Lack of spring practice less a concern for Florida than most of its opponents

The SEC canceled the rest of the spring sports but hopes for fall sports to carry on as normal. I am not an expert in epidemiology or public health, so I can’t hazard a guess as to what the chances of fall sports happening as planned would be.

I have seen plenty of information put out there by people who are experts in those fields though, and the most pessimistic projections suggest that social distancing may need to continue until a vaccine is available 12-18 months from now. Everyone’s favorite analogue for the novel coronavirus — the so-called Spanish flu of 1918, which isn’t necessarily an apt comparison — ebbed in the summer before coming back with a vengeance in the fall. It’s too early to say anything definite.

For now, we’ll keep talking about sports even as none are being played. Y’all need a diversion from the heavy stuff going on, and we’ll try to provide it best we can.

With spring football practice gone for everyone, any fall season will be materially different. Spring is when position battles happen and coaches begin to figure out the dynamics within their new teams. They can identify problems and work over the summer to figure out how to fix or disguise them. There’s been some speculation that teams could get a crack at “spring” practice over the summer, but on top of potential virus concerns, coaches might not conduct full-on sessions given the shorter time for injuries to heal before the season in that scenario.

Florida has some important position battles like offensive line and backup wide receivers, and it has some question marks at places like star and starting safety. The Gators do not, however, have question marks in the most important places: scheme and quarterback. Kyle Trask is the steady hand on the wheel, and Dan Mullen and Todd Grantham will be running the same stuff they’ve been doing for a couple of years now.

That’s more than can be said for some of the teams on the schedule this fall. UF will be a big favorite over Eastern Washington, South Alabama, and New Mexico State, and Kentucky retains its top staff while getting quarterback Terry Wilson back after he missed much of last year to injury. No other Power 5 team on the schedule is as settled as UK is, however.

September 26: Tennessee

The Vols still have Jeremy Pruitt, OC Jim Chaney, and DC Derek Ansley, but quarterback is a concern. Jarrett Guarantano looked increasingly promising in 2018 but cratered in 2019. Backup Brian Maurer was okay in spots for a true freshman but couldn’t take the job from the disappointing veteran. New 2020 signee and early enrollee Harrison Bailey is expected to contend for the starter’s spot, but he won’t get the advantage of coming in early to compete in the spring.

October 3: South Carolina

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Under pressure after a four-win season, Muschamp fired his second OC and hopes the new one will save his regime. Mike Bobo has the best college pedigree of any OC Muschamp has had, but there will be major changes. After having an uptempo shotgun spread attack for a couple of years, Muschamp says they’ll be “more under center” with Bobo.

Just taking under center snaps takes real practice for shotgun-bred quarterbacks these days, so the Gamecocks really could’ve used spring practice in the new scheme. Ryan Hilinski is the presumptive under behind center, but he was rough against most defenses with a pulse after playing much of the season injured. He’ll have to hold off Collin Hill, a grad transfer who played for Bobo at Colorado State.

October 10: LSU

The Tigers lost Joes Burrow and Brady, along with DC Dave Aranda and a ton of players all over. Brady didn’t take all the playbooks on his way out of town, so OC Steve Ensminger will preserve continuity there. Myles Brennan is the bigger concern. He’s no 2019 Burrow, but can he be even 75% as good? The bigger change is on the other side of the ball. New DC Bo Pelini is a huge change personality-wise from Aranda. How will the chemistry within the staff and defense work in real football activities? They won’t find out until fall camp.

October 17: Ole Miss

Everything is different. The Rebels go from home-grown Mississippi boy Matt Luke to, well, Lane Kiffin. The offense goes from Rich Rodriguez’s spread-to-run to Kiffin’s pass-based offense. The DC position transitions from Mike MacIntyre and his 3-4 to D.J. Durkin, who’s run defenses with four down lineman in the past.

Quarterback last year was a platoon with pass-first Matt Corral and run-first John Rhys Plumlee. Kiffin has no history with rotating QBs; his offenses tend to identify his best players and focus on them rather than spread things around. Plumlee is too good a runner to keep on the bench, but he’s too poor a passer to helm a complete offense. You know what could’ve been useful for helping the new staff navigate the situation? Spring practice.

October 31: Georgia

Kirby Smart hired Todd Monken to bring a more modern offense after the James Coley experiment exploded in the hangar. UGA also brought in grad transfer QB Jamie Newman from Wake Forest to replace the departed Jake Fromm. There figures to be enough talent around to end up with an offense that’s more than adequate given the nightmare of a defense the team will be fielding. Giving Newman a chance to get used to his new teammates and vice versa right now would’ve been a plus, though.

Losing spring practice is more of a concern for the Week 3 game at Alabama than any matchup on Halloween, but you never know. Without the March/April session to get the basics down, it may take more than one year for the new attack to gel.

November 7: Vanderbilt

For the second time in his tenure, Derek Mason fired both coordinators after a 3-9 season. Four quarterbacks played last year, and all three potential returning guys hit the transfer portal. Vandy wasn’t a big concern for UF this year, but the prospects look even bleaker without a spring session to figure out literally anything to build on for the fall.

November 14: Missouri

New head coach Eli Drinkwitz brings a Gus Malzahn-influenced attack to the Tigers, and he was able to retain the program’s DC for some continuity. Previous head coach Barry Odom was a defensive guy, though, so we’ll see how much the latter helps. Quarterback is an open competition between two players who saw spot duty last year, one of whom is coming off a torn ACL, and TCU transfer Shawn Robinson. Robinson probably will win the job, but if you have three quarterbacks, do you have one quarterback?

November 28: FSU

Mike Norvell brings a new staff transition into a program dying for continuity. Offensive line issues will probably still persist, though not be as dire. That’s good news for a program that was expected to have a up to a four-way quarterback battle. James Blackman, learning his fourth different college offense, is the passer, and Jordan Travis is the runner. FSU signed two 2020 quarterbacks, with 4-star Chubba Purdy the more likely contender than 3-star Tate Rodemaker. New DC Adam Fuller is a well-regarded fast riser who worked for Norvell last year at Memphis, but this year will be his first on the Power 5 level. Anyone who says they know anything for sure as to what the team will look like this fall is imagining things.

David Wunderlich
David Wunderlich is a born-and-raised Gator and a proud Florida alum. He has been writing about Florida and SEC football since 2006. He currently lives in Naples Italy, at least until the Navy stations his wife elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @Year2