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August 28, 2008

SEC: High hopes despite QB questions

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10

Consider it a measure of the SEC's supremacy that the league has so many national title contenders in a season when it also faces so much quarterback uncertainty.

Half of the 12 SEC teams enter this season with first-year starting quarterbacks. Two teams in the top 10 defending national champion LSU and Auburn haven't even named their starters for their respective openers.

Harvard transfer Andrew Hatch is expected to get the call for LSU over redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee and true freshman Jordan Jefferson, though Tigers coach Les Miles isn't tipping his hand in advance of Saturday's opener against three-time defending Division I-AA national champion Appalachian State.

"I would not be surprised if all three played at certain times," Miles said. "The great thing about our new quarterback is that we have a veteran offense around him with receivers who know where they're supposed to be, a veteran offensive line that can give him some protection and guidance, and veteran backs that can carry the football. We're going to ask him to do the things that we need from the quarterback spot, but not to do anything that they're not capable of doing."

Auburn is in a similar situation. Whether the Tigers turn to sophomore Kodi Burns or junior college transfer Chris Todd, they're hoping the rest of the offense features enough experience to help the new quarterback ease into the job.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said he probably wouldn't name a starter before the opener Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe. He hasn't ruled out the possibility of a two-quarterback system, though he would prefer having one clear-cut starter.

"What I'm looking for is leadership, a guy that can control the football team and who guys will look up to," Tuberville said. "And if that's both of them, then it'll be both of them. But I think it will eventually work its way out. We have two good guys that are so close, and sometimes when you have a quarterback battle with two people, a lot of people say, 'You must not have one.' And I think this is totally different. Both these guys have earned the right to play some.''

  • BEST MATCHUP
  • Appalachian State QB Armanti Edwards vs. LSU defensive line. One year after Appalachian State stunned No. 5 Michigan in its opener, LSU probably will make sure history doesn't repeat. But the Tigers still could have trouble bringing down Edwards, whose arm and legs often made Michigan look silly last season. Edwards used his speed to frustrate Michigan throughout that game. Can he have similar success running away from trouble against a defensive line generally regarded as the best in the nation?

  • PLAYER TO WATCH
  • Alabama QB John Parker Wilson. Alabama's experience at the quarterback position is one reason Tide fans believe their team could challenge LSU and Auburn for West Division supremacy, but it won't happen if Wilson repeats his late-season mistakes from a year ago. New Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain arrives from Fresno State, where he helped Tom Brandstater improve as much as just about any quarterback in the nation last season. Wilson's performance against a Clemson secondary that returns all four starters should offer the first clues as to whether McElwain can work similar magic for a second consecutive season.

    SEC SCHEDULE
    THURSDAY
    Vanderbilt at Miami University, 7:30 p.m.
    N.C. State at South Carolina, 8 p.m.
    SATURDAY
    Hawaii at Florida, 12:30 p.m.
    Georgia Southern at Georgia, 12:30 p.m.
    Appalachian State at LSU, 5 p.m.
    Mississippi State at Louisiana Tech, 6:45 p.m.
    Western Illinois at Arkansas, 7 p.m.
    Louisiana-Monroe at Auburn, 7 p.m.
    Memphis at Ole Miss, 7 p.m.
    Alabama vs. Clemson in Atlanta, 8 p.m.
    SUNDAY
    Kentucky at Louisville, 3:30 p.m.
    MONDAY
    Tennessee at UCLA, 8 p.m.

  • WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
  • "There's more chemistry, and I guess unselfishness, this year than there was even two years ago when we won the national championship. We might not have the talent that we had two years ago, but we'll be much more unselfish, close and together. That's what's going to bring us over the hump. That's where we weren't last year. Not enough guys had played. There wasn't the experience. We didn't have the same camaraderie as we do now." Florida quarterback Tim Tebow to GatorBait.net.

    "The fans expect us to win the national championship now, but I think that's a little unrealistic at this point." Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom, speaking perhaps in jest, on the heightened expectations in the wake of a Liberty Bowl victory last season.

    "Michigan made a lot of mistakes on offense. That threw off the whole offense, but at one point they were rolling. Then they kind of let up off of them, and Appalachian State never stopped. Their motors never stopped. They were hungry. So if we get up by a touchdown or five touchdowns, we've got to keep pounding them." LSU offensive tackle Ciron Black to The New Orleans Times-Picayune, referring to Appalachian State's upset of Michigan last year.

    "We didn't have many guys last year, but those guys stayed together from spring camp through the season. This year, we've juggled them around more than we did all last year put together." Georgia coach Mark Richt to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, discussing all the preseason changes to the Bulldogs' offensive line.

    "You have to be able to adjust. Our game plan has a lot of adjustment in it. We're going to try and be as flexible as we can without confusing our kids. There are a lot of unknowns. You've got a quarterback starting that you have to go back and look at San Diego State film or junior college film to see him. You have to look at several different teams to see what you think they're going to be doing offensively, and then you have to look at UCLA film to see the personnel. It's a little bit different, but regardless of what the situation is, you have to be ready to play." Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis to Volquest.com about the difficulty of preparing for UCLA, which has a new coach (Rick Neuheisel), a new offensive coordinator (Norm Chow) and a new starting quarterback (junior college transfer Kevin Craft).

  • ETC.
  • South Carolina tailback Taylor Rank will start tonight ahead of Mike Davis, who gained 518 yards last season and is the Gamecocks' top returning rusher. Davis still is expected to play. The status of Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin and linebacker Brandon Spikes remains uncertain for the Gators' season opener against Hawaii. Harvin missed most of preseason camp after heel surgery, while Spikes has an injured right foot and toe. Auburn wide receiver Robert Dunn has been demoted to fourth string for violating a team rule, though he still is expected to return punts Saturday. Mississippi State wide receiver Jamayel Smith has tendinitis in his left knee and won't start the season opener. Smith caught 33 passes for a team-high 510 yards last season. South Carolina ended last season on a five-game losing streak, which represents the longest skid of Steve Spurrier's head-coaching career. The SEC enters the season with six teams ranked in the AP poll, more than any other conference. The SEC's ranked teams: No. 1 Georgia, No. 5 Florida, No. 7 LSU, No. 10 Auburn, No. 18 Tennessee and No. 24 Alabama. This marks the first time Georgia has entered a season atop the AP poll or the coaches' poll. The highest previous preseason ranking for the Bulldogs came in 1942, when they began the season second in the AP poll and went on to win the national title. Clemson wide receivers coach Dabo Swinney could have mixed emotions Saturday night. Swinney played on Alabama's 1992 national championship team and worked on the Tide's coaching staff from 1993-2000.

    MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10

    Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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