Breaking down 5 SEC Offensive Player of the Year candidates
Here’s five players who will have stated their case in the SEC Offensive Player of the Year argument by season’s end based on team success and individual league-wide impact:
Nick Marshall, Auburn, QB: Considering it took Marshall about a month as a junior to get a feel for what Gus Malzahn wanted to do in Auburn’s up-tempo offense as a first-year starting quarterback, his numbers as a veteran could see a dramatic spike — notably through the air. Marshall threw for nearly 2,000 yards last fall and ran for another 1,068, but receiving options were limited after Sammie Coates. With standout JUCO transfer Duke Williams joining the mix on the outside, Auburn’s senior passer now has two freakish deep threats capable of individual 1,000-yard seasons at his disposal. Marshall won’t start the season opener against Arkansas for disciplinary reasons stemming from his July marijuana bust, but a quarter or two isn’t going to alter his season-long numbers in what should be a potent attack on the Plains.
Todd Gurley, Georgia, RB: How do the Bulldogs overcome inexperience in the secondary and a quarterback transition early against multiple ranked teams? Feed Gurley. The SEC’s leading Heisman candidate based on preseason odds who has scored an incredible 33 touchdowns in 23 games rarely goes down on first contact and averages over six yards per carry career. Light on his feet despite his massive size, the human Tonka truck added a new element to his game last season as a receiving option out of the backfield. Despite missing three games, caught 37 passes for 441 yards and six touchdowns. The Bulldogs’ depth at the position may lessen Gurley’s Heisman chances, but his durability is of utmost importance for Mark Richt since his star ballcarrier’s been banged up at times during his short career. Another 1,000-plus yard campaign and 15 touchdowns sends Georgia to 10 wins and Gurley to the top of the conference player of the year conversation.
Dylan Thompson, South Carolina, QB: Running back Mike Davis might be the Gamecocks’ overall most talented player but Thompson’s the guy who will dictate South Carolina’s Eastern Division championship run this season and whether or not this team prevails in late season road trips to Auburn and Gainesville. A team leader who knows the offense and understands what it takes to win, Thompson will have more of the spotlight than most are projecting with defenses loading the box to handle the running game. Davis will get the bulk of the carries, but his workload won’t be extreme since the Gamecocks have plenty of depth at the tailback position making Thompson the offense’s most important player. Behind the program’s strongest offensive line during the Steve Spurrier era, the conditions are ripe for the senior to succeed and his impact means far more than any other Gamecock.
T.J. Yeldon, Alabama, RB: Just outside the Top 10 on the Crimson Tide’s all-time rushing list, Yeldon’s pieced together consecutive 1,000-yard seasons as one of college football’s most productive running backs since the start of the 2012 as a true freshman. Likely his final season in Tuscaloosa, the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder needs 1,223 yards to break Shaun Alexander’s career record of 3,565 rushing yards. That number would also be enough — with double-digit touchdowns — to propel Yeldon to SEC POY honors on a league championship contender. Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake will get touches this fall, but Alabama’s offense — as much as the preseason hype’s said otherwise — still belongs to this talented junior.
Maty Mauk, Mizzou, QB: SEC Network will be worth your time this season as a viewer if for no other reason to catch Mauk accelerating through the second level in Mizzou’s spread. Mauk’s not a run-first quarterback like some dual threats, but he’s just as deadly with a big-time arm. He has the gamer look with flair and personality, essential elements needed for a conference player of the year run as the leader of a defending division champion no one’s talking about. Mauk’s been up and down during fall practice, but he’s one of those players who turns it on gamedays and coach Gary Pinkel’s fully confident in his abilities.
Almost there: Bo Wallace, Ole Miss, QB; Dak Prescott, Mississippi St., QB; Derrick Henry, Alabama, RB; Amari Cooper, Alabama, WR; Mike Davis, South Carolina, RB