 touchdowns in his first full season under center for coach Mike Leach, and another full offseason in the system will make him one of the best quarterbacks to ever play for the eccentric Air-Raid coach known as “The Pirate.”

Missouri

Nathaniel Peat will rush for 1,000 or more yards: Missouri’s spring game was actually in the winter. Semantics aside, Stanford transfer running back Nathaniel Peat — who rushed for a 23-yard touchdown in the spring game — looked like a fully capable replacement for departed star Tyler Badie. The Columbia, Missouri native rushed for 404 yards and three touchdowns for the Cardinal last season, and has the inside track on becoming the No. 1 running back now that he’s back home in the Show Me State.

Ole Miss

The Rebels will lead the nation in total offense: No Matt Corral, no problem. The battle between Luke Altmyer and Jaxson Dart under center will create a culture of competition that will translate into the ultimate level of offensive success for coach Lane Kiffin. He has a great running back corps comprised of TCU transfer Zach Evans and SMU transfer Ulysses Bentley IV, and Michael Trigg looked like the next receiving star in the spring game. All of that, combined with a lackluster defense that will force the Rebels to consistently score 40 or more points to be competitive, will make it the best in the country.

South Carolina

Spencer Rattler will finish in the top 10 in Heisman Trophy voting: This might not seem too bold based on the fact that he was the front-runner in the Heisman Trophy odds this time last year. But the national perception has changed dramatically after he lost the job at Oklahoma to Caleb Williams. Rattler still has the talent to top the 4,000-yard mark, even though his receiving corps isn’t as talented as the one he had in Norman. The Rattler redemption story will resonate with enough voters to get him inside the top 10 even though it’s unlikely that the Gamecocks will contend for the SEC title.

Tennessee

Hendon Hooker will lead the SEC in total offense: The second-year dual-threat weapon for the Volunteers is the unquestioned starter after taking over for Joe Milton early last season. He has an incredible arm, comfort in the system and plenty of talent around him to shine on Rocky Top. More importantly, he plays in the fastest offense in the country. The combination of talent and sheer quantity of plays that coach Josh Heupel will run helps vault Hooker to the top of the total offense chart.

Texas A&M

Conner Weigman will win the starting QB race: The freshman quarterback still has to beat out Haynes King and Max Johnson for the top spot on the depth chart, and was 7 of 19 for 116 yards and a touchdown in the spring game. Not exactly stellar numbers, right? But the former five-star standout showed off his arm strength on multiple occasions and has track star speed. He has far more upside than the other two primary contenders, and the comfort he will gain during fall camp will be enough to seal the deal for coach Jimbo Fisher.

Vanderbilt

The offense won’t be a problem: The Commodores have a solid quarterback battle developing with Ken Seals, Mike Wright and AJ Swann, and all three looked good in the spring game. That’s the kind of healthy culture of competition that coach Clark Lea needs to have trickle down throughout the locker room, and it was clear that there is more cohesion within the entire offense as a result of the tone that the quarterbacks have set. Don’t count out the Commodores finishing in the top half of the conference in offense, especially since they might be in a situation where the have to fly up and down the field in order to be competitive in games.

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