You will notice there are no SEC spring football rankings in this story.
That's because at this point, it's meaningless. I want to wait until the preseason to look stupid making predictions, not now.
There's a better chance for me to look less idiotic then, because we're about to enter the annual Twilight Zone for college football coaches.
Between now and the first week of August when preseason camps open, the dynamic of teams can change dramatically. There are academic casualties of current players, signees who don't academically qualify and player arrests for everything imaginable.
Take the case of South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia. He reported to Carolina in January 2007 as an early high school graduate. He has had so much off-the-field trouble, resulting in suspensions, that this was the first spring that the third-year sophomore was able to practice without serving a Steve Spurrier-issued suspension.
Because the NCAA doesn't allow coaches to have any contact with players in the summer — one of the many senseless NCAA rules that fosters even more trouble — it's just about time for knucklehead season to start when coaches cross their fingers and pray they don't get any calls from local police after midnight.
Coaches can only do so much. It's the Teams with the best veteran leadership often are the ones who that survive a summer free from trouble.
'We've had problems in the past, (along with) a lot of other schools across the nation, with guys getting in trouble,' Georgia starting quarterback Joe Cox said.
'We don't want to make it where we tell guys, ‘Stay in room, lock your doors and don't do anything, don't have any fun.' But at the same time, you need to be careful, know the difference between right and wrong, and find ways to have fun while staying out of trouble. I think we've done a great job of that so far. Nobody has done anything stupid.'
Yes, but it's only April.
Incoming freshmen, who report for summer school in early June, can particularly be susceptible to getting buck-wild too quick. Like any normal student, it's the first time they haven't had an authority figure around to reel them back in.
That's one reason the NCAA needs to allow coaches to have contact with players at least twice weekly during the summer. Freshmen need it the most, because many of them immediately start feeling the pressure of having to live up to their overhyped recruitment.
'There's a real challenge in this information age because of all the recruiting profiles written by the media,' Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. 'A lot of these kids get to campus and start feeling that pressure to live up to the hype. That's a lot for an 18-year-old to deal with, and it's not until a junior or senior year that they often learn how to manage it.'
In the meantime, bail bondsmen throughout the South are hanging by the phone, waiting for their annual summer economic stimulus package.
To reach Ron Higgins, call him at 529-2525 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
While it's easy to see why Alabama drew 84,050 to its spring game — many of those folks are people who can't buy afford the ticket prices to a regular-season game or can't find a ticket to sold-out Bryant-Denny Stadium — it's a steadfast sign that the Crimson Tide are way ahead of schedule as Nick Saban ended his third spring as head coach.
Don't think the players and especially prospective recruits didn't notice the large mob showing up for a glorified scrimmage.
'It was crazy,' Alabama All-SEC defensive lineman Terrence 'Mount' Cody said. 'I felt like I was coming out in a real game. The stadium was almost fully packed and it got loud like a real game.'
With one spring game left to be played Saturday (Kentucky), the Crimson Tide, by far, has had the largest spring game crowd. The others, in order are: Florida, 65,000 (estimated); Tennessee, 51,488; Auburn, 45,381; Georgia, 42,458; Mississippi State, 31,606; Arkansas, 30,000 (estimated); Ole Miss, 28,357; South Carolina, 25,157; LSU, 20,000 (estimated); and Vanderbilt, 1,000 (estimated).
A kick in the pants
New Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen figured it was a goodwill gesture and a smart move to invite former State coach Jackie Sherrill to an April 10 practice as a kicking coach consultant. Turns out the school had to report Sherrill's visit as a secondary NCAA rules violation because he was seen interacting with players during the workout. NCAA rules allow for the use of consultants to train the coaching staff, but consultants are not allowed to interact with players unless counted as coaches. And there is a limit on the number of coaches allowed at practices. The reporting of the violation is curious because What's curious is that at last year's Ole Miss-LSU game, Danny Nutt, younger brother of Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt and not a member of the Rebels' coaching staff, was clearly seen in TV replays interacting with and apparently coaching players on the Tiger Stadium field in the heat of battle. As long as the NCAA is nitpicking about a silly rule, let's nitpick equally. . ... The Rebels' offense looked off the charts at the spring game, but what about the defense? 'Our starting unit is right on track, but they need to make the commitment to have a great summer,' Rebels' defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said. 'We need to develop better leadership, get stronger and continue to learn the game.'
Arkansas running back Michael Smith erased all doubts a year ago that a 5-7 bundle of dynamite could handle a heavy weekly workload in the SEC. His 207 attempts in just 10 games last year (with five games of 20 or more rushes with back-to-back 35-attempt games vs. Auburn and Kentucky) was a stunner, and he ended up paying the price with off-season hamstring surgery. It's why second-year coach Bobby Petrino, despite injuries to other backs, made sure this spring to find plenty of depth behind Smith. 'There were a few times last year Mike carried it way too many times,' Petrino said. 'I'd like to see him touch the ball 20 to 24 times a game, but I want some of those to be pass receptions.' ... LSU, which had quarterback problems and a porous defense last season when it went 9-4, feels a lot better in both areas. Sophomore Jordan Jefferson, who threw for 145 yards and one TD in LSU's 38-3 Chick-Fil-A Bowl win over Georgia Tech, had a great spring and highly-touted incoming freshman Russell Shepard showed why he was one of the nation's best high school QBs last year. Shepard, who had 86 yards total offense in the spring game, was described by running back Charles Scott as 'a slippery little dude ... he has to get a few bricks in his pocket, gain a little weight.' Also, junior placekicker and former Ridgeway star Josh Jasper was of the three winners of the Tigers' Eric Andolsek offensive leadership award.
'Jevan was the best quarterback we faced last year, so going against him every day can only make us better.'
— Ole Miss linebacker Allen Walker on the benefits of practicing against Rebels' QB Jevan Snead.
As much as anything, it seems like Florida quarterback Tim Tebow decided to stick around for his senior year so he could help prepare third-year sophomore John Brantley, his eventual replacement.
Brantley completed 14-for-23 for 265 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in the spring game, making Tebow happy.
'It's not so much that I show him Xs and Os as it is how to handle different situations,' Tebow said. 'Like when he should show intensity, when to go out and have fun. I know he'll be a great quarterback. He's not necessarily a running QB, but he's athletic enough to make the plays he needs to.'
Kiffin in the huddle
Tennessee's offense had an extra face in the huddle during its spring game — new head coach Lane Kiffin. Because Kiffin's offense isn't completely installed yet, he decided to poke his head in the huddle, call plays and make sure people were lined up in the right place. 'He has been in our huddle all spring, motivating us and telling us to forget the last play and move on to the next,' quarterback Jonathan Crompton said. ... One of South Carolina's biggest points of emphasis in the spring was improving a running game that has been dead last in the SEC the last couple of years. Carolina emerged from the spring with four backs — apparent starter Brian Maddox, Jarvis Giles, Kenny Miles and Eric Baker — that combined for 254 yards on 34 carries in the spring game. Carolina has made some tweaks to its offense designed to boost the run game. More run plays are being called from a one-back shotgun set so that backs, lining up deeper, can see the running lanes clearer. Also, Adding to that is offensive line coach Eric Wolford widened the splits of his linemen. ... Kentucky is the only SEC team that hasn't played its spring game, but UK coach Rich Brooks is thrilled and surprised that All-SEC cornerback Trevard Lindley decided to return for his senior year. 'He had a high (NFL) evaluation (a second-round projection) and I advised him to go,' Brooks said. 'There are few guys in the country that you can stick out there on that island, and have him have him cover anybody one-on-one.'
Georgia moves on
Now, that quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowhson Knowshon Moreno are gone, Bulldogs coach Mark Richt feels his team has come together with a point to prove. 'I think the media, like it or not, wanted to portray Stafford and Moreno as the team,' Richt said. 'Those guys were great players, but now they're gone, we can talk about playing more as a team and I think that's real healthy.' ... Vanderbilt felt the positive effects this spring of last season's Music City Bowl victory over Boston College, which capped a 7-6 season in which the Commodores finished third in the Eastern Division and fifth overall in the SEC put a spring in the Commodores' step in spring work. 'When you had some success, just a month or so ago,' Vandy coach Bobby Johnson said, 'it gave our players the chance to say, ‘We can do this again and keep this program at a high level if we work hard.' When you're motivated, you practice better and when you practice better you play better.'
'I don't Twitter. I think it's just the latest new electronic craze to get attention. In six months to a year, we'll be talking about something else to replace Twitter.'
— Kentucky coach Rich Brooks on whether he uses Twitter to contact prospective recruits.