Top Defensive MVP candidates for each SEC team
SEC defenses are the scourge of the college football landscape. That hasn’t changed in years, through the invention of the SEC Championship Game, through the BCS then the College Football Playoff, to the chaotic offseason of 2020.
Heck, even tailgating is pretty much sidelined in the COVID-19 era. What can you rely on?
Well, stout defenses down south seem to be one of the few constants.
And that should be no different even in a season where SEC fans will see nothing but conference rivals (until the bowls). So let’s dive into the top defensive MVP candidates for each SEC team.
Alabama: LB Dylan Moses
The Crimson Tide defense had talent stacked everywhere as usual in 2019. But after Moses went down with a season-ending injury, something was slightly off about the Alabama D. This unit was 7th in the SEC in rushing defense last season and 4th in total defense, helping to explain why Bama missed the CFP. If Moses is back to his dominant self, it could spur this defense to regain its lofty heights, along with the whole team.
Arkansas: DL Jonathan Marshall
The senior defensive tackle has been named a team co-captain heading into this season, a measure of how well he is regarded among his peers. A measure of how much Arkansas improves this season will boil down to how well the team stops the run, always a premium asset in the SEC. The Razorbacks were last in the conference in rushing D in 2019 (and scoring and total defense, too) but Marshall might lead the Hogs to better things this season.
Auburn: LB K.J. Britt
Big Kat Bryant might get more ink, he’s definitely the bigger dude — and let’s face it, he has a catchier name. But K.J. Britt should be the heart of the Auburn defense. The senior middle linebacker had 69 tackles, 10 for loss, in 2019 and figures to keep playing a huge role. The Tigers’ D will definitely get tested, but Britt should be up to the task.
Florida: S Shawn Davis
The secondary might be the key to the season because the Gators should be set in most other places. Davis had 51 tackles and 3 interceptions last season as Florida was good but not great (6th in the SEC, 32nd in the nation) in pass defense. One NFL scouting executive told SDS that Davis is “very good already” and Davis could well have a breakout season in 2020.
Georgia: LB Monty Rice
The man patrolling the middle of the defense is rated highly as an NFL prospect. But middle linebacker Monty Rice is back in Athens, ready to help Georgia contender for the SEC championship and perhaps more. Rice led Georgia in tackles with 89 last season as the team led the nation in scoring defense and rushing D.
Kentucky: LB Jamar Watson
Another linebacker on this list, Jamar “Boogie” Watson should be the key to Kentucky’s pass rush this season. The Wildcats led the SEC and were No. 2 in the nation in pass defense last season, allowing just 167.8 yards per game. For the Wildcats to duplicate or even come close to that kind of performance, Watson will have to take a leap forward, as will teammates like lineman Quinton Bohanna and safety Yusuf Corker.
LSU: CB Derek Stingley Jr.
Before you consider the defending national champions and think “No Burrow, no Bayou Bengals” for 2020, take a look at this team’s talent on defense. The fact that LSU was No. 9 in the SEC in pass defense in 2019 might sound bad, until you remember that the Tigers led every game by so much that opponents had to throw all the time. Enter Stingley, who had 6 interceptions last year as a freshman and already seems a surefire NFL prospect. He definitely has the bloodlines.
Missouri: LB Nick Bolton
Nick Bolton emerged as not only one of the best outside linebackers in the SEC but in the country last season. His 107 tackles led the Tigers and he helped Mizzou finish 2nd in the SEC and 6th in the nation in passing defense. Athlon Sports named him a first-team preseason All-American and the junior should only produce more highlights in 2020.
Mississippi State: LB Erroll Thompson
Along with new head coach Mike Leach, MSU hired a new defensive coordinator in Zach Arnett, known for his 3-3-5 alignment at San Diego State. Both coaches will be happy to have Thompson, who led the Bulldogs last season with 84 tackles. The senior middle linebacker seems like a rare certainty on a unit that returns few players from last season and is adjusting to a new scheme.
Ole Miss: DE Sam Williams
As a junior college transfer, defensive end Sam Williams led the Rebels with 6 sacks in 2019 and added 9.5 tackles for loss. Williams was suspended during the offseason while he awaited the outcome of a case in which he was accused of sexual battery. The senior was reinstated in September after the charge against him was dropped.
South Carolina: DL Jordan Burch
The Gamecocks’ defense returns steady performers from 2019, such as end Aaron Sterling and Zacch Pickens and a good chunk of the back 7. But a defense that finished 10th or worse in the SEC in each major statistical category could use a big boost. So we’re going off script and picking Burch, a 5-star recruit who stayed in his hometown of Columbia and became one of coach Will Muschamp’s biggest recruiting wins. The freshman has drawn praise within the program already and could be an immediate standout, especially in pass-rushing situations.
Tennessee: LB Henry To’o To’o
Sophomore Henry To’o To’o is another middle linebacker on this list, but he might have as much potential as anyone in the bunch. He was named to the Freshman All-America team last year after recording 72 tackles, 2nd-most on the team and tops among returning players. As his production picked up in 2019, so did the Volunteers’ fortunes as Tennessee won 6 straight to end the season.
Texas A&M: DL Bobby Brown III
The big man in the middle of the Aggies’ defensive line, Bobby Brown III could form a potent 1-2 run-stuffing punch with fellow tackle Jayden Peevy. The Aggies did a fine job in rushing defense in 2019, ranking 5th in the SEC and 30th in the nation at 130.7 yards a game. Against the likes of Najee Harris and Kylin Hill in the West, A&M will need Brown and Co. to step up again in 2020.
Vanderbilt: DE Dayo Odeyingbo
Vanderbilt’s defense, often stout in seasons when the offense was not, did not hold up its end of the bargain in 2019. Vandy was 13th in the SEC in scoring, rushing and total defense. But defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo did his part, leading the Commodores in tackles for loss (12) and quarterback hurries (7) last season. He leads a unit that returns a lot of experience under new coordinator Ted Roof.