Debate: Who is the SEC Offensive Player of the Decade?
What a decade.
SEC teams won 5 national championships — it’ll be 6 if LSU completes its historic journey. The league produced 4 Heisman Trophy winners, including the most recent, Joe Burrow.
Of the 10 SEC Offensive Player of the Year winners this decade, 7 already have been drafted — and there’s no doubt Burrow (2019), Tua Tagovailoa (2018) and Jalen Hurts (2016) soon will join them.
But who was the best of the best in the 2010s? Not for 1 season, but for the decade?
Selecting the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Decade is something we’ve been debating all week.
Connor O’Gara: Alabama WR Amari Cooper
I know he might not be the most popular answer, but Amari Cooper is who I’d pick. In this era of exploding passing games, nobody exploded quite like Cooper, who put together 2 of the most impressive seasons we’ve ever seen from an SEC skill player. I don’t think people realize how difficult it is in this league to go for 1,000 yards and double-digit scores as a true freshman receiver. And Cooper did that for a team that won a national championship.
Say what you want about his banged-up 2013 season, but in 2014, Cooper had an all-time great year. Not enough is made about him having 124 (!) catches in a season go with 1,727 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. The guy was ridiculously good. Cooper is No. 1 in SEC history in single-season receptions, No. 2 in receiving yards and No. 4 in receiving touchdowns. No SEC player has more career receiving touchdowns (31), and only Jordan Matthews has him beat in receiving yards (Matthews played 4 years to Cooper’s 3) while he ranks No. 5 in all-time receptions. That’s All-Decade MVP stuff.
Connor O’Gara is a senior national columnist for SDS. Follow him on Twitter @cjogara.
David Wasson: Georgia QB Aaron Murray
The SEC’s all-time leader in passing yards (13,166), total yards (13,562), pass completions (921) and passing touchdowns (121), Murray began his playing career at Georgia as a redshirt freshman in 2010. His best season in Athens was as a junior in 2012 when Murray went 249-of-386 (64.5 completion percentage) for 3,893 yards and 36 touchdowns against 10 interceptions.
The SEC East Champions in 2012, No. 3 Georgia fell 5 yards short of a national championship berth when Murray’s pass to Chris Conley was tipped by No. 2 Alabama on the game’s final play. The Tide won 32-28, but Murray broke Peyton Manning’s SEC record for TD passes in the game (89). The Bulldogs would go on to play Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl — a game that saw him light up the Cornhuskers for 427 yards and 5 touchdowns to finish the season with a 174.82 passer rating.
David Wasson covers Alabama for SDS. Follow him on Twitter @TheSharpDW.
Joe Cox: Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa
It’s an odd thing that his national title win was the changing of the guard, but Tua feels like a guy whose career will be a watershed mark in the SEC. For years, Steve Spurrier aside, the forward pass was still something of a gimmick in the SEC. If you sat through the 9-6 LSU-Bama game in 2011, you saw a brand of football that was heavy on defense, low-risk running plays and field goals. That was your father’s (and grandfather’s) SEC, and it would be yours and your children’s. But while Jalen Hurts had a role in opening up Alabama’s offense, it was in that 2017 National Championship Game that Nick Saban suddenly realized that a team not only could but perhaps even should throw the football and win games.
On the field, Tua did everything except ultimately stay healthy. We might never see 87 touchdowns to 11 interceptions again. But watching LSU catch on in 2019 after Clemson won a title behind Trevor Lawrence’s right arm in 2018, it was clear the game had changed. Tua forced teams to change. The revolution was televised and 2nd-and-26 was the point when the SEC would never be the same again. If that doesn’t make Tua the SEC Offensive Player of the Decade, who did something bigger?
Joe Cox covers Kentucky and writes columns for SDS. Follow him on Twitter @KyJoeCox
Adam Spencer: Alabama WR Amari Cooper
Honorable mentions go to Aaron Murray and Drew Lock, who threw for the most and second-most passing yards in SEC history (and most and third-most touchdowns in SEC history), respectively, this decade. However, the answer to this question is Amari Cooper. In only 3 seasons with the Crimson Tide, Cooper tied Chris Doering atop the SEC record books with 31 touchdown catches. His 3,463 receiving yards ranks No. 2 in the SEC record books, behind only Jordan Matthews, who played 4 years at Vanderbilt. He is also No. 5 in SEC history with 228 receptions.
Then, there’s his 2014 season, in which he set the SEC record with 124 receptions. He finished third in the Heisman voting that year, behind Marcus Mariota and Melvin Gordon. He received 1,023 points in the voting that year, the best finish by a wide receiver this decade. The other 4 receivers to finish in the top-10 of their season’s respective Heisman vote (Justin Blackmon, Marqise Lee, Tavon Austin and Dede Westbrook) only combined for 568 points. Cooper was a truly special player and dominated at his position in a way no other offensive player did this decade.
Adam Spencer covers Mizzou and news for SDS. Follow him on Twitter @AdamSpencer4.
Chris Wright: Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
Cam Newton opened the decade with a season for the ages in 2010. Joe Burrow closed the decade with an even more historic season in 2019. Individually, they rank among the greatest seasons in SEC history.
Combined, they equate to what Johnny Football did in 2 seasons at Texas A&M.
Manziel took the league by storm — beating Nick Saban and the defending champion Crimson Tide the first time he stared across the line of scrimmage at them. Heck, he was the only QB in the country to beat the Tide in 2012, when Alabama won its 2nd consecutive national championship and 3rd in 4 years.
Manziel won the Heisman that year. Here’s the thing: He was even better in 2013.
Jameis Winston won the Heisman in 2013, leading FSU to a perfect season and national championship. No real qualms about that as team success certainly is a factor, but it’s worth noting that Auburn held Winston to 237 yards passing and 2 TDs in the national title game.
Manziel ripped that same Tigers defense for 454 yards and 4 TDs and added another 48 yards and a score on the ground. That would have been a career-high, but earlier that season he shredded Nick Saban’s defense again for 464 yards and 5 TDs.
In 2013, Manziel became the 2nd QB in SEC history to throw for more than 4,000 yards. (He and Tim Couch are the only QBs in SEC history to top 3,700 yards passing twice in a career.) Draft-eligible, we knew he wasn’t going to lead the SEC in rushing again like he did in 2012, but he still ran for 759 yards and 9 TDs.
Winston finished with 4,276 total yards and 44 combined TDs in 2013. Manziel? He combined for 4,873 and 46.
In his only 2 seasons, Manziel passed for 7,820 yards and 63 TDs. He ran for another 2,169 yards and 30 TDs.
That’s 9,989 yards and 93 TDs in 2 seasons — against, without question, the toughest division in college football.
Those numbers don’t require much more context, but I’ll leave you with this: In 27 combined games, 2010 Newton and 2019 Burrow passed and ran for 9,331 total yards and 101 TDs.
Those were 2 of the greatest individual seasons in league history.
Manziel exceeded their total yards and nearly matched the TDs — in 1 fewer game.
Johnny Football was, without question, the most unstoppable offensive force the SEC saw this decade.