Since 2007, five of the ten Heisman Trophy recipients have hailed from the SEC — Florida’s Tim Tebow won in 2007, Alabama’s Mark Ingram won in 2009, Auburn’s Cam Newton won in 2010, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel won in 2012, and Alabama’s Derrick Henry won in 2015.
But with the conference’s quality taking a dip in recent years, perhaps the days of the SEC dominating the awards like they dominated foes are over. Currently, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson (the reigning winner) are the preeminent receptors of preseason Heisman hype, but there remains a handful of players in the SEC who hold a legitimate chance at winning college football’s most coveted award come December.
No. 8) Vanderbilt RB Ralph Webb
Stats in 2016: 250 carries, 1,283 yards (5.1 YPC), 13 TDs
The rise of Vanderbilt football — rise is a relative term here — can be attributed to Ralph Webb, the program’s all-time leader in essentially everything when it comes to running the football. For the Commodores, it was a pleasant surprise that Webb opted to return for his senior season, where he’ll likely see an increase in carries.
No. 7) Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk
Stats in 2016: 83 receptions, 928 yards, 9 TDs, 3 punt return TDs
Texas A&M lacks the ability to burst through the 8-win plateau, but they’ll never lack elite athletes. Christian Kirk is an elite athlete who’s not only effective as a receiver, but can make magic happen in the return game. And if you evaluate the receivers who have won the Heisman (Tim Brown in 1987, Desmond Howard in 1993), the added dimension of returning punts or kicks was essential to their Heisman campaigns.
No. 6) Georgia RB Nick Chubb
Stats in 2016: 224 carries, 1,130 yards (5 YPC), 8 TDs
Poor Nick Chubb. When healthy, he’s one of the greatest running backs college football has ever seen. But after multiple injuries throughout his three-year career in Athens, Chubb’s ability to dominate a game has taken a flew blows. Still, if Chubb is able to play a full slate of games, the 1,500-yard mark is definitely reachable.
No. 5) Alabama RB Bo Scarborough
Stats in 2016: 125 carries, 812 yards (6.5 YPC), 11 TDs
It was easy to get caught up in the theatrics of Clemson’s comeback win over Alabama in January’s National Championship game, but the key to the Tigers’ revenge was Bo Scarborough’s injury in the third quarter. Without Bo, the Crimson Tide couldn’t rely on a running back to milk the clock and deliver Alabama its fifth championship in eight seasons. While Scarborough was largely lost in the team’s herd of running backs throughout 2016, there’s little doubt that he’ll be the central cog in Roll Tide’s overpowering rushing attack for this upcoming season.
Plus, he tried to give a Tennessee fan a high five once. That was funny.
No. 4) Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald
Stats in 2016: 196-of-361 (54.3 %), 2423 yards, 21 TD, 10 INT, 195 carries, 1,375 yards (7.1 YPC), 16 TDs
The next Dak Prescott? Dan Mullen didn’t have to wait long to find his air apparent to Starkville’s greatest signal caller. While Nick Fitzgerald isn’t the passer Prescott was during his Heisman-contending days at Mississippi State, the sophomore’s ability to use his legs certainly makes up for his deficiencies through the air. If Fitzgerald becomes marginally more accurate, then a trip to New York City is possible.
No. 3) Tennessee RB John Kelly
Stats in 2016: 98 carries, 630 yards (6.4 YPC), 8 TDs
Knoxville media asked this question about John Kelly every week: “Does he run angry?”
The answer would always be yes. Yet, they would still ask, even though it’s incredible obvious based on all 98 of the junior’s carries last season that Kelly is everything Jalen Hurd wasn’t as a runner — tenacious. After Hurd’s abrupt exit from Knoxville, the 3-star prospect out of Michigan dominated every defense he faced, and with Alvin Kamara in the NFL, it’s now Kelly’s backfield.
No. 2) Alabama QB Jalen Hurts
Stats in 2016: 240-of-382 (62.8%), 2,780 yards, 23 TD, 9 INT, 191 carries, 954 yards (5 YPC), 13 TD
Jalen Hurts was a true freshman last season, but despite playing under college football’s largest microscope, he more than held his own. With a new offensive coordinator in Tuscaloosa, Hurts might need a couple of games to become fully acquainted, but by the time conference play rolls around, Hurts’ cannon arm and dual-threat capabilities will be on full display.
No. 1) LSU RB Derrius Guice
Stats in 2016: 183 carries, 1,387 yards (7.6 YPC), 15 TDs
There are those who genuinely believe Derrius Guice is better than Leonard Fournette, and based on his production while Fournette was out due to injury, it isn’t a hot take. Guice is a stud that’ll make Ed Orgeron appear like a genius (even though he’s not) and get the Tigers to the 10-win mark for the first time since 2013. But the challenge remains the same for every tailback in Baton Rouge: Can they overcome the team’s ailments at quarterback?