Since 2006, the SEC has produced nine national champions and five Heisman winners. Both trends could continue in 2018, and several players from the SEC are capable of winning the Heisman.
In the last few seasons, Alabama has been carrying the rest of the conference. They’ve won two national titles, and Derrick Henry took home the Heisman in 2015. Nick Saban’s team is favored to win the conference and the national title again this year.
Despite Alabama’s dominance, it would still be surprising if a player from the Tide won the Heisman this year. It’s still unclear whether Jalen Hurts or Tua Tagovailoa will start at quarterback.
If Tagovailoa wins the starting job, he’s certainly talented enough to put up Heisman-level numbers. However, it’s not a guarantee that he wins the starting job over Hurts, so it’s tough to consider either one of the top five candidates from the SEC.
When Henry won his Heisman in 2015, he was the feature back who received the majority of the carries. This year, the Tide will likely use a committee approach in the backfield. Damien Harris, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs will all have a role, which will probably prevent any from earned an invite to New York.
Elsewhere in the SEC, there has been a bit of a quarterback resurgence. Elite defenses dominated the league for several years. While there are still great defenses around, there are several quarterbacks in the conference that could be first or second round drafts picks.
SEC Heisman Candidates
- Jake Bentley, South Carolina
Will Muschamp isn’t exactly known for coaching explosive offenses. However, Jake Bentley is certainly the best quarterback to play for Coach Boom. South Carolina’s season turned around when Bentley took over as the starter in 2016, and he led the Gamecocks to nine wins a season ago.
Bentley’s numbers weren’t spectacular last year. He threw for nearly 2,800 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions as a sophomore. Nevertheless, he has the potential to make a big leap forward as a junior in 2018. He has a great arm, and he’s an accurate passer. Bentley also has preseason All-American Deebo Samuel returning at receiver. Samuel suffered an injury in the third game of last season. Having him on the field would provide a boost to Bentley and the offense overall.
The Gamecocks are dark horse contenders in the SEC East. If they somehow beat Georgia and win the East, Bentley would garner plenty of national attention.
- Drew Lock, Missouri
Draft analysts are already considering Lock as one of the top quarterback prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft. If Lock can improve upon last year’s breakout season, he will almost certainly be selected in the first round of the draft.
Mel Kiper’s 2019 NFL Draft Rankings:
#1 WR – AJ Brown
#1 QB – Drew Lock
#1 OT – Greg Little
#1 CB – Greedy Williams
#1 DL – Raekwon Davis pic.twitter.com/3lQNV6KDk3
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) April 30, 2018
As a junior, Lock threw for 3,964 yards, 44 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. His completion percentage was still below 60 percent, and he’ll have to improve that this fall. Lock has a big arm, and the entire offense runs through him.
Additionally, Lock and Missouri will face some of the best teams and defenses in the country. The Tigers face Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama back-to-back-to-back in the middle of the season. So, Lock will have plenty of opportunities to prove to Heisman voters that he’s worthy of being considered for the award.
- Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
Though Fitzgerald wasn’t as productive as a junior as he was during his stellar sophomore campaign, he was still one of the most electric playmakers in the country. Fitzgerald threw for 15 touchdowns and rushed for 14 more as a junior. During his sophomore season, he threw for 21 touchdowns and rushed for 16.
Fitzgerald is learning a new system this offseason after former head coach Dan Mullen departed for Florida. New coach Joe Moorhead turned Penn State into a dynamic offense while he was the coordinator for the Nittany Lions.
For the Bulldogs to have an effective offense, Fitzgerald will be called upon to lead the team through the air and on the ground. Fitzgerald has proven that he’s capable of putting up huge numbers. Now, he just needs to be more consistent. If he takes his game to another level, he will be a Heisman candidate this fall.
- Jake Fromm, Georgia
Fromm wasn’t the starter to begin last season. However, after Jacob Eason went down with an injury in the season opener against Appalachian State, Fromm came in and played well. Eason wasn’t out for long, but Fromm grabbed the job and never looked back.
Even as a true freshman, Fromm looked poised in the pocket while leading the Bulldogs to the national championship game. In the title game against Alabama, Fromm made several impressive throws against a tough Alabama defense. The only time he looked rattled was in a regular season road loss at Auburn. But he bounced back and played very well against the Tigers in the SEC title game.
Jake Fromm leads all returning SEC QBs with his passer rating on non-play action passes pic.twitter.com/HKXOqPeWln
— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 21, 2018
Fromm threw for 2,600 yards, 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions last year. Georgia has a very balanced attack, so Fromm probably won’t compile outrageous stats. But if the Bulldogs are a championship contender again as expected and Fromm continues to improve, he could receive an invite to New York.
- Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
Stidham wasn’t the catalyst for Auburn last year. Though Stidham was very efficient, running back Kerryon Johnson made the offense tick. This year, the weight will be on Stidham’s shoulders to carry the Auburn offense.
As a sophomore in 2017, Stidham was one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the country. He completed 66.5 percent of his passes while throwing for 3,158 yards. He also tossed 18 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
Jarrett Stidham throws a really nice ball. Comes out very cleanly and accurate. pic.twitter.com/DmQNSoJg8n
— J.R. (@JReidDraftScout) June 19, 2018
Stidham struggled under pressure at times, and he took too many sacks when he should’ve thrown the ball away. Nonetheless, when Stidham had time to throw, he picked defenses apart. Stidham will have more freedom this season in Gus Malzahn and Chip Lindsey’s offense. Last year, Stidham wasn’t allowed to change plays at the line of scrimmage. He will be able to do so this season, and he’ll have more control of the game.
Most of the weapons at receiver return for Auburn and Stidham. The offensive line might struggle early on, and losing Kerryon Johnson will hurt. However, if Stidham can lead Auburn to another SEC title game while throwing more touchdowns, he will be a prime Heisman candidate.
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