SEC Football: Player Superlative and Conference Champion Predictions for 2012
The anticipation is building, the cooler is getting iced down, and the charcoal is heating up.
It's almost football time.
But as we wrap up the offseason, it's time to go on the record with some individual superlatives and SEC Championship Game predictions.
Who's going to emerge as the SEC's preeminent player on offense and defense? Which freshman will make an immediate impact? Which coach will make the biggest impression? Who will leave the Georgia Dome on December 1 with the SEC title?
Here are my picks.
Offensive Player of the Year: Arkansas RB Knile Davis
Arkansas RB Knile Davis
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All of the preseason attention is on South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, but it's Razorback running back Knile Davis that will emerge as the SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 2012.
Davis led all SEC running backs in rushing in 2010 with 1,322 yards. The rising junior missed last season with a fractured ankle, but he is back in 2012 and looking to lead his team to a national championship.
When Davis emerged as a reliable every-down running back in 2010, the Hog offense kicked into overdrive.
The same thing will happen in 2012.
His presence will take pressure off Wilson, which will allow him plenty of time to find Cobi Hamilton, Mekale McKay, Chris Gragg and the rest of the Razorbacks' pass-catching weapons.
In turn, that keeps defenses honest, which means bigger holes for Davis.
He gained 1,322 yards in essentially three quarters of a season as a starter in 2010. He will match that, and perhaps exceed it, in 2012.
Defensive Player of the Year: Georgia LB Jarvis Jones
Georgia LB Jarvis Jones
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Some thought Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones deserved SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors from the Associated Press last season instead of LSU's Tyrann Mathieu.
It may be a year late, but Jones will take home the award in 2012.
Jones finished his first season at Georgia with a stat line that makes opposing offensive coordinators cringe. The Columbus, Ga., native had 70 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.
That isn't just good, it's scary good.
Georgia has questions to face on defense due to suspensions, but after all that, the Bulldogs will have nine starters returning. That group finished fifth in the country in total defense and essentially has the same schedule minus the tough out-of-conference matchup vs. Boise State.
Jones returned to Georgia to win a title. Even if that doesn't happen, SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors would be a quality consolation prize.
Freshman of the Year: South Carolina WR Shaq Roland
Shaq Roland high school highlights
The favorite for this award is Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, but it's another wide receiver who will emerge as the SEC's top freshman in 2012.
South Carolina wide receiver Shaq Roland.
Roland was Mr. Football in the state of South Carolina last season and joins a Gamecock team that is looking to replace the recently departed Alshon Jeffery.
The 6'1", 173-pounder is listed as a third-team wide receiver for South Carolina's opener vs. Vanderbilt, but that won't last long.
He impressed everyone that saw him during fall camp and will be this year's breakout receiver in the SEC.
Coach of the Year: Florida's Will Muschamp
Florida head coach Will Muschamp
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While Alabama's Nick Saban, LSU's Les Miles, Georgia's Mark Richt, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier and Arkansas's John L. Smith battle over the crystal football, Florida's Will Muschamp will emerge as the SEC's top coach in 2012.
He won't be taking home any titles to Gainesville, but I picked the Gators to go 9-3 in my SEC East predictions, and that will be enough to earn Muschamp Coach of the Year honors.
I love the way that Muschamp is handling the ongoing quarterback battle, and the Gator defense is going to be stellar yet again.
It won't be immediate success, but big wins at Texas A&M, at Tennessee and at Florida State would be very impressive for the second-year head coach.
SEC Championship Game: Alabama over Georgia
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If that holds true, that means that this game could be a de facto national semifinal for both participants, depending on Georgia's ranking and other factors outside the SEC.
The Bulldogs held a 10-7 lead over then-No. 1 LSU in last season's SEC Championship Game, and they are more than capable of finishing the drill—even if it's against an unblemished Alabama team.
Georgia will put a scare into the Crimson Tide, but that Alabama offensive line will allow quarterback A.J. McCarron to be the focal point of the offense much like he was in last season's BCS National Championship Game.
Final score: Alabama 24, Georgia 21