Monday Down South: The Ultimate SEC Preview
What’s holding Georgia back?
On paper, nothing: The Bulldogs are full-fledged contenders with room to spare. In Year 6 on the job, Kirby Smart has built the deepest, most complete roster in college football, one that arguably exceeds even Alabama’s for raw talent. They boast multiple 5-star prospects on every unit – 19 in all, more than the active rosters at Bama (11) and LSU (6) combined – and no obvious weaknesses. They found their quarterback, blue-chip transfer JT Daniels, and his heir apparent. They’ve revamped the offense under coordinator Todd Monken to prioritize the downfield passing game. They bring back virtually everyone who touched the ball in 2020, most of whom left the impression they really ought to be touching it a lot more if not for the competition. They plugged the two most pressing holes in the lineup, wide receiver and cornerback, by landing the most coveted transfers at both spots. They’re stacked at the skill positions, massive on the offensive line, relentlessly deep on defense, sufficiently experienced everywhere.
They have answers to almost every conceivable question. And with the mass exodus of star power from Alabama’s national championship juggernaut, they certainly have the opportunity.
So: Why not Georgia? Why not now?
It’s not a trick question, but it’s understandable if it feels like one. It’s the same question UGA has been asking now on an annual basis throughout Smart’s tenure, like a reliable summer ritual that stopped being fun a long time ago. When every year is potentially The Year, the missed opportunities start to add up fast. No SEC fan base has endured a longer drought since its last national championship, or has come closer without actually getting all the way there, or has endured more mockery for coming up short. No fan base anywhere is more desperate to win one. Is this The Year? Better not get your hopes up.
But then, there’s a reason the elite team/coach/player struggling to win The Big One is one of the most familiar, well-worn tropes in sports – after all, nobody ever gets over the hump until they do. And in Georgia’s case, there’s something to be said for the fact that the competitive window that opened with Smart’s arrival is not about to close anytime soon. Quite the opposite: Georgia has finished in the AP top 10 in 4 consecutive seasons, a feat it’s managed just twice before (from 1980-83 under Vince Dooley, and from 2002-05 under Mark Richt) and which no other SEC program except Alabama under Nick Saban has pulled off this century, again, with no end in sight.
While championship-or-bust pressure vaguely looms over the program as part of its daily existence, it is not specific to any one team or season, or subject to the outdated concept of “rebuilding.” The 2021 edition may be Smart’s best team yet, and there’s an enormous investment in it fulfilling its potential with a national crown. There’s none at all, though, in the idea that it’s the Bulldogs’ last, best hope, which not even the most gleeful skeptic or impatient booster could manage to convince themselves is true.
It isn’t now-or-never; no one is asking if not now, when? If not now … well, next year. Or the year after that, and so on. There’s no fatal flaw, no missing ingredient, nothing that Alabama, Clemson, or Ohio State is doing to win big that UGA is not. The fear that Smart’s teams are doomed to repeat their high-stakes failures on a loop takes for granted that those stakes are going to remain as high as they have over the first phase of the Smart era.
That’s a luxury, to know that any given season could be the one you’ve been waiting for, to say “there’s always next year” and actually mean it. Georgia’s one of the few teams in any sport at the moment that can. Now that next year has arrived again, there’s no good reason it can’t be the one that the Dogs get it done.
The front-runner: Alabama
At this point dropping the Tide into this slot may well be a reflex. Even by Bama standards, though, the outgoing talent from last year’s championship run was steep — so steep, in fact, that attrition doesn’t quite do the departing talent justice. On offense alone, the vacancies included spots in 2020 by the Heisman Trophy winner (DeVonta Smith), the nation’s most efficient passer (Mac Jones), the school’s career rushing leader (Najee Harris), arguably the most feared big-play threat in the college game (Jaylen Waddle), a pair of consensus All-Americans on the offensive line (Alex Leatherwood and Landon Dickerson), and the coordinator who called the shots the past 2 years (Steve Sarkisian, off to Texas as the Longhorns’ new head coach). Collectively that group formed the core of the highest-scoring offense in SEC history.
In their absence, the lineup for Saturday’s opener vs. Miami will bear very little resemblance the one that racked up 52 points against Ohio State in the national title game. The Tide will be rolling out at least 8 new starters and a new play-caller with, frankly, nowhere to go on the stat sheet but down.
Then again, there’s a reason Alabama has been favored in 152 of its past 153 games, and it’s going to take a lot more than yet another round of departing star power — even an especially notable one — to put that streak in doubt. In an era when offensive records are written and rewritten on an annual basis, the fact is the Tide were so far ahead of the pack in 2020 that the 2021 edition doesn’t necessarily have to keep raising the bar to go on producing at a championship level. The new coordinator, Bill O’Brien, is a proven commodity in college and the NFL, most recently as head coach of the Houston Texans. The heir apparent at quarterback, sophomore Bryce Young, arrived last year touted as the second coming of Russell Wilson; he’ll step into the full-time role in Year 2 as an automatic Heisman candidate with the hype fully intact.
Among the holdovers, WR John Metchie III and OL Evan Neal are aspiring first-rounders on track to continue the Tide’s All-America streak at both positions. The rest of the lineup is typically stacked with former blue-chip prospects who, like Young, are due to break through after biding their time as underclassmen. The incoming recruiting class is among the most celebrated crops of the past two decades at Bama or anywhere else. Even the kicking game, a running joke throughout Saban’s tenure, now qualifies as a strength thanks to junior Will Reichard, who was perfect as a sophomore on field goals and PATs.
And in the unlikely event the offense does take a significant step back, there’s still the defense, which (oh, by the way) returns the vast majority of the two-deep from a unit that led the the SEC in scoring D for the 10th time in 13 years. As it ever was, so it ever shall be. Until proven otherwise, any rumors of the Tide’s demise as a de facto national contender are greatly exaggerated.
The challenger: Georgia
So much of Georgia’s fate hinges on reviving the downfield passing game, a persistent liability over the past few years compared to the high-octane, bombs-away attacks that have yielded spectacular returns at Alabama and LSU. Accordingly, junior QB JT Daniels may be the nation’s most scrutinized player.
It’s easy to overstate Daniels’ impact over the last 4 games of 2020, partly because it’s so narratively compelling — blue-chip transfer takes over struggling position, emerges as Missing Piece of the Puzzle, etc. In fact, with respect to his impressive efficiency and 4-0 record as UGA’s starter, he remains far from a proven commodity over a full season, against elite competition, or with a championship at stake. But there is one very obvious reason to give him the benefit of the doubt based on a limited window into his game: His golden arm.
JT Daniels had a really good game this week. This was his best play. Showed pocket awareness and mobility, reset his feet and fired a 30 yard bullet to the WR1 of the 2022 class.
Yes, George should have caught it #devy pic.twitter.com/h1MvS6tILE
— Brandon Lejeune (@DevyDeepDive) November 25, 2020
Of Daniels’ 119 attempts last year, 29 of them traveled 20+ yards downfield, the highest rate of any SEC passer and the 6th-highest nationally among QBs with at least 100 attempts. His average depth of target (12.7 yards per attempt) ranked 4th nationally, coming in more than 2 full yards better than Jake Fromm’s career high (10.3 ypa) in 2019. He completed 44.8% of those throws with 5 touchdowns, easily surpassing Fromm’s success rate on 20+ yard attempts over the previous 2 years. In short, he stands to bring some legitimate downfield juice to an attack that desperately needs it. Actually delivering on that promise may be the most consequential if of the entire season.
The dark horse: Texas A&M
In most ways, 2020 was a banner year in College Station. The Aggies’ 8-1 record in SEC play was their best since defecting from the Big 12 in 2012. Their upset over then-No. 4 Florida at Kyle Field snapped an 18-year home losing streak vs. top-5 opponents dating to 2002. Their come-from-behind win in the Orange Bowl was their first victory in a major bowl game since 1987. Their final standing in the AP poll (4th) marked their best finish since 1939. They were indisputably the best team in the state of Texas.
Still, given the enormous expectation$ that greeted Jimbo Fisher’s arrival as head coach, the final product remained a work in progress. Six of A&M’s 8 regular-season wins came at the expense of teams that finished .500 or worse, and the lone defeat, an early, 52-24 blowout at Alabama, loomed large over the rest of the season as proof of the gap between the Aggies and the real national contenders. The margin in that game was likely a deciding factor in the Playoff committee’s decision to settle for Notre Dame in the last semifinal slot opposite Bama rather than stage a rematch no one was clamoring to see. In Year 4 under Fisher, closing that gap remains the defining goal.
Getting there begins with the new quarterback, redshirt freshman Haynes King, who barely saw the field last year behind now-departed Kellen Mond. What King lacks in experience, A&M hopes he can make up for in the kind of big-play prowess that was sorely lacking from the passing game in 2020. The leading receivers, tight end Jalen Wydermyer and all-purpose dynamo Ainias Smith, both return, but the Aggies will also be looking for more out of a young, nondescript group of wideouts.
Elsewhere, though, the lineup is borderline elite: The hyped 2019 recruiting class, in particular, has made good on its initial billing, yielding All-America candidates at running back (Isaiah Spiller), tight end (Wydermyer), o-line (Kenyon Green), d-line (DeMarvin Leal), and defensive back (Demani Richardson) entering what will likely be their final season together. If King and his receivers hold up their end, it’s shaping up like another big one.
The upstart: Ole Miss
Ole Miss was not a good team in Lane Kiffin’s debut season, but they were certainly an interesting team, which coming off the stagnation of the Matt Luke years was good enough.
Statistically the split between the offense and defense was unprecedented: The Rebels set an SEC record for total offense in conference play (562.4 yards per game), and offset it with an historically bad effort on defense, yielding 595.7 ypg in conference play – just a hair’s breadth off the all-time worst mark of 536.0 ypg allowed by Tennessee in 2016. They won 2 games despite allowing 40+ points, and lost 3 despite scoring 35+ points. They played in the highest-scoring regulation game in SEC history and 2 others in which both teams combined for more than 100. Final scoring margin across all 10 games: Ole Miss 392, Opponents 383. Final record: 5 wins, 5 losses.
The basic premise of Kiffin’s second season is pretty simple. With prolific QB Matt Corral back in the fold, the offense should continue to give Ole Miss a chance every time out. Therefore any improvement on defense whatsoever could be the ticket to a special year. And how can one of the worst defenses in SEC history not improve? Ole Miss fans have seen enough over the years to keep their enthusiasm in check, but as long as they’re content to embrace the journey with a group capable of winning or losing almost every game on the schedule this could be the most entertaining team anywhere.
The doormat: Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt is an infamously no-win situation in so many ways, and never more so than coming off the first winless season in school history. (Yes, really.) On the other hand, it’s not difficult to see how incoming head coach Clark Lea could view the job as an opportunity: He’s a Vandy alum, he’s guaranteed all the time he needs to remake the program in his image with minimum expectations, and there’s obviously nowhere to go but up.
He inherited one notable asset in sophomore QB Ken Seals, who started every game as a true freshman and looks like a potential 4-year starter. Going forward, the fact that he was 0-9 matters a lot less than the fact he opted to chose to stick around for the opportunity to be the guy who eventually leads the Commodores out of the wilderness. That’s way off on the horizon for an outfit that got outscored last year by more than three touchdowns per game, but it’s a start.
Projected order of finish
1. Georgia: If this team can’t get over the hump, then … we’ll just have to repeat the whole spiel again next year, because the Bulldogs aren’t going anywhere.
2. Florida: Gators hit every milestone they needed to hit in 2020 to claim the season as another step forward on the road back to national relevance — beat Georgia, won the SEC East, produced a Heisman finalist and a top-5 draft pick, remained in the thick of the Playoff conversation through the final weekend of the regular season — and yet a 3-game losing streak to close left a sour taste amid rumors that Dan Mullen may be planning an escape route, just in case.
3. Kentucky: Wildcats are 23-14 over the past 3 seasons, good for the best 3-year run in Lexington since Bear Bryant left town in the early 1950s. They’ve also finished dead last in the SEC in passing offense in each of those seasons, a trend Mark Stoops is determined to change via a new offensive coordinator (Liam Coen, fresh from the Los Angeles Rams) and starting quarterback (Penn State transfer Will Levis).
4. Missouri: Mizzou’s 5-5 finish under first-year coach Eli Drinkwitz didn’t exactly move the needle at a program whose overall record stands at exactly .500 since 2016. At least the Tigers found their quarterback for the foreseeable future in Connor Bazelak.
5. Tennessee: Vols’ talent level stagnated under Jeremy Pruitt, and the mass exodus that accompanied Pruitt’s departure all but guaranteed Josh Heupel will spend his first year on the job treading water at best.
6. South Carolina: New coach Shane Beamer has never been a head coach or even a coordinator, but between his legendary father and stints as an assistant under Steve Spurrier, Kirby Smart and Lincoln Riley, in some respects he’s been groomed for a top job most of his life. If nothing else, at least he’s been around a whole lot of winning.
7. Vanderbilt: Putting a W in the conference win column in Clark Lea’s first season would qualify as a smashing success.
1. Alabama: Yeah, you know the drill. Year-in, year-out, no program rides the annual waves of attrition more smoothly than the Tide.
2. LSU: Tigers may not be all the way back from last year’s descent into mediocrity, but the talent level is way too high for anything less than double-digit wins to register as anything but a disappointment.
3. Texas A&M: Aggies are solid on both lines on the line of scrimmage, get Alabama in College Station, and are one big-play threat away from making a legitimate run at the division.
4. Auburn: For better or worse, Bo Nix is still the starting quarterback under a new administration. As a group, though, his wide receivers may be the biggest question mark in the entire conference.
5. Ole Miss: If the defense stinks again, it won’t be for lack of experience: 25 players are back with at least 200 career snaps under their belts.
6. Mississippi State: Bulldogs had to bottom out on offense in Mike Leach’s first season before they could begin to move forward again as a unit whose leading passer, rusher and receiver were all true freshmen.
7. Arkansas: In addition to 3 wins in Sam Pittman’s first season, 3 of the Razorbacks’ 7 losses were decided by last-minute field goals. Now that the “moral victory” phase of the project is over, the grading curve in Pittman’s second season won’t be nearly as forgiving.
Offensive Player of the Year: Alabama OL Evan Neal
This isn’t an honor typically reserved for offensive linemen, but then Neal isn’t a typical offensive lineman. On paper, he looks a lot like his predecessors in Alabama’s left tackle pipeline – blue-chip recruit, 3-year starter, obvious first-rounder – only more so: Bigger, freakier, even more coveted as a potential pro. In the flesh, he may be the next stage in the evolution of the position. With his viral vertical jump this summer, Neal became a kind of Paul Bunyan figure, a mountain of a man with all the power you’d expect from a 6-7, 350-pound All-American combined with a level of gravity-defying athleticism that you definitely would not. If you were creating the ideal specimen to play left tackle in a laboratory, this guy would be the result … at least, you know, until the next guy comes along right behind him.
Defensive Player of the Year: LSU CB Derek Stingley Jr.
Yes, Stingley endured the sophomore slump in 2020 after a much celebrated debut in 2019. No, it doesn’t diminish his status as the most gifted, NFL-ready corner in the college game. Much of his Year 2 malaise can be chalked up to injury (he missed the opener due to an unspecified medical emergency and never appeared close to 100%), and there’s no reason to believe the aspects of his game that made him an instant star – length, stickiness in coverage, elite ball skills – have somehow abandoned him as an upperclassmen. He’s the same guy who finished his freshman campaign as the SEC leader in interceptions (6) and passes defended (21), the highest-graded cornerback in the nation per Pro Football Focus, and the first true-freshman DB since the turn of the century to be voted a consensus All-American.
By the end of LSU’s championship run, he was arguably the best corner in the country, allowing just 7 catches on 25 targets in postseason blowouts vs. Georgia, Oklahoma and Clemson for a grand total of 82 yards. Combine that efficiency with his next-level length, instincts and ball skills, and the bar for what will almost certainly be his final college season remains extraordinarily high.
This one belonged to Derek Stingley. pic.twitter.com/fD0yOtfIho
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) October 26, 2019
Inevitably for an elite cornerback, much of his best work this year will unfold out-of-frame, largely unnoticed by casual fans. But Stingley still looks for all the world like an A+ prospect, a guy capable of erasing his side of the field from the game plan, the next great cover man at the next level.
Plus, hey, DeVonta Smith finally graduated.
Most Valuable Player: Ole Miss QB Matt Corral
It’s impossible to know exactly what would have happened if Ole Miss had opted against a coaching change in the wake of its monumentally absurd loss in the 2019 Egg Bowl, or if it had hired anyone other than Lane Kiffin for the job. But here’s a good bet: Corral would be somewhere else, and the Rebels would be much worse for it.
In 2019, Corral struggled out of the gate as a redshirt freshman and was effectively benched in favor of the more athletic John Rhys Plumlee, a better fit in then-OC Rich Rodriguez’s spread-to-run scheme. On Kiffin’s watch, Corral was entrenched from Day 1, accounting for 445 yards and 3 TDs in a season-opening loss to Florida, and oversaw the most prolific season in Ole Miss history. He obliterated school records for total offense (384.3 yards per game) and pass efficiency (177.6) while accounting for multiple touchdowns in every game, at the head of an attack that eclipsed the previous school record for scoring in conference play by more than a full touchdown per game.
Matt Corral hit a NASA spaceship with this ball
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 28, 2020
Yeah, but the turnovers, etc. It’s true, Corral’s game can be a little bit like a streaky 3-point shooter: He runs hot and cold – 11 of his 14 interceptions came in just 2 games, losses to Arkansas and LSU – and the only way through the skids is to let him keep on firing. Add it all up, though, and the good vastly exceeded the bad while giving his team a fighting chance every time out, including in the highest-scoring regulation game in SEC history against Alabama. Opposite anything other than another historically bad defense in 2021, the Rebels have 10-win potential and Corral has a shot at a trip to New York.
Special teams Player of the Year: LSU kicker Cade York
York was money from anywhere in 2020, banging home 18-of-21 field goal attempts overall and a remarkable 6-of-7 from 50+ yards. (No other FBS kicker had more than 4 successful attempts from 50+ yards; Alabama’s Will Reichard — who, as you may have heard, did not miss on the year — had just 1 on his only try.) That line represented arguably the highest degree of difficulty in the country, and that’s before you factor in that one of those bombs, a career-long 57-yarder to beat Florida in a thick, eerie fog in December, was the indisputable Kick of the Year.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) December 13, 2020
York was also solid from long range in LSU’s 2019 national championship run, knocking home 4-of-5 from 50+ yards as a redshirt freshman. He also improved considerably last year in the 40-49 range, hitting 3-of-4 after going just 5-of-10 in ’19. At that rate, he’s on his way to being the rare kicker worthy of a draft pick, and sooner rather than later.
Breakout Player of the Year: Alabama QB Bryce Young
Obviously. What’s left to say about a dude so hyped he’s joined the top income tax bracket before he’s attempted a meaningful college pass? Young is the most touted recruit of the Saban era, a Day 1 Heisman favorite, and heir apparent to championship-or-bust expectations. I’m trying to show some restraint here, but I think we all know that by the time the year-end awards show rolls around the “Breakout” distinction probably isn’t going to be necessary.
Breakout Defensive Player of the Year: LSU DE BJ Ojulari
Ojulari’s older brother, Azeez, was an All-SEC pass rusher at Georgia and a second-round pick in April. BJ’s ceiling may be even higher. A top-100 prospect, he made immediate inroads in LSU’s d-line rotation in his first year on campus, registering 24 QB pressures and 5 TFLs despite playing less than half of the Tigers’ total defensive snaps. His role should expand significantly in Year 2, and his reputation as one of the league’s most reliable terrors off the edge along with it.
Most Exciting Player: LSU WR Kayshon Boutte
One of the silver linings of LSU’s hungover 2020 season was the late emergence of Boutte, a 5-star freshman who was shoved into the spotlight after Terrace Marshall Jr.’s decision to opt out of the last 3 games and owned the moment in historic fashion.
How Kayshon Boutte closed out his freshman season at LSU:
— Eight catches for 111 yards vs. Alabama
— Five catches, 108 yards and a touchdown vs. Florida
— 14 catches, a school-record 308 yards and three TDs tonight vs. Ole Miss
— Matt Zenitz (@mzenitz) December 20, 2020
A small sample size to build an All-American case around, sure, but when someone as highly touted as Boutte shows you who they are, believe them. Eight of his 45 receptions gained 30+ yards, a better big-play rate than DeVonta Smith or Kyle Pitts. The only SEC receiver to eclipse it: Jaylen Waddle. That’s the kind of company Boutte should be keeping in the hive mind very soon.
Best Player on a Bad Team: Arkansas WR Treylon Burks
Burks, an Arkansas native, could have taken his imposing size and decorated high school résumé just about anywhere. Instead, he opted to play close to home for a program at rock bottom, and with his breakout sophomore campaign in 2020 he’s well on his way to upholding his part of the rebuild. At 6-3/225, Burks’ combination of high-rise skills in the red zone and home-run speed might be unmatched by any active college receiver.
Fat Guy of the Year (not named Evan Neal): Kentucky OT Darian Kinnard
Which is the more unlikely development: Kentucky’s o-line establishing itself over the past few seasons as one of the SEC’s most reliable units, or Kinnard’s decision last winter to spurn the draft for another turn as its most reliable member? With 26 consecutive starts at right tackle and elite PFF grades in each of the past 2 seasons (89.2 in 2019, 91.5 in ’20), he has absolutely nothing left to prove as a senior except that he clearly belongs among the top linemen in next year’s draft. If he plays his way into the first round Kinnard would be the first Kentucky OL to earn the distinction since 1977.
Rookie of the Year: Alabama CB Ga’Quincy “Kool-Aid” McKinstry
McKinstry was rated as the No. 1 incoming cornerback in the 2021 class and the No. 1 prospect in the state of Alabama. He also owns the No. 1 overall nickname: “Kool-Aid,” a handle that has already landed him an endorsement deal with… wait for it… Kool-Aid.
On the field, he’s a front-runner to take over the open starting position vacated by Patrick Surtain II, whom McKinstry hopes to follow as a Day 1 starter and future All-American en route to the next level. Alabama’s been cranking out first-round corners for a decade; commanding a regular role in the rotation is just the first step to adding his name to the list.
Most Valuable Transfer: Georgia CB Derion Kendrick
If Kendrick wasn’t the best player to matriculate through the transfer portal this offseason, full-stop, he may well turn out to have the biggest impact with his new team. Before his arrival from Clemson, cornerback was the glaring vacancy on Georgia’s depth chart following the exit of both of last year’s starters, Eric Stokes (the 29th overall pick in the draft) and Tyson Campbell (No. 33).
Kendrick, a converted quarterback/receiver, has had his issues the past 2 years in Clemson’s Playoff losses to LSU and Ohio State, to put it kindly — the Tigers and Buckeyes baked him for a combined 236 yards and 5 touchdowns in those games, per PFF. Still, he was a 5-star prospect, a first-team All-ACC pick in 2020 in just his second year at the position, and outside of the Playoff debacles he’s allowed just 1 touchdown the last 2 years against everyone else.
Most importably, his presence at UGA fills an obvious void with an experienced, gifted player still growing into his next-level talent at the position. Assuming his offseason legal issues are behind him — always a fun sentence to write on the eve of the season — the transition from starting for one title contender to starting for another should be seamless.
Best Position Group: Alabama’s linebackers
Even for Alabama, this unit is blessed. Sophomore Will Anderson started every game as a true freshman, led the nation in QB pressures (60) from his outside linebacker role, and projects as one the nation’s most ferocious edge rushers in Year 2. The other bookend, senior Christopher Allen, led the SEC in tackles for loss (13.0) and came in for a second-team all-conference nod in his first year in the regular rotation. Junior Christian Harris is a classic thumper in the middle with designs on rekindling Bama’s All-America tradition at the position — that is, if he’s not overshadowed by the new guy, Tennessee transfer Henry To’o To’o, another heat-seeking ILB who arrived over the summer to great fanfare after two highly productive seasons in Knoxville. Collectively they have the makings of the strongest starting four of the Saban era.
The reserves include a former starter (redshirt sophomore Shane Lee); another vet (Jaylen Moody) who was widely projected to start prior to To’o To’o’s transfer; a handful of blue-chip recruits entering their second year in the program (Drew Sanders, Chris Braswell, Demouy Kennedy); and 3 top-100 overall prospects in the incoming class (Dallas Turner, Deontae Lawson and Keanu Koht), all of whom figure to be relegated to garbage time. When people joke about Bama’s backups being better than most other teams’ starters, this is one of the cases where it’s no exaggeration.
And now … The Monday Down South All-SEC team
Here’s my personal all-conference lineup for 2021, based strictly on my own observations and opinions over the course of the season. (That is, it doesn’t reflect the observations or opinions of anyone else at Saturday Down South.) If an obviously deserving player from your favorite team didn’t make the cut, it can only be because I harbor a deep, irrational bias against him personally — especially if he happens to play quarterback, running back or cornerback — and certainly not because some of these decisions were tough calls between more credible candidates than the format can accommodate.
Quarterback: Matt Corral • Ole Miss
Running Back: Tank Bigsby • Auburn
Running Back: Isaiah Spiller • Texas A&M
All-Purpose: Jerrion Ealy • Ole Miss
Wide Receiver: Treylon Burks • Arkansas
Wide Receiver: Kayshon Boutte • LSU
Tight End: Jalen Wydermyer • Texas A&M
Line: Evan Neal • Alabama
Line: Darian Kinnard • Kentucky
Line: Kenyon Green • Texas A&M
Line: Jamaree Salyer • Georgia
Line: Cade Mays • Tennessee
– – –
Honorable mention: QB: JT Daniels (Georgia); Bryce Young (Alabama); Emory Jones (Florida) … RB: Brian Robinson Jr. (Alabama); Zamir White (Georgia); Kevin Harris (South Carolina); Ainias Smith (Texas A&M); Chris Rodriguez Jr. (Kentucky) … WR: John Metchie III (Alabama); Wan’Dale Robinson (Kentucky); Jacob Copeland (Florida); Jaden Walley (Mississippi State) … TE: Darnell Washington (Georgia); Keon Zipperer (Florida) … OL: Emil Ekiyor (Alabama); Charles Cross (Mississippi State); Austin Deculus (LSU); Ed Ingram (LSU); Warren McClendon (Georgia); Luke Fortner (Kentucky).
D-Line: DeMarvin Leal • Texas A&M
D-Line: Jordan Davis • Georgia
D-Line: Phidarian Mathis • Alabama
Edge (DE): Brenton Cox • Florida
Edge (OLB): Will Anderson Jr. • Alabama
Linebacker: Christian Harris • Alabama
Linebacker: Nakobe Dean • Georgia
Cornerback: Derek Stingley Jr. • LSU
Cornerback: Josh Jobe • Alabama
Cornerback: Kaiir Elam • Florida
Safety: Jalen Catalon • Arkansas
Safety: Jordan Battle • Alabama
– – –
Honorable mention: DL: Kingsley Enagbare (South Carolina); Ali Gaye (LSU); BJ Ojulari (LSU); Devonte Wyatt (Georgia); Josh Paschal (Kentucky); Trajan Jeffcoat (Missouri) … LB: Ventrell Miller (Florida); Adam Anderson (Georgia); Christopher Allen (Alabama); Henry To’o To’o (Alabama); Grant Morgan (Arkansas); Zakoby McClain (Auburn); Owen Pappoe (Auburn); Aaron Brule (Mississippi State) … CB: Eli Ricks (LSU); Malachi Moore (Alabama); Roger McCreary (Auburn); Derion Kendrick (Georgia); Jaylon Jones (Texas A&M); Martin Emerson (Mississippi State); Emmanuel Forbes (Mississippi State) … S: Demani Richardson (Texas A&M); Smoke Monday (Auburn); Lewis Cine (Georgia); Tykee Smith (Georgia); Yusuf Corker (Kentucky).
Kicker: Cade York • LSU
Punter: Jake Camarda • Georgia
Returner (KR/PR): Jerrion Ealy • Ole Miss
– – –
Honorable mention: K: Will Reichard (Alabama); Anders Carlson (Auburn); Harrison Mevis (Missouri); Evan McPherson (Florida) … P: Paxton Brooks (Tennessee); Jacob Finn (Florida)… KR/PR: Kearis Jackson (Georgia); Ainias Smith (Texas A&M).