Midseason SEC football awards and bold predictions for the second half of the 2016 college football season.
Top SEC Coach
Jonathan Bass – Nick Saban. Alabama replaced its quarterback, Heisman-winning running back, a first-round draft pick at center, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year … and currently looks like the best team during Saban’s tenure in Tuscaloosa. Time to give the man his first CotY ranking this decade.
Brian Stultz – The easy answer is Saban, but the correct one is Kevin Sumlin. The Aggies are 6-0 heading into Saturday’s matchup against Alabama. While Texas A&M might not get the win, Sumlin has the 12th Man believing. He’s also created a foundation that could make the Aggies SEC and national contenders for a long time.
Glenn McGraw – Nick Saban. Sure, other coaches have done a phenomenal job, like Kevin Sumlin, but Saban’s ability to roll in new players and produce the same, championship-caliber results is unparalleled. Saban often gets overlooked for awards like this – he hasn’t been named SEC Coach of the Year since 2009 – simply because the level of success that is expected from him. But no coach does a better job year in and year out than Saban. Now, if Sumlin is able to pull a win out of Tuscaloosa, then this gets flipped. But as of the halfway point, it’s Saban.
Jeff Bartl – Of course Nick Saban is the best coach. This honor could go to him every year. But Michael Jordan didn’t win the NBA MVP every season despite him being the G.O.A.T. Kevin Sumlin has done the best job this year, even if the Aggies lose to Alabama this weekend. Everyone expected the Crimson Tide to be where they are right now. Not everyone can say the same about A&M.
Top SEC Player
Jonathan Bass – Evan Engram. Ole Miss has the conference’s best passing attack, and Engram is Chad Kelly’s favorite weapon (he leads the conference with 98.3 yards per game). Engram is the nation’s best tight end.
Brian Stultz – Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster. The Crimson Tide defense is loaded with talent, and Foster is the key catalyst for a unit allowing just 15 points per game.
Glenn McGraw – Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham. He leads the SEC with 81 total tackles through seven games. That’s an average of 11.6 per game, and 35% more than anyone else in the conference. LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith is second with 60. He’s been the centerpiece of a Vandy defense that’s better than the statistics state, no thanks to the Commodores offense ranking dead last in the nation.
Jeff Bartl – Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett. The likely No. 1 pick in April’s NFL draft is the best player on the field at all times. He’s fast, he’s powerful and has tremendous instincts. The Aggies rank only 12th in the SEC in total defense, but that’s not because of Garrett.
Top SEC Team
Jonathan Bass – Alabama is the only acceptable answer here.
Brian Stultz – Alabama. That goes for the nation as well.
Glenn McGraw – It has to be Alabama. The Crimson Tide are balanced and can score in every phase of the game.
Jeff Bartl – Alabama without a doubt.
Jonathan Bass – Backup running backs. Entering the season, there was a hefty focus on the likes of Leonard Fournette, Nick Chubb and Jalen Hurts. Though this point in the year, it’s been the “other” backs who have shined. Darrius Guice has played lights-out in relief of Fournette. Alvin Kamara had one of the best games of any Tennessee running back ever in the Texas A&M shootout. Auburn’s Kam Pettway has looked great behind Kerryon Johnson. And Damien Harris, who received little airtime during the offseason love fest afforded to Bo Scarbrough, has proven far-and-away Alabama’s best back.
Brian Stultz – Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn relinquishing play-calling duties after three games. Malzahn made his name as an offensive genius, but as a head coach he has so many other things to take care of that he gave the reins to his protege Rhett Lashlee. Auburn’s offense has been better ever since.
Glenn McGraw – Georgia losing to Vanderbilt on homecoming. Even in the first year of a new head coach, that’s a difficult pill to swallow for a program of UGA’s stature. It’s not like this Vandy team is that good, and Georgia has shown flashes under Kirby Smart.
Jeff Bartl – Les Miles being fired midseason. The actual firing in itself isn’t all that surprising, considering the song and dance from late last season. But LSU giving the boot, during the season, to a coach that won a national championship and 77 percent of his games is pretty shocking.
Jonathan Bass – LSU officials. Their treatment of Les Miles was despicable. Never should a championship-winning head coach be fired midseason like a peasant. Even more disgusting is how he was thrown under the bus by administration and interim head coach Ed Orgeron during Orgeron’s introductory press conference. Miles has handled the sacking with aplomb, which is a true credit to his character and also makes LSU look even more villainous.
Brian Stultz – Florida’s offense. The Gators are once again winning games due to their defense, while the offense struggles to move the ball and put up points. Florida’s offense narrowly beats out Tennessee’s subpar performance in the first half of games, and Ole Miss’ propensity to disappear in the second half.
Glenn McGraw – This was supposed to be the year the Gator attack took a step forward, but it’s the same old story in Hogtown. For a guy who came in claiming he could win football games with his dog at quarterback, Jim McElwain sure isn’t proving it. Then again, the Gators are winning games, but eventually they’re going to need a reliable offense to score points. Don’t let the final score and stat line against Missouri fool you, this Florida attack is very subpar. A program that revolutionized offense is now about as boring as watching paint dry.
Jeff Bartl – Georgia. I know Nick Chubb has been hurt, but the Bulldogs should be better than 4-3 right now. Last week’s loss to Vanderbilt was the low point – even worse than allowing that Hail Mary to Tennessee.
Bold Predictions For Second Half
Jonathan Bass – Florida drops three of its last five games and earns a trip to the Belk Bowl.
Brian Stultz – Tennessee loses another game despite the easy stretch to end the season. The Volunteers have suffered too many injuries and the offense/defensive lines have been too inconsistent.
Glenn McGraw – LSU pulls off a stunner in College Station to hand the Aggies their second loss and drop them from College Football Playoff contention, placing the Tigers brass between a rock and a hard place when determining the program’s future and whether to bring in a new coach or retain Ed Orgeron. Alabama will hand them their first defeat this weekend.
Jeff Bartl – LSU removes interim tag from Ed Orgeron. The Tigers finish the season against five ranked opponents. They’ll win three of them, and that’ll be enough for LSU’s brass to name Orgeron as the head coach prior to the Tigers’ bowl game.
Who Wins The SEC?
Jonathan Bass – Alabama.
Brian Stultz – If anyone says anything besides Alabama, they are foolish. This might be Nick Saban’s most complete team since arriving in Tuscaloosa in 2007.
Glenn McGraw – Alabama. Florida will find a way to squeak into the SEC title game, and proceed to get railroaded by the Crimson Tide again, just like last year.
Jeff Bartl – ‘Bama, which also wins the national title.