SEC mid-season superlatives: Best at every position to this point
We’re at the halfway point of the college football season, so it’s time to give out the midseason awards. Nobody gets trophies, so these are really just kind words. Drumroll, please …
BEST HEAD COACH
Before we get to the players, we’ll honor a head coach. This is the easiest award to hand out. Actually it’s not because the easiest award is coming a little later. Still, this is as much of a landslide victory as Heath Ledger winning Best Supporting Actor for how he played the Joker in 2008.
Florida coach Jim McElwain stepped into one of the toughest jobs in the country at a premier SEC school in Gainesville, which is filled with a bunch of bald students who don’t have any hair left after the Will Muschamp era. He proceeded to go 6-0 — the first SEC coach to win his first six games since Houston Nutt with Arkansas in 1998 — dominating the No. 3 team in the nation along the way. Then, he took LSU, the only unbeaten team left now in the conference, down to the wire in their backyard the same week his rising star of a quarterback came crashing down to earth with a season-long suspension for using PEDs. Florida fans were just hoping its offense could move the chains a little better in Year 1. Instead, they may be treated to a trip to Atlanta.
Nobody has had one single performance against a great team that compels you to stand up and slow clap, but Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott has accomplished one thing over the course of the season that maybe deserves one of those weird Les Miles claps. Prescott still has yet to throw an interception this season. He hasn’t thrown a pick in 274 consecutive passes, which is the 3rd-longest streak in SEC history. Prescott threw 43 passes without an INT on Saturday against Louisiana Tech and is now just 18 interception-free passes away from passing Georgia’s David Greene (291) for the 2nd-longest streak in SEC history and 52 passes away from passing Kentucky’s Andre Woodson (325) for the longest streak ever.
For the season, Prescott has thrown 11 touchdowns to no interceptions, and he leads all active SEC QBs in completion percentage (65.8). He’s also 2nd only to Chad Kelly in total offense (279.1 yards per game). No signal-caller is more valuable to their team than the Bulldogs senior.
BEST RUNNING BACK
Now this is the easiest award to hand out. LSU RB Leonard Fournette runs away with this one like he’s been running away from, and through, everyone all season. The SEC’s single-season rushing record is 1,891 yards by Herschel Walker in 1981. Fournette already has 1,202 yards, and he still has five games left. In the regular season. He’s averaging over 200 yards per game, so he’s on pace to break it before the Tigers’ regular-season finale against Texas A&M even comes around.
It would be easier to just call all the candidates for this award to the stage and give them all the title, but I have to go with Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk. The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder has shown hands, speed, vision, running instincts and an ability to be physical when necessary. What separated the freshman phenom from Ole Miss WR Laquon Treadwell is the fact that Kirk has also made an impact on special teams. His 25.1 yards per punt return leads the FBS, and he’s taken two back for touchdowns.
Strictly as a receiver, Kirk leads the SEC in receiving yards per game (101.5), and he’s 2nd only to Treadwell in receptions per game (6.5).
BEST TIGHT END
Alabama coach Nick Saban called Arkansas TE Hunter Henry “maybe the best tight end in the country” prior to the teams’ matchup just 10 days ago. He’s at least playing like the best tight end in the conference, leading all players at the position in receptions per game (3.5) and receiving yards (286) although he only has 1 touchdown.
Florida TE Jake McGee is giving him a run for his money with 23 catches, 200 yards and 3 touchdowns, and he’s playing a bigger role in the Gators offense recently.
BEST OFFENSIVE LINEMAN
LSU right tackle Vadal Alexander has been outstanding this season. He’s one of only two SEC players to win Offensive Lineman of the Week twice, doing so after his performances against Auburn in Week 3 and against Florida this past week. Alexander played all 73 offensive snaps against the Gators, leading the Tigers with 11 knockdown blocks in the 30-27 win.
BEST DEFENSIVE LINEMAN
Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett has made an impact in more ways than one this season. He leads the SEC in sacks (8.5), and he’s 2nd in tackles for loss (11.5). Garrett has also forced 3 fumbles, tied for the most in the SEC and most among all defensive linemen. Only Penn State’s Carl Nassib has forced more (5) among FBS players.
Oh, and Garrett just notched a blocked punt last week against Alabama. He might be free to fix your plumbing, too, if you’re having issues.
Speaking of making an impact all over the field, Missouri LB Kentrell Brothers has done the same. His 91 tackles don’t just lead the SEC, they lead the FBS, and by a good margin. Brothers has 14 more tackles than the next-highest total of 77 by Marshall’s Evan McKelvey. He’s also added 5.5 tackles for loss.
But Brothers isn’t just a tackle machine. He’s also the only player in the SEC with two blocked kicks on the season. The only other Power 5 linebacker with multiple blocked kicks is Matt Milano of Boston College. Plus, Brothers also has 2 interceptions.
Many would expect to see Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves in this spot, but for now at least, it belongs to Ole Miss CB Trae Elston. The senior has 4 interceptions on the season, 1 more than Hargreaves and more than any corner in the conference. Elston has excelled in man or zone coverage, and he’s the hardest-hitting secondary player in the SEC. Hargreaves may get drafted higher, and he might even be a better pro, but Elston has been the best corner in the league to this point.
One quick observation through Week 7: there’s only four players from Power 5 schools that have returned multiple interceptions for touchdowns this season, and all of them are from the SEC: Elston, Jalen Tabor, Minkah Fitzpatrick and the winner of our last award.
Alabama SS Eddie Jackson leads the SEC in interceptions with 5, taking two back to the house with the second one coming last week against Texas A&M in an absurd 93-yard return for a score. Jackson also has 7 passes defended, which is tied for the most in the SEC among safeties along with Georgia’s Dominick Sanders.
The junior played corner over the last two seasons but switched to safety this season, and it’s obviously paid off.