Predicting the MVPs for each SEC team in 2017
Picking SEC team MVPs during the college football calmness of mid-May is like investing in stock futures — risky, no matter how well informed you think you are.
But since we’re staking only pride and not money, we’ll throw a name out there for every team, knowing it’ll be months before we can even begin to access the long and short of our guesses.
Alabama: Bo Scarbrough
Jalen Hurts will have his glory. He did last year as a freshman. He will this fall. And probably the next one. But Bama’s biggest weapon, or at least its most key weapon, will be Scarbrough, who rushed for 812 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore and will surely soar above the 1,000-yard mark this fall. He’ll also score more than 11 TDs, and they’ll be big scores in the biggest games.
This fall, Scarbrough will become the latest, biggest reason why the Crimson Tide add another SEC title to a collection that grows almost by the year. Scarbrough gave the SEC and the country a glimpse of what he can do with the spotlight burning brightly last year in the College Football Playoff semifinals against Washington. This time around, he just might save his best for the very last game.
Arkansas: Devwah Whaley
Whaley is the likely starter in the Hogs’ backfield with the unfortunate injury and retirement this spring of Rawleigh Williams III. Whaley will help the Razorbacks not miss Williams as much as Hogs fans fear.
Whaley, at 5-11, 216, is built strikingly similar to the 5-10, 223-pound Williams, and that should help the Razorbacks’ offensive line not have to adjust so much. Whaley got a taste last fall in Williams’ shadow, rushing for 602 yards on 110 carries. This fall he’ll get to show just how valuable he can be in a starting role. “He might be the most complete running back I’ve ever signed,” coach Bret Bielema told ESPN last summer. “He’s serious.”
Auburn: Kamryn Pettway
While the Tigers’ quarterback competition comes to fruition and either Jarrett Stidham takes the rudder or Sean White keeps it, Pettway will be Auburn’s rock. He’ll either help Stidham while he gets situated in an SEC offense or be White’s best friend again, but better this time. His 1,224 yards and 5.9 yards-per-carry clip will be surpassed this fall, especially if Stidham wins the QB job and is attracting more attention than White ever did.
It would be easy to pick Stidham for MVP, but even if he does beat out White, this will be his first football in a long while. Pettway will be the pathway to success for Stidham. Tigers fans can dream of Stidham one day being Cam Newton. For now, they will have to settle for Pettway reminding them of Bo Jackson.
Florida: Jordan Scarlett
Similar to Pettway, Scarlett will likely be the engine in a backfield with a new quarterback. If Feleipe Franks wins the quarterback job in fall camp as many expect, he’ll have big and likely unreasonable expectations from a fan base starving for its first superhero quarterback since Tim Tebow. Franks might be that one day, but in the meantime this will be Scarlett’s shot to fully show he’s the guy in Gainesville.
Last season’s 889 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore should easily be surpassed by Scarlett as he rises to elite SEC status and eases Franks’ transition from backup to one-day superhero. Scarlett’s rise to SEC excellence might also ensure the Gators show up in Atlanta again in early December.
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Georgia: Terry Godwin
Godwin makes up part of Georgia’s great unknown in 2017, although worried Bulldogs fans might not use the word “great” when it comes to their, for now, unheralded wide receivers. But Godwin knows he was a disappointment last fall, when Isaiah McKenzie was the receiver who emerged instead and was drafted by the Broncos in the fifth round last month. Now Godwin gets a do-over of sorts.
He won’t be the Bulldogs’ MVP this fall because he’s the best player on an offense with stud running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, and a talented quarterback in Jacob Eason. Godwin will be the MVP because he’s highly motivated after only going from 35 catches in 2015 to 38 last year, and from 379 yards to 397. He has two combined touchdowns in two seasons. Two. He’ll blow all those numbers out of the water, at last, while Michel and Chubb attract all that attention.
Kentucky: Sihiem King
King won’t be the Wildcats’ best player, or their best offensive player, or even their best running back. But after basically watching from the sidelines last season, when he had a grand total of 11 carries for 81 yards, King will finally have his big shot this fall and won’t whiff.
Benny Snell is back to likely once again be the guy for Kentucky. But the 5-9, 172-pound King will assume the “scat-back role” that Boom Williams starred in last season, when he led the Cats in rushing. Williams is gone to the NFL, and Jojo Kemp is chasing his NFL dream, too, clearing the way for King to get a few more carries than 11 this fall. He’ll get a ton more. And he’ll be a difference maker — running, catching passes and returning kicks.
LSU: Arden Key
With a fitting last name, the junior defensive end made a promise to Tigers fans that he wouldn’t be sitting out this season after taking a few months off this spring for personal reasons. Whatever issues he had, Key will be the key as LSU tries to replace five defensive players who were drafted last month.
Heisman Trophy candidate Derrius Guice would be the obvious, even lazy choice for LSU MVP this fall, and he’ll no doubt be the Tigers’ best player, especially on offense. But their most valuable player will be Key, who will help with the transition after the loss of all that star power on defense while the offense adjusts to new coordinator Matt Canada.
Mississippi State: Aeris Williams
Dynamic quarterback Nick Fitzgerald led the SEC in rushing touchdowns last season, and the SEC world knows he is a force by now, so that means a guy like Williams can take advantage of all the attention Fitzgerald gets. “It’s going to be hard to stop me this year,” Williams said after a practice in March. “I promise you.”
Williams will keep his promise to the fans in Starkville and then some. The junior-to-be will blow away his 720 yards rushing and four touchdowns from last year and give Mississippi State something big other than Fitzgerald. His confidence was flowing after the spring game. He was ready to start the season then.
Missouri: Damarea Crockett
Yes, Drew Lock is the Tigers’ leader. Yes, he’s the most important player in Missouri’s attempt to rise from the depths of the SEC East. But it’ll be the sophomore-to-be Crockett who will be most valuable in that quest, simply because defenses will be geared to shut down Lock.
After averaging the most rushing yards per game among freshmen in the FBS, 96.6 per contest, and finishing with 1,062 yards on just 153 carries, Crockett will no doubt see his workload increase and his rise to stardom pick up steam as he becomes even better all-around. Josh Heupel will be smiling by December at Crockett’s ascension to stardom.
Ole Miss: Marquis Haynes
The senior star-in-waiting earned the Chucky Mullins Courage Award this spring, which seals his Rebels legacy without playing a single down this fall. But the defensive end will take that esteemed award and go a lot further. He’ll be the Rebels’ MVP by leading a defense in transition as Wesley McGriff takes over a unit that struggled mightily last season.
Haynes will be the quintessential leader on and off the field for a program trying to play its way through NCAA turmoil. His contributions will be felt seven days per week this fall.
South Carolina: Jake Bentley
This is one where the obvious choice is the choice. Bentley kick-started the Gamecocks on offense and in general last fall, getting them to a bowl game, and he’ll be tested in every conceivable way this fall because he won’t be sneaking up on anybody.
And that’ll make the satisfaction all the greater when Bentley shows 2016 wasn’t a fluke and becomes the team’s leader for 12 (or 13) games and not just half a season. Bentley already has MVP moxie, as he showed with his words in February. He’ll show it on the field this fall.
Tennessee: Ethan Wolf
The tight end has caught 23, 23 and 21 passes, respectively, in his first three seasons in Knoxville. Will his production finally rise as a senior? Maybe. Probably. But that’s not the point. The point in picking him as MVP is that he’ll be that vital senior coming back to an offense that lost a ton of talent and which has a new quarterback, whoever it is, replacing the dynamic Joshua Dobbs.
The Volunteers will surely appreciate an uptick in production from Wolf. But his leadership will be far more valuable.
Texas A&M: Jarrett Johnson
With big losses come big opportunity for those who follow. That’s what the Aggies have to cling to this year as they try to somewhat replace the pass rush provided by monster bookends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall. The senior-to-be Johnson will take a crack at it after finishing second behind Garrett last year with 4 1/2 sacks.
Johnson has 50 tackles and 10 1/2 tackles for loss over the past three seasons, and is probably already tired of hearing that Texas A&M will be bereft of any pass rush. Johnson being up to the challenge is vital for the Aggies, and we’ll bet on someone who’s that experienced and has waited his turn for so long.
Vanderbilt: Oren Burks
Like Johnson in College Station, the linebacker Burks has some large and powerful shoes to fill in Nashville, with unanimous All-American Zach Cunningham moving on to play on Sundays for the Texans. Replacing stars at Alabama is hard enough. Doing it at Vandy, where they don’t come around very often, is 100 times tougher, but Burks is someone who appears to be up for any challenge.
The redshirt junior might not be this fall what Cunningham was during his career, but Burks did have 59 tackles, 6 1/2 tackles for loss and 3 1/2 sacks last year, and he’ll thrive regardless. He’s a winner. And the Commodores will be thankful to still have him in Cunningham’s absence.