Ranking the 10 best individual seasons by an SEC player this decade
No conference flexed its muscle more this decade than the SEC.
The league owned recruiting and the NFL Draft.
The league won national titles in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2017. It very well might win again in 2019. Twice, it had 2 teams play in the national title game. Only once — in 2014 — did an SEC team fail to make the title game, a trend that will continue if LSU knocks off Oklahoma in the Playoff semifinal Dec. 28.
Joe Burrow just became the 4th SEC player to win the Heisman Trophy this decade (and maybe the first to spell it Treauxphy?). Pick a national award, any award, and an SEC player has won it this decade.
All of which is to say: Trying to narrow the list of qualified candidates into a nice-and-tidy Top 10 is challenging. Alas, what’s football if not a lesson in overcoming adversity?
Here are the top 10 individual seasons by an SEC player this decade.
10. Drew Lock (2017)
As a junior, Lock set the SEC single-season record with 44 TD passes (since broken). He threatened 4,000 yards, falling just shy at 3,964.
Why isn’t he higher? He was a bit of a bully, throwing 18 of those TD passes against nonconference opponents Missouri State (7), Idaho (6) and UConn (5).
9. Patrick Peterson (2010)
Nationally, Peterson won the Bednarik (top defensive player) and Thorpe (top defensive back) and also was named the SEC’s Special Teams Player of the Year.
He picked off 4 passes, which might seem low until you realize how often quarterbacks avoided him. And he led the SEC in kickoff return average (29.3).
In a league known for smash-mouth football, he redefined how a defensive back could dominate a football game.
8. Lynn Bowden (2019)
Forget recency bias.
What Lynn Bowden just did was straight out of Paul Hornung’s playbook. No surprise, then, that Bowden won the Paul Hornung Award, which goes to the nation’s most versatile player.
How many NFL-caliber receivers rush for 1,000 yards? Lynn Bowden (1,235).
How many NFL-caliber receivers finish 2nd nationally in yards per carry? Lynn Bowden (8.18).
Bowden isn’t a guy without a position. He’s legitimately a guy who can play multiple positions. He has an NFL future as a receiver yet just turned in one of the greatest mid-season position switches we’ve ever seen. He rescued Kentucky’s season in the process. Oh, and he still led Kentucky in receptions (30) and receiving yards (348).
7. Amari Cooper (2014)
Does the term “unguardable” mean anything to you?
Cooper defined the term. Or maybe redefined.
With elite, NFL-ready route running and still enough over the top speed, Cooper smashed Alabama single-season program records with 124 catches (also an SEC record), 1,727 yards (2nd in SEC) and 16 TDs (4th in SEC).
He did this on a Playoff team that featured a pair of running backs who nearly ran for 1,000 yards apiece and a first-time starting quarterback in Blake Sims.
6. Tua Tagovailoa (2018)
Tagovailoa’s sophomore season was Exhibit A of how numbers don’t tell the entire story.
He finished with 43 TD passes and 3,966 yards. Both obliterated Alabama single-season records … but both could have been so much higher.
He did all of that damage while throwing just 355 passes — 64 fewer than Lock. Considering Tagovailoa averaged a TD pass every 8 attempts, it’s more than fair to imply he would have broken Lock’s SEC record and potentially set the bar at 50.
5. Josh Allen (2018)
Sack records lack historical context; the NCAA made it an official stat in 2000.
Guess who holds the SEC’s single-season record in that span?
Allen set it last year with 17.0. He did it despite schemes designed to stop him.
Whatever award there was to win, he won it: SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Nagurski Award winner, Bednarik Award winner, Jack Lambert Award winner, etc.
4. Derrick Henry (2015)
Every running back who has entered this league since 1983 has been compared to Herschel Walker.
It took more than 30 years for somebody to finally walk down one of Herschel’s magic numbers.
In 2015, Henry broke Walker’s single-season rushing record. Henry finished with 2,219 yards. He also won the Heisman Trophy and national title that season.
3. Johnny Manziel (2012)
The tough decision wasn’t whether or where to include Manziel. It was seriously considering whether he belonged on this list twice, and, if not, which season was better?
Ultimately, he won the Heisman as a redshirt freshman in 2012. He beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa that season in a game that launched the Legend of Johnny Football. He threw 26 TD passes and ran for 21 more. He led the SEC in rushing with 1,410 yards. Individually, it was Cam-like.
I’m still not convinced he wasn’t even better in 2013.
In 2012, he was an unknown, a wild-card.
In 2013, he was a marked man and he still responded by throwing for 4,114 yards — then the 2nd-highest total in league history. He accounted for 46 TDs — 1 fewer than 2012.
2. Cam Newton (2010)
Newton accounted for 51 TDs in 2010 — 30 passing, 20 rushing and 1 receiving. For 9 years it has been widely considered the best single-season by an SEC player. Part of that, obviously, is the fact Newton engineered comeback after comeback and capped the season with the college football trifecta: SEC title, Heisman Trophy, national championship.
It has stood the test of time. Until this year …
1. Joe Burrow (2019)
This is an individual honor. Burrow won the SEC title and Heisman Trophy — err, Treauxphy.
If he leads LSU to the national title, that’ll merely cement the greatest individual season this decade, and challenge Herschel Walker’s 1-man show in 1980 as the greatest in league history.
Newton’s 51 TDs is a magic number in this league (though Tim Tebow holds the SEC single-season mark with 55 combined TDs in 2007). Burrow already has matched Newton’s 51 with at least 1 more game to play. He soon could supplant Tebow.
Burrow already has set SEC records for passing yards (4,715) and TD passes (48).
An average performance against Oklahoma will push him over 5,000 yards and 50 TD passes.
How remarkable would that be?
Only 4 QBs in FBS history have hit both marks in the same season.
Colt Brennan is 1 of the 4, and he holds the FBS record with 58 TD passes in a season. Throwing 10 TDs against 2 Playoff teams might be a bit optimistic, but Burrow is just 6 TD passes from moving into a tie for 2nd all-time on the single-season list.
Regardless of how the Tigers finish the season, we’ve never seen an individual season greater than the one Burrow is scripting.