BY FRANZ BEARD
GATORBAIT SENIOR COLUMNIST
With spring football cancelled not only at Florida but throughout the Southeastern Conference, we now understand just how important those 15 practices were for teams (like Florida) that went bowling last year. Dan Mullen spent a good portion of practice time for the Orange Bowl getting reps for the young guys so while the spring practice would have helped, especially for the early enrollees, the Gators won’t be hurt as badly as some other SEC teams.
Mullen returns 12 starters and 31 of the 44 on his two-deep roster so experience isn’t going to be a problem, particularly at the most important position on the field. Kyle Trask is the SEC’s leading returning passer and has an 8-2 record as a starter. Backup Emory Jones showed star quality when he got his reps. Additionally, four starters return on the O-line, tight end Kyle Pitts should be the front runner for the Mackey Award, and with Trevon Grimes, Jacob Copeland and Kadarius Toney, there is talent and speed at wide receiver.
Over on defense, Georgia transfer Brenton Cox is instant pass rush. Jeremiah Moon would have missed the spring anyway recovering from injury. The secondary could be the nation’s best with three starters among 10 experienced returnees.
So while Mullen and his staff would have loved to have had the 15 practices in the spring, the Gators aren’t going to be devastated like some teams. In fact, with spring football cancelled the gap between Florida and Georgia has narrowed to the point the Gators might be favored to win the SEC East and start the season ranked among the top five teams nationally.
One other factoid: The only assistant Mullen lost from his staff was tight ends coach Larry Scott, now the HBC at Howard. Scott was a good coach, but his replacement – Tim Brewster – is an upgrade both as a position coach and recruiter.
ELSEWHERE IN THE SEC
Alabama: Where Alabama will be hurt most without a spring practice is on the defensive side of the ball where seven starters must be replaced. The offense won’t miss a beat, especially with LT Alex Leatherwood, RB Najee Harris and receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle for Mac Jones to throw to. Bama needed spring, but there’s no mistaking the talent is there.
Arkansas: The situation is a mess. New HBC Sam Pittman is putting in a new system for a team that has lost its last 19 SEC games. Most of the starters return on both sides of the ball, which is either good news or bad news. The QB will be former Gator and grad transfer Feleipe Franks.
Auburn: The defense has to be rebuilt and the offensive line lost four starters. That’s the bad news. The good news is quarterback Bo Nix is a superstar in the making after beating Oregon and Alabama as a true freshman.
Georgia: There is a new offensive coordinator, a new offensive line coach and a new QB in Wake Forest grad transfer Jamie Newman. The questions are on the offensive side of the ball and not having spring football could cost Georgia a shot at the national title. The defense will be among the nation’s best.
Kentucky: When football resumes in August, the Wildcats will have quarterback Terry Wilson back from a knee injury in game two last year. Four starters return on the O-line and there are seven returning starters on defense.
LSU: Coach O has to replace 14 starters from last year’s national champion, the most important of which is quarterback Joe Burrow. Myles Brennan has the arm to be an outstanding replacement, but he will be in his third offensive system in three years. No spring football is a real problem in Baton Rouge.
Mississippi State: This situation would seem much worse if not for the fact Mike Leach will be working with Stanford grad transfer QB K.J. Costello. Costello has a big arm and high intelligence. He’ll learn the Air Raid easily. Having running back Kylin Hill returning is huge. Fourteen starters return.
Missouri: New HBC Eli Drinkwitz needed the spring to implement a brand new offensive scheme for a team that lost its starting QB. On the defensive side of the ball, 10 starters return, so the situation isn’t as hapless as those at Arkansas and Vandy.
Ole Miss: There is a potential quarterback controversy with sophomores John Rhys Plumlee and Matt Corrall, so not having spring practice is going to be a setback for new HBC Lane Kiffin. He does have a lot of offensive talent to work with, however.
South Carolina: Will Muschamp has 16 returning starters including QB Ryan Hilinski. There is a new offensive coordinator (Mike Bobo), however, so missing the spring will be a setback for the offense. The D-line has to be rebuilt.
Tennessee: The Vols have 16 returning starters, one of which is stud left guard Trey Smith, one of the top 10 O-linemen in the country. The quarterbacks needed the spring because they were erratic last year, but they’ll be in the same system for a second year. The Vols could challenge in the SEC East.
Texas A&M: With 20 starters returning including fourth year starter at QB Kellen Mond, is there any question why Jimbo Fisher is smiling? The lack of spring football isn’t going to hurt the Aggies and might make them the favorite to win the SEC West.
Vanderbilt: Without spring practice and the loss of their best three offensive players from last year as well as the departure via transfer or graduation of every scholarship quarterback, Vandy could look like a dead roach.