College Football is less than eleven weeks away and now that spring games are over, we are all counting down the days until the first kickoff of the season. In this article, we are going to look at the SEC and each team’s key player who will be important to their success in the upcoming season.
Important Players in SEC Football
Let’s start with last year’s National Champion, the Alabama Crimson Tide, who for years have been at the top of the SEC Conference. We know the defense will be good, as it always is under Nick Saban. We are looking on the offensive side of the ball for this one, in particular at the wide outs and picking Calvin Ridley. Ridley had 89 receptions last year for over 1,000 yards. He is an explosive receiver who can make plays in the open field. No matter who lines up behind center, look for Alabama to get the ball to Calvin Ridely as often as possible, particularly on deep balls as well as screen passes.
Last year Brandon Allen was one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC. Allen might not have put up the most yards, but he ran the offense and limited his turnovers, which is what Arkansas asked him to do. This year they are going to be asking the same thing from his younger brother Austin Allen. Austin will play in front of one of the biggest offensive lines in the SEC and will have a better receiving core than his brother had lead by Jeremy Sprinkle. If Austin can limit his turnovers, look for Arkansas to have a successful season.
Jeremy Johnson needs to win the quarterback battle at Auburn. If he does, Auburn could be a very good team on the offensive side of the ball. Jeremy has all the tools to be very good. He is a big, strong kid with a big arm and mobility. He just has to cut down on the turnovers. If he can accomplish that, Auburn could be very dangerous, kind of like the last time Auburn had a quarterback that measured 6’5 230. His name was Cam Newton, and Johnson has skills and size similar to Cam.
The Florida Gators were a tough one to look at. They lost their top rusher and both their quarterbacks in Treon Harris and Will Grier. Their backup running back from last year, Jordan Cronkite, needs to lead the offense this year. He didn’t get a lot of carriers last season, but this year will be different. With no Kelvin Taylor and no clue what to expect from the quarterback, look for lots of hand offs in the backfield.
This was another tough one, because it’s easy to put down the star running backs in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. But there will be no holes for either of them to run if Jacob Eason doesn’t complete some passes this year. Eason is a true freshman, but he was the best quarterback coming out of his class in high school. He will have an early chance to prove what he can do as teams will load up the box and make Eason beat them. If he can compete some passes early and create space for Chubb and Michel, look for Georgia to put up big numbers on offense. UGA will go as far as Eason will take them. That’s a lot to ask from a freshman.
Patrick Towles has been the guy at Kentucky for a while now and his years in the SEC are over. It is now time for a new face at quarterback for the Wildcats. Look for Drew Barker to be the guy. He didn’t have very many attempts last year playing behind Towles, but he is Mark Stoops’ guy going into this season. There is a lot for Drew Barker to learn and in order for Kentucky to have any success, he will have to play well.
You could guess this one right? The front runner for the Heisman Trophy? Yes, Leonard Fournette. He is not only the best running back in the SEC but the best in the country. Last year he ran the ball 300 times (yes, that many times) for almost 2,000 yards. He also ran for 22 touchdowns, and I expect that number to go up. He will need better quarterback play to help him this year and give him some running space, which I think he will get. If teams cannot load up in the box against Fournette, he will be running all the way to the podium to pick up his Heisman Trophy this upcoming year.
Mississippi State–Richie Brown–LB
The leader of the Bulldogs defense will be back this upcoming season. Richie Brown will need to have another big year for Mississippi State to have a successful season. He’s a big time tackler from the linebacker position and the vocal leader of the defense. When you have such a big question mark on offense as the Bulldogs do, the defense needs to play well.
Trial by fire. That is what you would call Drew Lock’s first season in Columbia. Lock only completed 49 percent of his passes last year. And he had twice as many interceptions as touchdowns (8 interceptions/ 4 touchdowns). With another year to learn the offense and another year to grow, there is a good chance those numbers improve. With a new area in Columbia with Barry Odom as the new coach, fans are looking for something to get excited about. Drew Lock can be that guy if he can grow and limit the turnovers.
Ole Miss—Chad Kelly–QB
Chad Kelly is the best quarterback returning in the SEC. He passed for over 4,000 yards last and ran for over 500 yards last year. Look for similar numbers this upcoming year and for him to once again be the best quarterback in the SEC. The defense will not be as good as last year, so the offense will have to put up some big numbers, and that shouldn’t be an issue for Chad Kelly.
South Carolina–Perry Orth–QB
Perry Orth is ready to compete for the starting quarterback position this upcoming season. A former walk on who turned into a part time signal caller last season, Orth tallied a 1-7 record. Not great but he had a chance to learn and grow and be ready for this upcoming season. He needs to limit the turnovers from the nine he had last season. Also, Orth needs to up his completion percentage from 54.5 percent last season. In Will Muschamp’s first season as head coach, he will need steady quarterback play to have a successful season, and Orth could very well be that guy.
This may be a curve ball when it comes to the Tennessee Volunteers. No, I’m not picking Jalen Hurd or Joshua Dobbs as the most important player for the Volunteers. You know what you will get from those two. The key guy to Tennessee’s success is Alvin Kamara. He is a big back who brings a different feel when he enters the game. Kamara averaged 6.5 yards per carry last year, and he should be even more productive this season with more carries. There may not be a better three-headed monster on offense than Dobbs, Hurd, and Kamara.
Texas A&M–Miles Garrett–DE
Miles Garret is the leader of the Texas A&M Aggies defense. Last year he had 12.5 sacks, and there is a good chance that number will be higher this year. Miles is one of the best defensive ends in the SEC. The offense in College Station will be great again, but if they want to get back to being a 10 or 11-win team, they have to start playing better on defense. That starts with their star at defensive end in Miles Garrett.
Quick question, how many people know who Ralph Webb is? He’s definitely not a household name, but Webb is the best running back in the SEC you’ve never heard of. He will have to have a gigantic season for Vanderbilt to start having more success. Last year Webb rushed for 1,152 yards. Watch for that number to be close to 1,500 yards this season. The success of Vanderbilt football in 2016 will depend on how well Webb runs the ball and how long it takes Derek Mason to build his culture at Vanderbilt.