Thrill of Victory

Five developing storylines in the SEC

With fall practice almost three weeks in, there were a number of very interesting storylines across the Southeastern Conference training camps this month, and several more that took place far away from the practice field. Here’s a look at some of the more important ones that caught my eye.

1. Will Auburn and Florida be handicapped by the quarterback position?
The Tigers and the Gators recruit just about as well as anyone in the country year-in and year-out. But both schools have some questions at quarterback going into the season, and they’re questions that could potentially keep each school from meeting high expectations.
At Auburn, it’s no shock that Kiehl Frazier emerged as the Tigers’ quarterback. Frazier’s backup, Clint Moseley, has a sore shoulder that is seriously affecting how he throws. The No. 3 quarterback is true freshman Jonathan Wallace, who was one of the least-heralded recruits in his class. Frazier is talented, but the fact that he didn’t emerge head-and-shoulders above the competition seems a bit troublesome.

In Gainesville, coach Will Muschamp is still undecided between quarterbacks Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett. A commonly-held belief in football is that if you’re rotating two quarterbacks, then you don’t really have one guy you can count on. I don’t always believe that, but when it involves two players who hit on less than 50 percent of their passes a year ago, I suspect that might apply here.

I’m not saying that neither team can do well, but the upside is certainly more limited the longer each goes without a real answer here.

2. Is Tennessee better off without Da’Rick Rogers?
When UT announced its suspension of its All-SEC receiver, the buzz around Vol Nation was one of panic and relief at the same time. Few doubt that Rogers is an NFL talent – probably a first-round talent –but there have been persistent and serious questions about his character even back to high school. Many speculate that the Vols might be better off without Rogers around to bring his teammates down.
I think there’s something to that sentiment. On the other hand, if it were so obvious that the risk out-weighs the reward, then why didn’t coach Derek Dooley kick him out in one of the numerous chances that Rogers has given him over the years? The Vols are still talented at receiver, but their biggest talent is now gone. I suspect UT is better off without him, but we can’t be sure until some games are played.

3. How much will Tyrann Mathieu’s absence hurt LSU?
Just as there was speculation that Tennessee would be better off without Rogers, there’s a bit of a lesser buzz that LSU might not be hurt as badly as most think by the Honey Badger’s departure. As great as Mathieu was at making huge plays, his consistency in pass defense often left something to be desired. Then there was the matter as to whether a guy who repeatedly failed drug tests could be a bad influence on his teammates.
I think that LSU will be hurt more by Mathieu’s absence that UT will be by Rogers’ departure if for no other reason that the depth chart behind him: LSU will replace him with a true freshman and a redshirt freshman. In the return game, Odell Beckham should be competent in replacing Mathieu, which helps. Coach Les Miles has plenty of able-bodied players who can make plays in Mathieu’s absence, but realistically, losing a guy who was a Heisman Finalist is likely to leave a mark.

4. What will become of the NCAA’s investigation of Mississippi State?
The SEC had done a pretty good job staying out from under the NCAA’s investigative microscope while scandals have raged at Ohio State, Penn State, North Carolina and Miami over the last couple of years. But trouble started brewing in Starkville earlier this week with the sudden resignation of receivers coach Angelo Mirando. Coaches just don’t quit two weeks before the season started for no reason – and sure enough, the NCAA suspects it has connected some dots between Mirando, MSU freshman Will Redmond, and what the school terms “a potential recruiting irregularity.”
An NCAA investigation is underway, and you have to wonder if Pandora’s Box will soon be opened because Redmond hails from Memphis. In case you’ve forgotten what a cesspool Memphis can be for recruitment, just remind Alabama and Kentucky fans about the probations their schools got for their Memphis-based recruiting activities a little over a decade ago.

And it might not stop at MSU this time, either: there are rumors that a handful of other SEC schools might also come under scrutiny as it relates to this mess.

5. Is Vanderbilt underrated?
Okay, nobody expects the Commodores to go 2-10 this year after last season’s bowl surprise. But outside of Nashville, not a lot of people are pegging VU as a potential Top 25 team. Should they be?

Let’s rewind to last fall and change two plays from Vandy’s season, and then re-assess the outlook for 2012. Take away tailback Zac Stacy’s only fumble of the season which occurred inside the Arkansas 5 and was returned for a touchdown, and accounted for a potential two-TD swing in the Razorbacks’ narrow win. Then let’s suppose that the punt VU blocked against Georgia in the final minute of the two teams’ game a year ago had taken a better bounce. Had those things happened, we’d be talking about Vandy team that won eight games with most of its starters back. Do you think that the pundits might have given VU a bit more consideration in the polls this preseason under those circumstances?

Those two plays going the wrong way for Vandy last year doesn’t really make it a demonstrably worse team coming into this season. I am not necessarily claiming that VU has been “snubbed” by the pollsters in this case — having seen them in camp, the Commodores look good though I’m not quite sure they’ve arrived at that level yet — but it would be interesting to see if the Commodores would have been perceived differently coming off an 8-5 season. Perhaps they might have made a few Top 25 lists.