College football spring practices are already in full swing throughout the South, and in some cases, a few teams have already wrapped up their sessions. The arrival of spring football means that SEC coaches are full speed ahead toward answering major questions that could make or break their teams' chance of making it to Atlanta come the first weekend of December and competing for an SEC championship.
Some of those questions are obvious. How does Georgia carve its path to three-peat as national champions? How will Alabama approach its quest to regain its throne atop the SEC West? However, the details within those questions are what have coaches concerned at this point in the year.
So let's break down the biggest question each SEC football team has to answer during the spring practices in preparation for the 2023 college football season.
What will the offensive scheme look like? It's easy to just say "quarterback" for Alabama since, breaking news, superstar Bryce Young doesn't reside in Tuscaloosa anymore. The scheme under new offensive coordinator Tommy Rees is much more intriguing. The former Notre Dame offensive coordinator will be more focused on running to set up the pass rather than the other way around, which was the focus of the Bill O'Brien offense. Coach Nick Saban has clearly made a philosophical switch, and it'll be up to Rees to install it. We'll know a lot more about the direction of the offense after the spring game when dual-threat weapon Jalen Milroe and pro-style deep threat Ty Simpson have had reps in front of the coaching staff.
Can the pass defense be fixed? Former defensive coordinator Barry Odom left to take the head-coaching job at UNLV, and rising star Travis Williams was tabbed to replace him in mid-December. Williams' primary order of business is to fix a pass defense that ranked last in the nation at 294.7 yards per game. Dwight McGlothern has returned, and will lead a veteran secondary that has benefitted from multiple incoming transfer players out of the transfer portal. There are puzzle pieces for Williams to work with, and putting them in the right places could make or break the Razorbacks' SEC West title chances.
Who will play quarterback? Dual-threat weapon Robby Ashford got the majority of the snaps for the Tigers last season after veteran pro-style signal-caller T.J. Finley suffered an injury in Week 3. It's no secret that first-year coach Hugh Freeze went shopping in the transfer portal during the winter window, but it's up to the two former starters to impress him between now and the Tigers' spring game on April 7. Is Auburn's quarterback on campus? Ashford has some work to do as a passer, and it has been difficult for Finley to stay healthy throughout his career.
Is Graham Mertz the guy? Anthony Richardson chose to leave for the NFL after one year as the Gators' starter, and coach Billy Napier hit the transfer portal and lured Graham Mertz way from Wisconsin. Mertz signed with the Badgers with a lot of hype coming out of high school but failed to live up to expectations in Madison. If Mertz does take over as QB1, how will the offense change? Richardson was a monster on the ground, but Mertz doesn't have that weapon in his arsenal. Jack Miller is hot on Mertz's heels this spring, but Napier has another transfer portal window that opens on May 1 to go shopping if he so chooses.
What does the offense look like? Todd Monken was one of the driving forces behind Georgia's return to glory, but Mike Bobo has taken over the offense after Monken bolted for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens. Bobo helped former Bulldog Aaron Murray become the SEC's all-time leader in passing yards, and he has a great quarterback room that includes Carson Beck, Brock Vandagriff and Gunner Stockton with which to work. What's more, Bobo had plenty of success running the ball with multiple running backs during his first stint calling plays at Georgia in the early 2010s, and that was a calling card under Monken. Simply put, if Bobo doesn't try to reinvent the wheel, Georgia will be fine. We'll see if he actually follows through, though.
Will the Wildcats run the dang ball? Once upon a time, Kentucky was known for a punishing rushing attack behind a massive and fundamentally sound offensive line. That wasn't the story last year when the Wildcats finished next-to-last in the conference in rushing offense (116.23) ahead of only Mississippi State, which barely even tried to pound the rock. Chris Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke are gone, and JuTahn McClain and Ray Davis will be charged with getting the Cats' identity back.
Can Jayden Daniels become a superstar? The veteran dual-threat quarterback is entering his second season with the Tigers after starting for three seasons at Arizona State. He was touted as a superstar from the moment he signed with the Sun Devils, and finally showed why last season as he led the Tigers to the SEC West title. We know that he is a monster on the ground, and that's a big reason why he's high on Heisman Trophy odds boards heading into the season. He'll need to take the next step as a passer in order to follow through, though. He only topped the 300-yard mark twice last season, and wasn't asked to do much through the air during the division title run. If LSU is going to become a true national title contender, Daniels has to have more balance in his game.
Who is Zach Arnett? Arnett took over the Bulldogs after the tragic death of former coach Mike Leach. Arnett, who has never had a head-coaching job, isn't just taking over a program in the SEC West but is stepping in for a legendary coach whose Air-Raid principles are littered in playbooks throughout the country. Those are some big shoes to fill. Arnett has said that he isn't going to change much, and with Will Rogers back to take the snaps, has a veteran to lean on during the transition.
Can Luther Burden emerge as a true superstar? The best wide receiver the college football world never heard of in 2022 was Dominic Lovett. But he left Columbia, Missouri, after the season and joined Georgia. That means it's Luther Burden's time to shine. The former five-star prospect and No. 14 overall player in the 2022 recruiting class is the most hyped outside threat to play for the Tigers since Dorial Green-Beckham. He only had 375 yards receiving last year but found the end zone six times as a true freshman. Brady Cook will likely take the snaps for the second straight season, and has to develop a rapport with Burden in order to lead the Tigers back into SEC East relevancy.
Who emerges as front-runner in loaded starting QB competition? Lane Kiffin created the quarterback "Hunger Games" in the offseason when he lured Spencer Sanders away from Oklahoma State and Walker Howard from LSU to compete with returning starter Jaxson Dart. In the process, he has generated a spotlight on the program unlike anything we have ever seen. Kiffin and USC coach Lincoln Riley are the two "Portal Kings" in the new era of player movement, but even Riley hasn't created a battle among transfers like this. Kiffin is an offensive genius, and he has a plethora of riches to work with this offseason.
Where is the rushing attack? Quarterback Spencer Rattler set the college football world on fire last November when he orchestrated a massive upset win over Tennessee, but he has to have some help if he wants to help the Gamecocks become Georgia's biggest threat in the SEC East. Specifically, he needs a rushing attack. MarShawn Lloyd, who led the team with 573 yards on the ground last season, bolted for USC in the offseason. That leaves Mario Anderson, Juju McDowell and Lovasea Carroll as the three likely candidates to earn meaningful carries.
Who will replace Hendon Hooker? Michigan transfer Joe Milton III beat Hooker out for the starting job with the Volunteers prior to the 2021 season but was benched in place of Hooker after just two games. With Hooker gone, it's safe to say that Milton is the front-runner for the top spot on the depth chart after throwing for 251 yards and three touchdowns in the Orange Bowl win over Clemson. However, freshman stud Nico Iamaleava might have something to say about that. Iamaleava, a five-star prospect and the No. 2 overall player in the Class of 2023, is the future of the Volunteers offense under Josh Heupel. Milton will have a big say in determining whether the "future is now."
Will the Bobby Petrino experiment work? Jimbo Fisher took a big risk this offseason when he hired Bobby Petrino to run the Aggies offense this season. Petrino, the former coach at Arkansas, Louisville, Western Kentucky and Missouri State, has shown throughout his career that he can light up offensive stat sheets no matter where he coaches. However, he can be a little stubborn. That makes Fisher's decision to bring in Petrino so interesting considering Fisher has called the majority of the Aggies' plays since arriving in College Station prior to the 2018 season. One thing that we do know is that the duo has plenty of weapons to work with including quarterback Conner Weigman and a plethora of weapons outside.
How will the Commodores fix their pass defense? Vanderbilt finished 128th in the nation in passing defense at 290.5 yards per game last season but improved down the stretch, including during wins over Kentucky and Florida. The Commodores return multiple members of that secondary, including safety De'Rickey Wright, who had three interceptions last season. The foundation has been set, but it's up to coach Clark Lea -- a defensive coach by trade -- to build upon the late-season momentum and experience that exists on his roster. If they can't stop opposing quarterbacks, the program could regress into SEC East anonymity.