The SEC had a significant group of superstars coming back in 2016, which should have set up an ultra-competitive conference. But one by one, players dropped.
Six players picked as Preseason All-SEC have missed games with injuries, including All-American Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett and Heisman hopeful Leonard Fournette. Both have still managed to put up respectable numbers regardless, but both teams have been sidetracked.
Tennessee’s defense was derailed with injuries to All-American CB Cameron Sutton and All-SEC LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin. There were many reasons that the Vols fell apart, but losing two of the three anchors of their defense certainly affected the SEC East race.
After Week 10, the injury train picked up a few more passengers. Three different signal callers went out: Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly (knee), Texas A&M QB Trevor Knight (shoulder) and Florida QB Luke Del Rio (knee), which was announced on Tuesday. The former two are confirmed out for at least the regular season. For perspective, that’s the SEC East leader, a top 10 team with a Sugar Bowl trip on the line and a team in a dogfight for bowl eligibility.
Quarterbacks have been one of the main groups that have been hit hard with injuries, leading to tremendously underwhelming quarterback play across the conference. Four teams have lost their quarterbacks to injury: Kentucky, Florida, Texas A&M and Ole Miss. Auburn also tried to rest Sean White last week before John Franklin III nearly lost a game against Vanderbilt. Between injuries and benchings, only six of the 14 SEC teams are still starting the same quarterback they did Week 1 in Week 11.
After the most recent group, it’s hard to say that injuries haven’t played a significant part in the SEC picture. After Alabama, five of the next six teams in the preseason SEC poll have been hit hard with injuries. Granted, building depth is part of the challenge of building a nationally-competitive football team, but even the best teams would struggle without their biggest stars.
Obviously, injuries are part of football and happen every year. However, it’s unfortunate when injuries are one of the biggest factors between contenders and pretenders. The top two teams in the SEC West, Alabama and Auburn, have arguably been the healthiest teams.
While this is bad, it might not even be the worst that we see this season. The SEC is a grind and there are still several weeks of football left. Even more of these players could be out for the season by the time bowl season and the College Football Playoff comes around. The deepest teams will eventually come up on top, but it’s unfortunate to know the best may not.