As we stagger out of February and into March, spring practice is nearly upon us. For Georgia and Texas A&M, that lifeline of sanity in these dry times starts Saturday, with most everyone else getting going in the next week or two.
So to prepare for the obsessing over those quarterbacks who look great running around without fear in the green or yellow no-contact jerseys, let us examine each SEC team as they head into spring practice, dissecting the biggest issues facing them and giving reasons for hope or despair coming out of spring. Today, we'll do the East and tomorrow the West will make its appearance.
2012 record: 11-2
Bowl result: HAMMERED by Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, 33-23
Biggest issues going into the spring: I still don't understand how this team won 11 games. They were unbelievably bad on offense for long stretches, like 2,000% unwatchable, and if not for a Jordan Reed fumble against Georgia, they're possibly playing for a national championship. Everything about them makes me angry.
But outside of my issues with them, their issues are quarterback, still no wide receivers to be found, and replacing some defensive talent that is currently awaiting drafting by the NFL.
Reasons for Atlanta hope coming out of the spring: The defense restocks and obliterates whatever the offense tries to do with Jeff Driskel. That is their one hope again. Not screwing up on offense and waiting for the defense or special teams to save the day.
Reasons for jort-burning riots coming out of the spring: Wildly inconsistent days from the defense, the offense being "slimmed down" to accommodate Driskel and the lack of wide receivers, and a deeper, darker blank stare from Will Muschamp.
2012 record: 12-2
Bowl result: 45-31 win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl
Biggest issues going into the spring: Inevitable player arrests related to scooters and/or alcohol, replacing Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, and John Jenkins on defense, and Mark Richt's ability to lose control.
Reasons for Atlanta hope coming out of the spring: The inevitable player arrests are misdemeanors and happen to non-starters, replacements for the defense are identified, and Aaron Murray makes yet another leap in his development, going from pretty good to wails of HE'S GOING TO WRECK OUR SECONDARY.
Reasons for Mark Richt might be on the hot seat talk coming out of the spring: The sun rising, defense described as "kind of a mess right now", and Aaron Murray spending his summer imitating Doug Johnson, who, according to Steve Spurrier, was out all summer "playing baseball and drinking beer."
2012 record: 2-10
Bowl result: NEGATIVE.
Biggest issues coming into the spring: Yet to schedule spring practice dates, basketball could still be going on, and general lack of talent.
Reasons for 4-win hope coming out of the spring: Other than a healthy Maxwell Smith, which could be considered wildly grasping, not much. Perhaps this should be about 3-win hope.
Reasons for further despair (as much as Kentucky fans can despair about that other sport) coming out of the spring: The end of spring practice.
2012 record: 5-7
Bowl result: AT HOME.
Biggest issues coming into the spring: Preventing everyone on the offensive line from being injured, preventing James Franklin from being injured, and shedding the stink of the not-ready-for-the SEC label.
Reasons for Independence Bowl hope coming out of the spring: Members of the offensive line go more than a few hours without getting hurt, James Franklin stays healthy and gets quality practice time with the offense, and the defense shows signs that it just might be able to turn a raging dumpster fire into a mostly contained dumpster fire.
Reasons for Gary Pinkel's final year talk coming out of the spring: The offensive line looks as bad as it did last season, James Franklin spends most of the spring being "tackled" by a two-hand touch, and jumbo wine specials throughout Columbia.
2012 record: 11-2
Bowl result: 33-28 win over Michigan Men in the Outback Bowl; OBLIGATORY:
Biggest issues coming into the spring: Finding a running back, determining whether Connor Shaw or Dylan Thompson will be temporarily benched first, and scheduling Spurrier's tee times around practice.
Reasons for Atlanta hope coming out of the spring: Connor Shaw/Dylan Thompson make enough of a leap that Spurrier refers to either one of them as "he's alright", a starting running back or a rotation of running backs emerges, and the defense keeps up its stingy ways.
Reasons for well, we'll at least beat Georgia talk coming out of the spring: Connor Shaw/Dylan Thompson lead Spurrier to spend many a late afternoon at the driving range wondering what he's going to do with that mess, the running back decision is tabled until the fall to allow some freshmen to get in the mix, and "lost" and "uninterested" are the words used to best describe the defense.
2012 record: 5-7
Bowl result: DELICIOUSLY NONE.
Biggest issues going into the spring: New coach, new system, blah blah blah, finding a quarterback who is both talented and avoids beer bottle-throwing contests, jet ski tricks, and generally poor decisions everywhere, and repairing a defense that was as fond of preventing yards and points as Tyler Bray was of Derek Dooley.
Reasons for Liberty Bowl hope coming out of the spring: A competent starting quarterback is found, wide receivers are found, and an entire defense is found.
Reasons for not attending games and adding to Tennessee's debt coming out of the spring: Quarterback competition is pushed into August, walk-ons are encourage to contact the football office, and the dreaded "simplified, with a more attacking style" label is slapped on the defense.
2012 record: 9-4
Bowl result: 38-24 win over NC State in the Music City Bowl
Biggest issues coming into the spring: Replacing a senior quarterback, a senior running back, and, I can't believe I'm typing this, avoiding a regression to the old Vanderbilt ways.
Reasons for Chick-fil-a Bowl hope coming out of the spring: The transition from Jordan Rodgers to Austyn Carta-Samuels (MINUS A MILLION POINTS TO HIS PARENTS FOR THAT "Y") goes smoothly, Zac Stacy's replacements appear to be able to match his production, and the defense maintains its steady, but nothing overwhelming state.
Reasons for ignoring Vanderbilt football until five minutes before the first game coming out of the spring: This will happen no matter what.