SEC Spotlight: Reviewing the conference’s 2021 season

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The college football regular season and conference championships are in the books. What happened that we expected? Didn’t expect? Here’s a wrap up, continuing today with the Big Ten.

EXPECTED

Georgia and Alabama in the title game — We all knew going into the season that these were the two best teams, and it played out exactly that way. While they got it done in different manners (Alabama’s explosive offense and Georgia’s stifling defense), both of them were head and shoulders above the competition, and now they’re both in the playoff.

Kentucky‘s OL was dominant — I picked this as one of the top units in the country heading into the season, and they proved me right with Darrian Kinnard and co. paving the way to a 9-3 record and second place in the East. They averaged 5.5 yards per carry as a team, good for fourth in the country.

Vanderbilt doesn’t belong — While expectations were not very high in Clark Lea‘s first season, things couldn’t have gone much worse for the Commodores. They opened by being dominated by FCS East Tennessee State, barely beat Colorado State and Connecticut, and went winless in conference. Their offense was pathetic, as they were shut out twice in conference play, and didn’t seem to have a pulse at all outside of Chris Pierce Jr.

*****  

UNEXPECTED

Shane Beamer

Shane Beamer (USA Today Sports Images)

South Carolina goes bowlingShane Beamer undertook a big rebuild in Columbia when he was hired, and expectations weren’t high for the season, especially when they had to start grad assistant Zeb Noland at the beginning of the season. But they rallied well, beating both Florida and Auburn late in the season, and get to take on North Carolina in the postseason.

Arkansas finishes in the AP Top 25 — The Razorbacks showed signs of life last year in Sam Pittman‘s first season at the helm, but they really came alive this season, pulling off some big wins over then top-10 Texas A&M, Texas and Mississippi State. They finished third in the West, and Treylon Burks elevated his game to become one of the best WR’s in the country.

Tennessee is dangerous — After losing what seemed like their entire roster to the portal, and bringing in a new coach in Josh Heupel late in the cycle, it looked like it was going to be a lost season for the Vols. But their offense really got cooking in the second half of the season, finishing eighth in the country in scoring.

*****

AWARDS 

Matt Corral

Matt Corral (USA Today Sports Images)

Offensive Player of the Year: Bryce Young, Alabama – The Heisman Trophy winner runs away with this one, as he had one of the best seasons from a quarterback we’ve ever seen. He was the leader of the conference’s top-scoring offense while leading the SEC in touchdowns on the way to a conference title and number one seed in the College Football Playoff.

Defensive Player of the Year: Will Anderson, Alabama – While Georgia’s unit as a whole was better than the Crimson Tide defense, you could make a strong case for Anderson being the best defensive player in the entire country. The sophomore led the nation in sacks (15.5) and tackles for loss (29) on the way to taking home the Nagurski Award and a fifth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Transfer of the Year: Jameson Williams, Alabama – The Ohio State transfer had a truly astonishing campaign, leading the SEC in yards and touchdowns and becoming the most dangerous deep ball receiver in the country. He was also a standout on special teams, bringing back two kickoffs for touchdowns and being an impact player on almost every unit.

Freshman of the Year: Brock Bowers, Georgia – Bowers had a tremendous year for any tight end, but it’s doubly impressive considering that he’s a true freshman. The team’s leading receiver, Bowers tallied 47 catches for 791 yards and 11 touchdowns and was the most reliable target for Stetson Bennett.

Coach of the Year: Josh Heupel, Tennessee – Yes, you could easily give this to Nick Saban or Kirby Smart, but what Heupel did with a completely decimated roster was nothing short of miraculous. The Vols finished 7-5 and third in the East after losing nearly every single one of their impact players to the transfer portal. Hendon Hooker turned into a genuine threat at QB and the team averaged more than 200 yards per game on the ground.

NFL Draft Stock Up (Offense): QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss — Corral was in the second and third round discussion before the season started but has now put himself squarely as a potential top-10 overall pick. His arm talent was always there but he cut down on mistakes in a big way.

NFL Draft Stock Up (Defense): CB Roger McCreary, Auburn — McCreary has turned into one of the most technically sound and complete cornerbacks in the draft after not being on the first-round radar. He’s improved his ability to cover bigger receivers and play the ball.

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