The actual season is still a long way down the line, but spring ball is here and it’s never too early for some painfully wrong predictions to haunt my Twitter mentions forever. That means, of course, that it’s time to pick spring MVPs, several of which will probably come true and the rest of which will be forgotten forever and never brought up again.

Spring MVP, for those who do not know, is a team-wide award for the player who made the biggest difference in spring practices. Now that we’re armed with that knowledge, let’s get to picking.

Alabama: Najee Harris

Confidence: 5

As usual, Alabama has some candidates on both sides of the ball. Their second team could have probably won the SEC East every year from 2013-16, so picking the spring MVP in Tuscaloosa is pretty difficult.

Still, Najee Harris is a creature, and with Bo Scarbrough and Jalen Hurts’ rushing production not returning (it remains to be seen what will become of Hurts), there will be plenty of space for Harris, the former No. 2 overall recruit in the country, to operate. One thing has remained constant for Alabama: The best guys find a way on the field. And while Najee will likely be the second best Harris in the backfield until Damien leaves, he has a chance to be truly special

Arkansas: Cole Kelley

Confidence: 4

This one’s going to be a home run swing, and it has equally as much of a chance to be a ridiculous-looking strikeout. But in a sense, that kind of chance is exactly what Arkansas needs. They need to swing for the fences because their roster is not only depleted but undergoing a massive schematic change under new coach Chad Morris.

Kelley showed flashes of potential during his nine games last year, throwing for 8 touchdowns to 4 interceptions, and that was as a freshman backup. The upcoming sophomore is huge, standing 6-7, and he has the arm and measurables to be a starter. Combine that with Morris’ quarterback-friendly system and you get a player who could have his weaknesses masked, and his very appealing strengths magnified.

Auburn: Jarrett Stidham

Confidence: 8

Jarrett Stidham needs to be the man at Auburn. Last year, fans were excited about finally having a good quarterback, and that’s pretty much what Stidham was – good. He has the ability to be much better, however, and with no Kerryon Johnson, Auburn would be smart to nurture Stidham into grabbing the reins in spring camp.

As noted, he has the ability. He finished second in the SEC with 3,158 passing yards and threw 18 TD passes against just 6 INTs. But just three of those TD passes came when the Tigers were behind. Look for 2018 to be the year Stidham steps up for Auburn.

Florida: Malik Davis

Confidence: 8

Malik Davis was pretty much the only bright spot for Florida last year who didn’t play special teams. Even then, he was limited to just seven games, and it was no coincidence that the wheels came off the Florida offense when Davis was injured. When he played, however, he was electric. Davis averaged 6.7 yards per carry in his freshman season, and scored two touchdowns despite receiving only 79 carries.

Though Dan Mullen is known to run a QB-heavy system, the Gators don’t have a player who is capable of filling that kind of role. Davis can be a threat as a pass catcher out of the backfield, and his talent will be showcased this spring.

Georgia: D’Andre Swift

Confidence: 6

Though Georgia eventually fans have Zamir White to look forward to at the RB position, the future is now when it comes to former freshman phenom D’Andre Swift. Swift rushed for 618 yards on only 81 carries last year, and with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel gone, there will be plenty of room for Swift to become a workhorse.

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Georgia has quickly become nearly as talented as Alabama, and Jake Fromm also is back, so the confidence rating on this one is similarly low. But that talent has been focused on the offensive line more than any position group, and the blocking will only get better for a Bulldogs team that had possibly the most productive duo of running backs in college football history last season.

Kentucky: Benny Snell

Confidence: 7

The Cats would love for JUCO transfer QB Terry Wilson to win this award. But Benny Snell is the safe bet. Snell has a chance to challenge for the best back in Kentucky history this season, and he has exceeded expectations at every turn to carry the Wildcats when they need a spark. He is somehow still a bit underrated, despite coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons as a freshman and a sophomore. In fact, he was third in the SEC last year with 1,333 yards, ranking ahead of Derrius Guice and Damien Harris.

Snell is a fierce competitor who raises his game when the pressure is on. If there’s a score, Snell is going to try to win it. So it makes a ton of sense, then, that he could be in line for spring MVP.

Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

LSU: Jonathan Giles

Confidence: 8

LSU made waves on Monday when they announced that Giles will be wearing the “Playmaker” No. 7, despite not yet playing a snap for the Tigers. That says two things: First, the WR transfer from Texas Tech can ball, as that number signifies guaranteed, proven production. But secondly, that he already has the trust of his coaches and teammates on a level that they have decided he deserves to wear it.

Expect Giles, who had 1,158 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns in only 11 games in 2016, to be a huge part of the LSU offense in 2018. Now that he has fulfilled the mandatory year of NCAA purgatory for switching schools, he will be cleared to play his final two years of eligibility, and probably do so with a huge chip on his shoulder.

Ole Miss: Jordan Ta’amu

Confidence: 6

Shea Patterson’s injury, thought to be insurmountable at the time, might have been a blessing in disguise, as backup Jordan Ta’amu pretty much outplayed him across the board. With Patterson gone to Michigan, Ole Miss fans have plenty to look forward to with Ta’amu, who threw 11 TDs and 4 interceptions.

Ta’amu will have the keys to a wide-open offense, and due to their defensive struggles and lack of depth, he will no doubt be throwing the ball a ton. Look for Ta’amu to assert his presence early in 2018.

Mississippi State: Aeris Williams

Confidence: 4

Aeris Williams had a solid season last year, but he might be in for a bit of an upgrade under Joe Moorhead. Yes, Nick Fitzgerald should be the obvious choice here, but it’s still unclear how Moorhead’s more traditional pocket passer-based system will fit Fitz. Williams, on the other hand, has plenty of evidence in the form of Saquon Barkley that Moorhead knows how to get a running back involved in the plan.

Williams had 1,107 yards last year, but his 4.7 yards per carry left something to be desired. Here’s hoping that 2018 will be the year of Aeris Williams.

Mizzou: Damarea Crockett

Confidence: 6

Damarea Crockett was on the rise when he suffered a nasty shoulder injury that sidelined him for the final seven games of 2017. A dynamic freshman in 2016, Crockett didn’t look quite the same before getting hurt last year, but 2018 offers a clean slate with which his career can be restarted.

The all-purpose back will be teaming with Drew Lock for a third consecutive season, and though Derek Dooley will be the offensive coordinator, it would be pretty hard to mess up that duo. Maybe I’m buying too much into the #ComebackSZN narrative for some of these players, but Crockett seems like a perfect case of someone who should be able to get back to his old ways, which were that of a pretty special player.

South Carolina: Deebo Samuel

Confidence: 9

Deebo Samuel is one of the elite players in the SEC, as was evident from the first play of the season:

It’s pretty amazing to watch what he is able to do in the open field — and South Carolina clearly missed him after a broken leg ended his season in the third game.

He averaged 16.7 yards per catch, as well as three receiving and one rushing TD in only three games, and it’s scary to think what could’ve happened if he had stayed healthy. Now, here we are in 2018, and nothing is standing in his way.

Tennessee: Nigel Warrior

Confidence: 5

Trey Smith would have been a natural selection, but he’s injured and it’s unknown how much of spring ball he’ll miss.

What is known is that the Vols need some impact players on defense, and Nigel Warrior is a likely candidate.

Vols fans have been waiting for Warrior to emerge, and the hope is defensive-minded head coach Jeremy Pruitt will get the most out of his junior safety.

Texas A&M: Jhamon Ausbon

Confidence: 4

It’s really hard to predict what will happen in College Station, especially since they are transitioning from Kevin Sumlin to Jimbo Fisher. Christian Kirk is gone, and he was the safety valve for the offense last year. Without him, and with quarterback play that was spotty, Ausbon could surface as someone who has the skills to fill a very pressing need.

Ausbon hauled in an impressive 556 yards and 3 TDs as a freshman last season, and he’s just getting started. Hopefully, Fisher, the QB whisperer who was able to bamboozle the NFL into drafting the likes of Christian Ponder and E.J. Manuel (plus Jameis Winston) in the first round can make something of this QB battle and get Ausbon his numbers in spring.

Vanderbilt: Ke’Shawn Vaughn

Confidence: 5

It’s Kyle Shurmur or bust in 2018, but transfer Ke’Shawn Vaughn will play a pivotal role in helping offset the loss of graduated star running back Ralph Webb.

Vandy opened spring ball Monday, and Vaughn already was putting his teammates and coaches at ease.

 

“It’s good to see Mamba,” coach Derek Mason told The Tennessean, using Vaughn’s nickname. “It’s been a long time coming.”