Shock and awe.
I could have titled this article the SEC’s biggest surprises in 2013, but truly, some of these players shocked the Southeast with their incredible play this year. And 2013 was the year of surprises and shock, with Auburn and Missouri’s rise from bowless in 2012 to the SEC Championship in 2013.
Here are 10 players who shocked us in 2013:
Serderius Bryant, LB, Ole Miss: Bryant epitomizes the Rebels’ defense. They’re slightly undersized at nearly every position, and Bryant blew onto the scene when nobody saw it coming. He recorded a team-high 70 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, along with two forced fumbles. Bryant is undersized, but he plays like a boss looking for contact with reckless abandon. When Denzel Nkemdiche went down with a knee injury and missed time, Bryant made sure the defense didn’t take a step back.
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Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina: Maybe folks in Columbia saw this one coming, but I’m not sure they even knew what an impact player he’d become. For the better part of the season, Davis was the best running back in the SEC. He ran for 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging over 103 yards per game rushing. Replacing Marcus Lattimore didn’t prove to be too tough after all, because Davis made it look easy. He’s the Gamecocks’ workhorse who gave the offense an identity of toughness and swagger.
Markus Golden, OLB/DE, Missouri: Who? Exactly. Many folks outside of Columbia, Missouri, still don’t know Golden’s name, and he didn’t even start in 2013. Golden is a reserve outside linebacker/defensive end, and he recorded 11 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in SEC play. The good news for Mizzou fans and bad news for everyone else is that Golden is just a junior.
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Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida: It’s not everyday you see a true freshman explode onto the scene and become the SEC’s best cover corner. I know EJ Gaines is a fantastic player at Mizzou, but Hargreaves could be the best cover corner in college football…as a freshman! Fellow Gators Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson are considered potential first- or second-round picks, and Hargreaves is already better than both. He recorded 38 tackles, 11 pass breakups and a team-high three INTs.
Henry Josey, RB, Missouri: Josey continues defying the odds. Just coming back from a devastating knee injury like he suffered in 2011, missing the 2012 season and becoming one of the best rushers in the SEC is raising many eyebrows. He finished with 62 carries for 1,074 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. We expected Josey to get some carries, but it was more of a wait-and-see scenario with him and how his knee would react. I’d say he’s healthy!
Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn: Marshall’s story of how he ended up at Auburn is a fascinating one, especially since he was a defensive back at Georgia before heading to JUCO. The one question we all had about Marshall was his 20 INTs in JUCO in 2012, but he really cut down on the INTs this year. He combined for 2,782 yards and 23 touchdowns so far, and he’s one of the most explosive athletic freaks in the SEC. After the Washington State opener, Marshall looked like a liability on offense, but his transformation and development has been fun to watch. Safe to say he surprised opposing defenses and probably his own coaches this year in leading his team to an SEC Championship and national title berth.
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Tre Mason, RB, Auburn: Coming off a 3-9 campaign that saw Tre Mason rush for 1,000 yards, did we expect him to blow up for 1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns? We expected a strong showing from Mason as the anchor of the running game, but several thought Cameron Artis-Payne would assume the most carries. But Mason blew up in 2013 and became the SEC’s offensive player of the year, going for 304 yards and four touchdowns in the SEC Championship Game, both records.
Kelcy Quarles, DT, South Carolina: Everyone thought Jadeveon Clowney would be the impact defensive lineman for Carolina, but Kelcy Quarles made sure everyone knew his name. In fact, Quarles blew up with 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks, leading the team in both categories. Quarles has thrust his name into the first- to second-round talk for the NFL Draft, and his upside is tremendous. He shocked everyone with just how athletic and powerful he really is.
Michael Sam, DE, Missouri: Nobody saw Michael Sam becoming the SEC’s best defensive lineman in 2013. He’s undersized, and he was just a two-star nobody out of high school from Texas. But Gary Pinkel has a knack for signing nobodies and turning them into NFL players. Sam led the SEC in sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (18), and he had the year everyone thought Clowney would have.
Ramik Wilson, LB, UGA: Wilson led the SEC in tackles with 128…and it wasn’t even close. The next highest player was teammate Amarlo Herrera, who finished with 107. Wilson racked up 85 of his 128 in SEC play, averaging 10.63 per game. No, Georgia’s defense wasn’t elite or even adequate at times, but Wilson’s play surprised everyone.
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