Ranking SEC offenses entering the 2016 season
Since half of the SEC is still unsettled at quarterback, offensively it may be a bit of a crap shoot in 2016.
Arkansas and Mississippi State were Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, in the league in total yards last season. But Brandon Allen is no longer a Hog. Dak Prescott has left Starkville. You don’t just replace those guys.
Fortunately, running the football shouldn’t be too much of a problem for several teams. Even with Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry now in the NFL, not a lot of conferences can compete with Leonard Fournette, Nick Chubb, Jalen Hurd and others. Ralph Webb might be Vanderbilt’s all-time leading rusher by November.
Unlike other conferences — I’m looking at you, Big 12 — they actually play defense in the SEC. You can’t just fall out of bed and throw for 400 yards. As a result, it takes more than stats to rank these schools.
Here are our top 5 offenses in the league as we set up the season. These squads can score early and often.
For the third consecutive campaign, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban is looking for a new starting quarterback.
Yes, Jake Coker was at the controls when ‘Bama won its fourth national championship in seven years, but to call him irreplaceable would be incorrect. He want undrafted in April and likely never starts an NFL game.
Cooper Bateman appears to be the leader in the clubhouse — he actually started the Ole Miss game ahead of Coker in 2015. David Cornwell is still in Tuscaloosa, though. Blake Barnett generates some headlines here and there. Even true freshman Jalen Hurts has impressed, albeit mostly for his ability in the weight room.
As for the skill positions, Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris were both five-star tailbacks in high school. Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart catch anything thrown their way. Tight end O.J. Howard is a beast, too.
Even with All-American center Ryan Kelly now a memory, left tackle Cam Robinson anchors a mauling O-line.
The media’s pick to come out of the East this year, the Volunteers return seemingly everyone that matters.
Offensively, that begins with Joshua Dobbs under center. He’s far from an accomplished passer and needs to make more plays downfield. But his weapons are improving, plus he’s a terrific runner off the read-option.
The aforementioned Hurd is a between-the-tackles battering ram at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds. Alongside the otherworldly Fournette, he’s a good bet to be first-team All-SEC by season’s end. Backing up Hurd (below) is Alvin Kamara, who would start for a lot of programs — maybe even a few in conference. He’s an ideal complement.
The receiving corps features so many names, but a true Alpha dog needs to emerge. No returning wideout in Knoxville caught more than 31 passes a season ago. Is it Josh Malone? Josh Smith? Preston Williams? Someone else? We’ll see.
The Vols rank ahead of the Tide due to all of their experience. There’s room to grow through the air, though.
Another offense that runs so much better than it throws, the Bayou Bengals will lean heavily on Fournette.
Unlike Alabama last year, which was forced to feed Henry the ball at a borderline-inappropriate pace, the Tigers have Derrius Guice behind Fournette on the depth chart. He was productive last season in spot duty.
Nevertheless, LSU needs to do more than run the rock with Fournette 25-30 times per contest if the College Football Playoff is a legitimate goal. There are no excuses left for Brandon Harris. Few QBs in the league last year were so effective one series but so ineffective the next — consistency, please. It’s time now.
It’s not like Harris doesn’t have capable pass catchers. Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural will both hear their names called in the draft one day. They have to reel in more than 71 balls combined.
But in the end, Fournette single-handedly vaults the Tigers up the rankings. He’s once-in-a-decade unique.
2. texas a&m
By the numbers, the Aggies were only a middle-of-the-pack offense in terms of scoring and yardage in 2015.
However, they thew the ball quite well despite mediocre quarterback play from Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray. Having receivers named Christian Kirk (below), Speedy Noil, Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones certainly helped.
Allen and Murray are gone, but the fearsome foursome of wideouts returns intact. Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight — he of the Sugar-Bowl-upset-of-Alabama fame — won the job during spring practice and has already assumed a leadership role within the locker room. This aerial attack could be dynamite in a hurry.
At Media Days, coach Kevin Sumlin talked about wanting to run it better, even with the departed Tra Carson rushing for 1,165 yards last season. Keith Ford, another former Sooner, was originally a five-star signee.
College Station has also been a breeding ground for offensive tackles. Expect the trench play to be solid.
1. ole miss
The Rebels lost their leading rusher, leading receiver and both of their bookend blockers from a year ago.
But having the best arm in the league by a long shot can make up for many perceived deficiencies elsewhere. Chad Kelly can become the first signal caller in SEC history to throw for 4,000-plus yards more than once.
Even with Laremy Tunsil and Laquon Treadwell leaving Oxford early to become first-round draft picks, coach Hugh Freeze has recruited another class of potential first-year contributors. Gregory Little is the likely starter at left tackle as a true freshman. A.J. Brown may catch plenty of passes right out of high school.
In the backfield, Jaylen Walton’s 730 yards shouldn’t be hard to replicate. Akeem Judd and Jordan Wilkins got 70-some carries each in 2015. Kelly is an underrated runner, too — both designed and just scrambling.
Freeze probably won’t win games this season with defense. It’ll be with Kelly shredding enemy secondaries.
MISSING THE CUT
Arkansas: Austin Allen might end up being as good or better than his older brother, but he’s yet to throw a pass that matters. Alex Collins and Hunter Henry are gone, too.
Auburn: Perhaps John Franklin III is the next Nick Marshall. Or maybe not. There’s a lot to like about Jovon Robinson running the ball, though.
Florida: Completely hitting the reset button at quarterback, two-time transfer Luke Del Rio looks to be the guy. He needs to find Antonio Callaway more often than Treon Harris did.
Georgia: On the ground, the Dawgs can be elite if Chubb and Sony Michel return healthy. While there may be five stars next to his name, Jacob Eason hasn’t done anything yet.
Kentucky: Goodbye, Patrick Towles. Hello, Drew Barker. Both are former Bluegrass State players of the year in high school. Hopefully, Barker realizes his potential. Towles never did.
Mississippi State: Prescott will no longer be taking the shotgun snaps from center. That’s enough to keep the Bulldogs off this list for now.
Missouri: The Tigers were nothing short of dreadful offensively a season ago. Drew Lock was overmatched as a true freshman. There’s nowhere to go but up from here.
South Carolina: Not nearly as heralded as Eason, Brandon McIlwain might be the starting QB directly out of high school. Eason has help around him. McIlwain doesn’t just yet.
Vanderbilt: Mentioned above, Webb may be the best back in the SEC not named Fournette, Chubb or Hurd. Kyle Shurmur is now the unquestioned No. 1. He needs to elevate the passing game.