In honor of Valentine's Day, a duo from each SEC team that I can't wait to watch in 2021
Love is in the air. At least it is for some SEC teams that have plenty to look forward to in what’ll hopefully be a (relatively) normal 2021 ahead.
With that in mind, I decided to break down the SEC duos I’m looking forward to watching in 2021. To be clear, “duos” don’t have to be just a quarterback and a receiver. It can be a pair of coaches. It can be a pair of running backs. It can even be a pair of mascots.
Just kidding. It can’t be that. We’re not digging into mascot duos. At least not today.
Instead, we’ll stick with the SEC’s on-field duos I can’t wait to watch in 2021:
Alabama — Bryce Young and Trey Sanders
We didn’t get to see that in 2020 because Mac Jones and Najee Harris played at a historically good level. Sanders has had an injury-plagued start to his career, but now, the No. 1 running back in the 2019 class is back for what should hopefully be a breakout junior season. And Young’s rocket arm was on display at times during 2020, which didn’t exactly quiet the hype surrounding the No. 1 quarterback in the 2020 class. Even though Steve Sarkisian isn’t around anymore, Bill O’Brien has the task of maximizing the abilities of the most hyped first-time starters on Alabama’s roster.
Arkansas — Grant Morgan and Barry Odom
Talk about a match made in heaven. Morgan went from a former walk-on to a legitimate SEC. That was in Year 1 with Odom. Like, a Year 1 in which a pandemic overshadowed the entire offseason. Now with a full year in Odom’s system, Morgan’s first-rate instincts should be even better. His return was a major jolt for an Arkansas defense that didn’t finish the year the way it wanted to. Getting Morgan and Odom back was a major “W” for Sam Pittman. Perhaps Morgan, who had 111 tackles in just 9 games, could flirt with 150 tackles in 2021.
Auburn — Roger McCreary and Nehemiah Pritchett
Pritchett has the makings of a breakout star, especially with Derek Mason now at the controls. He established himself as a true outside corner in Kevin Steele’s defense. Pro Football Focus had him graded No. 5 among returning SEC cornerbacks. And among cornerbacks who actually played the last 2 seasons, PFF had McCreary graded No. 1 in zone coverage. He also had 7 tackles for loss in 2020. Both McCreary and Pritchett should lock down the outside and give Auburn a chance to stack up well against some elite SEC pass-catchers returning in 2021.
Florida — Emory Jones and Dan Mullen
Ah, finally we get to see one of Mullen’s quarterbacks start in Gainesville. Go figure that it took until Year 4 for that to happen. Jones’ highly-anticipated arrival to the starting lineup will dominate offseason conversations. The question is, will Mullen revert to the more Nick Fitzgerald style of offense we saw him run at MSU, or will the Gators’ offensive identity with Jones will be a bit more like the Kyle Trask passing attack that led the nation in 2020? Regardless, Jones operating Mullen’s system as more than a change-of-pace quarterback will be must-see TV.
Georgia — JT Daniels and George Pickens
I’m admittedly skeptical of Pickens’ potential because of some of the discipline issues and the route-running, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to see him with a full year in Todd Monken’s offense. When Daniels took over, Pickens averaged 91 receiving yards in the final 4 games, including a 135-yard performance against that elite Cincinnati defense in the Peach Bowl. Pickens, for much of his career, lacked a quarterback who could truly take the top off a defense. Monken’s offense wasn’t able to do that with Stetson Bennett IV or D’Wan Mathis, but obviously, Daniels took that to a new level. The question is if Pickens can put it all together for a full year in his pre-draft season. The ability isn’t lacking.
— Saturday Down South (@SDS) January 1, 2021
Kentucky — Wan’Dale Robinson and Chris Rodriguez
Rodriguez is PFF’s highest-graded returning FBS running back. That’s right. The man they call “C-Rod” was a load to tackle in Eddie Gran’s offense. Now with Liam Coen overhauling Kentucky’s traditional offense, Rodriguez shouldn’t see nearly as many loaded boxes, and his workload could actually increase without sharing a backfield with AJ Rose. Add in Robinson, who was arguably Nebraska’s best overall player as a receiver the last 2 years. He adds a totally different dimension to Kentucky’s offense as a receiver with plenty of tailback experience,. Coen’s offense should look vastly different than the ground-and-pound attack we’ve come to know in Lexington. If they can figure out the quarterback situation with a 3-way battle, Kentucky could have a much more explosive group in 2021.
LSU — Derek Stingley and Eli Ricks
Yes, it was a down year for the LSU secondary. There’s no sugarcoating that. The good news for LSU? Well, besides the fact that Bo Pelini is gone. Stingley and Ricks are back. Ability certainly isn’t lacking. Ricks had PFF’s highest single-coverage grade of any corner in America last year. In the right hands, Stingley and Ricks can become the best cornerback duo in America. It wasn’t long ago that we were talking about Stingley as the best overall player in college football. Back healthy and with a different defense, Stingley and Ricks should resemble the Stingley and Kristian Fulton duo of 2019.
MSU — Will Rogers and Jaden Walley
As tempting as it would’ve been to go with “Mike Leach and press conferences” here, I’ll stick with Rogers and Walley, who developed quite the connection late as true freshmen. The casual fan might not have realized that Walley had 4 consecutive 100-yard games. That’s more than George Pickens has in his career. With a full, normal offseason, Walley is a sneaky dark-horse candidate to lead the SEC in receiving. There’s actually a world in which Walley leads the SEC in receiving and Rogers leads the SEC in passing. We know that MSU is going to throw the ball more than anyone in the SEC, and if Rogers can master the Air Raid, nobody figures to benefit more than Walley.
Mizzou — Connor Bazelak and Eli Drinkwitz
Bazelak showed promise in his redshirt freshman season, though it might as well have been his true freshman season because it was Year 1 in Drinkwitz’s offense. The last time that Drinkwitz returned a starting quarterback for another year in his system was Ryan Finley at NC State. Finley, not Trevor Lawrence, earned first-team All-ACC honors en route to becoming a 4th-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. That doesn’t guarantee major improvement is in order for Bazelak, who ranked No. 7 in the SEC in passer rating and yards per attempt. He’ll be asked to do more with Larry Rountree off to the NFL, though given his low sack and interception rates, the SEC Freshman of the Year is ready for more.
Ole Miss — Lane Kiffin and Jeff Lebby
This is assuming that Lebby doesn’t getting poached by UCF. If that’s the case, substitute another year of Matt Corral and Kiffin, which was all sorts of electric in 2020. Ole Miss averaged 39 (!) points per game in Year 1 of the Kiffin/Lebby era. They schemed about as well as anyone in America. It helps when you’re loaded with talent at the skill positions, but Corral’s up-and-down start at Ole Miss quickly became a thing of the past. Ole Miss ranked in the top 30 in passing and rushing, which no other SEC team did. With Corral, John Rhys Plumlee and Jerrion Ealy all back, Ole Miss should again be as exciting as any offense in the sport. Plus, this is the type of content we need in the SEC (read the end of the tweet):
Thanks for the gifts this week @Jumpman23 @CoachMikeBianco @bluedeltajeans Gameday #baseballbatmentalitygame #beatauburn Maybe @Coach_Leb will finally play this guy!! 😂. LFG!!!!! pic.twitter.com/FbhXkWbleb
— Lane Kiffin (@Lane_Kiffin) October 24, 2020
South Carolina — Kevin Harris and MarShawn Lloyd
Gamecock fans were crushed that they didn’t get to watch Lloyd after his season-ending injury in fall camp. As tough as that was to watch the true freshman blue-chip recruit go down, it opened the door for Harris, who became the most under-appreciated back in America last year. Iowa State’s Breece Hall is the only returning running back who ran for more yards than Harris in 2020. In just 10 games, Harris ran for 1,138 yards and 15 touchdowns in Mike Bobo’s offense. Bobo is gone to Auburn, but Lloyd is expected to be back and healthy. For a program that’s been starved for running back talent in the post-Marcus Lattimore era, South Carolina suddenly has what could end up being one of the better running back duos in all of college football.
Tennessee — Josh Heupel and QB1
Is that a cop-out? Oh well. I honestly think it’ll be a true 3-quarterback battle in Knoxville. I am, however, optimistic about whoever earns the starting job between sophomore Harrison Bailey, Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker and Kaidon Salter. Each one can provide something different in Heupel’s offense, which ranked in the top 8 in FBS each of the last 3 years. Heupel takes deep shots and isn’t afraid to swing for the fences. It’ll feel drastically different than what we’ve come to expect in Knoxville.
Texas A&M — Isaiah Spiller and Devon Achane
I didn’t forget about Ainias Smith, A&M fans. I didn’t include him here because I think he’ll be used more in the slot after Achane emerged down the stretch. He stole the show in the Orange Bowl after Spiller went down.
Devon Achane. 76 yards TO THE HOUSE 💨
You love to see it. pic.twitter.com/ecTzaloTnR
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 3, 2021
It’s easy to forget that Spiller already has 2 seasons with 1,000 yards heading into his pre-draft year. Even with a new-look group of Maroon Goons, Spiller deserves to start as a first-team All-SEC back, with the capable Achane in line to change the tempo. The beauty of Achane is that like Smith, he’s super versatile (he played 45 snaps at running back and 42 at receiver in 2020). There’s not a better SEC running back duo heading into 2021 than the one in College Station.
Vanderbilt — David Raih and Joey Lynch
Those are the newly hired assistants who will be leading Vanderbilt’s offense. Raih took the offensive coordinator after 2 separate stints as an assistant on Kliff Kingsbury’s staff while Lynch will serve as the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator. Lynch has typically been more run-heavy, which makes for an interesting mix with Raih’s familiarity with Air Raid principles. Vandy figures to try and spread teams out and let a relatively experienced group of skill players dictate the run-pass ratio. Vandy announced Raih and Lynch as a duo, and given their differing areas of expertise, it could be the right combination to inject some life into a disastrous offense.