SEC BURNING QUESTIONS: Western Division squads face various obstacles

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

With SEC Media Days starting today in Hoover, every team has its own unique set of questions/problems to deal with as fall practice draws near. Here’s a rundown of the hottest issues each of the teams in the SEC West is dealing with heading into the season:
Greg McElroy is gone, but does it really matter who the quarterback is when 10 starters from the SEC’s No. 1 defense are returning? Linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Mark Barron should be able to pick up the slack. The last time the Crimson Tide faced the quarterback transition was with McElroy, and it won the national championship in 2009.
The new quarterback at Arkansas won’t benefit from Alabama’s defense. Tyler Wilson played well when pressed into duty in a shootout loss at Auburn, but he had just four touchdowns and three interceptions last year and attempted just 51 passes to Ryan Mallett’s 411. Wilson will have at his disposal a 1,000-yard rusher and three receivers who caught at least 40 passes. Will the weapons around him be enough?
How good a coach is Gene Chizik? His 2010 national championship will have the Cam Newton asterisk by it. He was good enough to capitalize on two great players and navigate the Tigers through an unbeaten season. What can he do for an encore with 18 new starters?
The Tigers’ offense was No. 11 in the SEC last year. Les Miles made a switch at offensive coordinator but not – at least not yet – at quarterback. Can Steve Kragthorpe call the right plays to remake his career after an unsuccessful tenure as head coach at Louisville?
Ole Miss
What can defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix do to turn around the Rebels? He’ll have more speed to work with, but the Rebels will be inexperienced at key spots along the defensive line interior, linebacker and in the secondary. The loss of linebacker D.T. Shackelford is sure to show up. How much may depend on how game-ready the newcomers are, specifically C.J. Johnson.
Mississippi State
Exactly what did Manny Diaz mean to the Bulldogs last year? Defense was critical in some of State’s biggest wins, and now the coordinator credited with much of that success is at Texas. Can quarterback Chris Relf play at a high level for an entire season and allow Dan Mullen’s offense to carry the weight of high expectations?

Parrish Alford and Brad Locke are in Birmingham for the SEC Media Days. Follow their reports at and in the NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.

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