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2023 SEC West Spring Ball Summaries

Let’s wrap up the action around the league with a look at the West Division.

Alabama Spring Football Game Photo by Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images

Spring practice is wrapping up around the country, and the transfer portal window is a full go. We are going to use this opportunity for a two-part series where we check in on where each team in the SEC stands. Last week we hit the East division, this week we will look at the powerhouse programs in the SEC West.

Alabama — Nick Saban spent his first decade in Tuscaloosa winning titles with loaded rosters built around game-manager-type quarterbacks. Then he flipped a switch and his second act has been defined by sloppy play and leaky defenses (for his standards), buoyed by increasingly brilliant quarterbacking. Perhaps the culmination of this was Bryce Young’s astounding performance in the dramatic loss at Tennessee. Well, Alabama might be going back to the old model by necessity, as both quarterbacks – Ty Simpson and Jalen Minroe – looked downright pedestrian in Alabama’s spring game. The rest of the roster was restocked in a hurry, though. A pair of blue-chip early-enrollee true freshmen made their mark: tailback Justice Haynes, who capped off a great spring with three touchdowns, and safety Caleb Downs, who played with the first-team defense and was all over the field and tallied an interception.

Arkansas — This will be a season of change for Mizzou’s non-rival rivals. Arkansas has undergone a ton of player turnover: gone is program stalwart Bumper Pool and stars like Drew Sanders, Jalen Catalon, and Jaedon Haselwood. Gone are both coordinators, Barry Odom and Kendall Briles. Sam Pittman’s team will lean on the best returning backfield in the league with QB KJ Jefferson and RB Raheem Sanders, while breaking in a host of new faces, many of which were on display during “Woo Pig Weekend.” (If there is a better name for a spring game, I haven’t found it.) A pair of small-school wide receiver transfers made a big impression this spring: Andrew Armstrong from FCS Texas A&M Commerce and Isaac TeSlaa from D2 Hillsdale College.

Auburn — A rain-soaked spring game dampened some of the enthusiasm around Auburn’s revival under Hugh Freeze, as the lack of quality quarterback play was on full display. Tiger quarterbacks completed only five passes in the scrimmage, and many believe Freeze will be portalling for another body at the position. The run game looked strong — running backs Jarquez Hunter and USF transfer Brian Battie will be a nice one-two punch — with OC Philip Montgomery making the play calls, not Freeze. The game ended in a tie, which was disappointing, considering Freeze promised a steak dinner for the winning side and hot dogs for the losing team.

LSU — The Bayou Bengals had one of the sharpest spring games in the league and looked poised to make a run at a second straight conference title appearance. A year after one of the noisiest offseasons in the country — this time last year, we couldn’t stop making fun of Brian Kelly’s fake accent and dance moves — the Tigers have had a quietly competent offseason. Jayden Daniels and Garrett Nussmeier comprise the best QB room in the SEC, and Kelly has again augmented his roster with quality transfers. Last year’s star freshman Harold Perkins debuted at his new position, inside linebacker, and this year’s freshman phenom, early enrollee Jaxon Howard, looked impressive on the edge.

Mississippi St — The Bulldogs’ spring game offered fans a chance to see first-year head coach Zach Arnett’s outfit in action, and the debut of offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay. Barbay was hired after one high-octane season at Appalachian State; he was previously the play caller for Central Michigan, including that Chippewas team that gave Missouri fits in 2021. Wide receiver Tulu Griffin looked like a breakout star and scored a long touchdown on an end-around. This kind of play will be common under Barbay but would previously have been unheard of in Starkville in the pure uncut Leach Air Raid.

Ole Miss – The Rebels had a perfectly nondescript spring game, which is exactly what you want to see if you’re a fan. Lane Kiffin is the main character of all things Ole Miss, but the main storyline this spring and summer will be a three-way quarterback battle between incumbent Jaxson Dart, LSU transfer Walker Howard, and Oklahoma State transfer Spencer Sanders. Word out of Oxford is that Dart took serious strides this spring after his inconsistent fall sophomore campaign, and is a few steps ahead of the others to start, despite Sanders’ experience and mobility, and Howard’s tremendous upside. But this author is of the opinion that Lane Kiffin has seen the offenses at the FCS level and below that are innovating with two-quarterback sets – such as William & Mary and Montana State – and will be deploying such forward-thinking tactics this fall.

Texas A&M — Jimbo Fisher is entering a crossroads season in College Station and fans are hungry for his team to take the next step. Every move, every word, every press conference is dissected and analyzed right now past the point of recognition. This program, perhaps more than any other, just wants to get to the fall and show what they have on the field. And what they have is a fine collection of talented players. Evan Stewart impressed as a freshman last fall and showed in the spring game that he might be the best wide receiver in the country not named Marvin Harrison, Jr. Another blue chipper that impressed was freshman early-enrollee running back Reuben Owens, who will have every opportunity to replace Devon Achane’s production. Once again, there is a mother lode of talent here; can the culture and scheme turn this roster into a winning team?