It’s that time of year in the sports calendar where the majority of news is made off the playing field, as most major sports are in their offseasons (except for baseball). Trades are happening left and right in the NBA, the NFL has some downtime before training camp and baseball’s trade deadline is next month.
In the spirit of offseason tinkering, we thought we’d have some fun on the SEC blog this week. Earlier this month, the Golden State Warriors won their second NBA championship in three years, largely because of the acquisition of Kevin Durant during free agency last offseason. To that end, we've laid out this thought experiment: If your favorite SEC team could add any active player from the roster of a conference rival to help put it over the top (whether that means claiming a national championship or simply making a bowl game), who would that player be?
On Wednesday we picked players for SEC West teams. Friday we pick players that we believe constitute the “missing piece” for SEC East teams:
Florida: QB Jalen Hurts, Alabama
The Gators have long been searching for a mainstay at quarterback. Why not pluck the guy who was the SEC’s offensive player of the year as a true freshman? Hurts can throw the pigskin (2,780 yards, 23 touchdowns) and run it (954 yards, 13 touchdowns). He has a different skill set from some of the quarterbacks Jim McElwain has worked with in the past, but hey, when you have a great talent, you figure out a way to make it work.
Georgia: WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
With playmaker Isaiah McKenzie (who led the team with 44 receptions) gone, the Bulldogs sure could use a big-time receiver. Ridley would fit the bill perfectly and give the Bulldogs a legit No. 1 receiver to strike fear into opposing defenses, particularly when those opponents already have to account for Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in the backfield. Ridley would be a weapon Jacob Eason would utilize plenty.
Kentucky: DT Da'Ron Payne, Alabama
The Wildcats are thin at defensive tackle and need more bodies, so why not add the best player at the position in the conference? With tremendous strength and good quickness for his size (6-foot-2, 319 pounds), Payne would alleviate a lot of Kentucky’s concerns on the defensive interior.
Missouri: DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss
The Tigers saw their best defensive lineman, Charles Harris, leave for the NFL this offseason. Haynes, meanwhile, has more career sacks to his credit than any active SEC player (24.5 over the past three seasons). He’s similar in height to Harris if a little leaner, but he would provide instant pressure and plenty of SEC experience to a Mizzou defensive line that could use it.
South Carolina: DL Trenton Thompson, Georgia
The Gamecocks could use more talent and depth on their defensive line, and adding someone like Thompson would help. He was productive in 2016 (recording 9.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks), and at 6-foot-4, 309 pounds, would be an impact player to plug into the defensive interior.
Tennessee: RB Derrius Guice, LSU
The Vols lost two running backs from last season's team: (Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd). While they have rising junior John Kelly back (6.4 yards per carry), having a workhorse like Guice would take a lot of pressure off their young quarterbacks. Whoever starts under center for the Vols (either Quinten Dormady or Jarrett Guarantano) will be a first-time starter at this level, and the best way to ease such a player in is to have a great back to carry the ball. No player in the SEC last season did that better than Guice, who finished with 1,387 yards (on just 183 carries).
Vanderbilt: LB Shaun Dion Hamilton, Alabama
One of the reasons Vanderbilt’s defense has been so effective the past two seasons involved the presence of inside linebacker Zach Cunningham. Now that he’s gone, finding a replacement will be far from easy. Imagine if the Commodores picked up someone like Hamilton. Before a knee injury cut his 2016 campaign short, he racked up the third-most tackles on the Crimson Tide (64) and was particularly effective on run defense, with 52 of his tackles coming against opposing backs. He also tallied nine tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a pass breakup. He would be a fit, and would remedy the loss of someone like Cunningham.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
There's no question that USC quarterback Sam Darnold will get a healthy helping of the Heisman hype before and during the 2017 season. The kid has it all, and he's coming off a breakout redshirt freshman season (3,086 yards, 31 touchdowns and just nine interceptions). He also completed 67.2 percent of his passes, which means he's is pretty accurate.
Well, every bit of that accuracy was on full display during a recent boating trip. Darnold posted an Instagram video in which he launches a pass from the back of a moving boat to USC freshman volleyball player Sean Morrissey.
Not only does Darnold connect with Morrissey, he does so while the frosh is leaping off a wakeboard, arms outstretched and body ready to get drenched.
— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) June 19, 2017
It's tough to say which feat was more impressive, but Darnold might be sending head coach Clay Helton a message with the caption of his video: "Heads up Trojan nation. I think we may have found our next great receiver @seanmorrissey"
Friends. How many of us have them?
It's a question we must dive into every now and then, and it's no different in the world of college football. Like Marvel superheroes, a good duo -- or trio -- can literally make all the difference in the world.
Now, college athletes aren't out to right all the injustices of the universe, but a good tag team can be the difference between a win and a loss. Last week, esteemed colleague Mitch Sherman took a look at the country's most dynamic duos, so we decided to adopt that for SEC land.
This week, we'll be looking at the top duos or trios on offense and defense. Today, we start with the offensive backfield (quarterback and running back).
1. Alabama: QB Jalen Hurts, RB Damien Harris, RB Bo Scarbrough. This trio combined for 2,806 rushing yards last year. That was more than 11 SEC teams had the entire 2016 season. Add the fact that they totaled 26 rushing touchdowns and Hurts added another 2,780 passing yards and 23 passing touchdowns, and you just won't find a more dangerous backfield in the SEC.
2. Georgia: QB Jacob Eason, RB Nick Chubb, RB Sony Michel. Chubb and Michel have totaled an impressive 5,835 rushing yards over the last three seasons, including 1,970 yards last year with 12 touchdowns. Eason threw for 2,430 yards and 16 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2016. As he continues to get more comfortable with Georgia's offense, expect those passing numbers to increase this fall.
3. Auburn: QB Jarrett Stidham, RB Kamryn Pettway, RB Kerryon Johnson. Stidham hasn't played a lick of SEC ball, but he did throw for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns in limited work at Baylor back in 2015. He didn't run a ton with the Bears, but he should with the Tigers, and coaches around the league think he'll be an instant star. As for the running backs, all Pettway and Johnson did was combine for 2,119 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.
4. Missouri: QB Drew Lock, RB Damarea Crockett, RB Ish Witter. Lock was second in the SEC with 3,399 passing yards and tied for third with 23 touchdowns. He also had 123 rushing yards and a score, but he's more arm than legs. Crockett was a pleasant surprise in the league with 1,062 yards, while Witter followed up with 750 yards on the ground.
5. Arkansas: QB Austin Allen, RB Devwah Whaley. This would have been a trio months ago if not for the untimely retirement of outstanding back Rawleigh Williams. But it's not like this backfield is done for. Allen led the SEC with 3,430 passing yards and was second with 25 touchdowns. Whaley is an up-and-comer who looks poised for a 1,000-plus-yard season after his 602-yard debut as a backup last year.
Others to watch:
Texas A&M: Trayveon Williams, Keith Ford
If you’re a fan of an SEC team, chances are you know where you’re going to be on fall Saturdays. But what if you were given the chance to go to any game involving an SEC team each week of the season? That’s the scenario we envisioned for the ultimate SEC road trip.
College football reporters Edward Aschoff and Sam Khan Jr. take their picks of which game they would attend, if given the choice of any involving an SEC team, each week this season. Today, we look at the November games:
Aschoff: LSU at Alabama -- It is the game in the SEC just about every year. Now, this season it likely won’t have the same fervor around it, but you can’t get through an SEC season without checking this one out. Alabama has won six consecutive meetings with LSU, but the last time the Tigers won, the game just so happened to be in Tuscaloosa.
Khan: Auburn at Texas A&M -- As Edward said, LSU-Alabama is the game in the SEC these days, so that’s the No. 1 choice, but if you had to go another direction in Week 10, an SEC game at Kyle Field is a solid option. It’s a great place to watch football. Both of these teams should be putting up the points with regularity this season, and it’s a return to Texas for Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham, the former Baylor signal-caller who prepped at Stephenville High School. One bit of intrigue here: Stidham considered the Aggies both as a high school recruit and during the transfer process but the Aggies passed, opting to stick with 2017 four-star recruit Kellen Mond.
Aschoff: Georgia at Auburn -- Another great rivalry for us to drool over. Last season, this game was a defensive struggle, but both teams are expected to see their offenses take some positive steps forward because of their respective quarterbacks. The Jacob Eason-Jarrett Stidham battle under center should make for great TV.
Khan: Arkansas at LSU -- It’s not as prestigious or long-running as the Auburn-Georgia rivalry, but the Arkansas-LSU Battle for the Golden Boot can often be entertaining. LSU has won 13 of the 21 meetings since it became a trophy game in 1996; this season it’s in Death Valley, which is always a great place to attend a game.
Aschoff: LSU at Tennessee -- These two haven’t faced each other since 2011. It’s been a long time coming, and with so many unknowns for both teams, this one should be fun. All eyes are on Volunteers coach Butch Jones, who needs to show that his program is headed in a positive direction late in the season.
Khan: LSU at Tennessee -- This is one of those iffy weeks on the schedule with four SEC teams playing non-Power 5 conference opposition, so the variety of choices isn’t wide. Neyland Stadium is probably the safe bet here, with both teams likely having some stake in the division race on the line.
Aschoff: Alabama at Auburn -- Simply put, it’s the Iron Bowl. Alabama is the favorite to win the SEC, while Auburn could well have the best shot at dethroning the Tide. You get Alabama’s new-look defense on the Plains against program-changing QB Jarrett Stidham. Then there’s Alabama’s high-octane offense against an ever-improving Auburn defense.
Khan: Florida State at Florida -- If Auburn is as good as we think it will be, the Iron Bowl is hard to beat. However, this is a great week for rivalries, including FSU-Florida, which could have plenty at stake. Could FSU -- No. 2 in our Way-Too-Early Top 25 -- be in the College Football Playoff hunt? Will Florida have already clinched a spot in Atlanta for its third consecutive SEC title game and have an outside shot at the CFP? Either way, the Swamp should be rocking for this one.
On Wednesday, we offered our prediction for which Big Ten quarterbacks will throw for 3,000 yards next season. On Thursday, we are predicting the running backs who will reach the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season.
Nine Big Ten rushers eclipsed 1,000 yards in 2016, and quite a few of them should reach that milestone in 2017, but some new names could make the list as well.
Here is a look at the Big Ten running backs who will likely reach 1,000 yards rushing next season.
2016 1,000-yard rushers in the Big Ten
RB Justin Jackson, Northwestern -- 1,524
RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State -- 1,496
RB Corey Clement, Wisconsin -- 1,375
RB Rodney Smith, Minnesota -- 1,158
RB Devine Redding, Indiana -- 1,122
RB Mike Weber, Ohio State -- 1,096
RB Akrum Wadley, Iowa -- 1,081
RB LeShun Daniels, Iowa -- 1,058
RB Ty Johnson, Maryland -- 1,004
Guys who could make a run at 1,000 yards this season:
1. Justin Jackson, Northwestern: Jackson is back for Northwestern and is roughly 1,500 yards from becoming No. 2 all time in career rushing yards for the Big Ten. That would put him ahead of Ohio State’s Archie Griffin and behind Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne. Another 1,000-yard season would give Jackson four seasons with at least 1,000 yards rushing. It seems likely that will happen, and Jackson could be well on his way to No. 2.
2. Saquon Barkley, Penn State: Barkley was second in the conference in rushing yards last season, just 28 yards behind Jackson, and should be near the top again next season. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Barkley move past Jackson as the league's leading rusher; Penn State’s offense is in Year 2 with offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, who has a more experienced offensive line and returning quarterback Trace McSorley. Barkley's name is starting to pop up on the Heisman Trophy watch, so it should be an exciting season for the electric back.
3. Mike Weber, Ohio State: Weber was just behind Indiana’s Devine Redding and Minnesota’s Rodney Smith in yards last season, but Weber had 66 fewer carries than Smith and 71 less than Redding. Weber’s new offensive coordinator, Kevin Wilson, called the plays for Redding last season, so it’s easy to see why Weber’s production could be close to last season's tally, if not better. Ohio State’s offense has more playmakers than Indiana’s, but Weber still will get plenty of reps in his quest for 1,000 yards.
4. Akrum Wadley, Iowa: Wadley reached 1,000 yards last season despite sharing carries with LeShun Daniels. He won’t be sharing with Daniels next season and also has a new offensive coordinator in Brian Ferentz. Wadley will be called upon to help carry a Hawkeyes offense that will have a new starting quarterback, new receiver and tight end. The stage is set for Wadley to have an explosive season.
5. Ty Johnson, Maryland: Johnson has proved that he is the guy for Maryland after averaging 9.1 yards per carry in 2016. He rushed for 1,004 yards on 110 carries and should have more opportunities in 2017. This will be his third season, and for the most part, he will have a more experienced offensive line in front of him. Johnson was part of a crowded backfield that included Wes Brown and Kenneth Goins, but those two have graduated, giving Johnson a chance at the spotlight.
6. LJ Scott, Michigan State: Scott missed out on 1,000 yards by six yards last season. Nothing went right for the Spartans, so maybe there will be a little more consistency next season. Scott will be asked to help a struggling offense that no longer has last season's top four receivers. He will need to come up with big plays and shoulder most of the load if the Spartans are to have any success, so he'll have a good shot at 1,000 yards.
7. Bradrick Shaw, Wisconsin: The Badgers’ top two rushers in Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale have both graduated, which leaves Shaw next in line to carry the torch of outstanding running backs at Wisconsin. Given the Badgers' success at running back in recent years, it's almost a given that a Wisconsin back will run for over 1,000 yards. Quite a few players will return on offense, and Shaw will be joined by Taiwan Deal and Chris James in the backfield, so he won’t have to carry the load alone. If Shaw can take over as the lead back, he'll have plenty of opportunities to hit at least 1,000 yards.
8. Rodney Smith, Minnesota: Smith ran for 1,158 yards in 2016 and will likely have an important role for new coach P.J. Fleck. Minnesota will be breaking in a new quarterback, who will need some help. Smith and Shannon Brooks, who ran for 650 yards last season, could be a good two-headed monster in the backfield, but Smith likely will get the bulk of the carries. Fleck brought offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca with him from Western Michigan, and the Broncos almost had two 1,000-yard rushers last season: Jarvion Franklin collected 1,353 yards and Jamauri Bogan notched 923. If the Golden Gophers can get similar production from their two backs, it will be a huge boost to the offense.
9. Chris Evans, Michigan: Evans burst on the scene as a freshman last season, running for 614 yards on 88 carries. Starter De'Veon Smith has moved on, and the opportunity for Evans to get more reps will be there. He still will have plenty of competition with Ty Isaac, Karan Higdon and Kareem Walker on the roster, plus O’Maury Samuels and Kurt Taylor from the 2017 recruiting class. Evans has bulked up this offseason and focused on improving his game, so despite the number of backs on the roster, he still has a chance for 1,000 yards.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider