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Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Updated: May 24, 5:44 PM ET
Breaking down the SEC

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

How will Tim Tebow fare as a full-time starter? Can Nick Saban turn things around at Alabama? Has Steve Spurrier settled on a quarterback? Take a look at what SEC questions were answered this spring and what problems linger heading into the fall.

Alabama Crimson Tide
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 Western Carolina
Sept. 8 at Vanderbilt
Sept. 15 Arkansas
Sept. 22 Georgia
Sept. 29 vs. Florida State
Oct. 6 Houston
Oct. 13 at Mississippi
Oct. 20 Tennessee
Nov. 3 LSU
Nov. 10 at Mississippi State
Nov. 17 Louisiana-Monroe
Nov. 24 at Auburn


2006 overall record:
6-7
Conference record:
2-6

Returning starters
Offense: 9; defense: 5; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB John Parker Wilson; WR Keith Brown; WR D.J. Hall; OT Andre Smith; C Antoine Caldwell; G Justin Britt; CB Simeon Castille; LB Prince Hall; DE Wallace Gilberry; FS Marcus Carter
Key losses
LB Juwan Simpson; CB Ramzee Robinson; DT Jeremy Clark; RB Ken Darby; FB Le'Ron McClain; DL Chris Hall; OT Kyle Tatum; DT Dominic Lee; LB Terrence Jones; SS Jeffrey Dukes
Top newcomer: DT Kerry Murphy Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Ken Darby (835 yds)
Passing: John Parker Wilson* (2,707 yds)
Receiving: D.J. Hall* (1,056 yds)
Tackles: Jeffrey Dukes (86)
Sacks: Wallace Gilberry* (3.5)
Interceptions: Simeon Castille* (6)

Spring answers: 1. Wilson grasps offense: Quarterback John Parker Wilson showed last season, his first as an SEC starter, that he's capable of winning games for the Crimson Tide. He seemed to have a good grasp of new offensive coordinator Major Applewhite's offense, which employs aspects of the spread offense and I-formation. Wilson completed 18 of 36 passes for 244 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the spring game.

2. Offensive line returns: Five starters return to the offensive line, four of whom kept their jobs under new offensive line coach Joe Pendry. Left tackle Andre Smith might end up being one of the best tackles ever to play in the SEC. Senior left guard Justin Britt is more than dependable, and junior center Antoine Caldwell is an All-SEC candidate. Right tackle Chris Capps was bothered by a shoulder injury in the spring, so guard B.J. Stabler slid out to tackle. Marlon Davis replaced Stabler at right guard.

3. Big-time receivers: The Tide have a pair of game-changing receivers: seniors D.J. Hall and Keith Brown. Hall broke most of the Alabama receiving records with 62 catches for 1,056 yards and five touchdowns. Brown has battled injuries throughout his career, but caught 44 passes for 590 yards and three scores last season. Senior Matt Caddell emerged as the No. 3 receiver during the spring, but junior Nikita Stover also made an impression with three catches for 58 yards and one touchdown in the spring game. Sophomore Mike McCoy and freshman Earl Alexander might be future stars.

4. Just for kicks: Kicker Jamie Christensen, who was bothered by a partially torn groin muscle last season, has fully recovered. His leg looked strong during the spring, making field goals of 47 and 41 yards during the spring game. Christensen made 13 of 17 field goal tries last season, including a 46-yarder.

5. Smooth installation: There didn't seem to be many hiccups while new coach Nick Saban and his assistants installed their system. Applewhite didn't install his entire playbook, so there's still work to do on offense during preseason camp. New defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, lured from Florida State, quickly switched from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4.

Fall questions: 1. Secondary holes: Two starters are back in the secondary: left cornerback Simeon Castille and free safety Marcus Carter. Castille was an All-SEC pick last season with six interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Junior Lionel Mitchell left spring as the starting right cornerback, but he was being pushed hard by sophomore Marquis Johnson and midyear transfer Kareem Jackson. Senior Eric Gray was bothered by a hamstring injury. Strong safety Rashad Johnson was in line to replace departed starter Jeffrey Dukes, but his coverage skills remained a concern. Justin Woodall might be a factor there when he returns from an ankle injury.

2. Inexperienced linebackers: Only one starting linebacker returns, sophomore Prince Hall, who earned freshman All-SEC honors with 77 tackles and two sacks last season. The switch to a 3-4 requires more linebackers. Walk-on Darren Mustin earned the other inside spot during the spring. Defensive ends Keith Saunders and Ezekial Knight were moved to outside linebacker, where Saban hopes they'll be able to help in pass protection. They're still grasping the nuances of pass coverage, though.

3. Where's the beef: The Tide lost several key players from its defensive line rotation, including tackles Jeremy Clark, Dominic Lee and end Chris Harris. The tackle has to be an anchor in the 3-4 scheme, and the Tide were still searching for one at the end of spring practice. Brian Motley, who started the spring as a third-string center, moved to defense and was the No. 1 nose tackle at the end of spring drills. He'll have to fight off injured Lorenzo Washington and Byron Walton during preseason camp to keep the job, though.

4. Who's the running back: Alabama's running game really never got untracked in 2006, averaging only 123.1 yards per game, ninth best in the SEC. Leading rusher Ken Darby, who ran for 835 yards but never scored last season, is gone. So are fullbacks Le'Ron McClain and Tim Castille. Junior Jimmy Johns, the most experienced runner coming back, was suspended during spring practice for academic reasons. Sophomore Terry Grant, coming off a shoulder injury, was the most impressive back in the spring, running eight times for 47 yards in the spring game. Glen Coffee and Roy Upchurch, who battled knee and foot injuries in 2006, respectively, also are trying to work into the rotation.

5. Improve the pass rush: The 3-4 scheme might generate more pass rush with the hybrid outside linebackers rushing the passer. But the Tide still need increased production from their ends. Senior Wallace Gilberry is by far the most productive player on the edge, with 43 tackles and 3½ sacks last season. Sophomore Bobby Greenwood also showed signs of production in 2006 with five tackles for loss and two sacks. Depth remains a concern at end.

Arkansas Razorbacks
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 Troy
Sept. 15 at Alabama
Sept. 22 Kentucky
Sept. 29 North Texas
Oct. 6 Tennessee-Chattanooga
Oct. 13 Auburn
Oct. 20 at Mississippi
Oct. 27 Florida International
Nov. 3 South Carolina
Nov. 10 at Tennessee
Nov. 17 Mississippi State
Nov. 24 at LSU


2006 overall record:
10-4
Conference record:
7-1

Returning starters
Offense: 6; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
RB Darren McFadden; RB Felix Jones; WR Marcus Monk; C Jonathan Luigs; G Robert Felton; DT Ernest Mitchell; LB Freddie Fairchild; CB Matterral Richardson; FS Michael Grant; DE Antwain Robinson; FB Peyton Hillis
Key losses
DE Jamaal Anderson; DT Keith Jackson; CB Chris Houston; OT Tony Ugoh; G Stephen Parker; OT Zac Tubbs; TE Wes Murphy; LB Sam Olajubutu; SS Randy Kelly; FL Damian Williams; QB Mitch Mustain
Top newcomer: TE David Williams Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Darren McFadden* (1,647 yds)
Passing: Casey Dick* (991 yds)
Receiving: Marcus Monk* (962 yds)
Tackles: Randy Kelly (88)
Sacks: Jamaal Anderson* (13.5)
Interceptions: Chris Houston and Michael Grant* (3)

Spring answers: 1. McFadden returns: Tailback Darren McFadden returns for what is probably his final college season after running for 1,647 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Junior Felix Jones also is back after running for 1,186 yards and six scores in 2006. The pair didn't do much in the spring, but the Razorbacks might have found a future star in sophomore Michael Smith. He ran eight times for 143 yards in one scrimmage, after running for 247 yards and three touchdowns last season.

2. Fairchild returns: Sophomore Freddie Fairchild, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, returned to spring practice and will start at strongside linebacker. Fairchild is Arkansas' most physically gifted linebacker. He was held out of contact drills during the spring. His return allowed senior Matt Hewitt to return to strong safety. Senior Weston Dacus returns at middle linebacker, and sophomore Ryan Powers was the leader to replace departed Sam Olajubutu on the weak side.

3. More than Monk: One of Arkansas' star receivers returned, senior Marcus Monk, who caught 50 passes for 962 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Sophomore Damian Williams transferred to Southern California. Senior Robert Johnson, a former quarterback, and sophomore London Crawford are battling for the other receiver spot. Crawford was hampered by a strained hamstring in the spring. Reggie Fish, only 5-foot-7, also made strides during the spring. Marques Wade, who battled turf toe last season, had three catches for 57 yards in a scrimmage.

4. Offense installed: Gus Malzahn took his spread offense to Tulsa after only one season at Arkansas. Former Arkansas assistant David Lee, who coached quarterbacks for the Dallas Cowboys, was hired back as offensive coordinator. Lee ditched the spread offense and will run a more conservative, run-based offense. He still plans to utilize McFadden and Jones in the backfield, though.

5. Football is almost here: And it can't get here soon enough for Hogs coach Houston Nutt, who has been deluged with off-field problems since the Razorbacks lost three straight games to finish the 2006 season. Malzahn left for Tulsa, and Williams and quarterback Mitch Mustain transferred to Southern California. There have been other accusations mounted against Nutt, who could really use another championship season this fall.

Fall questions: 1. Is Dick the quarterback: The junior will have to be after Mustain, the highly regarded signee from Springdale, Ark., bolted to the West Coast. Dick, bothered by a back injury at the start of the 2006 season, replaced Mustain late in the season and started five games, completing 49.2 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and six interceptions. He was the only scholarship quarterback in spring camp. Freshmen Nathan Dick, the starting quarterback's younger brother, and Joe Chaisson join the team this summer.

2. Offensive line holes: The Razorbacks lost one of the better tackles in college football, Tony Ugoh, along with two other starters. Center Jonathan Luigs will anchor the line, and right guard Robert Felton is coming off a solid season. Junior Jose Valdez replaces Ugoh at left tackle, and senior Nate Garner takes over for departed Zac Tubbs at right tackle. Former walk-on Mitch Petrus, who also has played tight end and defense, will probably start at left guard.

3. Replacing Anderson: The Hogs must replace defensive end Jamaal Anderson, an NFL first-round choice, who had 13½ sacks last season. Also gone is tackle Keith Jackson Jr., the leader of the defensive front. End Antwain Robinson returns, but he had a hip injury during the spring and also faces off-field legal problems. Tackle Marcus Harrison tore the ACL in his knee in the third practice and probably won't be ready for the start of the season. Senior Fred Bledsoe will start if Harrison isn't ready. Ernest Mitchell start at the other tackle spot, and sophomore Malcolm Sheppard takes over at left end.

4. Secondary openings: Cornerback Chris Houston, a first-round choice in the NFL draft, and strong safety Randy Kelly are gone. Hewitt moves back to the secondary from linebacker to take Kelly's spot. Free safety Michael Grant returns after tearing knee ligaments last season. Senior cornerback Matterral Richardson returns, and sophomore Jerell Norton won the left cornerback spot during the spring.

5. New kicker: Jeremy Davis, who struggled on field goals last season, missing seven of his 13 attempts, was moved to punter during the spring. Junior Brian Vavra took over the place-kicking duties, but the Arkansas coaches hope incoming freshman Alex Tejada wins the job during fall camp.

Auburn Tigers
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 Kansas State
Sept. 8 South Florida
Sept. 15 Mississippi State
Sept. 22 New Mexico State
Sept. 29 at Florida
Oct. 6 Vanderbilt
Oct. 13 at Arkansas
Oct. 20 at LSU
Oct. 27 Mississippi
Nov. 3 Tennessee Tech
Nov. 10 at Georgia
Nov. 24 Alabama


2006 overall record:
11-2
Conference record:
6-2

Returning starters
Offense: 5; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners
QB Brandon Cox; WR Rod Smith; OT King Dunlap; TE Cole Bennett; NG Josh Thompson; DT Sen'Derrick Marks; DE Quentin Groves; LB Merrill Johnson; CB Patrick Lee; FS Aairon Savage
Key losses
TB Kenny Irons; CB David Irons; LB Will Herring; WR Courtney Taylor; G Ben Grubbs; C Joe Cope; G Tim Duckworth; OT Jonathan Palmer; DE Marquies Gunn; LB Karibi Dede; K John Vaughn; P Kody Bliss
Top newcomer: S Michael McNeil Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Kenny Irons (893 yds)
Passing: Brandon Cox* (2,198 yds)
Receiving: Courtney Taylor (704 yds)
Tackles: Will Herring (72)
Sacks: Quentin Groves* (9.5)
Interceptions: Eric Brock*, Will Herring and David Irons (3)

Spring answers: 1. Cox is healthy: Senior quarterback Brandon Cox wasn't nearly as effective last season as he was as a sophomore, and Auburn's coaches attribute many of his problems to injuries. Cox threw for 2,198 yards with 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season, but played terribly in a couple of the Tigers' biggest games. He was back on form in the spring, though, completing 14 of 19 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns in the last scrimmage. He threw for 836 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions in the team's three scrimmages.

2. Strong up front: Auburn has the potential to be dominant up front defensively, with end Quentin Groves (9½ sacks), nose tackle Josh Thompson (43 tackles), tackle Pat Sims (three sacks) and end Sen'Derrick Marks (10½ tackles for loss) returning. Marks was moved from tackle to end during the spring so coordinator Will Muschamp could get his four best linemen on the field. Tackle Mike Blanc and end Michael Goggans, who moved from tight end, also had good springs.

3. Blackmon is back: The Tigers faced the tough task of replacing starting linebackers Will Herring and Karibi Dede, the team's top two tacklers in 2006. Middle linebacker Merrill Johnson returns, and sophomore Patrick Turner was the leader on the strong side and junior Steve Gandy was No. 1 on the weak side. But sophomore Tray Blackmon, who was suspended for much of last season and then left school during spring semester to handle personal issues, returned to Auburn for summer school and is working to regain his eligibility. Blackmon is a big-time talent who could be a difference maker if he's eligible in the fall.

4. Kicker found: The Tigers lost All-SEC kicker John Vaughn, a Lou Groza Award finalist, who was 20-for-24 on field goals and made all 34 extra-point tries last season. Redshirt freshman Ross Gornall was solid during the spring, though, making his first seven field goal attempts. He finished the spring 9-for-11 and should win the job this fall.

5. Plenty of runners: Auburn has never had many problems replacing star running backs, and this fall shouldn't be any different. Junior Brad Lester averaged 5.2 yards and scored 14 touchdowns while playing behind Kenny Irons the last two seasons. Lester ran for 510 yards and scored nine touchdowns last season, when he spent considerable time filling in for the injured Irons. Sophomore Ben Tate also is battling for the job, and redshirt freshman Mario Fannin ripped the defense for 206 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries during the last scrimmage.

Fall questions: 1. Go-to receiver: Last season, Auburn struggled to find complementary receivers to go around Courtney Taylor. Now, the Tigers have to find guys who can replace him. Junior Rod Smith remains Auburn's most dangerous receiver, but there was a lot of movement behind him during the spring. Redshirt freshman Montez Billings passed junior Prechae Rodriguez at one receiver spot, and sophomore James Swinton emerged as Smith's backup. Speedy sophomore Robert Dunn also remained a starter.

2. Rebuild the offensive line: The Tigers return only one starting lineman: left tackle King Dunlap. Junior Tyronne Green tries to replace All-American Ben Grubbs at left guard, and junior Jason Bosley takes over for center Joe Cope. Senior Leon Hart replaces Tim Duckworth at right guard, and junior Antwoin Daniels replaces Jonathan Palmer at right tackle.

3. Unsettled spots in secondary: Some surprising battles emerged in the secondary during spring practice. Sophomore Jerraud Powers was battling senior Jonathan Wilhite at right cornerback, and redshirt freshman Zac Etheridge was listed as a co-starter with senior Eric Brock at strong safety.

4. New punter: The Tigers lost punter Kody Bliss, who averaged 45.7 yards and put 13 of 47 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line last season. Redshirt freshman Ryan Shoemaker punted well in the spring and will probably replace Bliss this fall.

5. Which is better -- offense or defense: Auburn struggled to score points last season, and coach Tommy Tuberville's defenses are always regarded as fast and physical. With seven starters back on defense, one would figure the defense would have had the upper hand during the spring. But the offense scored five touchdowns in the spring game and was even more productive in the last scrimmage.

Florida Gators
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 Western Kentucky
Sept. 8 Troy
Sept. 15 Tennessee
Sept. 22 at Mississippi
Sept. 29 Auburn
Oct. 6 at LSU
Oct. 20 at Kentucky
Oct. 27 vs. Georgia
Nov. 3 Vanderbilt
Nov. 10 at South Carolina
Nov. 17 Florida Atlantic
Nov. 24 Florida State


2006 overall record:
13-1
Conference record:
7-1

Returning starters
Offense: 6; defense: 2; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Tim Tebow; WR Andre Caldwell; WR Percy Harvin; WR Cornelius Ingram; G Drew Miller; OT Phil Trautwein; OT Carlton Medder; SS Tony Joiner; DE Derrick Harvey; G Jim Tartt
Key losses
QB Chris Leak; FS Reggie Nelson; WR Dallas Baker; RB DeShawn Wynn; C Steve Rissler; DT Ray McDonald; DT Joe Cohen; DE Jarvis Moss; LB Brian Crum; LB Brandon Siler; CB Reggie Lewis; CB Ryan Smith
Top newcomer: DE Carlos Dunlap Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: DeShawn Wynn (699 yds)
Passing: Chris Leak (2,942 yds)
Receiving: Dallas Baker (920 yds)
Tackles: Earl Everett (85)
Sacks: Derrick Harvey (11)
Interceptions: Ryan Smith (8)

Spring answers: 1. Tebow is ready: Sophomore quarterback Tim Tebow assumes the starting job, after playing a lot as a freshman. Tebow completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 358 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. He also ran 89 times for 469 yards and eight touchdowns in 2006. Tebow was largely limited to designed runs and gimmick plays as a freshman, but he looked comfortable throwing from the pocket during the spring. A shoulder injury caused him to focus on his touch and short and intermediate routes.

2. Third receiver found: The Gators lost leading receiver Dallas Baker, who had 60 catches for 920 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Speedy sophomore Percy Harvin and senior Andre Caldwell return as the top receivers, after combining for 91 catches for 1,004 yards and eight touchdowns in 2006. Seldom-used junior Louis Murphy made the biggest impression during the spring, with a team-high eight catches for 129 yards in the spring game. Coach Urban Meyer declared Murphy a starter after the game. Sophomore Jarred Fayson, who caught one pass last season, is another player on the rise.

3. Big tight ends: Tebow found two more weapons during the spring: tight ends Cornelius Ingram and Aaron Hernandez. Ingram, who resembles an oversized receiver more than a tight end, caught 30 passes last season. Hernandez is one of the rising stars on offense and caught a touchdown in the spring game. Both players run extremely well for tight ends and might play big roles on offense this fall.

4. Experienced offensive line: Three players who started every game last season return: seniors Carlton Medder, Drew Miller and Phil Trautwein. Miller moved from right guard to center, where he replaces departed senior Steve Rissler. Medder and Trautwein, who started every game at tackle last season, might switch sides, with Trautwein going to the right to protect the left-handed Tebow's blind side. Junior Jim Tartt is injury-free and had a good spring at left guard. The right guard spot remains a battle between redshirt freshman Maurice Hurt and twin brothers Michael and Maurkice Pouncey, who enrolled as freshmen in January.

5. Pass rush still exists: After losing pass-rushing specialist Jarvis Moss to the NFL draft, the Gators still have junior Derrick Harvey, who had a team-high 11 sacks and 13 tackles for loss in 2006. Harvey underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia late in the spring, but should be ready to go by preseason camp. Sophomore Jermaine Cunningham was one of the most impressive players during the spring with three sacks in the spring game. Converted tight end Trent Pupello and redshirt freshman Lawrence Marsh, who also played inside during the spring, will have to help on the edge.

Fall questions: 1. Who's the running back: Mon Williams, who was Florida's most impressive runner early in spring practice, tore the ACL in his knee and will miss the 2007 season. Kestahn Moore, who coach Urban Meyer described as Florida's best back during the spring, missed the last week of practice after having surgery for a sports hernia. Smallish sophomore Brandon James and redshirt freshman Chevon Walker also are available. Highly regarded freshmen Chris Rainey and Bo Williams join the battle this fall. Regardless of who starts at tailback, Meyer will try to run the ball with Harvin, Fayson and, of course, Tebow.

2. Secondary holes: The Gators lost starting cornerbacks Ryan Smith and Reggie Lewis, as well as All-American free safety Reggie Nelson. The only returning starter is strong safety Tony Joiner. Sophomore Markihe Anderson locked up one of the cornerback spots, but the other starting position remains a trouble spot. Freshman Joe Haden, who enrolled in January, emerged as the favorite from spring practice, ahead of sophomore Wondy Pierre-Louis and converted tailback Markus Manson. Senior free safety Kyle Jackson was being pushed by sophomore Dorian Munroe and freshman Bryan Thomas in the battle to replace Nelson.

3. New defensive tackles: The Gators lost their top three defensive tackles: Ray McDonald, Joe Cohen and Steven Harris. Senior Clint McMillan, who didn't do much of anything during his first three seasons, played surprisingly well during the spring. Junior Javier Estopinan, who missed all of 2005 with a leg injury and then suffered torn knee ligaments last season, was the other starting tackle in the spring. The Gators might need Marsh to play inside, as well as promising redshirt freshman Terron Sanders.

4. Fresh faces at linebacker: Each of the starting three linebackers was lost: seniors Brian Crum and Earl Everett and junior Brandon Siler, who entered the NFL draft. Sophomore Brandon Spikes, who led Florida freshman with 15 tackles in 2006, takes over in the middle. Sophomore Dustin Doe is slated to start on the weak side, and redshirt freshman A.J. Jones will probably replace Crum on the strong side. There is essentially no experienced depth behind them, either.

5. Just for kicks: The Gators' kicking game was downright laughable at times last season, as departed kicker Chris Hetland made only six of 15 field goal tries. Punter Eric Wilbur, who averaged 42.3 yards last season, also must be replaced. Senior Joey Ijjas and Jonathan Phillips were battling for the place-kicking duties and both showed strong, yet inconsistent, legs during the spring. Freshman Chas Henry might have to replace Wilbur.

Georgia Bulldogs
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 Oklahoma State
Sept. 8 South Carolina
Sept. 15 Western Carolina
Sept. 22 at Alabama
Sept. 29 Mississippi
Oct. 6 at Tennessee
Oct. 13 at Vanderbilt
Oct. 27 at Florida
Nov. 3 Troy
Nov. 10 Auburn
Nov. 17 Kentucky
Nov. 23 at Georgia Tech


2006 overall record:
9-4
Conference record:
4-4

Returning starters
Offense: 7; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
QB Matthew Stafford; TB Kregg Lumpkin; TB Thomas Brown; WR Sean Bailey; WR Mohamed Massaquoi; C Fernando Velasco; OT Chester Adams; S Kelin Johnson; LB Brandon Miller
Key losses
DE Charles Johnson; DE Quintin Moses; LB Tony Taylor; S Tra Battle; CB Paul Oliver; TE Martrez Milner; OT Ken Shackleford; C Nick Jones; DT Ray Gant; P Gordon Ely-Kelso
Top newcomer: WR Israel Troupe Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Kregg Lumpkin* (798 yds)
Passing: Matthew Stafford* (1,749 yds)
Receiving: Martrez Milner (425 yds)
Tackles: Tony Taylor (96)
Sacks: Charles Johnson (9.5)
Interceptions: Tony Taylor (7)

Spring answers: 1. Stafford matures under center: Georgia took its lumps with then-freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford last season, as the highly regarded Texan threw nearly twice as many interceptions (13) as touchdowns (seven). But unlike last spring, when Stafford was battling three other quarterbacks for the starting job, the job is securely his going into the 2007 season. Stafford has a tremendously strong arm and better-than-expected mobility given his large frame. He might need that mobility playing behind a very inexperienced offensive line this fall.

2. Abundance of tailbacks: Georgia returns two tailbacks who are coming off knee surgeries in Kregg Lumpkin and Thomas Brown. Lumpkin seemed to be coming into form late last season, after he tore the ACL in his left knee during preseason camp in 2004. He struggled during his sophomore season in 2005, then came back to lead the Bulldogs with 798 yards and six touchdowns last season. Brown tore knee ligaments against Tennessee last season and missed the last six games. He missed the spring while continuing rehab, but should be ready for the start of camp. Redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno, from New Jersey, is the running back that has Georgia coaches excited.

3. Bailey is back: For whatever reason, Georgia has lacked a big-play threat at receiver during the last couple of seasons. Junior Mohamed Massaquoi struggled through a sophomore slump, after showing flashes of brilliance as a freshman in 2005. Senior A.J. Bryant, a converted quarterback, has never reached his full potential, and junior Kenneth Harris is nothing more than a solid possession receiver. But the return of senior Sean Bailey, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, gives Georgia's passing game the kind of target Stafford needs to stretch defenses. And Georgia coaches are determined to get the football into the hands of smallish senior Mikey Henderson as much as possible.

4. Richt hands over play calling: In Georgia's final two games of last season, upsets of nationally ranked Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, coach Mark Richt relinquished the play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo. Bobo keeps the role going into the 2007 season, the first time Richt hasn't called plays since his days as Florida State's quarterbacks coach. Even though Georgia has a promising quarterback, Bobo plans to establish the running game behind an inexperienced offensive line.

5. Coutu is back: Kicker Brandon Coutu was seemingly on his way to an All-America season in 2006, until he tore his hamstring after five games. Coutu was 7-for-8 on field goals, with a long of 55 yards, before the injury. His replacements went 6-for-10 in his absence, and Richt never seemed to have much confidence in his kicking game. Coutu returned to kick three field goals, including a 51-yarder, in the Bulldogs' 31-24 win over the Hokies in the bowl game. His leg was fine during spring practice and continues to get stronger.

Fall questions: 1. Rebuilding the offensive line: Georgia must replace three starters: center Nick Jones and tackles Ken Shackleford and Daniel Inman. Guard Fernando Velasco moves from guard to center, and senior Chester Adams moves from guard to right tackle. Freshman Trinton Sturdivant, who enrolled in January, might be the Bulldogs' best lineman and will start at left tackle. Redshirt freshman Chris Davis is winning the battle for left guard, and juco transfer Scott Haverkamp is slated to start at right guard. New line coach Stacy Searels, lured away from LSU, replaces Neil Callaway, who was named coach at UAB.

2. New defensive ends: The Bulldogs lost starting ends Charles Johnson and Quintin Moses, who were both selected in the NFL draft. Johnson and Moses combined for 14 sacks, 31 tackles for loss and a whopping 62 quarterback hurries last season. Their replacements -- a rotation of senior Marcus Howard, junior Jeremy Lomax, sophomore Roderick Battle, redshirt freshman Michael Lemon and juco transfer Jarius Wynn -- had a grand total of three sacks in 2006.

3. Linebacker holes: Georgia lost starting weakside linebacker Tony Taylor, who was its biggest playmaker on defense in 2006, with a team-high 96 tackles and seven interceptions, as well as 11 quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Middle linebacker Jarvis Jackson, second on the team with 71 tackles last season, also is gone. Senior Brandon Miller, 257 pounds, moves to the middle. Sophomore Darius Dewberry and junior Dannell Ellerbe are both extremely athletic and left spring drills as the starting strongside and weakside linebackers, respectively. Depth is a concern, as backup Akeem Hebron was suspended for the 2007 season and junior Marcus Washington is recovering from knee surgery.

4. Who replaces Oliver: Georgia's defense took a tremendous blow earlier this month when senior cornerback Paul Oliver was declared academically ineligible. Oliver was one of the best cover cornerbacks in college football and will enter the NFL's supplemental draft. Sophomores Bryan Evans and Asher Allen might now start at cornerback, but defensive coordinator Willie Martinez also might move backup free safety Reshad Jones to cornerback. Martinez said Jones had the best spring of any of Georgia's defensive backs and is fast enough to play cornerback.

5. New punter: The Bulldogs lost punter Gordon Ely-Kelso, who was adept at getting good hang time and angling punts out of bounds. Junior Brian Mimbs is in line to replace him, after averaging 43.25 on three punts in the spring game. But incoming freshman Drew Butler, son of former Georgia All-American kicker Kevin Butler, might get a chance to win the job this fall.

Kentucky Wildcats
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 Eastern Kentucky
Sept. 8 Kent State
Sept. 15 Louisville
Sept. 22 at Arkansas
Sept. 29 Florida Atlantic
Oct. 4 at South Carolina
Oct. 13 LSU
Oct. 20 Florida
Oct. 27 Mississippi State
Nov. 10 at Vanderbilt
Nov. 17 at Georgia
Nov. 24 Tennessee


2006 overall record:
8-5
Conference record:
4-4

Returning starters
Offense: 7; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Andre Woodson; TB Rafael Little; WR Keenan Burton; WR Dicky Lyons; OG Christian Johnson; OT Garry Williams; TE Jacob Tamme; LB Wesley Woodyard; DE Jeremy Jarmon; FS Marcus McClinton; SS Roger Williams
Key losses
C Matt McCutchan; G Trai Williams; OT Michael Aitcheson; DE Durrell White; DT Lamar Mills; CB Karl Booker
Top newcomer: DT D. J. Stafford Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Rafael Little* (673 yds)
Passing: Andre Woodson* (3,515 yds)
Receiving: Keenan Burton* (1,036 yds)
Tackles: Wesley Woodyard* (122)
Sacks: Myron Pryor* (5)
Interceptions: Marcus McClinton* (4)

Spring answers: 1. Woodson gets better: Senior quarterback Andre Woodson was probably the most improved player in the country last season, throwing for 3,515 yards with 31 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He completed 63 percent of his attempts and avoided the poor decisions that plagued him in the past. He stayed healthy during the spring -- the Wildcats' top priority -- and completed 17 of 28 passes for 245 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the spring game.

2. The gang is all here: The Wildcats return most of their top playmakers from a year ago, including receivers Keenan Burton and Dicky Lyons. Burton had a whopping 77 catches for 1,036 yards and 12 touchdowns and was a top kick returner. Lyons had 50 catches for 822 yards and nine scores. Senior Steve Johnson emerged as a dependable third receiver during the spring, with 15 catches during the team's three scrimmages. Junior David Jones also showed improvement during the spring.

3. Special teams are special: A big part of Kentucky's unexpected success last season was a result of its special teams. And all the key components return this season. The Wildcats led the country in punt returns and were 10th in kickoff returns, the only team in Division I-A to rank in the top 10 in both statistical categories. Kentucky also allowed only 3.6 yards on opponents' punt returns. Coach Rich Brooks continued to stress special teams during the spring, and the punt returns might be better if tailback Rafael Little returns to health.

4. Find the tight ends: Woodson does a great job of utilizing the tight ends in the passing game. Jacob Tamme led all SEC tight ends with 32 catches for 386 yards and two touchdowns last season. T.C. Drake and Ross Bogue showed during the spring that they can catch the ball, too, with five combined receptions in the spring game.

5. Full scholarship allotment: Although Kentucky had a handful of injured linemen during the spring, there was more depth than usual. For the first time since 2001, the Wildcats had a full allotment of 85 scholarships, the maximum allowed by the NCAA. Brooks inherited a program under NCAA sanctions and injuries made the lack of depth worse until last season.

Fall questions: 1. Little's health: Little was one of the SEC's most explosive backs in 2005, when he ran for 1,045 yards and nine touchdowns and caught 46 passes for 449 yards. But he never got untracked last season and was plagued by injuries. He dislocated his wrist during the spring, then suffered a knee injury during the season. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on the knee during the offseason and missed most of this year's spring practice. Kentucky needs him healthy this fall, after it ranked last in the SEC in rushing with only 98.6 yards per game.

2. Will the defense improve: Kentucky won last season despite having the SEC's worst defense. The Wildcats ranked last in the conference in scoring defense (28.4 points per game), pass defense (268.9 yards per game), run defense (184.5 yards) and total defense (453.4 yards). Much-maligned defensive coordinator Mike Archer left for Tom O'Brien's staff at North Carolina State, and Brooks promoted defensive backs coach Steve Brown to coordinator. Brown vows to simplify the scheme so players can play more aggressively and think less.

3. Offensive line holes: The Wildcats lost three starters on the offensive line: center Matt McCutchan, guard Trai Williams and tackle Michael Aitcheson. Four linemen were sidelined with injuries at the start of the spring, and then juco transfer Jess Betts underwent surgery to remove torn cartilage from his knee. Left tackle Garry Williams and left guard Christian Johnson will anchor the unit, but the rest of the line is a huge question mark.

4. Improving the defensive line: The Wildcats have to get better at stopping the run, or their defense won't get any better. They'll have to do it without end Durrell White and tackle Lamar Mills. End Jeremy Jarmon is a good pass-rusher, but tackles Corey Peters and Myron Pryor have to play stronger in the middle. The depth took a hit when tackle Ventrell Jenkins suffered a shoulder injury that might potentially sideline him for the rest of the season.

5. Where's Micah Johnson: The linebacker corps is pretty solid with leading tackler Wesley Woodyard returning on the weak side. Middle linebacker Braxton Kelley returns, along with strongside linebacker Johnny Williams. The Wildcats are still waiting for sophomore Micah Johnson to make a big impact on defense. One of the highest-profile recruits to choose Kentucky in some time, Johnson played mostly on special teams and backup linebacker last season. He missed much of the spring after undergoing surgery to correct a sports hernia.

LSU Tigers
2007 Schedule
Aug. 30 at Mississippi State
Sept. 8 Virginia Tech
Sept. 15 Middle Tennessee
Sept. 22 South Carolina
Sept. 29 at Tulane
Oct. 6 Florida
Oct. 13 at Kentucky
Oct. 20 Auburn
Nov. 3 at Alabama
Nov. 10 Louisiana Tech
Nov. 17 at Mississippi
Nov. 23 Arkansas


2006 overall record:
11-2
Conference record:
6-2

Returning starters
Offense: 6; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
WR Early Doucet; RB Jacob Hester; OT Ciron Black; C Brett Helms; G Herman Johnson; LB Ali Highsmith; DT Glenn Dorsey; DT Charles Alexander; DT Marlon Favorite; LB Luke Sanders; CB Chevis Jackson
Key losses
QB JaMarcus Russell; WR Dwayne Bowe; OT Brian Johnson; OT Peter Dyakowski; FS LaRon Landry; SS Jessie Daniels; DE Chase Pittman; WR Craig Davis
Top newcomer: WR Terrance Toliver Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Jacob Hester* (440 yds)
Passing: JaMarcus Russell (3,129 yds)
Receiving: Dwayne Bowe (990 yds)
Tackles: LaRon Landry (74)
Sacks: Tyson Jackson* (8)
Interceptions: Craig Steltz* and Jonathan Zenon* (4)

Spring answers: 1. Abundance of tailbacks: The Tigers have as many as five players who could line up at tailback this fall, but Keiland Williams and Richard Murphy appear to be the front-runners after spring practice. Jacob Hester, the leading rusher a year ago, returns to tailback. Alley Broussard, a big-time runner three years ago, has seemingly never recovered fully from knee surgery and will probably be limited to short-yardage situations.

2. Stout defensive front: Here's all you need to know about the Tigers' defensive line. Seven linemen had sacks in the spring game, and dominating tackle Glenn Dorsey wasn't even one of them because he missed the spring with a leg injury. Three tackles are back -- Dorsey, Charles Alexander and Marlon Favorite. Defensive end Tyson Jackson had 8½ sacks last season, and sophomore Rahim Alem should replace Chase Pittman on the other side. Junior Tremaine Johnson had three sacks in the spring game.

3. Three linebackers return: Each of the three starting linebackers returns: Ali Highsmith on the strong side, Darry Beckwith in the middle and Luke Sanders on the weak side. Highsmith missed the spring with a leg injury. Sophomore Jacob Cutrera was pushing Beckwith during the spring and will probably play a lot this fall.

4. Spread on the offense: New offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, who left Oregon to replace Jimbo Fisher at LSU, quickly installed the spread offense. Crowton likes to run out of spread formations and prefers short, quick passes off three-step drops. The routes might better suit new quarterback Matt Flynn, who doesn't have the arm strength of departed starter JaMarcus Russell.

5. Experienced cornerbacks: Both starting cornerbacks, seniors Chevis Jackson and Jonathan Zenon, return to a secondary seeking two new safeties. Jackson had 46 tackles and 14 pass breakups starting on the right side. Zenon had four interceptions and 12 pass breakups. Redshirt freshman Jai Eugene and sophomore Chris Hawkins emerged as the top backups during the spring, but incoming freshman Phelon Jones also might get a chance to play this fall.

Fall questions: 1. Is Flynn ready to go: Senior Matt Flynn, whose experience has largely been limited to an MVP performance in place of the injured Russell in the 2005 Chick-Fil-A Bowl, takes over full time this fall. Flynn isn't nearly as big as Russell and doesn't have the former starter's arm strength, but he's an accurate passer and showed a good command of the offense during the spring. Ryan Perrilloux, who threw four passes the last two seasons, was shaky during the spring, then was suspended by coach Les Miles after he was arrested for trying to use a fake I.D. Perrilloux has been dogged by off-field problems the past year, and Miles might not be comfortable handing the sophomore his offense.

2. Doucet needs help: The Tigers lost standout receivers Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis, who combined for 121 catches for 1,826 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2006. Senior Early Doucet is back after catching 59 passes for 772 yards and eight touchdowns, but he'll need help. Sophomore Brandon LaFell is probably the No. 2 receiver, but he was plagued by drops during the spring. Sophomores Chris Mitchell and Jared Mitchell didn't do much during the spring. Sophomore Trindon Holliday is a very explosive player with world-class speed, but he's still learning how to play receiver. Incoming players DeAngelo Benton, Demetrius Byrd and Terrance Toliver might get a chance to crack the rotation this fall. Doucet caught nine passes for 115 yards and one touchdown in the spring game, but the other receivers did very little.

3. Offensive line holes: LSU returns three starters on the offensive line: center Brett Helms, left guard Herman Johnson and left tackle Ciron Black. Senior Carnell Stewart will probably replace departed right tackle Peter Dyakowski, and sophomore Lyle Hitt left spring as the top right guard. Senior Will Arnold was one of the country's top linemen before injuring his ankle and knee last season. He hasn't yet returned, but might supplant Hitt at guard this fall.

4. New safeties: LSU must replace NFL first-round draft choice LaRon Landry at free safety and three-year starter Jessie Daniels at strong safety. Senior Craig Steltz has played a lot during his career and will replace Daniels. Junior Curtis Taylor is the top candidate to replace Landry. Taylor hurt his shoulder in the spring game, but should be ready by the start of preseason camp.

5. Just for kicks: Kicker Colt David is back, but punter Chris Jackson, one of the best in school history, must be replaced.

Mississippi Rebels
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 at Memphis
Sept. 8 Missouri
Sept. 15 at Vanderbilt
Sept. 22 Florida
Sept. 29 at Georgia
Oct. 6 Louisiana Tech
Oct. 13 Alabama
Oct. 20 Arkansas
Oct. 27 at Auburn
Nov. 3 Northwestern State
Nov. 17 LSU
Nov. 23 at Mississippi State


2006 overall record:
4-8
Conference record:
2-6

Returning starters
Offense: 9; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis; TE Robert Lane; C Corey Actis; OT Michael Oher; WR Dexter McCluster; LB Jonathan Cornell; SS Jamarca Sanford; CB Dustin Mouzon; DE Greg Hardy
Key losses
LB Patrick Willis; LB Rory Johnson; CB Trumaine McBride; G Andrew Wicker; LB Garry Pack; FS Charles Clark
Top newcomer: DT Ted Laurent Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: BenJarvus Green-Ellis* (1000 yds)
Passing: Brent Schaeffer* (1,442 yds)
Receiving: Mike Wallace* (410 yds)
Tackles: Patrick Willis (137)
Sacks: Patrick Willis and Greg Hardy* (3)
Interceptions: Charles Clark (2)

Spring answers: 1. Solid running game: Senior BenJarvus Green-Ellis last season became only the third Ole Miss player to run for 1,000 yards in a season. He came back to spring in excellent condition and seems poised for a big senior season. He was held out of the spring game, so Bruce Hall and Cordera Eason shared carries. Hall fumbled twice; Eason ran 12 times for 104 yards and one touchdown.

2. Experienced offensive line: It has taken the Rebels awhile to gain cohesiveness on the offensive line, but they believe they achieved it during spring practice. Senior center Corey Actis and junior left tackle Michael Oher are the anchors. Sophomore Reid Neely had a good spring and was tabbed to replace Andrew Wicker at left guard, and junior Maurice Miller was the right tackle. Sophomore John Jerry returns at right guard.

3. Improved defensive line: The Rebels feel like the defensive line can be the most-improved aspect of their football team. They need improvement after totaling only 14 sacks in 2006. Nose tackle Jerry Garrett was impressive during the spring, and coach Ed Orgeron feels 300-pound tackle Peria Jerry can be a dominant player. End Greg Hardy missed the spring while concentrating on academics. Marcus Tillman and Kentrell Lockett were the starting ends at the end of spring practice.

4. New defensive coordinator: Orgeron hired longtime SEC defensive coordinator John Thompson, who has worked at Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, LSU and South Carolina. Thompson will keep the same 4-3 alignment, but Orgeron relinquished play calling after doing it his first two seasons at Ole Miss.

5. Tight ends more involved: Orgeron expects the tight ends to be more involved in the passing game this coming season. Robert Lane, a former quarterback, is a big target. He missed the spring game with a sprained ankle, but will be fine by the beginning of preseason camp. Lane caught 11 passes for 155 yards last season.

Fall questions: 1. Starting quarterback: Senior Brent Schaeffer might be the perfect example of why fans should never get too excited about a juco transfer. Schaeffer, the former Tennessee starter, was supposed to breathe new life into the Ole Miss offense last season. Instead, he sucked the life out of it a few times with ill-advised decisions. Schaeffer wasn't ready to start at quarterback after arriving late at Ole Miss. He completed only 47 percent of his passes and threw 10 interceptions and nine touchdowns. Schaeffer wasn't much better this spring, either, as former walk-on Seth Adams led the competition at the end of spring practice. Adams completed 16 of 20 passes for 159 yards and one touchdown in the spring game. Schaeffer was 2-for-5 for 13 yards and one touchdown. Adams isn't nearly as mobile as Schaeffer, but he seems to have a better grasp of coordinator Dan Werner's offense.

2. More receivers: One of the top priorities in the spring was to get more production from the receivers and there were mixed results. Split end Shay Hodge played pretty well in the spring and secured a starting job after catching five passes for 65 yards in the spring game. Flanker Dexter McCluster, a dynamic but smaller runner, is a starter after missing the last six games of 2006. Ole Miss has to find ways to get the ball into his hands more often. Marshay Green and Michael Hicks also showed improvement, but the Rebels are counting heavily on juco transfer A.J. Jackson, a 6-foot-6 target.

3. Who replaces Willis: The Rebels lost linebacker Patrick Willis, one of the best players ever to play in Oxford, as well as outside linebacker Rory Johnson, who skipped his senior season to enter the NFL draft (where he wasn't selected). Garry Pack, the other outside linebacker, was dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules. Sophomore Jonathan Cornell is slated to replace Willis in the middle and had a solid spring. Walk-on Jamie Phillips was the leading candidate at one outside spot, along with junior Antonio Turner. But juco transfers Tony Fein, a 24-year-old military veteran, and Lamar Brumfield will be in the mix this fall.

4. Starting secondary: A couple of spots were open in the secondary after cornerback Trumaine McBride and free safety Charles Clark departed. Jamarca Sanford returns at strong safety, and converted receiver Kendrick Lewis was the No. 1 free safety. Sophomore Cassius Vaughn and junior Dustin Mouzon were the starting cornerbacks, ahead of senior Nate Banks, who started the first 10 games last season.

5. Staff changes: Orgeron made a lot of changes to his coaching staff after receivers coach Matt Lubick left for Arizona State. Along with the hiring of Thompson, who will coach the defensive backs, David Corrao was promoted from graduate assistant to linebackers coach. David Saunders, the linebackers coach last season, was reassigned in the athletics department. Tony Hughes moved from defensive backs to tight ends, and tight ends coach Hugh Freeze is coaching the receivers this season.

Mississippi State Bulldogs
2007 Schedule
Aug. 30 LSU
Sept. 8 at Tulane
Sept. 15 at Auburn
Sept. 22 Gardner-Webb
Sept. 29 at South Carolina
Oct. 6 Alabama-Birmingham
Oct. 13 Tennessee
Oct. 20 at West Virginia
Oct. 27 at Kentucky
Nov. 10 Alabama
Nov. 17 at Arkansas
Nov. 23 Mississippi


2006 overall record:
3-9
Conference record:
1-7

Returning starters
Offense: 9; defense: 5; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
C Royce Blackledge; OT Michael Brown; OT Craig Jenkins; WR Tony Burks; TB Anthony Dixon; LB Jamar Chaney; DE Titus Brown; SS Derek Pegues; QB Michael Henig
Key losses
DT Deljuan Robinson; DT Antonio Johnson; DT Andrew Powell; DE Michael Heard; LB Quinton Culberson; FS Jeramie Johnson; CB David Heard; WR/QB Omarr Conner; G Brian Anderson
Top newcomer: K Eric Richards Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Anthony Dixon* (668 yds)
Passing: Mike Henig* (1,201 yds)
Receiving: Tony Burks* (850 yds)
Tackles: Quinton Culberson (102)
Sacks: Titus Brown* (7.5)
Interceptions: Derek Pegues* (4)

Spring answers: 1. Experienced offensive line: Mississippi State returns six players who started games last season. Left tackle Michael Brown was a sometimes dominant blocker while starting the last five games. He missed the early part of the season because of eligibility problems. Center Royce Blackledge and right tackle Craig Jenkins also return. Junior Anthony Strauder moves from right guard to left, and senior J.D. Hamilton had the edge at right guard.

2. Henig is healthy: Many of Mississippi State's problems during three consecutive three-win seasons can be attributed to poor play at quarterback. Michael Henig is a quality quarterback when he's healthy, but he broke his collarbone twice last season. Henig gained 20 pounds during the offseason to try to become more durable. He completed seven of 14 passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns during the spring game. Highly regarded juco transfer Josh Riddell, who threw for more than 5,000 yards and 54 touchdowns in junior college, never really mounted much of a challenge during the spring. He was 1-for-6 for 39 yards with one touchdown in the spring game. Backups Tray Rutland and Ty Evans transferred.

3. Dixon on pace: Tailback Anthony Dixon was thrown into the fire last season as a true freshman. He finally seemed to hit his stride late in the season, when he ran for 335 yards in the last three games. Dixon didn't take much pounding during the spring to keep him healthy for the fall. Senior Justin Williams left spring drills as the No. 2 tailback, followed by Tulane transfer Christian Ducre. Sophomore Arnil Stallworth is coming back from a knee injury.

4. Athletic linebackers: The Bulldogs lost linebacker Quinton Culberson, the heart and soul of their defense the last couple of seasons. Junior Jamar Chaney moves from the outside to middle, after totaling 66 tackles and 7½ tackles for loss last season. Strongside linebacker Gabe O'Neal also has a lot of experience. Jamon Hughes figures to replace Chaney on the weak side, but he was being challenged by Anthony Littlejohn during spring practice. Juco transfer Dominic Douglas might be one of State's best three linebackers, so the coaches will have to find a place for him.

5. Kickers improve: State needs as much as it can get from its special teams. Kicker Adam Carlson missed six of 12 field goal tries last season, but the junior showed a more accurate leg during the spring. Junior Blake Adams also punted better after averaging 38.2 yards last season. Safety Derek Pegues is one of the most dangerous kick and punt returners in the country.

Fall questions: 1. Replacing the tackles: State lost three tackles who played significant roles last season: Deljuan Robinson, Antonio Johnson and Andrew Powell. Sophomores Quinton Wesley and Kyle Love went into the spring as the replacements, but they couldn't hold off Memphis transfer Cortez McCraney and juco transfer Jessie Bowman.

2. Defensive end depth: The Bulldogs are pretty set with starting defensive ends Titus Brown and Avery Hannibal. Brown had 14½ tackles for loss and seven sacks last season and might be on the verge of an All-SEC-type campaign this fall. But depth remains a concern with very few experienced players behind them. Juco transfer Jimmie Holmes might be able to help this fall. K.J. Wright and Terrell Johnson need to develop quickly.

3. New cornerbacks: The Bulldogs lost veteran cornerback David Heard and Pegues moved to free safety. The Bulldogs weren't very good at defending the pass last season -- they ranked 11th in the SEC, allowing 205.9 yards per game -- and were particularly vulnerable against the deep ball. The coaching staff hopes sophomores Anthony Johnson and Marcus Washington can provide better coverage this fall.

4. Starting strong safety: Junior Keith Fitzhugh was getting a surprising challenge from junior De'Mon Glanton during spring practice. Fitzhugh had 59 tackles a year ago and is a dependable tackler. But Glanton is a very aggressive player who will try to win the job during preseason camp.

5. Offensive playmakers: The Bulldogs are searching for playmakers on offense. Senior Tony Burks caught 35 passes for 850 yards after transferring from a junior college last fall. He averaged a whopping 24.3 yards per catch. Jamayel Smith, a walk-on who was the last player added to the fall roster before the 2006 season, caught 20 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns last season. He earned a starting job in the spring -- ahead of Burks. Brandon McRae, a transfer from Division I-AA Morehead State, also was listed as a starter after spring practice.

South Carolina Gamecocks
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 Louisiana-Lafayette
Sept. 8 at Georgia
Sept. 15 South Carolina State
Sept. 22 at LSU
Sept. 29 Mississippi State
Oct. 4 Kentucky
Oct. 13 at North Carolina
Oct. 20 Vanderbilt
Oct. 27 at Tennessee
Nov. 3 at Arkansas
Nov. 10 Florida
Nov. 24 Clemson


2006 overall record:
8-5
Conference record:
3-5

Returning starters
Offense: 6; defense: 10; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
QB Blake Mitchell; TB Cory Boyd; TB Mike Davis; WR Kenny McKinley; OT Jamon Meredith; MLB Jasper Brinkley; DE Jordin Lindsey; DE Eric Norwood; K Ryan Succop
Key losses
NT Stanley Doughty; WR Sidney Rice; CB Fred Bennett; C Chris White; G Thomas Coleman; G Seth Edwards; QB/WR Syvelle Newton
Top newcomer: RB Brian Maddox Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Cory Boyd* (823 yds)
Passing: Blake Mitchell* (1,789 yds)
Receiving: Sidney Rice (1,090 yds)
Tackles: Jasper Brinkley* (107)
Sacks: Eric Norwood* and Casper Brinkley* (7)
Interceptions: Stoney Woodson* (3)

Spring answers: 1. Abundance of pass-rushers: The Gamecocks believe they've greatly improved their defensive end rotation by adding midyear transfers Jonathan Williams, Clifton Geathers and Travian Robertson. Returning ends Jordin Lindsey (4½ tackles for loss, one sack) and Eric Norwood (nine tackles for loss, seven sacks) were pretty productive in 2006, too.

2. Running back duo: Senior Cory Boyd ran for 823 yards and eight touchdowns last season, the highest rushing total by a South Carolina player since 2000. Boyd got most of the work during the spring, when junior Mike Davis was recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. Junior Bobby Wallace has shown good explosiveness in limited touches, so coaches want to get him more involved. Incoming freshman Brian Maddox was the top running back in the state of South Carolina.

3. Seeing double at linebacker: Senior middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley led the Gamecocks with 107 tackles in 2006 and might be poised for an even bigger season in 2007. His twin brother, Casper Brinkley, was moved from defensive end to weakside linebacker in the spring. Coaches haven't decided which position he's better suited for. Junior Marvin Sapp, the team's second-leading tackler last season, broke his right ankle during the spring game. He underwent surgery in April to insert two screws into the ankle, but coaches expect him to be ready by the start of fall camp. Sapp is battling sophomore Rodney Paulk at strongside linebacker.

4. Mitchell on target: Despite poor numbers in the spring game (13-for-39 for 150 yards and two interceptions), coach Steve Spurrier was pretty much pleased with the performance of quarterback Blake Mitchell, who seems to be making the most of his second chance. The senior was benched early last season, following his arrest for his role in a bar fight, and didn't win the job back until the second half of the ninth game. Mitchell completed 69 percent of his passes for 1,789 yards with 10 touchdowns in the last 4½ games.

5. Greater emphasis on special teams: The Gamecocks have one of the better kickers in the country in Ryan Succop, who made 16 of 20 field goal tries last season. But they were inconsistent in kick returns and coverage the last two years, so Spurrier hired Mississippi State assistant Shane Beamer to coordinate the special teams with tight ends coach Frank Chatham. Beamer, son of Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, also will coach outside linebackers.

Fall questions: 1. Defensive tackles: The Gamecocks ranked 75th in the country against the run, allowing 146.8 yards per game, and opponents were able to wear down an undersized front. Nose tackle Stanley Doughty, one of the better run stoppers, is gone. Tackle Marque Hall returns after suffering a torn ACL after the first game last season. Junior Nathan Pepper, senior Joel Reaves and redshirt freshman Kenrick Ellis also must perform better this fall.

2. Nothing up the middle: South Carolina must replace the heart of its offensive line: departed center Chris White and guards Thomas Coleman and Seth Edwards. Spurrier was very unhappy with the replacements this spring, so much so that he moved defensive tackle Lemuel Jeanpierre to offense. Spurrier says Jeanpierre is a tougher player and might win a job by the opener. Tackles Jamon Meredith and Justin Sorensen return. Senior William Brown seemingly has the center job won, but the guard spots remain concerns.

3. Who replaces Rice: Nobody on the roster can match the athleticism and skills of departed receiver Sidney Rice, who caught 72 passes for 1,090 yards and 10 touchdowns. He bolted for the NFL draft despite having two years of eligibility remaining. Junior Kenny McKinley is a great receiver in his own right, after catching 51 passes for 880 yards and five scores last season. But the Gamecocks must find second and third receivers. They're counting heavily on juco transfer Larry Freeman and incoming freshmen Chris Culliver, Jason Barnes and Dion Lecorn for help.

4. Who are the cornerbacks: Departed senior Fred Bennett was the most experienced cornerback in the secondary last season. Juniors Carlos Thomas and Stoney Woodson won the starting jobs during the spring. Woodson had a team-high three interceptions in 2006 and showed greater confidence in coverage.

5. Isaac returns: Senior Brandon Isaac, who missed all of the 2006 season with a shoulder injury, is back and should start at free safety. Sophomore Emanuel Cook seems to be the favorite at strong safety. Depth must be developed at both positions.

Tennessee Volunteers
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 at California
Sept. 8 Southern Mississippi
Sept. 15 at Florida
Sept. 22 Arkansas State
Oct. 6 Georgia
Oct. 13 at Mississippi State
Oct. 20 at Alabama
Oct. 27 South Carolina
Nov. 3 Louisiana-Lafayette
Nov. 10 Arkansas
Nov. 17 Vanderbilt
Nov. 23 at Kentucky


2006 overall record:
9-4
Conference record:
5-3

Returning starters
Offense: 7; defense: 5; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
QB Erik Ainge; C Josh McNeil; G Anthony Parker; DE Xavier Mitchell; LB Jerod Mayo; LB Ryan Karl; RB LaMarcus Coker; RB Arian Foster; DT J.T. Mapu; FS Jonathan Hefney; TE Chris Brown; TE Brad Cottam; P Britton Colquitt
Key losses
OT Arron Sears; G David Ligon; WR Jason Swain; WR Robert Meachem; WR Brett Smith; DT Turk McBride; LB Marvin Mitchell; CB Jonathan Wade; CB Antwan Stewart; SS Demetrice Morley
Top newcomer: CB Eric Berry Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: LaMarcus Coker* (696 yds)
Passing: Erik Ainge* (2,989 yds)
Receiving: Robert Meachem (1,298 yds)
Tackles: Marvin Mitchell (104)
Sacks: Jerod Mayo* (5)
Interceptions: Jonathan Hefney* (5)

Spring answers: 1. Old Foster returns: Junior Arian Foster, who never found his form last season because of an ankle injury, finally resembled the running back who ran for 879 yards and five touchdowns as a redshirt freshman in 2005. Vols coach Phillip Fulmer said Foster had a "great" spring. Sophomores LaMarcus Coker and Montario Hardesty, who has undergone surgeries on both knees, give the Vols one of the country's best backfields when all three are healthy. The Vols ranked 96th in the country in rushing last season with only 108 yards per game.

2. Plenty of tight ends: Tennessee has a dearth of experienced players at receiver, but there are three quality targets at tight end. Senior Chris Brown played a huge role in coordinator David Cutcliffe's offense last season, with a career-high 31 catches for 239 yards. Senior Brad Cottam is another big target, and younger brother Jeff Cottam was one of the most-improved players during the spring.

3. Experienced linebackers: With holes to fill on the defensive line and in the secondary, Tennessee's linebackers are going to have to lead the defense. Middle linebacker Marvin Mitchell, the team's leading tackler in 2006 with 104 tackles, must be replaced. Junior Jerod Mayo, who had 12½ tackles for loss and five sacks last season, moved to the middle during the spring. Mayo was hampered by knee and ankle injuries the past two seasons, and swelling in the knee kept him out of contact work during the spring. Senior Ryan Karl is back at strongside linebacker, and athletic Rico McCoy, a freshman All-American, takes over on the weak side.

4. Holes filled on offensive line: The Volunteers lost the left side of their line when tackle Arron Sears and guard David Ligon departed. They were perhaps Tennessee's toughest and best linemen. Right tackle Eric Young missed the spring after undergoing shoulder surgery during the offseason, and coaches are unsure if he'll stay on the right side or move to the left when preseason camp begins. Sophomore Chris Scott had a good spring and might start at left tackle. Right guard Anthony Parker is back, along with center Josh McNeil. Junior Ramon Foster left spring drills as the starting left guard, after he was named the team's most improved offensive player.

5. Just for kicks: Replacing kicker James Wilhoit, who was 18-for-22 on field goal tries last season, will be no easy task. Redshirt freshman Daniel Lincoln seemed to regain his confidence during the spring, after he struggled in practice throughout the 2006 season. But junior Britton Colquitt, one of the country's best punters, remained ahead in the battle to handle place-kicking chores.

Fall questions: 1. Ainge's development: Senior quarterback Erik Ainge made remarkable progress last season, after Fulmer brought Cutcliffe back onto his staff. Ainge threw for 2,989 yards with 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions and completed 67 percent of his passes. He struggled during the two losses in which he played extensively, against Florida and Penn State in the Outback Bowl. Ainge missed the second half of spring drills after undergoing surgery to remove torn meniscus cartilage from his right knee. He is already back running and throwing and should be fine by the start of preseason camp.

2. Defensive line: Starting defensive ends Xavier Mitchell and Antonio Reynolds are back, but coordinator John Chavis is looking for increased production from both. Mitchell had 15 quarterback hurries and four sacks last season; Reynolds had just one sack.

3. New defensive tackles: Replacing tackles Turk McBride, Matt McGlothlin and Justin Harrell is a tall task. Senior J.T. Mapu, who returned to the team in 2006 after a two-year absence on a LDS Church mission, never seemed to regain his form. Junior Robert Ayers also has played inconsistently. Mapu and junior Demonte' Bolden left spring drills as the No. 1 tackles, but sophomore Dan Williams also made a big impression.

4. Rebuilding the secondary: Free safety Jonathan Hefney, who had 96 tackles and five interceptions in 2006, is the only returning starter. Strong safety Demetrice Morley was dismissed from the school for academic reasons, and cornerback Roshaun Fellows (a starter in 2005) was kicked off the team for a violation of team rules. Sophomore Marsalous Johnson was the most improved player on defense during the spring and went a long way in securing one of the cornerback spots. Senior Antonio Gaines was the other starting cornerback after spring drills, and senior Jarod Parrish was the starting strong safety. But they'll have to hold off juco transfers Nevin McKenzie and DeAngelo Willingham and highly regarded freshman Eric Berry during preseason camp.

5. Who are the wide receivers: The departed trio of Jayson Swain, Robert Meachem and Bret Smith was spectacular last season, combining for 60 percent of the team's receptions, 72 percent of its receiving yards and 96 percent of its touchdown catches. Obviously, Tennessee will have a tough time replacing that production. Sophomore Quintin Hancock had a solid spring, and junior Lucas Taylor showed signs of being productive. But the Vols are counting heavily on juco transfer Kenny O'Neal (who was booted off Florida State's team last spring) and freshmen Brent Vinson, Ahmad Paige and Gerald Jones.

Vanderbilt Commodores
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 Richmond
Sept. 8 Alabama
Sept. 15 Mississippi
Sept. 29 Eastern Michigan
Oct. 6 at Auburn
Oct. 13 Georgia
Oct. 20 at South Carolina
Oct. 27 Miami (Ohio)
Nov. 3 at Florida
Nov. 10 Kentucky
Nov. 17 at Tennessee
Nov. 24 Wake Forest


2006 overall record:
4-8
Conference record:
1-7

Returning starters
Offense: 8; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Chris Nickson; WR Earl Bennett; MLB Jonathan Goff; OT Chris Williams; DE Curtis Gatewood; SS Reshard Langford; FS Ryan Hamilton; WR George Smith; RB Cassen Jackson-Garrison; G Josh Eames; C Hamilton Holliday
Key losses
LB Kevin Joyce; DT Ray Brown; DE Chris Booker; WR Marlon White; TE Steven Bright; G Mac Pyle
Top newcomer: QB Larry Smith Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Chris Nickson* (694 yds)
Passing: Chris Nickson* (2,085 yds)
Receiving: Earl Bennett* (1,146 yds)
Tackles: Jonathan Goff* (93)
Sacks: Curtis Gatewood* (7)
Interceptions: Reshard Langford* and Darlron Spead* (3)

Spring answers: 1. Nickson grows as a passer: Vanderbilt's coaches were happy with the sophomore's progress during the spring. He had a tremendous freshman season, throwing for 2,085 yards with 15 touchdowns and running for 694 yards and nine scores. But they wanted to see Nickson throw more accurately and make better decision and they were happy with the results.

2. Talented duo at receiver: Nickson will have two big-play threats on the perimeter with juniors Earl Bennett and George Smith. Bennett is one of the most underrated players in the country, after hauling in 92 passes for 1,146 yards and six touchdowns last season. Smith caught 13 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns in the last four games. Junior Sean Walker emerged as the third receiver during spring drills.

3. Third linebacker found: The Commodores return middle linebacker Jonathan Goff, the heart and soul of their defense. The senior had 93 tackles and 2½ sacks last season and was named All-SEC. Strongside linebacker Marcus Buggs, another senior, had 50 tackles and 10½ tackles for loss in 2006. Sophomore Brandon Bryant went a long way in winning the weakside linebacker spot with four tackles and one sack in the spring game.

4. Experienced offensive line returns: The Commodores might have five seniors starting on the offensive line, if tackle Brian Stamper returns from a stress fracture in his right foot. Four senior starters return: left tackle Chris Williams, left guard Josh Eames, center Hamilton Holliday and right guard Merritt Kirchoffer (who moves back from right tackle). Stamper is expected to start at right tackle after missing nearly all of last season with a back injury. Sophomore Thomas Welch played their during Stamper's absence in the spring.

5. Jennings returns: Nickson was Vanderbilt's leading rusher last season, after Jeff Jennings missed the season with a knee injury. Starter Cassen Jackson-Garrison was slow out of the gates after undergoing an emergency appendectomy, but finished with 614 yards and five touchdowns. Jennings looked very strong during the spring and should give the Commodores a formidable one-two punch at tailback.

Fall questions: 1. Starting secondary: Vanderbilt played as many as seven cornerbacks last season, and coach Bobby Johnson tinkered with the starting secondary in the spring. Sophomore D.J. Moore, who played pretty well as a freshman, was on his way to securing one of the starting spots. Converted safety Myron Lewis worked with the first team at cornerback, and sophomore Joel Caldwell, a starting cornerback last season, was working at backup safety. Junior Josh Allen also is in the mix at cornerback. Starting safeties Ryan Hamilton and Reshard Langford both return.

2. Can Lewis help the pass rush: The Commodores are desperately trying to generate more pass rush from their down linemen. They hope they found an answer in end Quavian Lewis, who had three sacks and a pass breakup in the spring game. End Curtis Gatewood, who had 49 tackles and seven sacks last season, also is back.

3. Red zone offense: The Commodores spent a lot of time working on their red zone offense, after they scored touchdowns on 18 of 32 trips inside opponents' 20-yard line, the lowest success rate in the SEC. The return of Jennings, and improved accuracy from Nickson, should help this fall.

4. Stop the run: The Commodores are still a bit undermanned up front, a big reason they allowed 156 rushing yards per game last season. Senior tackle Gabe Hall, who has lost nearly 30 pounds to around 288, showed promise during the spring as a run stopper. Sophomore Greg Billinger also will play. Tackle Theo Horrocks, who had 49 tackles and five sacks in 2006, is the anchor of the interior unit.

5. Get better on special teams: The Commodores have to get better in the kick return game, after they averaged only 4.7 yards on punt returns (last in the SEC) and 17.9 yards on kickoff returns. Bennett can be a dangerous kick returner, but the blocking in front of him has to get better.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.