Power ranking the top 10 players in the SEC after Week 8
Prior to the season, Week 8 looked like a banner week for SEC football. As always, Alabama and LSU figured to be the headliner, but the week also featured fascinating matchups between Tennessee and Texas A&M and a reunion of Feleipe Franks and Florida when Arkansas traveled to The Swamp.
Instead, Week 8 saw the surging COVID-19 pandemic win a narrow 4-3 victory over actual games of college football played.
Kentucky honored fallen giant OL coach John Schlarman by running for 308 yards behind the physical, talented offensive line he helped develop. And if you didn’t feel the need to dust your home after Kentucky’s opening play, I can’t help you.
Kyle Trask and the Florida offense posted 60+ points in an SEC game for the first time since 2008. That Florida team won a national championship. This team’s offense is championship caliber, and they control their fate in the College Football Playoff push.
Lane Kiffin had fun, too. His sophomore quarterback threw for an Ole Miss record 513 yards Saturday night against a South Carolina secondary that features at least 2 surefire NFL corners. The Rebels didn’t care, making mincemeat of South Carolina’s defense and gaining over 700 yards in an SEC game for the first time in school history.
Somehow — OK mostly due to Kevin Harris and the Gamecocks’ ground game — the Rebels trailed in the 4th quarter. Then Corral found Elijah Moore deep and, well, Kiffin’s playsheet went flying.
See if you can spot when Lane Kiffin's clipboard goes flying on this Ole Miss touchdown. pic.twitter.com/FQIKOcgG2h
— The Comeback (@thecomeback) November 15, 2020
As for Muschamp, the loss was the final nail in the coffin for his tenure at South Carolina and probably, for his career as a SEC head coach. I’ll be honest: I didn’t think any coach would get fired in a COVID-altered season — for both economic reasons and the impact the virus has had across the country on personnel, roster availability and scheduling.
Apparently, Coach Boom’s fate was sealed a week earlier, when the Gamecocks were embarrassed 48-3 by Texas A&M. But Saturday night’s debacle, where the Gamecocks managed to lose a game where they ran for 318 yards and averaged 8.15 yards per carry, was the official end of the road.
He’ll have plenty of defensive coordinator offers but might do well as a head coach in the Group of 5 — somewhere his terrific ability to evaluate talent is enough to compensate for his stubborn refusal to change the archaic offensive schemes that have ruined him at two stops in a row.
Shout-outs to Trask, Harris, Chris Rodriguez Jr., Trevon Grimes, Shi Smith, Elijah Moore, Matt Corral and the entire OL units from Kentucky, South Carolina and Vanderbilt for big-time performances Saturday night.
These individual performances — and some collective ones, like what was the SEC’s best secondary in Arkansas giving up 63 points to Florida — helped shake up the top 10 rankings from a week ago, even with only 6 of the league’s 14 schools in action.
Here are the 10 best players in the SEC after week 8, with honorable mentions first.
Honorable Mentions: DeVonta Smith, WR (Alabama); Alex Leatherwood, OT (Alabama); Landon Dickerson, C (Alabama); Dylan Moses, LB (Alabama); Jaylen Waddle, WR (Alabama); Patrick Surtain II, CB (Alabama); Mike Woods, WR (Arkansas); Feleipe Franks, QB (Arkansas); Grant Morgan, LB (Arkansas); Jalen Catalon, S (Arkansas); Zakoby McClain, LB (Auburn); Roger McCreary, CB (Auburn); Owen Pappoe, LB (Auburn); Tank Bigsby, RB (Auburn); Stone Forsythe, OT (Florida); Nakobe Dean, LB (Georgia); Ben Cleveland, G (Georgia); Azeez Ojulari, Edge (Georgia); Kelvin Joseph, CB (Kentucky); Luke Fortner, G (Kentucky); Darian Kinnard, T (Kentucky); Jamar Watson, LB (Kentucky); DeAndre Square, LB (Kentucky); Larry Rountree III, RB (Missouri); Michael Maietii, C (Missouri); Terrace Marshall Jr., WR (LSU); Jerrion Ealy, RB (Ole Miss); Matt Corral, QB (Ole Miss); Erroll Thompson, LB (Miss State); Marquiss Spencer, DE (Miss State); Ernest Jones, LB (South Carolina); Jaycee Horn, DB (South Carolina); Shi Smith, WR (South Carolina); Eric Gray, RB (Tennessee); Bryce Thompson, CB (Tennessee); Henry To’o To’o, LB (Tennessee); Michael Clemons, DE (Texas A&M); Kellen Mond, QB (Texas A&M); Ainias Smith, RB (Texas A&M); Cam Johnson, WR (Vanderbilt).
10. Nick Bolton, LB (Missouri)
COVID-19 disrupted yet another Missouri game, but the lack of any defense across the league in Week 8 bumps the Tigers star linebacker back into the top 10. Bolton leads Missouri with 53 tackles, which was expected. What wasn’t is how good he’s been in pass coverage — Bolton is far and away their best linebacker in coverage situations, limiting quarterbacks to a 48% completion percentage, per Stats Solutions, and he rates 2nd on the team overall in passes defended with 3. He’s also collected a sack, forced a fumble, and leads the team in tackles for loss. It’s no wonder his constant production is making NFL scouts less and less concerned that he’s undersized every week.
9. Isaiah Spiller, RB (Texas A&M)
The bye week sees Spiller fall to 3rd in the SEC in rushing and lose his lead in yards per carry to Kevin Harris (see below). But the biggest reason this Aggies offense looks different over the past month is the balance provided by Spiller, a brutal runner who makes safeties cheat just enough to give Kellen Mond time and space to deliver. Say what you will about Jimbo Fisher’s offensive scheme being a bit old-school. If he has balance, it is still lethal.
8. Kevin Harris, RB (South Carolina)
The SEC has a new leading rusher named Harris after Kevin Harris ripped Ole Miss apart for 243 yards on 25 carries. (Oh, and 5 TDs.) The Ole Miss defense is terrible, as evidenced by this swinging gate Harris bulled through Saturday night.
Kevin Harris out here doing his best Nick Chubb impersonation.
211 rushing yards, school-record 4 rushing touchdowns vs. Ole Miss pic.twitter.com/Ip5TkWWxsn
— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) November 15, 2020
But Harris became the only — yes the only — SEC running back with 200 plus yards rushing and 5 touchdowns in a football game since 2005. When you think about who has played in this league — that’s simply remarkable. Harris has 817 yards and is averaging 6.24 yards a clip. That’s marvelous stuff, as are his 13 touchdowns, which ranks behind only Najee Harris in the league.
7. Kyle Pitts, TE (Florida)
It’s almost unfair to keep moving Pitts down the list, given he’s the top receiving target on one of the nation’s best offenses and the top non-quarterback prospect on offense on multiple NFL big boards. But Florida just scored 63 points against a really good Arkansas secondary without Pitts. Ten Gators caught passes — a resounding testament to the depth Dan Mullen has built at the playmaker spots and to Kyle Trask’s ability to navigate the offense without his most dangerous weapon. Pitts will also miss the Vanderbilt game after Lewis Cine’s illegal Cocktail Party hit caused a concussion and forced Pitts to have surgery last week.
6. Richard LeCounte III, S (Georgia)
Georgia is one of the few teams this season to benefit from a COVID postponement. The offense is a mess, the defense is a MASH unit, and the team’s best player, LeCounte, gets another week to recover from the near-tragic motorcycle accident that is costing him too much of his final season in Athens. He drops not because he did anything wrong, but because other players have staked a claim to higher positions. If he comes back soon enough, he’s still in the discussion for SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
5. Jamin Davis, LB (Kentucky)
All Jamin does is make plays.
Already leading the Wildcats in tackles, Davis posted a career-high 15 stops against Vanderbilt last weekend, including a tackle for loss and a pair of quarterback pressures, on his way to SEC Player of the Week honors.
— Southeastern Conference (@SEC) November 16, 2020
Davis’ 73 tackles rank 3rd in the SEC. He’s also forced a pair of fumbles, recovered a fumble, intercepted 2 passes (one of which was a pick-6), defended 2 passes and tallied multiple tackles for loss. Mark Stoops has built one of the SEC’s best linebacker corps, and Harris is the best of that group and this season, has been the best linebacker in the SEC.
4. Najee Harris, RB (Alabama)
Poor Najee. Slips because he had a bye and his teammates are so good.
Don’t feel too sorry for him. He’s still 2nd in the SEC in rushing yards and leading the SEC in touchdowns (14). The mere presence of Harris is a big reason Alabama leads the country in success rate and S&P+ (tempo and opponent-adjusted efficiency). He’ll also have plenty of chances to reclaim the top spot on this list down the stretch, including the Iron Bowl, which is coming in 2 weeks.
3. Elijah Moore, WR (Ole Miss)
If it feels like the receiver who plays the best from week to week, whether it’s DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, Terrace Marshall Jr., or even Kyle Pitts, ends up in the top 3 on this list, well, that’s because that’s how it works.
Smith is undoubtedly one of the top playmakers in the country — not just the SEC. He also didn’t get the chance to flex against a bad LSU defense this week.
Elijah Moore did get to flex, and wow was he good.
Elijah Moore now has THREE games this season with 10+ receptions and 200+ yards 😤
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) November 15, 2020
Moore made the playsheet fly and made Jaycee Horn opt out of the rest of the season, abusing Carolina’s corners in a variety of 1-on-1 matchuips to the tune of 225 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns. He also added 45 yards rushing Saturday night, because why not?
On the season, Moore leads the SEC in receptions (74), receiving yards (1,054) and ranks 2nd (behind Terrace Marshal Jr.) in touchdowns (8). This is the best redemption story in college football in a very long time.
2. Mac Jones, QB (Alabama)
Jones has done plenty to prove he’s a playmaker this season, and his incredible accuracy (1st in nation in completion percentage) is a huge reason the Tide offense ranks 1st nationally in success rate (Florida is 2nd) and S&P+ efficiency (Florida is 4th). That means Jones leads the most lethal offense in America.
As for the “it’s really about Mac’s weapons” crowd: According to PFF, Jones is the most successful and lethal quarterback in the sport, grading out at an absurd 93.8 on the 2020 season to date.
Jones will get a better test against a solid Kentucky defense Saturday than he would have against LSU’s struggling unit, but after lighting up Georgia, the Wildcats won’t phase him much.
1. Kyle Trask, QB (Florida)
Florida is a program that builds statues of Heisman-winning quarterbacks and it has had more All-American quarterbacks than you can count on one hand, so if you become only the 2nd quarterback in the history of the program to toss 6 touchdown passes in multiple games in a season, you are in rarified air.
Trask is also the only quarterback in SEC history to throw 28 touchdowns in his first 6 games, and he’s done so against a conference-only schedule. In the last 2 weeks, Trask has faced the 2 best pass defenses, from a statistical and turnover margin standpoint, in the SEC.
Here are the combined numbers: 53-for-72 (74%), 830 yards (11.5 yards per attempt), 10 touchdowns and 1 interception. His team has averaged 53.5 points in those two games.
I’d say those were “high school numbers,” but Trask didn’t start in high school. So those are “Kyle Trask in the SEC” numbers.
He’s earned this spot, at least this week.