Winning the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Year award is, obviously, a big deal. For the last decade, it’s more or less guaranteed the winner an invitation to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation.
Amari Cooper bucked recent history last year, becoming the first receiver to take home the honor since the conference split Player of the Year honors into offense and defense. The last receiver to win POY was LSU’s Wendell Davis, all the way back in 1987.
Will another record-smashing receiver claim the award this year? Will one of the SEC’s many elite running backs wind up on top? Or will we see a regression to history and see a quarterback named the conference’s top offensive player for the seventh time since 2003?
As we head into summer, these are the top candidates for the award.
Missed the cut: RB Derrick Henry, Alabama; WR Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina; QB Kyle Allen, Texas A&M
5. WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
2014 stats: 9 games, 48 catches, 632 yards receiving, 5 TD
Had he not gotten hurt last year, Treadwell may well have cracked the 1,000-yard mark on the season and established himself as one of the nation’s best receivers. He appears to be well on his way to a full return to health after an ugly broken leg, and that’s great news for the Rebels.
While Ole Miss has other talented players at receiver, Treadwell is head and shoulders above those guys and will serve as the focal point of what should be a fairly potent offense this fall. He could be used much like Cooper was last year, as an extension of the running game who is left to make plays after bringing in quick-hitting passes. Treadwell also has all the skills to be a devastating deep threat, but he’ll need the Rebels to figure out their quarterback situation to find great success.
4. QB Jeremy Johnson, Auburn
2014 stats: 7 games, 28-for-37 passing (75.7 percent), 436 yards passing, 3 TD
Johnson is the only player to make this list that hasn’t proven himself in the SEC, yet there isn’t much reason to doubt his ability. He has two of the best offensive coaches in the conference on his side in Gus Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee, and he’ll be taking the reins of Auburn’s potent offensive machine after spending two years learning the system.
While he may not be the elusive runner that his predecessor Nick Marshall was, Johnson has elite straight-line speed for a quarterback and the size to punish smaller defenders. He also has a huge arm and showed an ability to make all types of throws in his limited time last year and in spring ball. Malzahn and Johnson are both talking like the quarterback is in for a monstrous season, and there’s no reason to think otherwise.
3. QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
2014 stats: 13 games, 61.6 completion percentage, 3,449 yards passing, 27 TD, 11 INT; 986 yards rushing, 14 TD
Prescott was the leader of Mississippi State’s magical 10-win season last year, and he decided to return for his senior year to try to repeat the feat. Prescott was the most devastating dual-threat quarterback this side of Marcus Mariota last fall, coming just a few yards away from a 3,000-1,000 season.
Will he be able to do it again in 2015? It’ll take a Herculean effort to drag Mississippi State to the same heights it reached last year after a massive loss of talent to graduation and the NFL, but Prescott is certainly capable. Dan Mullen’s system (and the threat of Prescott’s legs) will almost certainly help generate another 1,000-yard rusher alongside Dak, while the Bulldogs have plenty of capable receiving threats, led by De’Runnya Wilson. Prescott is going to be the engine and the driver for Mississippi State’s offense, which will have him in the running.
2. RB Nick Chubb, Georgia
2014 stats: 13 games, 1,547 yards rushing, 14 TD; 18 catches, 213 yards receiving, 2 TD
Chubb took advantage of the Bulldogs’ myriad injuries and suspensions in the backfield last year to become one of the biggest breakout stars in the nation. He rushed for more than 100 yards in all eight of his starts and handled an insane workload for a true freshman.
This year, he’s the unquestioned leader for the Dawgs, and with Georgia’s offensive line he should have no issue repeating last year’s numbers. The difference is that Chubb should have a little more help in the backfield. His backups are all very talented, and if they stay healthy — an issue last year and this spring — Chubb won’t have to carry the ball 20-plus times a game, even if he’s more than capable of doing so.
1. RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
2014 stats: 13 games, 1,034 yards rushing, 10 TD; 7 catches, 127 yards receiving; 1 kick return TD
Fournette was the top recruit in the nation in 2014, and he was getting Heisman buzz before even setting foot on campus. That was unreasonable, and it took a few games for the cinder block on wheels to get accustomed to the college game. Once he began to tap into his immense potential, it became clear that LSU has a budding superstar on its hands.
Unlike Chubb, Fournette is going to have to take on a massive workload for LSU in 2015, which is what gives him the edge here. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has talked about putting the ball in his hands at least 20 times per game, and with a strong offensive line Fournette is going to launch an assault on the school record book. Fournette has also flashed some impressive pass-catching skills, and with a (hopefully) improved quarterback position that should become a bigger part of LSU’s offense.