In my years of covering SEC football, none have intrigued me more than the upcoming 2012 season. There are the usual question marks with most teams having key departures leaving out the backdoor while stud freshmen are entering the front door. However, the pressing question mark for me is how well some of the league’s biggest stars will recover from major injuries suffered in 2011.
It is quite possible that the top wide receiver and running back in the nation for 2012 might have had major surgery in 2011. The three biggest names are South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore, Arkansas’ Knile Davis and Tennessee’s Justin Hunter.
Coming into the 2011 season, Arkansas appeared ready to compete for their first SEC conference championship. Led by Davis who had rushed for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2010, they had the potential to leap LSU and Alabama. However, Davis went down with a season-ending ankle injury. As a result, Arkansas was good enough to compete, but did not have the needed balance to supplant either the Tigers or the Tide.
If Davis returns to form, the Razorbacks will have an elite offense that could compete for the West and the overall championship.
Davis was the first star to go down in 2011 but not the last.
Justin Hunter was playing as well as any wide receiver in the nation at the time of his injury. Hunter went down early in the Vols game against the Florida Gators. He limped off the field while clutching his left leg. To no one's surprise, an MRI revealed that Hunter had a torn ACL and would not return in 2011.
In the Vols' first two games of the season, Hunter had already amassed 304 yards and two touchdowns on 16 receptions. If Hunter can return to his prior form, he will be the biggest home-run threat in college football.
Hunter appeared in great form during the spring and should shatter single season receiving records at Tennessee.
South Carolina felt the wrath of the injury bug last season as well when stud running back Lattimore’s season was derailed with a knee injury. With the amount of carries that Lattimore endured his freshman season and the first half of his sophomore season, an injury was already feared.
However, it was not even a running play that he was injured on, nontheless, he had torn ligaments in his left knee and also suffered some cartilage damage. Lattimore would require surgery and see a potential Heisman candidacy go down the tubes.
Lattimore is perhaps the hardest worker in college football, and it is showing in his recovery. If South Carolina’s defense plays well and helps win some ball games, Lattimore should be in New York as a Heisman finalist. Skeptics will say that he will not be in form til midseason, but Lattimore is not your normal star athlete.
These three players are hoping for a back-bounce season. Without it, their teams will struggle not to dwell in the land of mediocrity. If they do return to prior form, all three teams will have a major voice in determining where the SEC championship resides in 2012.
These three players are great young men as well. Let’s pray for a speedy recovery.