SEC fans have become accustomed to domination on the field. Coupled with the six straight BCS Championships, fans have also had the pleasure to watch great football players become iconic college football players on the national level. Whether it’s the warrior-like leadership of Tim Tebow, the contagious smile of Cam Newton or the raw emotion of Mark Ingram as he accepted the Heisman Trophy, these iconic players are cemented in SEC history and in the minds of fans around the country.
Who will follow these SEC giants?
The iconic SEC football player is a mix of top talent and a likable or engaging personality. You could argue that Trent Richardson was even better on the field than his predecessor Mark Ingram, but Ingram captured the nation with his heart felt acceptance speech.
The reality is that we were fortunate to have a string of giants play in the Southeastern Conference. A string of young athletes that were one-of-a-kind. Regardless of who wins the BCS Championship, these guys don’t come around each year.
It doesn’t help that the SEC is losing some of its top talent due to disciplinary actions. The “next Herschel Walker” Isaiah Crowell got booted from Georgia weeks ago, and possibly the most interesting and well known SEC player going into the 2012 season in Tyrann Mathieu has now gone the way of Crowell. Let’s not forget the uber-talented Michael Dyer either.
While it’s tough to reach the interest levels of Newton and Tebow by having a bit of a “punk” reputation, the Honey Badger was indeed great for SEC football. He had the right mix of talent on the field, a knack for being present in a number of big play highlights, a vibrant personality, and of course the nickname. The Heisman finalist a year ago could have truly been on the lips of most mainstream college football fans in 2012. Icon? No, but let’s be honest, the honey badger lead the league in interesting.
Talented running backs remain in Knile Davis and Marcus Lattimore, but few fans have any glimpse into the personalities of these athletes.
Potentially the year of the quarterback, the SEC offers the nation some big arms in Tyler Wilson, Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron and Tyler Bray. Wilson is likely the best NFL prospect, but the national attention still is minimal on him (though Arkansas aims to fix this). Murray likes to party on spring break, but he has to take his game to another level to become a regular topic of conversation. Dare I say Tyler Bray has the potential to be the most interesting quarterback in the SEC if the Vols can put together an overachieving season? The throat-slashing gunslinger from California could be fun to watch. I can’t believe I’m even saying this.
Much of the SEC’s strength lies in the neanderthal defensive linemen. The 6 1/2 foot monsters who can run the forty yard dash in the mid 4′s. These guys are the core of SEC domination, but they aren’t typically the most well known players. Unless you couple the athleticism with a Nick Fairley personality, it’s hard for guys in the trenches to get to that level. The playmakers from Percy Harvin to Tyrann Mathieu are the ones that grab our eye and give the nation something to talk about on Monday mornings.
The moments like Tebow’s promise after the 2008 Ole Miss loss, the Cam Newton Iron Bowl comeback, the Michael Dyer run against Oregon, the Tyrann Mathieu kickoff returns… these are the moments that turn talented football players into icons. The iconic giants we love give us these moments when they take the field, and then they seal the deal by letting us in a little to get to know the man behind the face mask.
There will be special moments on the field in 2012. You can probably even predict who will be responsible for some of them. However, there is certainly no guarantee that we meet the next SEC icon during the coming season. Until then we will wait.