SEC Football Q&A: Who Is the Best Player in the SEC East?

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterMarch 15, 2016

Georgia RB Nick Chubb
Georgia RB Nick ChubbTodd Kirkland/Getty Images

Do you feel it in the air?

I certainly do.

Spring football is in full swing, as teams around the South begin the quest to dethrone two-time defending SEC champion Alabama from the top of the SEC pedestal.

To do that, it takes special players who can take over games against the best of the best.

Who has the best player in the SEC East? That question and more are answered in this week's edition of SEC Q&A.


@BarrettSallee Best player in SEC East?

— TheZimMaster (@TheZimmMaster) March 14, 2016

Without a doubt, it's Georgia running back Nick Chubb. 

That's not meant to take anything away from Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore or anybody else in the division who has routinely proved to be an elite player.

Chubb is simply on a different level, when healthy.

Think about what he did as a true freshman in 2014. In a pinch in place of injured running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, Chubb rushed for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns.

What's more, he showed right out of the gate that he can be the workhorse for a team in the mix for a division title that desperately needed a workhorse thanks to diminished running back depth and not much of a passing threat. He topped the 100-yard mark in the final eight games of the 2014 season and carried the ball 30 or more times on three separate occasions—including against eventual East champion Missouri in his first full game as the No. 1 running back on the depth chart.

Georgia RB Nick Chubb
Georgia RB Nick ChubbDale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Good players can't even do that. Only great players can.

He was off to a great start again in 2015, rushing for more than 120 yards in his first five games of the year before tearing up his knee on his first carry of the critical matchup with Tennessee on Oct. 10.

Will he come back at 100 percent? That remains to be seen.

But new Georgia head coach Kirby Smart saw firsthand how dominant a team can be with a game-changing running back when Alabama's Derrick Henry won the 2015 Heisman Trophy en route to a national title for the Crimson Tide. If Chubb is even at 90 percent, he can put together a similar season and lead Georgia back into the national picture in Smart's first year as the head coach of the Bulldogs.

He's that good.

Georgia RB Nick Chubb
Georgia RB Nick ChubbDale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports


@BarrettSallee Which true freshman will send a shockwave throughout the SEC this upcoming season?

— Tanner Dennie (@T_Dennie) March 14, 2016

The easy answer is Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason, who I think will start for the Bulldogs right out of the gate in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game vs. North Carolina in Atlanta. But Eason will have some freshman growing pains, which will undoubtedly fuel the fire of doubters who have already had enough of the Eason hype.

Let's go off the beaten path, though.

How about Auburn wide receiver Kyle Davis?

The 6'2", 208-pounder from Lawrenceville, Georgia, enrolled early on the Plains and is stepping into a situation on Auburn's offense that's ready-made for a wide receiver to become an instant star. Auburn's leading returning receiver—sophomore Jason Smith—had just 203 yards and two touchdowns a year ago. In terms of receptions, senior Marcus Davis had 30 and is entrenched as the primary bubble-screen weapon in head coach Gus Malzahn's offense. 

Auburn needs a new version of former stud Sammie Coates, and Davis is that clone.

Davis has blazing speed, is physical at the line of scrimmage and is a mismatch against virtually every defensive back in the SEC. Coates played his senior season at Auburn in 2014 at 6'2", 201 pounds—the same height and seven pounds lighter than Davis is as a true freshman.

Whether Malzahn goes with a more traditional drop-back passer or reverts back to a dual-threat quarterback who can break loose on the edge, he needs a deep threat who's physical and can get up over cornerbacks in one-on-one matchups.

Davis is that weapon.


@BarrettSallee will the malaise of the SEC East continue or is a turnaround likely?

— John Kincade (@JohnKincade) March 15, 2016

As a division, it will continue for another year—with one exception, of course.

Tennessee is set up to return to glory, with four returning starters on the offensive line, its entire backfield back, a loaded front seven led by defensive end Derek Barnett and linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and a secondary led by corner Cameron Sutton. 

The door is wide-open for the Vols, as well.

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones (left) and Florida head coach Jim McElwain (right)
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones (left) and Florida head coach Jim McElwain (right)John Raoux/Associated Press

Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri all are undergoing coaching transitions; Florida has quarterback, offensive line, running back, wide receiver and some defensive questions; and Vanderbilt and Kentucky are still average at best.

That's not to say that Georgia and Florida won't contend for the division. They will.

But they will both be inconsistent at times, which is par for the course for the SEC East over the last few seasons.

In 2017, though, I fully expect Florida, Tennessee and Georgia to be in the national title discussion and the division to be more of a factor in the race for the SEC title—a title it hasn't won since 2008.


@BarrettSallee on a scale of 4-17, 12 being highest, how epic will the Battle at Bristol be? Who wins?

— Austin Womble (@ThickMamba) March 15, 2016

By your standards, a 12. For those who are more accustomed to a traditional 1-10 scale, it's a 10 ($1.00 to Billy Bob from Varsity Blues).

From a pure football perspective, I'm going to pick Tennessee. The Vols are loaded on both sides of the ball, have legitimate College Football Playoff aspirations and are going up against a Virginia Tech team that will be facing its first real test of the season after opening Liberty.

New Hokie head coach Justin Fuente will get the program back in contention for ACC titles in a hurry, but quarterback Brenden Motley has some newcomers to deal with this offseason, and the defensive line is far from settled. That just isn't a recipe for success against a Tennessee team that's set basically everywhere except wide receiver.

Off the field, though, it's going to be amazing.

Touted as the "biggest ever," Bristol Motor Speedway—located in Northeast Tennessee near the Virginia border—is expected to seat around 150,000 fans according to its initial press release for football. When you walk into the facility, it's incredibly intimidating—more intimidating than any college football stadium. The grandstands tower high in the sky, much like Tennessee's Neyland Stadium—just on a much grander scale.

Will the speedway be full?

That would be a big accomplishment. Even if it's not, though, it will be as much of a spectacle as it is a football game, which should make for a once-in-a-lifetime event.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.