SEC spring recap

Originally Published: May 9, 2005
By Brett Edgerton | Special to ESPN.com

Alabama Crimson Tide
2005 Schedule
9/3 Middle Tennessee
9/10 Southern Miss
9/17 at South Carolina
9/24 Arkansas
10/1 Florida
10/15 at Ole Miss
10/22 Tennessee
10/29 Utah State
11/5 at Mississippi State
11/12 LSU
11/19 at Auburn

2004 overall record:
6-6
Conference record:
3-5

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 9, Kicker/punter: 0

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Kenneth Darby* (1,101 yds)
Passing: Spencer Pennington (974 yds)
Receiving: Tyrone Prothro* (347 yds)
Tackles: Cornelius Wortham (99)
Sacks: Wallace Gilberry* (6.5)
Interceptions: Anthony Madison* (4)

Spring Answers: After struggling mightily in limited action last fall, junior Marc Guillon looked much improved. And teammates and fans couldn't stop talking about the performance of true freshman QB John Parker Wilson, especially at the spring game. With Brodie Croyle's health forever an issue, Tide coaches are at least a little more content with options B and C. ... Though none of them has really proven anything yet, the deep group of receivers and tight ends is already one of the team's biggest strengths, coach Mike Shula said. Sophomores Ezekial Knight and D.J. Hall looked particularly impressive, as did redshirt freshman TE Nick Walker. ... It's not as though the nation's second-rated defense needed many questions answered. Wortham was the only substantial loss, but that's OK because Freddie Roach just shifted over to middle linebacker, while Juwan Simpson — no longer known as Juwan Garth — became a full-time starter on the weak side after starting there for much of 2004. There's really no reason to believe this defense won't be just as good, if not better, than the last.

Fall Questions: How much will the running game suffer from the loss of Wesley Britt and Evan Mathis on the left side of the line? And who ends up starting at right guard? Mark Sanders versus B.J. Stabler is not exactly a riveting competition. ... Can Croyle stay healthy for a whole season? The backups look fine, but the much-hobbled senior is still invaluable to this team. When Croyle suffered a season-ending injury in the third game last fall, the offense went right out the door with him. He participated in seven-on-seven drills this spring and is expected to be 100 percent by the summer. That percentage doesn't need to change with the color of the leaves. ... The defense is loaded again, but depth is at least on the radar screen of concerns. The secondary, in particular, is a place where three seniors have logged a great deal of snaps and the backups aren't all that experienced. ... The kicking situation could present big problems. At place-kicker, Jamie Christensen and walk-on Ryan Saxby didn't exactly wow anyone, while senior walk-on Jeremy Schatz tenuously holds the punting position — but only because no one else ever emerged.

Arkansas Razorbacks
2005 Schedule
9/3 Missouri State
9/10 Vanderbilt
9/17 at USC
9/24 at Alabama
10/8 La.-Monroe
10/15 Auburn
10/22 at Georgia
11/5 South Carolina
11/12 at Ole Miss
11/19 Mississippi State
11/26 at LSU

2004 overall record:
5-6
Conference record:
3-5

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 9, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Matt Jones (622 yds)
Passing: Jones (2,073 yds)
Receiving: Steven Harris (617 yds)
Tackles: Vickiel Vaughn* (66)
Sacks: Jeb Huckeba (6.5)
Interceptions: Vaughn*, Lerinezo Robinson* and Michael Coe* (2 each)

Spring Answers: With TB De'Arrius Howard out for the spring, sophomore Peyton Hillis (6-2, 238) picked up where he left off in his first season. It doesn't matter whether he lines up at running back or fullback — he'll get plenty of carries. In fact, he also has great hands and will occasionally get to show them off at tight end. Coach Houston Nutt has made it clear Hillis won't come off the field very often. ... The UA coaches really believe sophomore split end Marcus Monk can become one of the top receivers in the country. The Hogs lose reliable Steven Harris, but 6-6, 224-pound Monk is go-to material for the new quarterback. ... A few position changes on defense look like good ones. Sophomore Marcus Harrison moved from end to tackle, junior Anthony Brown from wide receiver to end and Vickiel Vaughn from free safety to strong safety for his senior season. All three are listed No. 1 on the depth chart.

Fall Questions: Who will emerge in the three-way battle to replace Jones, the one-of-a-kind thrower/runner/future receiver? The candidates — Robert Johnson, Alex Mortensen and Cole Barthel — are typical drop-back guys, not exactly cut from the Jones mold. Mortensen improved, and Barthel, who returned to football after several years in the Braves' farm system, is an interesting project. However, it appears strong-armed Johnson has the edge heading into the summer. It's a slight one, though. ... Can new defensive coordinator Reggie Herring work another miracle? In his one and only year at NC State, Herring turned the Wolfpack defense from 89th in the country in '03 all the way to first in '04, trimming off a mere 200 yards a game. Now he comes to Fayetteville, where the Hogs are looking to improve upon a No. 76 ranking. The unit gave up nearly 400 yards a game last season, and Herring emphatically stated upon his arrival that not a single starting job was safe. He's vocal and intense, and the players seemed to respond in the spring. Nevertheless, depth is an issue and the secondary simply has to get better. ... What's the good news when it comes to the schedule? SEC whipping-boy Vanderbilt is back on after a rather odd 10-year absence. What's the bad, bordering on terrifying, news? After hosting the Commodores in Week 2, the Hogs travel to L.A. to face back-to-back national champion USC.

Auburn Tigers
2005 Schedule
9/3 Georgia Tech
9/10 Mississippi State
9/17 Ball State
9/24 Western Kentucky
10/1 South Carolina
10/15 at Arkansas
10/22 at LSU
10/29 Ole Miss
11/5 at Kentucky
11/12 at Georgia
11/19 Alabama


2004 overall record:
13-0
Conference record:
8-0

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Carnell Williams (1,236 yds)
Passing: Jason Campbell (2,700 yds)
Receiving: Courtney Taylor* (737 yds)
Tackles: Travis Williams* (80)
Sacks: Stanley McGlover* and Quentin Groves* (7.5)
Interceptions: Junior Rosegreen (8)

Spring Answers: The backfield might be decimated, but the receiving corps is far from it. Besides the loss of always-dangerous Ronnie Brown, the Tigers really don't lose any pass-catcher of note. Much to the dismay of cornerbacks and copy editors all over the South, Devin Aromashodu and Ben Obomanu return, along with Taylor and tight end Cooper Wallace. It's a nice collection of hands available to the new quarterback. ... See if you can find anyone at Auburn fretting about the loss of three starters on the D-line. As freshman ends, Stanley McGlover and Quentin Groves tied for the team lead in sacks. With those two back as sophomores, it could get really ugly for some offensive tackles in the SEC. Both of the rising stars were absolute beasts in the spring, combining for 19 sacks in just four scrimmages. Depth on the line does take a hit, but so will a few opposing quarterbacks this fall. ... The three starting linebackers were limited with various injuries, but did it really matter? Seniors Travis and Antarrious Williams are back with junior Kevin Sears, and they'll all be fine by August. What did matter was the gem that was discovered in the process. Redshirt freshman Merrill Johnson started to come on during bowl practice, and he really came on during spring practice. He has made himself a factor in the rotation.

Fall Questions: Gee, take a wild guess. Catch any of the NFL draft? The Tigers lost Jason Campbell, Carnell Williams and Brown from what coach Tommy Tuberville called the greatest backfield in college football in 50 years. At quarterback, lefty Brandon Cox is basically the favorite by default. The sophomore completed less than half of his passes this spring, but redshirt freshmen Calvin Booker and Blake Field were a combined 29-of-74. The tailback situation is a little less worrisome, but Tre Smith didn't exactly take the job and run with it. The junior, who has shown flashes but couldn't stay healthy in '04, received quite a push from sophomore Carl Stewart. South Carolina transfer Kenny Irons also looked decent. If at times the Tigers line up two in the backfield simultaneously again, it should surprise no one. ... Who replaces Jeremy Ingle at center? Senior Steven Ross was injured all spring, but Leon Hart didn't really take advantage of it. Junior Joe Cope is still in the mix. ... Does Auburn have the playmakers in the secondary who can replace Junior Rosegreen and Carlos Rogers? Rosegreen was an interception machine at strong safety, and Rogers was a top-10 pick at corner. The Tigers should be OK in the latter spot if senior David Irons can shake off the rust. He missed all of last season with a knee injury, but would've started over still-shaky Montavis Pitts. The staff will take a wait-and-see approach with sophomore Eric Brock at safety.

Florida Gators
2005 Schedule
9/3 Wyoming
9/10 Louisiana Tech
9/17 Tennessee
9/24 at Kentucky
10/1 at Alabama
10/8 Mississippi State
10/15 at LSU
10/29 vs. Georgia*
11/5 Vanderbilt
11/12 at South Carolina
11/26 Florida State
*at Jacksonville

2004 overall record:
7-5
Conference record:
4-4

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Ciatrick Fason (1,326 yds)
Passing: Chris Leak* (3,197 yds)
Receiving: O.J. Small (719 yds)
Tackles: Brandon Siler* (77)
Sacks: Earl Everett* and Marcus Thomas* (4.5 each)
Interceptions: Jarvis Herring* (4)

Spring Answers: In front of nearly 60,000 at the spring game, Chris Leak passed for 221 yards and 4 TDs in just one half. But more important, for 15 days in front of an audience of one (new coach Urban Meyer), Leak put to rest any notion he couldn't handle the mental and physical demands of running the spread option. Since the system is all about timing and quick passes, the junior learned how to speed up his delivery and showed at least some signs of the verbal leadership that was nonexistent before. It's almost inconceivable to think of anything other than a monster season out of this guy. ... Leak will have some help. The receivers started slowly this spring but were nothing short of electric by the end. Chad Jackson moved to the inside and was the star of the group, while Andre Caldwell and Dallas Baker weren't far behind — although Baker has been a bit of a tease in the past. ... On the offensive line, a senior (Tavares Washington) and a redshirt freshman (Jim Tartt) emerged as favorites of the new staff. Both will start. ... Meyer said that he has seen plenty of special defenses and that this Florida one is already very close to being in that category. That's pretty much all you need to know there.

Fall Questions: Does DeShawn Wynn even care enough to become Florida's leading man at running back? When the sophomore is unmotivated — and that's sadly all too often — he just doesn't go that hard. It was his starting job to lose this spring, and he didn't secure it. Wynn has plenty of talent, but don't be shocked if redshirt freshman Markus Manson is starting at some point. ... If the defense is going to take a more aggressive approach, true cover corners who can play man-to-man effectively are an essential element. Dee Webb fits the bill. Vernell Brown and Reggie Lewis do not. Don't expect many passes to go Webb's way. ... Two additional concerns: depth on the O-line and uncertainty at kicker. Concerning the latter, walk-on Chris Hetland is the tenuous leader, but an incoming freshman will get every chance to win the job. ... Can a new coach turn around the Gators' recent reputation of being soft and immature? Along with such practice features as the "Circle of Life" (which matches two players against each other in a ring formed by the entire team – the winner is celebrated, the loser humiliated) and "The Pit" (the place where players who say they're too hurt to practice are sent to do drills such as toting rocks and sandbags under the strength coaches' supervision in a not-so-subtle way to encourage players to practice through nagging aches and pains), Meyer is holding players accountable by color-coding them based on academics and behavior. All early indications point toward major progress in this area. What happens at the first signs of adversity, though? That's when the real answers come.

Georgia Bulldogs
2005 Schedule
9/3 Boise State
9/10 South Carolina
9/17 UL-Monroe
9/24 at Mississippi State
10/8 at Tennessee
10/15 at Vanderbilt
10/22 Arkansas
10/29 vs. Florida*
11/12 Auburn
11/19 Kentucky
11/26 at Georgia Tech
*at Jacksonville

2004 overall record:
10-2
Conference record:
6-2

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Thomas Brown* (875 yds)
Passing: David Greene (2,508 yds)
Receiving: Reggie Brown (860 yds)
Tackles: Thomas Davis (81)
Sacks: David Pollack (12.5)
Interceptions: Tim Jennings* (2)

Spring Answers: You know you're pretty set at tailback when you start running the wishbone at the spring game. It was more of a joke than anything, but the Dawgs kept running it and it kept working. Don't look for much of the wishbone this fall, but do look for a vast increase in running production in Athens. The group behind Brown and Danny Ware gets even deeper in August when Kregg Lumpkin returns from the torn ACL that kept him out last year. ... With the receiving corps in question, All-SEC TE Leonard Pope is almost certainly headed for a huge season. He was better than ever in the spring and gives quarterback D.J. Shockley at least one sure thing. ... Not only does the O-line return entirely intact but it also gets back former starting guards Josh Brock and Bartley Miller from injury. Lines don't get much deeper than this one. ... Don't worry about Pollack taking the team's pass-rush with him to the NFL. At his old spot, junior Quentin Moses looks as though he's ready to step right in, and Jeremy Lomax had a solid spring. At the other end, incumbent Will Thompson is trying to hold off Charles Johnson. The latter was dominant throughout, and coach Mark Richt said he noticed. ... Odell Thurman left early for the NFL, but there won't be any drop-off at middle linebacker. Remember how good Tony Taylor was in 2003 before sitting out last year with an injury? He was the quarterback of the defense, and now he's back.

Fall Questions: Reggie Brown and Fred Gibson were maddeningly inconsistent at times, but they were good more often than not and their graduation means a difference of more than 100 catches and 1,600 yards from '04. Who is going to make up for that difference? Or even half of it? Sean Bailey is the leading returner, and he caught all of 14 passes last year. Highly regarded freshmen Mohammed Massaquoi and Mike Moore need to help out immediately. ... By now, Georgia obviously knows what it has in QB Shockley. At times, though, it seems the career backup is still way too unpolished for a senior. Over the last two seasons, he has played in 16 games and completed just 43 percent of his passes. Until the final scrimmage, Shockley was only OK during his first spring as a starter. He'll need to be better than OK this fall. ... Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's exit to the Jacksonville Jaguars won't affect the unit's scheme since secondary coach Willie Martinez was simply promoted from within. Martinez's secondary still has a few issues, though. While Greg Blue moves over to free safety to replace hard-hitting Thomas Davis, Blue's rover position is up for grabs between Kelin Johnson and Tra Battle. As a whole, the backfield's depth is an issue and tall receivers still give these guys problems (5-8 Tim Jennings comes to mind). ... Who will be the team's kicker? Brandon Coutu seems to have the slight edge over Andy Bailey, who lost his job to Coutu late last season. This one is too close to call, though.

Kentucky Wildcats
2005 Schedule
9/3 Louisville
9/10 Idaho State
9/17 at Indiana
9/24 Florida
10/8 at South Carolina
10/22 at Ole Miss
10/29 Mississippi State
11/5 Auburn
11/12 at Vanderbilt
11/19 at Georgia
11/26 Tennessee

2004 overall record:
2-9
Conference record:
1-7

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Shane Boyd (297 yds)
Passing: Boyd (1,328 yds)
Receiving: Glenn Holt* (415 yds)
Tackles: Jon Sumrall (72)
Sacks: Ellery Moore (3)
Interceptions: Muhammad Abdullah* (3)

Spring Answers: If Andre' Woodson is as good as he was this spring, he'll be the answer for the next few years. He was that special. The 6-5 sophomore continually nailed the long bombs, displaying excellent touch throughout. In 88 pass attempts last fall, Woodson threw only one INT. In three scrimmages this spring, he threw none. This guy looks like the real thing. ... It looks as though he'll have some viable targets, too. The Wildcats played nearly all of last season without the services of WRs Keenan Burton and Tommy Cook. Both are back, and Burton, much faster now, made some incredibly acrobatic catches. ... In his first game at tight end, Jacob Tamme caught two TDs against Tennessee in UK's 2004 finale. Then he caught everything in sight this spring. He seems to have a special connection with Woodson and will be utilized as a major weapon this fall. ... Don't forget about former high school All-American Rafael Little at tailback. A bum knee nagged him throughout his freshman season, but he was yet another offensive star during drills. He can break away after initial contact and is a solid pass-catcher, as well. ... So as one can see, the offense looks much improved. Of course, when only two other teams in the country accumulate fewer yards and score fewer points, it can't exactly get much worse. Nevertheless, this honestly could be an explosive unit under new coordinator Joker Phillips. Even the so-so offensive line, still faced with depth problems, was given a boost by the impressive play of JC transfer Fatu Turituri at guard.

Fall Questions: It's not all rosy. Come on, it's Kentucky football. The D was awful last season and looks as though it could be even worse in '05. It does lead one to wonder whether all that offensive firepower that emerged this spring had something to do with the depth-free Wildcats defense. Losing Moore and Vincent "Sweet Pea" Burns from the line was bad enough, but then all hell broke loose at linebacker. First, Dustin Williams quit. Then a serious injury forced leading tackler Jon Sumrall to quit. Then a serious academic problem forced Chad Anderson to quit. Ashley Judd is up to second string on the depth chart. As a matter of fact, Judd has as many collegiate tackles as every projected reserve in the group. That's no misprint. ... Muhammad Abdullah moved to strong safety in the offseason and continued to excel. However, his replacement at free safety, Marcus McClinton, is way too inconsistent. And the cornerbacks aren't scaring anyone. ... It has been 10 years since a Wildcats starting quarterback went down with an injury during the season. UK desperately needs that number to reach 11. True freshman Curtis Pulley is a pretty good prospect, but it's not a wonderful sign that he basically has been given the No. 2 spot before even arriving. ... The same goes for punter, where the job is already an incoming freshman's to lose. These are hardly the only spots where depth is merely a dream. Scholarship reductions have taken care of that.

LSU Tigers
2005 Schedule
9/3 North Texas
9/10 Arizona State
9/24 Tennessee
10/1 at Mississippi State
10/8 at Vanderbilt
10/15 Florida
10/22 Auburn
11/5 Appalachian State
11/12 at Alabama
11/19 at Ole Miss
11/26 Arkansas

2004 overall record:
9-3
Conference record:
6-2

Returning starters
Offense: 10, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Alley Broussard* (867 yds)
Passing: Marcus Randall (1,269 yds)
Receiving: Craig Davis* (659 yds)
Tackles: LaRon Landry* (92)
Sacks: Marcus Spears (9)
Interceptions: Landry* (4)

Spring Answers: If there's a team with more depth at tailback and receiver, it didn't practice this spring. The amount of talent new coach Les Miles inherited is almost ridiculous. At receiver, Craig Davis and Dwayne Bowe offer the hands, while Xavier Carter, Skyler Green and Early Doucet offer the speed. As if that wasn't enough, sophomore Amp Hill came back after nearly two years of rehabilitation and played as though he hadn't missed a thing. ... As for the running backs, they only go four-deep: Alley Broussard, Joseph Addai, Justin Vincent and Shyrone Carey. Each of the four has rushed for more than 100 yards in a game against a quality opponent. Each could start for three-fourths of the teams in college football. Christmas and thank-you cards can be sent to Miami, Les. ... Both lines are stacked, as well. The Andrew Whitworth-led O-line returns intact, while three of four return on the Claude Wroten-led defensive side.

Fall Questions: Good luck trying to find an answer for the quarterback question. JaMarcus Russell obviously has the edge in experience, but his race with redshirt freshman Matt Flynn is apparently too close to call. Flynn can run, has a good grasp of the offense and reminds some of national title-winning QB Matt Mauck. Of course, none of that matters to incoming freshman Ryan Perrilloux. The highly touted recruit has told the press he wants to earn the starting job immediately. ... Who will fill the large hole left by Marcus Spears at defensive end? Junior Kirston Pittman leads the pack, but the staff really likes Glenn Dorsey and Texas transfer Chase Pittman is an interesting option. ... The Tigers are still looking to shore up one of the corner spots. Another transfer, Sammy Joseph from Colorado, is in the mix. ... In 2004, the offense turned it over too much and the defense rarely forced the opponent to do the same. It was a major emphasis of spring practice, but only the fall will determine whether anything has changed. If the Tigers are to get back in the championship hunt, another below-zero turnover margin can't happen.

Mississippi Rebels
2005 Schedule
9/5 at Memphis
9/17 at Vanderbilt
9/24 Wyoming
10/1 at Tennessee
10/8 The Citadel
10/15 Alabama
10/22 Kentucky
10/29 at Auburn
11/12 Arkansas
11/19 LSU
11/26 at Mississippi State

2004 overall record:
4-7
Conference record:
3-5

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 0

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Vashon Pearson* (807 yds)
Passing: Ethan Flatt* (1,530 yds)
Receiving: Mario Hill* (426 yds)
Tackles: Charles Clark* (76)
Sacks: Patrick Willis* (5)
Interceptions: Trumaine McBride* (3)

Spring Answers: It's not time to start the Reggie Bush comparisons, but former USC assistant and new Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron is using Larry Kendrick in a similar manner. The former defensive back is on offense now, but that's about as specific as it gets. Just this spring, the former Florida Gator and JC national player of the year has been moved from flanker to tailback to his current position of slot back — and has excelled in all three. Expect big things from Kendrick, who also will play a large part in the return game. ... After two torn ACLs and one ugly gun incident, Jamal Pittman appears to be fully back, mentally and physically. Vashon Pearson also looks good. ... Some wondered whether there would be enough quality linebackers to smooth the transition from a 4-2-5 defense to Orgeron's multiple 4-3 alignment. Kelvin Robinson, a two-year starting strong safety who moved over to help out, has made a seamless transition. He'll join Patrick Willis, whose name you should take note of before the rest of the country figures it out. ... No worries about Robinson's former safety spot. The staff believes redshirt freshman Jamarca Sanford is one of those talents who has to be on the field in some capacity. The same apparently goes for walk-on Dontae Reed, easily the biggest surprise of the spring. Sophomore Garry Pack has all the credentials, but right now he's looking up at Reed on the depth chart.

Fall Questions: After a nightmarish 2004, QB Micheal Spurlock looked solid this spring and emerged as the top dog going into August. But remember how impressive he was last spring? Orgeron didn't outright declare Spurlock No. 1 because he'd like to see true freshman Billy Tapp and more of sophomore Robert Lane, who was competing in the three-horse race until a shoulder injury sidelined him the last two weeks of spring practice. It doesn't appear Flatt, the starter for most of last year, will be much of a factor this fall. ... The interior of the O-line loses guards Marcus Johnson and Doug Buckles, along with center Chris Spencer — not an easy trio to replace. All three have NFL contracts in hand. Senior Tony Bonds is OK at center and sophomore Darryl Harris has some potential at left guard, but the other guard spot is uncertain and depth is spotty at best. The D-line doesn't go deep, either. ... Then again, at least there are some options at the top of the depth chart. After the loss of kicker Jonathan Nichols and punter Cody Ridgeway, the special teams could only be so lucky. The Rebs, content to wait for a few freshmen to show up in August, didn't even attempt to punt this spring. The situation wasn't much better at place-kicker, where a true freshman also is expected to start right away.

Mississippi State Bulldogs
2005 Schedule
9/3 Murray State
9/10 at Auburn
9/17 at Tulane
9/24 Georgia
10/1 LSU
10/8 at Florida
10/22 Houston
10/29 at Kentucky
11/5 Alabama
11/19 at Arkansas
11/26 Ole Miss

2004 overall record:
3-8
Conference record:
2-6

Returning starters
Offense: 9, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Jerious Norwood* (1,050 yds)
Passing: Omarr Conner* (1,224 yds)
Receiving: Will Prosser* (328 yds)
Tackles: Slovakia Griffith (72)
Sacks: Willie Evans* (5.5)
Interceptions: Darren Williams (4)

Spring Answers: Considering he was coming off a year at receiver and was stepping into a completely different system from the one he ran in high school, Omarr Conner probably received too much criticism at quarterback last season. Nevertheless, expect improvement during his junior year. He's a hard worker and looked more comfortable with the offense this spring. ... Sophomore Jason Husband was moved from wide receiver to tight end to provide some depth, but he ended up ahead of Eric Butler on the depth chart. Butler has a ton of potential and is still likely to start, but Husband puts MSU in good shape in that department. ... Led by Willie Evans and fellow defensive ends Michael Heard and Titus Brown, the gang-tackling Bulldogs D suffocated its offensive counterparts during scrimmages. While Brown moved up from middle linebacker and should help with the pass rush, he wasn't the only defender on the move. Deljuan Robinson shifted from end to tackle, while Quenton Culberson moved to Brown's old spot via outside linebacker via safety via corner. ... Two freshmen present interesting possibilities for State. CB Keith Fitzhugh enrolled early and is already pushing for a starting job, while Derek Pegues, an option quarterback in high school, will push for time at both corner and wide receiver.

Fall Questions: Nearly everyone returns from the fourth lowest-scoring team in the country. We'll see in the fall whether that's a good thing. ... MSU would like to move the ball down the field in bigger chunks, but a true deep threat has yet to be found. Will Prosser and Tee Milons aren't likely to provide that, but at least they looked motivated by the prospect of losing out to the August arrivals. ... Will Conner continue to be a man on the move? Coach Sylvester Croom made it clear he wasn't thrilled with the pass protection provided by the offensive line this spring. With David Stewart in the NFL and Robert Burch kicked off the team, the situation at offensive tackle is fairly close to dire. Croom said the Bullies are better at every position on the field except this one. Among the penciled-in starters, James Redmond has yet to show anything and Johnny Wadley can never stay healthy. Newcomers will have to contribute right away at these two spots. ... The same is probably true at punter. Hopes rest on the leg of an incoming freshman after Brooks Crabtree's difficult spring. ... While this is still a young team — there are only two senior starters on the entire defense — the Bulldogs did start a whopping 38 different players throughout last fall. So the youth has some experience. Will it pay off in '05? ... And how small will the Bullies' ever-dwindling roster get by the season opener? It sat at 57 by the end of the spring. If you're keeping count at home, that's 17 players that have either transferred, quit, been suspended or graduated early since Sheriff Sly came to Starkville. Scholarship reductions? Nice try, NCAA.

South Carolina Gamecocks
2005 Schedule
9/1 Central Florida
9/10 at Georgia
9/17 Alabama
9/24 Troy
10/1 at Auburn
10/8 Kentucky
10/22 Vanderbilt
10/29 at Tennessee
11/5 at Arkansas
11/12 Florida
11/19 Clemson

2004 overall record: 6-5
Conference record:
4-4

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 4, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Demetrius Summers (487 yds)
Passing: Syvelle Newton* (1,093 yds)
Receiving: Troy Williamson (835 yds)
Tackles: Rodriques Wilson (68)
Sacks: George Gause (5)
Interceptions: Ko Simpson* (6)

Spring Answers: Though the Gamecocks don't really have anyone to replace the breakaway speed of Troy Williamson, they do feel good about where they are at receiver. Noah Whiteside, who was the team's top offensive performer of the spring, can go up and catch just about any ball, while long and rangy Sidney Rice is cut from the same mold and was a pleasant surprise. Plus, Syvelle Newton returns to receiver full-time, while incoming freshmen Carlos Thomas and O.J. Murdock are the gems of the Carolina recruiting class. ... Neither NG Stanley Doughty nor LB De'Adrian Coley saw a whole lot of the field last fall, sans some special teams work. That won't be the case this year. Doughty will be a key part of the rotation on the D-line, while Coley almost certainly will start in the season opener. Whenever he decided to take a look at the defense, coach Steve Spurrier always seemed to walk away impressed with Coley, who is sculpted perfectly for a pass-rush specialist. ... The secondary was excellent in 2004 and should be even better this go-round. Johnathan Joseph, who would've started at corner last year had he not been injured, is back. Tremaine Tyler can play both corner and strong safety, where he'll fill in for graduated Jamacia Jackson. And the talent of FS Ko Simpson speaks for itself.

Fall Questions: The quarterback, of course. Are there really any another questions? Everyone wants to know who will direct Spurrier's offense and everyone is equally clueless as to the answer. Both sophomore Blake Mitchell and mobile redshirt freshman Antonio Heffner were OK this spring, but neither stood out enough to have any kind of a lead in the race. Mike Rathe participated but still hasn't heard back from the NCAA about a sixth year of eligibility. Many in the know believe he might become the favorite if given the chance, although Spurrier has made it no secret that true freshmen Tommy Beecher and Cade Thompson will enter the mix immediately once they arrive in August. One can only imagine how fun this could get. ... The O-line is set at both tackle spots, but it gets a little dicey inside. Former left guard Chris White shifted over to fill the vacated center position, but that means both guard spots are now highly vulnerable. ... How quickly can Columbia native Mike Davis chip in at tailback? Cory Boyd and Daccus Turman are serviceable, but nothing more to this point. The true freshman might have a chance to shine right away. ... Teams aren't usually better off after losing all four starting D-linemen. South Carolina is no exception. Some talent is there, but it's largely unproven. Thus the dabbling around with a 3-4 defense? ... While the return teams were lousy at best in '04, the Gamecocks never really got around to working on that this spring. They might want to try it out in August.

Tennessee Volunteers
2005 Schedule
9/3 UAB
9/17 at Florida
9/24 at LSU
10/1 Ole Miss
10/8 Georgia
10/22 at Alabama
10/29 South Carolina
11/5 at Notre Dame
11/12 Memphis
11/19 Vanderbilt
11/26 at Kentucky

2004 overall record:
10-3
Conference record:
7-1

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Gerald Riggs* (1,107 yds)
Passing: Erik Ainge* (1,452 yds)
Receiving: Robert Meachem* (459 yds)
Tackles: Jason Allen* (123)
Sacks: Parys Haralson* (7)
Interceptions: Corey Campbell* (4)

Spring Answers: A whopping 22 Vols underwent offseason surgery, while nearly 30 missed the spring game because of injury or suspension. So spring answers were tough to come by, but there were a few developments. ... First of all, don't pay attention to the "or" on the depth chart — there is no quarterback controversy at Tennessee. Rick Clausen is an excellent leader and turned in a commendable performance at the end of last year. But barring injury or utterly awful play, Ainge will be the Vols' starter in 2005. The sophomore has all the intangibles and showed no ill effects from the shoulder injury that knocked him out of last season. In fact, he's bigger and faster. ... Three young players who caused a lot of chatter this spring: G Ramon Foster, WR Josh Briscoe and nickel back/return man Inky Johnson. ... Even after ankle surgery and yet another ACL injury, hard-luck Kevin Simon looks better than ever as he heads into his senior season for the second time. Simon is in the middle of what is a ridiculously stacked defensive front seven. If you don't know Jesse Mahelona's name, you will soon. The reserves, though, are what have the UT staff so excited. It looks as though LB Daniel Brooks finally gets it, and DT Demonte Bolden and LB Ryan Karl had monster springs. ... The Colquitts will continue to own punting at Tennessee. Freshman Britton Colquitt steps in and becomes the fourth member of his family to punt for the Volunteers. He was booming them in practice and has the look of his older brother Dustin, who was just drafted in the second round of the NFL draft.

Fall Questions: Are all these off-the-field distractions behind the Vols? Eleven players have been arrested or cited since February 2004, and it got particularly embarrassing this spring. A repeat performance in the fall and Tennessee can kiss away any hopes of a national title. ... Tennessee has two major position concerns heading into summer. At center, projected starter Richie Gandy tore his ACL playing basketball in the offseason. Those close to the program actually think he'll be ready to go by fall drills, but that's not a certainty. If Gandy's progress is slowed, the Vols would turn to relatively unproven David Ligon. In August, though, No. 1 high school center Josh McNeil will enter into the mix immediately. ... As for the beleaguered secondary, last in the SEC a year ago, former safety Jason Allen moved to cornerback and two small corners, Jonathan Hefney and Roshaun Fellows, made the opposite switch. Fellows is likely headed back to his old position, but it looks as though Hefney will stick with free safety. Is he physical enough, though? And can Campbell play like he did this spring and not like he did last fall? And will the knee of potential strong safety starter Antwan Stewart ever fully heal? ... Over the last decade, the Vols have always played better when painted as underdogs. But this year UT is one of only six schools in the country that returns its leader in all six major statistical categories. Even usually reserved Fulmer admits it has been a long time since he returned so many players with so much experience. So, expectations are even further through the roof than normal. Don't mind the brutal road schedule (Florida, 'Bama, LSU and Notre Dame). The demanding Big Orange Nation wants nothing less than a national championship. Good luck with that whole underdog thing.

Vanderbilt Commodores
2005 Schedule
9/1 at Wake Forest
9/10 at Arkansas
9/17 Ole Miss
9/24 Richmond
10/1 Middle Tennessee
10/8 LSU
10/15 Georgia
10/22 at South Carolina
11/5 at Florida
11/12 Kentucky
11/19 at Tennessee

2004 overall record:
2-9
Conference record:
1-7

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Norval McKenzie (446 yds)
Passing: Jay Cutler* (1,844 yds)
Receiving: Brandon Smith (553 yds)
Tackles: Moses Osemwegie* (94)
Sacks: Kevin Joyce* (2)
Interceptions: Dominique Morris (2)

Spring Answers: It was more of a fall answer, but for the first time in a long time, the Commodores didn't finish last in the SEC in any major statistical category. If you're Bobby Johnson and you've notched three D-I wins in three years, you take the good news any way you can get it. ... Jay Cutler, who has been quarterbacking in Nashville for about as long as Steve McNair, is undoubtedly a bright spot in an offense that too often fails to convert long drives into touchdowns. He flies off the radar because of all the losses, but he's truly one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC. Behind him, redshirt freshman Chris Nickson played so well the coaching staff felt comfortable enough to move Steven Bright to fullback. ... After Jovan Haye left early for the NFL, Herdley Harrison moved up to defensive end and Kevin Joyce and Marcus Buggs moved right into Harrison's spot. Both positions are quicker and more athletic as a result. At middle linebacker, Joyce played well enough to start but bone-crushing Buggs provides some nice depth. ... At a spot where the Commodores were desperate for a boost, redshirt freshman Reshard Langford provided one at strong safety. Many thought he was the best player in the defensive backfield last year, but the 'Dores opted for a redshirt. He was again the best player this spring.

Fall Questions: While Erik Davis and Marlon White looked good during the scrimmages, they are just about the start and the finish to the talent line at receiver. Depth is a concern at tight end, as well. ... And as always, it's a concern on the O-line, where Vandy lost one of its best ever in Justin Geisinger. If LT Chris Williams doesn't play up to his potential and RG Mac Pyle doesn't return to form after his mysterious absence, this could get ugly in a hurry. ... Cutler isn't a bad scrambler, but it's probably not a good thing that he's the team's leading returner in rushing yards. After the graduation of McKenzie and the tragic shooting death of Kwane Doster, the 'Dores are left with Jeff Jennings and converted fullback Cassen Jackson-Garrison, who combined to net 135 yards last season. Both sophomores looked good in the spring and appear to have bright futures, but Vandy fans have heard it all before. ... Unlike the situation last year, the Commodore defense heads into this season with chunks of inexperience all over the field, including both cornerback spots and the entire D-line. Harrison will help out at end, but replacing Ryan Dinwiddie inside might be an even bigger chore for a line that returns zero starters. ... The place-kicking duties won't be decided until Bryant Hahnfeldt, Tennessee's top high school kicker last season, arrives in August. He will battle Patrick Johnson, who was simply horrid last fall after losing all his confidence somewhere around midseason. At punter, Kyle Keown is just not consistent enough. Hahnfeldt might get this job, too.

Brett Edgerton is a researcher for ESPN. He can be reached at Brett.M.Edgerton.-ND@espn.com.