The Devil; the Prince of Darkness; Satan. These are all terms that have become synonymous with Nick Saban, according to his peers. But why? Is it because he rules Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which is known to reach “hellish” temperatures? How about the damning fact that he was born on Halloween? Though the evidence may be there, and his middle name is Lou, fellow SEC coaches know he’s not actually Lucifer. They refer to Saban in such a manner for one reason: he destroys their football teams, which leads to them losing their jobs.
Since arriving at Alabama in 2007, Saban’s Crimson Tide have won the SEC Championship five times, which includes the last three, and taken home four National Championships.
Given that he pulls in a top-five recruiting class year after year, some may worry that Saban’s dominance over the SEC may last an eternity. But it has to end eventually, right? Probably. Just don’t count on it being this year, since Bama enters the preseason as heavy National Championship favorites. (What a surprise …) This doesn’t mean the other 13 teams in the SEC shouldn’t give it the old college try.
While I generally agree with Kevin Garnett that “anything is possible,” Ole Miss, Missouri, and Vandy don’t have a chance in hell of beating Bama anytime soon. The following players, however, give their teams a fighting chance to knock the Evil One from his toasty SEC throne.
5. Austin Allen, QB (Arkansas)
According to Athlon Sports, Allen is the third-ranked pivot in the SEC, and 14th in the NCAA. In his 2016 junior season, the slinger from Fayetteville threw for 3,430 yards (an SEC-high) and 25 TDs, along with a concerning 15 INTs (also an SEC-high). Three of those balls that landed in the wrong hands came against Bama. But Allen did keep that game competitive, throwing for 400 yards and three TDs in a 49-30 loss.
The senior will be without his top-two weapons from last season, but junior college transfers Brandon Martin (a top-ten JUCO prospect) and Jonathan Nance have excelled in their first spring with the team. Allen will also have running back Rawleigh Williams III to lean on, plus four returning starters along the offensive line.
The Arkansas signal-caller has a lot of raw arm talent, but needs to address the turnovers. Allen gets caught throwing off his back-foot too often, and struggles at times to anticipate throws. If he can correct those two issues, Allen will be a very dangerous QB. Getting the best of Bama and the rest of the SEC remains a longshot, though.
Odds to lead Arkansas to an SEC Championship: 75/1
4. Nick Chubb, RB (Georgia)
Georgia’s second all-time leading rusher surprised a lot of people when he decided to forego the 2017 NFL Draft and don the Bulldog red and black for one more year. After tearing three ligaments in his knee in 2015 and battling ankle injuries last season, Chubb is hoping to stay on the field as a senior and regain the value he possessed after a freshman year that saw him rush for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Georgia’s offensive line wasn’t a stellar group last year and loses three starters. Yet hope is alive for the Georgia rushing attack; Kirby Smart was able to recruit the no. 2 offensive tackle of the 2017 class and a handful of other promising, hefty linemen. Coupled with a healthy Chubb, the new blood should help the ground game regain its potency.
Georgia is becoming a popular pick to win the East, which would likely lead to a conference championship game with the Tide. By then, the youngsters on the line should be comfortable and, if Chubb is healthy, the Bulldog offense could be running like a well-oiled machine.
Odds to lead Georgia to an SEC Championship: 8/1
3. Christian Kirk, WR (Texas A&M)
Over the past two seasons, no player in the SEC has caught more balls (163) or tallied more all-purpose yardage (3,207) than Christian Kirk. Entering his junior season, the electric receiver is a projected top-three pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Kirk is a highlight waiting to happen. The 5’11” pass-catcher has supreme speed and quickness, plus the muscle to dip his shoulder and run through DBs. There’s just one problem: who’s going to throw him the ball? Trevor Knight has exhausted his eligibility, leaving a group of inexperienced pivots vying for the starting job.
Kevin Sumlin and Noel Mazzone will find creative ways to put the ball in Kirk’s hands, and you can bet he frightens even the most terrifying man in the conference. The Aggies may not have the team around Kirk to sustain success, but the stud receiver is capable of stealing a game or two for them.
Odds to lead Texas A&M to a victory over Alabama: 7/1
2. Jarrett Stidham, QB (Auburn)
Stidham, a Baylor transfer, showed a lot of promise as a true freshman in 2015 with the Bears. When Seth Russell’s season ended with a sprained neck, the Texas native took over under center, throwing for 934 yards, six TDs, and two INTs. And it needs to be noted that he played through a back injury in his second start, and left halfway through the third with an ankle injury.
After sitting out the 2016 season, the Baylor transfer has looked very good as a Tiger this spring. Stidham has all the physical attributes and has shown the potential to be a lethal pocket passer. He has displayed great poise in the pocket, makes quick reads, and throws receivers open.
Don’t buy into Gus Malzahn suggesting there’s an open competition at QB. He has to say that since Stidham hasn’t even been on campus for three months yet. The sophomore will win the “battle” and shine on the field for Auburn. If the Tigers are lucky, Stidham may even be around in 2018.
Odds to lead Auburn to an SEC Championship: 7/1
1. Derrius Guice and Arden Key, RB and DE (LSU)
Ok, I kind of cheated here. But let’s get real, it’s going to take more than one man to take down Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.
Do you know who led the SEC in rushing last season? Hint: it was a Tiger from LSU. Did you guess Leonard Fournette? Good try; it was actually his “backup,” Derrius Guice. As a sophomore, Guice stepped up when Fournette went down with an injury, rushing for 1,387 yards and 15 TDs. What was even more impressive was his 7.6 yards per carry.
The only player in the SEC who recorded more sacks in 2016 than Arden Key (12) was Derek Barnett. A monstrous defensive end, Key was near unstoppable as a sophomore, and will benefit from another offseason of adding to his 6’6″ frame. Predicting Key to be “disruptive” in 2017 is setting the bar too low.
Both players are projected to go in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft (Key may go first-overall) and will likely bolt for the money after this season. But they’re Tigers for now, and they should be downright dominant on their respective sides of the ball, which is what it’s going to take to wrest the SEC from the devil’s clutches. .
Odds to lead LSU to an SEC Championship: 13/2