Ranking the 10 best SEC Heisman Trophy candidates
SEC football was shut out of the Heisman Trophy finalists last year for the first time since 2005. However, that should change in 2017.
There are numerous players across the SEC who will deserve Heisman consideration next season. In fact, the Las Vegas Superbook features 6 SEC athletes among the 20 players with best Heisman odds this fall. Others could break into the list with strong starts.
With that in mind, here are the 10 SEC players with the strongest Heisman Trophy chances ranked from top to bottom.
1. RB Bo Scarbrough, Alabama
2016 stats: 125 carries for 812 yards, 11 TDs
Until proven otherwise, Alabama running backs are the safest Heisman bets in the SEC. Scarbrough did not contribute until the end of the 2016 season, but he finished like a runaway freight train. Scarbrough rushed for 273 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2 College Football Playoff games before breaking his right leg. Had Scarbrough not been injured, Alabama might be the 2-time reigning national champion. Crimson Tide fans expect excellence in 2017. If he can maintain that production over a full season, Scarbrough might join Derrick Henry and Marc Ingram as Heisman winners at Alabama.
2. RB Derrius Guice, LSU
2016 stats: 183 carries for 1,387 yards, 15 TDs
While Leonard Fournette was deservedly the biggest-name player on LSU’s roster last season, Guice quietly led the SEC in rushing yards. When Fournette was injured, Guice’s numbers exploded. He rushed for 150 yards or more 5 times, including a devastating 285 yards and 4 touchdowns against Texas A&M. Keep in mind, Guice led the SEC despite playing just 12 games after the conference canceled a game against South Alabama to reschedule the Florida game. Guice’s numbers could have been mind-boggling.
3. WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
2016 stats: 83 catches for 928 yards, 9 TDs
No receiver has won a Heisman since Desmond Howard in 1991. In fact, only 3 have won ever. Dede Westbrook of Oklahoma and Amari Cooper of Florida were finalists in recent seasons, but they were exceptions. Given the massive wide receiver attrition at Texas A&M, it might be a perfect storm for Kirk’s final season. The Aggies lost 6 of their top 7 wideouts from last season, including underrated senior Josh Reynolds. Now, Kirk is easily the best player on the Aggies roster. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone proved last season he can get the ball to his best players. If Kirk can replicate his 83 catches from last season, he can move to No. 2 all time in SEC receptions — ahead of Cooper and Earl Bennett of Vanderbilt and just 20 catches behind Vandy’s Jordan Matthews.
4. QB Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
2016 stats: n/a (sat out at McLennan Community College)
Hype continues to build at Auburn as Gus Malzahn breaks in his new transfer quarterback. While John Franklin III failed to live up to expectations, the previous Auburn quarterbacks to transfer in and start — Cam Newton and Nick Marshall — worked out quite nicely. Like, national championship game appearance kind of nice. Stidham has plenty of work to come close to those expectations, but he showed his ability in the spring game and was 16 of 20 passing for 267 yards in a half. If Auburn contends for the SEC championship, Stidham will earn the lion’s share of credit.
5. QB Jalen Hurts, Alabama
2016 stats: 240 of 382 for 2,780 yards, 23 TDs, 9 INTs; 191 carries for 954 yards, 13 TDs
Hurts had the impossible task of taking over the No. 1 team in the nation as a true freshman. Even though fans seem to forget the Crimson Tide were quite literally a second away from completing a perfect season, critics called to open the quarterback competition for incoming freshman Tua Tagovailoa. Don’t think Hurts hasn’t been watching the comments all offseason. Regardless of how the new offense looks with coordinator Brian Daboll, Hurts will remain a crucial centerpiece.
6. RB Kamryn Pettway, Auburn
2016 stats: 209 carries for 1,224 yards, 7 TDs
After coming into the season as a fullback, Pettway was thrust into action when Kerryon Johnson was injured. He had carries in 9 games. In 7 of them — every game except against top-5 defenses Alabama and LSU — Pettway rushed for at least 100 yards. Not bad for a running back who wasn’t a top-400 player in his recruiting class. Stidham should open up the offense for Pettway’s numbers to rise.
7. RB Nick Chubb, Georgia
2016 stats: 224 carries for 1,130 yards, 8 TDs
Analysts expected Chubb’s numbers to falter slightly after returning from an ACL injury. However, the decline was steep. After averaging 7.4 yards per carry in his first 2 seasons, Chubb fell to 5.0 yards per carry as a junior. It was a trend that overtook the whole offense in coach Kirby Smart’s first season. However, Chubb remains perhaps the most physically gifted running back in the conference. If he can regain his form in his second season under offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, his stock will soar.
8. DE Arden Key, LSU
2016 stats: 56 tackles, 14.5 TFLs, 12.0 sacks, 11 QB hurries, 3 pass breakups, 3 forced fumbles
A defensive player has not won the Heisman since Charles Woodson in 1997. In fact, a primary pass rusher has never won college football’s highest honor. Considering he’s sixth among returning sack leaders across the NCAA — and No. 2 returning player in sacks per game — Key will at least be a factor. With Jonathan Allen, Derek Barnett and Myles Garrett headed to the NFL, Key should become the SEC’s best defensive player on a unit that should be among the nation’s best. The 5 LSU players with more tackles last season are gone to the NFL. This is Key’s defense.
9. QB Jake Bentley, South Carolina
2016 stats: 125 of 190 for 1,420 yards, 9 TDs, 4 INTs
Bentley wasn’t the best quarterback in the SEC last season, and he certainly wasn’t the most hyped. However, it’s hard to say any other signal-caller had a more significant effect on his team’s performance. After the Gamecocks started 2-4, coach Will Muschamp burned Bentley’s redshirt and inserted him as the starter. South Carolina went 4-2 to earn an improbable bowl bid. The only regular season losses were to SEC East champ Florida and national champion Clemson on the road. Despite playing tougher competition in the season’s second half, South Carolina averaged nearly twice as many points with Bentley under center (26.6 vs. 14.0) and had significantly more yards per game (384.4 vs. 304.5).
10. QB Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
2016 stats: 196 of 361 for 2,423 yards, 21 TDs, 10 INTs; 195 rushes for 1,375 yards, 16 TDs
For the wildest of wild-card picks, Fitzgerald is your man. Granted, he was no Dak Prescott during his first season as a starter, completing 54.3 percent of his passes and throwing 10 interceptions. Really, Prescott’s success in Dan Mullen’s system might hurt Fitzgerald’s Heisman odds by forcing unfair comparisons. Regardless, Fitzgerald proved the last few weeks of the season that he can put up crazy numbers. Fitzgerald averaged more than 400 yards of offense per game (239.8 passing, 164.4 rushing) over his last 5 non-Alabama opponents, and he had 24 total touchdowns. The Bulldogs probably won’t be good enough for him to compete for the Heisman, but Fitzgerald’s numbers over a full year should be crazy.