There’s no shortage of superstars in the SEC heading into the 2016 season.
Whether it’s Leonard Fournette, Nick Chubb or Chad Kelly, there’s plenty of top-end talent to go around on every SEC team, but there’s one key factor that each of those guys have in common.
They all excel in big moments when the pressure is on their shoulders. So that got us thinking about who is the go-to guy when the game is on the line for each team in the SEC. Let’s take a look.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama usually has a stud running back waiting to be called upon to pick up a short-yardage third down that can clinch a victory. This year, that guy is Bo Scarbrough. He hasn’t shown the same reliability as former Crimson Tide running backs like Derrick Henry, Mark Ingram and Eddie Lacy. Still, there’s little doubt Alabama will put the ball in Scarbrough’s hands on those critical short-yardage situations.
If Bret Bielema’s track record is any indication, running back Kody Walker will be used when by Arkansas when a game is at stake. Rawleigh Williams III undoubtedly will be a big piece of the Razorbacks offense, but Walker is the veteran of the group and should get the first opportunity to be “the” guy in key situations in 2016.
John Franklin III could be the go-to guy if he’s able to develop into a big playmaker at quarterback. Right now, the choice is running back Jovon Robinson. The senior is the veteran of the group, and we all know Gus Malzahn’s offense is predicated on running the ball first and foremost. If Franklin is a dynamic playmaker with both his feet and arm, he certainly will have many opportunities to be the go-to guy, but as of now, there’s much uncertainty regarding the quarterback situation at Auburn.
Wide receiver Antonio Callaway is the safe pick to fill the go-to role for Florida. Obviously, Callaway has to get through his off-field issues and get back on the field. But if that happens, there’s no better offensive playmaker for the Gators. He showed what he is capable of in his freshman season. There’s no reason to think that won’t continue this fall. If Luke Del Rio can get the ball out, Callaway will make the new quarterback look very good in key situations.
There’s no doubt who is getting the ball. It will be running back Nick Chubb. As long as Chubb is healthy, Kirby Smart will have a very easy decision. Chubb is one of the most dynamic playmakers in college football, so it should come as no surprise that he’ll have the ball in his hands with plenty of opportunities to win games for the Bulldogs this fall.
The running back theme continues with Kentucky, as Stanley “Boom” Williams will be the go-to guy for the Wildcats in 2016. He proved he can be a big-time playmaker last season, and if Kentucky finds itself in a short-yardage situation, there is little doubt that Williams will be asked to pick up the tough yards.
Running back Leonard Fournette will get the ball when LSU needs those crucial yards. Fournette catapulted himself among the Heisman Trophy favorites last season, and he’ll start his junior campaign with the same expectations. Whether it’s a third-and-medium or third-and-short situation, Fournette will be option one for the Tigers.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
There’s still a quarterback competition underway in Starkville, but whomever ends up winning the job will certainly utilize wide receiver Fred Ross in intense situations. The talented playmaker showed what he can do last season, and there’s no doubt he’ll be targeted early and often in key spots this year.
Missouri’s decision is difficult only because none of the options are that appealing. Wide receiver J’Mon Moore might be the best pick to be the go-to guy after showing some flashes as a sophomore last season. If Moore can take another step forward, he’ll be a big playmaker for Missouri throughout the fall.
Ole Miss Rebels
Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly is the only quarterback in the SEC who’s a guarantee to be his team’s’ first option in critical moments this season. Given what Kelly did last year, it would be hard to argue for anyone else. Kelly amassed 4,551 total yards last season, the third-most in SEC history behind only Johnny Manziel’s two seasons at Texas A&M. When Hugh Freeze needs a big play from his offense this season, it will surely go through Kelly.
South Carolina Gamecocks
The South Carolina quarterback battle this fall is between veteran Perry Orth and freshman Brandon McIlwain. Whichever quarterback wins the starting job should be the go-to guy for South Carolina. That decision will come mainly out of necessity for an offense that heads into the fall with a multiple unanswered questions.
Tennessee has two good options to give the ball to in key situations, but ultimately, running back Jalen Hurd is probably the first guy who gets a chance to win a game for the Vols. The talented back is one of the hardest runners in the SEC and is the catalyst that makes Tennessee’s offense dangerous. The Vols have a strong second option, too, in quarterback Josh Dobbs.
Texas A&M Aggies
Texas A&M has plenty of talented playmakers at wide receiver, but no one is as dynamic as Christian Kirk. The sophomore had a spectacular debut season in the SEC, and he should get many opportunities to have the ball in his hands. With Trevor Knight looking to bring some stability at quarterback, the connection between Knight and Kirk should be deadly for the Aggies when it’s needed most.
Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb is the most underappreciated player in the SEC. The veteran ball carrier is among the league’s best, and it’s an easy decision for Derek Mason where to turn to when the game is on the line. It will be Webb, and the odds are he’ll make something happen.