Round of 16: SEC’s best individual seasons of all time

seasons

The first weekend of March Madness is complete, so now it’s time to move on to the second weekend and determine who makes it to the Final Four.

In Round 2 of our bracket to determine the greatest single season in SEC history, most of the higher seeds advanced to Round 3. The Running Back region, as a matter of fact, is straight chalk at this point — the 1-, 2, 3- and 4-seeds remain.

That’s not the case in the Wide Receiver region, where the 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-seeds have all packed their bags and gone home. Two double-digit seeds are still alive and kicking after authoring a pair of upsets in the first two rounds, although this could just mean easier sledding along the way for 1-seed Amari Cooper.

As for the Quarterback and Defensive Player regions, most of the seeding has held true to form. Peyton Manning is the lowest-seeded QB on the board as a 6, while Tyrann Mathieu is the lowest-seeded defender available as a 7.

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Your vote will determine who moves on to the Round of 8, so here’s a synopsis for all the matchups from the field of 16.

QUARTERBACK REGION

1 Tim Tebow (2007) vs. 4 Johnny Manziel (2012)

Tebow cruised into the Sweet 16 with victories over Bill Spears of Vanderbilt and Archie Manning of Ole Miss. Now he’s matched up with Manziel, who cast aside Eli Manning of Ole Miss in Round 1 and Tim Couch of Kentucky in Round 2.

While Tebow may have had the most productive year ever for a signal caller in the SEC, highlighted by 55 total touchdowns, Manziel wasn’t that far behind with 47 combined TDs. Tebow muscled his way across the goal line more often than not. Manziel, on the other hand, dazzled with a unique brand of elusiveness and finesse.

Both won the Heisman Trophy, but neither got anywhere near the national championship that season. They were statistical monsters, though.


6 Peyton Manning (1997) vs. 2 Cam Newton (2010)

Manning moved past Florida’s Steve Spurrier in the first round and then got a break in the second facing Dak Prescott, who had upset Florida’s Danny Wuerffel. Newton had no issue with Pat Sullivan of Auburn and Aaron Murray of Georgia.

Even if Manning’s completion percentage took a dip as a senior, his 36 scoring passes were far and away a career high in Knoxville. However, he didn’t win the Heisman or a national title. Newton managed to do both, arriving on The Plains from the JUCO ranks and dominating the conference with his dual-threat ability.

Each went on to win an MVP in the NFL, too. Manning is arguably the most cerebral QB of all time, while Newton’s physical gifts are unmatched.


RUNNING BACK REGION

1 Herschel Walker (1981) vs. 4 Darren McFadden (2007)

Walker’s legend refuses to fade, as he ran roughshod over Georgia’s Todd Gurley in Round 1 and then Auburn’s Tre Mason in Round 2. McFadden won his ex-Razorback battle with Alex Collins before edging out Mark Ingram of Alabama.

Any of Walker’s three seasons in Athens would’ve been good enough to qualify for the bracket, but we went with his ’81 campaign because he averaged an astonishing 35 carries per game. McFadden was the Hogs’ featured ball carrier in ’07 and did a little bit of everything, although Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis were on that team, as well.

Walker did some receiving and a bit of returning, but primarily he was a between-the-tackles brute. McFadden’s talents were more varied.


3 Derrick Henry (2015) vs. 2 Bo Jackson (1985)

After eliminating Georgia’s Garrison Hearst, Henry took out LSU’s Leonard Fournette just like he did during their epic matchup two Novembers ago. Jackson did away with Nick Chubb of Georgia and Emmitt Smith of Florida.

Because the Running Back region has been straight chalk thus far, we have two terrific matchups in Round 3. It may have taken Henry 15 games to break all those league records, as opposed to the 11 that Walker had to initially set them, but his year was no less historic. Like Walker, Jackson’s status as an all-time great is never questioned.

Henry and Jackson were both Heisman winners, plus each had the size and speed to succeed either between the hash marks or outside the numbers.


WIDE RECEIVER REGION

1 Amari Cooper (2014) vs. 13 Peerless Price (1998)

Cooper had no trouble distancing himself from Percy Harvin of Florida and Cobi Hamilton of Arkansas in the first two rounds. Price is still alive on his Cinderella run and has scratched two former Gators in Reidel Anthony and Jabar Gaffney.

A wideout’s primary job is to catch passes, and nobody in SEC history has ever caught more than the 124 that Cooper reeled in during the 2014 season. Price, conversely, wasn’t even a 1,000-yard guy in 1998. But he had his biggest moments in the biggest game, racking up 199 yards on just 4 grabs to win the BCS Championship.

If you vote for Cooper, then you value how many catches you make. But if you vote for Price, then the put a premium on when you catch them.


6 Alshon Jeffery (2010) vs. 15 Julio Jones (2010)

Jeffery skipped past LSU’s Wendell Davis and then took out another one-time Bayou Bengal, Odell Beckham Jr. Continuing the trend of lower-seeded receivers doing well, Jones won his jousts with LSU’s Josh Reed and Texas A&M’s Josh Evans.

While Jeffery disappointed as a junior, he was borderline unstoppable as a sophomore in 2010 with 88 receptions for 1,517 yards and 9 touchdowns. Jones didn’t match any of those numbers that same season, recording 78 catches for 1,133 yards and 7 TDs. More than likely, voters are taking Jones’s NFL achievements into consideration.

The stats suggest that Jeffery should win his showdown with Jones. But the Wide Receiver region has been the most wacky, so anything goes.


DEFENSIVE PLAYER REGION

1 Derrick Thomas (1988) vs. 5 Jarvis Jones (2012)

Following the pounding he put on Georgia’s Ben Smith in Round 1, Thomas handled South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney in Round 2. Jones outclassed Terry Hoage of Georgia prior to pulling out a mild surprise victory over Wilber Marshall of Florida.

The dictionary definition of a pure pass rusher, Thomas registered a ridiculous 27.0 sacks in 1988. That’s an all-time standard at the FBS level, and it may never be broken. That doesn’t make Jones’s 14.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss in 2012 anything to sneeze at, of course. He was also credited with 7 forced fumbles.

If there were an overall 1-seed for this bracket, Thomas would’ve likely gotten the nod. Jones has a steep hill to climb, that’s for sure.


3 Reggie White (1983) vs. 7 Tyrann Mathieu (2011)

With victories already over Champ Bailey of Georgia and Patrick Willis of Ole Miss, White has been able to put recency bias on the back burner to this point. Mathieu deep-sixed LSU’s Glenn Dorsey and then upset Georgia’s David Pollack.

Another mythical figure in conference lore, the 15.0 sacks that White got in 1983 take a back seat to his 100 tackles. That’s an absurd total for a defensive end. Mathieu was a Swiss army knife for the Tigers on defense, plus don’t forget about his skills as a punt returner. Once he got his hands on the ball, big plays ensued.

They couldn’t have been more different as players, but White and Mathieu were both all-timers in their own way.



John Crist is the senior writer for Saturday Down South, a member of the FWAA and a voter for the Heisman Trophy. Send him an e-mail, like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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COMMENTS

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  • Still waiting for an explanation as to why Johnathan Allen’s 2016 season didn’t even merit a #16 seed.

    • Allen was something to watch but if you look at his numbers in a vacuum, which these guys just look up stats anyway, the production isn ‘t the same. Even with faster paced offenses, though, rotation is a different thing and affects a lot of those numbers. When you look at the accomplishments of other defensive lineman with his ability, I can see him beeing left off, though I think either he or Barnett should have been in new york.

      • Please feel free to look up the stats of Auburn DL Tracy Rocker. I believe he had 3 sacks. I remember not understanding how he could beat out Derrick Thomas for any sort of award. This is not baseball, and stats do not tell the entire story. The fact that Allen played on the best defense in football, and won every award short of Heisman trophy should have guaranteed his inclusion on this list as nothing short of a top 4 seed.

    • Besides, these guys can’t even compare the numbers that well. Clowney on here, but not evans, no Billy Jackson, and we could go on and on.

  • It seems that people are voting more on legacy than how they played. Jackson v Henry should at least be close, and IMO Henry shhould get the edge.