A record (or records) most likely to be broken within each SEC program this fall
Predicting what individual SEC records will fall each season is a wonderful, inexact science because nobody really knows what’s going to happen once the ball is kicked off in September.
Each season’s script always has a few surprises, both positive and negative, as the leaves fall and the weather cools. By December, much of what we thought was going to happen is erased by a new reality.
Injuries happen to key players. Under-the-radar players emerge and become key players. Teams overachieve or underachieve, and that affects each program’s record book each season. The one thing we always know is that those record books for each of the 14 SEC programs will undergo a shift in names, because a passing mark will be demolished, a rushing record will get the wrecking ball or a single-season sacks total will be obliterated.
Here is our guess at the most likely record (or records) that will go by the wayside this fall for each school, knowing that a few of these will be right on, a few will be laughed at come December and that SEC journey to bowl season will again be a blur.
We start off with an Alabama twist. Last season, quarterback Jalen Hurts broke Bama’s single-season record for touchdown responsibility during a stunning display of leadership for a first-year player. He broke the mark from all the way back in 2014, when quarterback Blake Sims was responsible for 35 touchdowns. Hurts hurdled Sims’ record with two touchdowns in the national title game loss, one passing and one rushing, and we’re saying that Hurts will break his own record as an even better sophomore.
If Hurts can break such a difficult record in his first year, with everything so new and unfamiliar, think of what he can do in his second season, with the Lane Kiffin Circus out of town and his surroundings and the pressure of SEC football now so very familiar. Look out. Hurts had 23 passing touchdowns and 13 rushing touchdowns in 2016. He returns motivated, knowing he and the team fell just short last year of the ultimate goal. Could he reach the 40-TD mark this fall?
Doesn’t it always seem like the Hogs are trapped in those high-scoring, daredevil shootouts that sometimes end warmly and sometimes end cruelly? Arkansas fans know this pattern all too well, and it has led them to have gray hairs and lost voices over the past several years. In that wild and crazy spirit, we give you quarterback Austin Allen, who’s on the Maxwell Award watch list this season and is armed and ready to win any high-scoring affair that comes his way.
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His career high for passing attempts in a game is 48, set last year against Alabama in a game the Hogs trailed in, so he had to let it fly. Arkansas’ all-time record for attempts in a game is 59, set in 2012. Is it really too far-fetched to think Allen could get to 60 attempts in a game, with Arkansas losing most of its front seven from a defense that was bad to begin with in 2016? We’re going to say he will. And while we’re at it, that school record of 471 passing attempts in a season set in 2011 could be in danger, too. Allen threw it 406 times last year, and that was with Rawleigh Williams III as his offensive co-pilot. Allen won’t have Williams this year so he might have to lean on that right arm more than ever.
Let’s get away from quarterback and shift to running back, a position that has often spoiled Auburn fanatics through the years. The latest Tigers star in the backfield is Kamryn Pettway, who has his eyes on the Heisman Trophy prize and could take down a few school records along with it. How about the single-season rushing mark? Tre Mason owns the record, with 1,816 yards in 2013. Pettway had 1,224 yards during a breakout season in 2016 — and he missed three games because of injury and didn’t have a carry in a fourth game.
Do the math. If Pettway stays healthy, he’ll have Bo Jackson’s 1985 season of 1,786 yards in his sights, and Mason’s mark will be in severe jeopardy. Oh, and the possible threat of Jarrett Stidham at quarterback this fall will help Pettway’s cause, too.
Eddy Pineiro came to Gainesville with his much-acclaimed 77-yard field goal that was watched on YouTube about a million times, and he mostly delivered during his first season in Gainesville. Some would argue he was the Gators’ best offensive weapon. He made 21 field goals, a mere three off the school record held by Caleb Sturgis from 2012. Really, making up that difference should be nothing for a guy who’s now used to kicking in the SEC pressure-cooker. Count on at least 25 field goals for the latest Gator to wear Tim Tebow’s No. 15 jersey. Pineiro also made 84 percent of his kicks last season and just might catch Jonathan Phillips’ 92.3 percent clip from 2008 that is Florida’s all-time best.
Back to the backfield, where Nick Chubb returned to Athens for one last shot at championship glory. He might get that, but along with it we’re banking on the bruising senior breaking the Bulldogs’ all-time single-game rushing mark. The record belongs to Herschel Walker, who rolled up 283 yards against poor Vanderbilt during his legendary freshman season in 1980. While that is a remarkable number, consider that Chubb is second on this list with 266 yards, which he gained as a freshman in the 2014 Belk Bowl against Louisville. Chubb gets one more shot at Herschel’s mark as a senior, and we’re saying he’s going to get those extra 18 yards to get the record. Chubb will never be Herschel, but he’ll own this little piece of Georgia running history.
The Wildcats had a breakout season in 2016, and a lot of that was due to the work of then-freshman running back Benny Snell Jr. His 1,091 rushing yards were impressive enough, but we’re keying on his 13 rushing touchdowns here. Kentucky’s single-season record is 17 by Moe Williams in 1995, and Snell leaping to 18 or more TDs this season isn’t such a dream when you consider he didn’t even have a carry in the first two games last season. And when you consider that Stanley “Boom” Williams is gone, Snell breaking that record makes total sense, not to mention the single-game rushing TD record of four for which he’s currently tied. Snell will have a five-touchdown game in 2017, mark it down.
Yes, we’re staying in the backfield, because the SEC has an embarrassment of riches at running back, with records to be broken. For Derrius Guice, with a new offensive coordinator, it will be a fresh start featuring the same old dazzling running style this fall. He’ll have many LSU rushing marks in his sights, but the one that sticks out will be that single-game rushing mark that he currently owns. Guice shredded Texas A&M for 285 yards last season. He set the standard in Baton Rouge. This fall, he’ll go a little higher. Maybe 290. Maybe even a cool 300 yards against a helpless defense for the dynamo with Heisman hopes and no Leonard Fournette to share the backfield with.
Nick Fitzgerald showed last season he wasn’t afraid to be Dak Prescott’s successor. It was a hard act to follow, but Fitzgerald did just fine with 2,423 passing yards and 21 touchdowns. Prescott’s name is all over the Bulldogs’ passing records, with most of those numbers realistically being out of Fitzgerald’s reach right now. But a few records are in Fitzgerald’s grasp right now. One is the single-season passing touchdowns mark, held by Prescott with 29. Fitzgerald had 21 last year, and with a year of SEC seasoning under his belt it’s not out of reach for Fitzgerald to get to 30. The other one is the single-game passing touchdowns record of five that he shares with Prescott. We’ll say Fitzgerald has six in him in a game this year, which of course will help him get to 30 for the season.
Combine Drew Lock’s newfound comfort in Josh Heupel’s offense from the end of last year, a defense that has some question marks after losing defensive end Charles Harris, and the likelihood that the Tigers might be behind in a lot of SEC games, and you get our call that Lock is a lock to break the single-game passing yards record. Jeff Handy had 480 yards against Oklahoma State in 1992, and third on that list is Lock with 450 last year against Eastern Michigan. All it will take for Lock to pass Handy is another few flicks of the wrist, against a non-SEC opponent or even in a wild SEC game. Either way, Lock will set the mark, one of the few Chase Daniel doesn’t own.
Finally, we get to the defense, and for the Rebels that means Marquis Haynes, who is back for a fourth season of terrorizing SEC backfields. Haynes, whose return to Oxford is even more vital considering the troubled times the program is going through, will take down the single-season and career sacks records as parting achievements to a stellar run with the Rebels. The defensive end only trails Greg Hardy by three sacks for the career mark, so that should be a layup, and he’s tied for the single-season sacks mark of 10 with three others. Pure desire will get him to at least 11 sacks this fall.
Jake Bentley rescued the Gamecocks’ offense last year with his performance in the second half of the season. Now, he’ll have a whole year to inflict damage with his arm and moxie. Bentley showed up near the top of the single-game passing record at South Carolina in just seven games last year, with 390 in the bowl game against South Florida. Steve Taneyhill’s school record is 473 yards in 1995, and if you believe that 83-yard gap is too much for Bentley to overcome, Bentley will prove you wrong. He’ll snag one record from the all-time great Gamecock Taneyhill, who owns many of them.
The Volunteers are in rebuild mode after a number of big losses on both sides of the ball, and they’ll have a new quarterback this fall with Joshua Dobbs gone. Touchdowns might be down, especially at first, and that’s where having a senior kicker like Aaron Medley comes in. Medley has 52 career field goals and can definitely make a run at Fuad Reveiz’s school-record 71, considering the losses of Dobbs and receiver Josh Malone. But Reveiz’s single-season mark of 27 field goals is definitely within reach for Medley, who had 21 in 2015 with Dobbs at the helm. More attempts are likely, meaning more conversions and possibly a few school records.
In two years, all-world wide receiver Christian Kirk has posted 163 catches, 1,937 yards and 16 touchdowns in College Station. This fall, he’ll have a shot at the all-time career receiving yards record held by Ryan Swope, who got his 3,117 yards in four seasons, as well as Swope’s career receptions mark of 252. But Kirk’s real shot at one of Swope’s records is the single-season receptions mark of 89 that Swope set in 2011. Kirk had 83 catches last year, and getting to 90 is definitely in his wheelhouse, even with a new quarterback in Jake Hubenak.
You had to know we were going to Ralph Webb on this last one. The senior is already a legend in Nashville with one season to spare and is also already the Commodores’ all-time career rushing leader and holds the single-season mark, too. So now Webb can set his sights on the career rushing touchdowns record held by Zac Stacy, who had 30. Webb has 23, and he had 13 just last season, so tack on another 10 at least and there you go. Another record for Webb on his way to the NFL.