SEC Football: 10 Future Stars
The 2012 regular season in the SEC might as well be deemed "the year of the freshmen."
How is it possible that a back like Jeremy Hill, who gained 631 total yards and 10 rushing touchdowns, did not make the All-SEC Freshmen Team?
Well, when there's freshman running backs like Todd Gurley and T.J. Yeldon in the league, it's hard to make an argument that Hill deserved to occupy one of those two spots. Add in the fact that a freshman quarterback named Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy, and "the year of the freshmen" moniker is certainly validated.
So now with the 2012 regular season all in the books, it's time to look to the future and predict which of these breakout freshmen will become breakout stars in the SEC.
Todd Gurley was everything Isaiah Crowell should have been and more.
Gurley is talented, like Crowell, but he also has ruthless aggression. Mark Richt and the Georgia Bulldogs coaching staff used Gurley to pound away on defenders and soften defenses, and more often than not, Gurley would find himself breaking off huge runs.
It explains how Gurley totaled 1,260 rushing yards to go along with his 16 rushing touchdowns. Compare that to Crowell's 850 rushing yards and five touchdowns in 2011, and you'll have Georgia fans saying Isaiah who?
With his brute strength and breakaway speed, Gurley should continue to pound out tough yards for the Bulldogs and lead Georgia to another SEC championship appearance down the road.
"Replace Tyrann Mathieu? Psh, no problem."
That had to be Jalen Mills' mentality going into the 2012 regular season, because though he was a true freshman, he stepped in and replaced a Heisman finalist as if he was making an effortless trip to the grocery store.
But instead of checking his grocery list, he was keeping opposing wide receivers in check.
Mills provided LSU, aka DBU, with another great weapon on defense, as Mills totaled 52 tackles and two interceptions. Mills looks to be but another first-round draft pick in the making at LSU.
Exactly where does Alabama find all of these wonderful running backs?
Let's go through the past four shall we? First, there was Mark Ingram, who gave Alabama its first Heisman Trophy winner. Enough said there.
Then, there was a guy named Trent Richardson, who you can find trampling over defenders on Sundays now, making the Cleveland Browns watchable. And after him was a player named Eddie Lacy, whom the Georgia Bulldogs know all too well after the 2012 SEC Championship Game.
And now, here we are with T.J. Yeldon, who could quite possibly be better than all three of those previously mentioned. Yeldon, like the backs before him, combines speed and power, and he has a handful to get down. With Alabama's running style, expect Yeldon to be a marquee name in college football for the next couple of years.
You want tackles, America?
No worries, A.J. Johnson has you covered. Man, it was tough to be a Tennessee fan this year, am I right Vols fans? We all feel your pain.
But hey, look on the bright side. Derek Dooley is out of the door now, and though the defense was atrocious, Johnson was one of the best tacklers in the SEC in 2012. In fact, he racked up the most tackles in the conference.
Johnson's 138 tackles was fourth best in the nation, and with Johnson only being a sophomore, fans can at least look forward to seeing him again in 2013. Glass half full?
All eyes were on freshman wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham entering the season.
Little did we know redshirt freshman Mike Evans would more than double DGB's yards in 2012. Evans finished the season with 1,022 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
Disregard the fact that Evans has an incredible quarterback throwing to him every week; Evans is a beast in every sense of the word.
This guy is 6'5", 218 pounds of raw muscle and athleticism. He goes up and gets the ball, and with Evans and Manziel already developing a nice chemistry as freshmen, opposing SEC defenses better beware of this duo for years to come.
There's no such thing as a lock-down corner.
But boy oh boy, Loucheiz Purifoy is pretty darn close. He doesn't garner the recognition that his teammates Matt Elam and Jon Bostic do, but he's just as important as both of these men for this defense.
Purifoy puts opposing wide receivers on an island, and over the course of the season, he has done nothing but improve.
Plus, who could forget about Purifoy's blocked punt that led to a game-winning touchdown against UL-Lafayette?
As if Alabama needed any more weapons.
Amari Cooper could be the best wide receiver the SEC has seen since Julio Jones and A.J. Green left for the pros. The ceiling is that high for this guy.
In his first season at Alabama, Cooper accounted for 895 yards and nine touchdowns. Not bad for a team that likes to run the ball, right?
As Cooper continues to learn from some of the best coaches in football, he'll undoubtedly become a future first-round pick.
Just how deep is this stable of running backs at LSU?
Entering the season, many presumed the Tigers would have trouble getting Alfred Blue, Spencer Ware, Michael Ford and Kenny Hilliard enough touches. No one really accounted for Jeremy Hill, outside of LSU fans.
After Blue went down with a season ending injury, the Tigers turned to Hill to carry the offense, and he did just that.
Hill led the Tigers to a huge win against South Carolina at home, where he ran for two touchdowns. The cream always rises to the top, and in 2012, this freshman running back proved that he was better than those who were already established ahead of him.
Barring any injuries, Hill will be the feature back moving forward.
Hold the phone—wasn't Denzel Nkemdiche's younger brother supposed to be the breakout star?
While Robert Nkemdiche was attracting all of the media with his college choice, Denzel was at Ole Miss making a name for himself.
He may be undersized, but that doesn't detract from him one bit on the football field. Nkemdiche flies around and hits defenders with everything he has.
As a redshirt freshman, Nkemdiche made 78 total tackles to go along with his three interceptions and four forced fumbles.That's Honey Badger-esque.
Get used to seeing Johnny Manziel's face, SEC fans.
Immediately, Texas A&M fans rejoice and every other fan in the league lets out a big sigh. This guy's good isn't he? Furthermore, he's fun to watch.
Future star? Heck, this guy's already a star. Everyone knows what he's done by now.
Manziel's 4,600 total yards and 43 total touchdowns were a landmark as a freshman, and after becoming the first freshman player ever to win the Heisman, Johnny Football will be the face of the SEC for the next couple of years.