Let's talk SEC football! Who will be the best player on each of the 12 conference teams this 2011 college football season?
Some of these are no-doubt slam dunks, while others are open for debate. You'll have to go to a different writer for the best defensive players because when it comes to college football, I'm a very offensive writer (cue the laughter).
What I mean is that it is my opinion that college football is dominated by great offensive players that control who wins. That doesn't always translate to the NFL. But I digress.
The point of this is not to etch any players in stone—it's to spark some conversation about the sport (and conference) we love.
We all know where the best football is played. Now let's talk about who those guys are...
2010 Stats: 75 carries, 349 yards, 11 touchdowns, 32 receptions, 110 yards, 1 touchdown
A curveball to start the list!
Trey Burton, considered the next Tim Tebow among die-hard Florida Gator fans, was involved in every offensive unit except the linemen last year.
Just a freshman, Burton's size and speed did indeed remind many of the Gator legend. He only attempted six passes in 2010, mostly to keep defenses honest against his running ability.
My declaration of him as the top Gator offensive player also is because of my sore lack of confidence in quarterback John Brantley. Brantley earned a QB rating of 116.4 last season, which ranked him eleventh out of the 13 qualified SEC players.
Burton will see a significantly increased role in the passing game to go along with his already big presence in the running and receiving game. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis will have fun putting Burton's skills to use.
Honorable Mention: RB Jeffery Demps
2010 Stats: 61.1 percent, 3049 yards, 24-8 TD-INT
Remember those no-doubters I mentioned in the introduction? Aaron Murray is the first one.
As a freshman, Murray led the Georgia Bulldogs to a bowl game appearance with his great arm and knowledge of the game. He had a 154.5 QB rating, fourth in the conference. Quite impressive for a freshman.
He got the ball to A.J. Green 57 times in 2010, and the departure of the stud wide receiver will require Murray to find a new favorite target in order to live up to his potential.
I think he will. He's the best quarterback in the SEC.
Honorable Mentions: No one
2010 Stats: 58.1 percent, 265 yards, 0-0 TD-INT, 16 carries, 50 yards
The 2011 Kentucky Wildcats have a real chance to be worse than SEC East foe Vanderbilt. They lost do-everything star Randall Cobb to the NFL draft and several other offensive starters to the NFL, graduation, or transferring.
Now is the time for dual-threat quarterback Morgan Newton to takeover. After 2010 quarterback Matt Hartline was suspended for the Compass Bowl, Newton started and played the whole game.
He managed 36 completions on 21 attempts for 211 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions. It's nothing to write home about, but it was a decent performance from a young player.
Newton was the 14th ranked dual-threat quarterback according to Rivals when he was recruited in 2009. While I don't see a Heisman arriving in Lexington anytime soon, I do believe Newton will perform well enough to be the Wildcats top offensive star.
Honorable Mention: John Calipari
2010 Stats: 249 carries, 1197 yards, 17 touchdowns
Yet another one of those no-doubters.
Marcus Lattimore was one of the most productive freshman running backs in SEC history last season. His 17 TDs are the second most by any freshman in conference history.
He shows up big in the key games, carrying the ball an astounding 40 times in a crucial win at Florida. He amassed 212 yards in the game.
Lattimore is a powerful 6'0", 220-pound back who looks like he could play in the NFL right now. He's clearly the best offensive player for the South Carolina Gamecocks
Honorable Mention: WR Alshon Jeffery
2010 Stats: 16 receptions, 415 yards, 7 TDs
Naming wide receiver Justin Hunter the Tennessee Volunteers' best offensive player is definitely a speculative pick.
But do some quick math from his freshman year: 44 percent of his catches were for touchdowns.
I doubt that percentage holds for 2011 when he gets 30 to 40 receptions, but there is no doubt that his great hands and leaping ability make him a quarterback's dream inside the 40-yard line.
Hunter will be a top three receiver in the SEC and will be the best in 2012.
Honorable Mentions: QB Tyler Bray, RB Tauren Poole
2010 Stats: 77 carries, 459 yards, 4 touchdowns
I'm doing the best offensive players for every SEC team, so I had to include one for Vanderbilt University (pronounced Vahn-dah-bilt by students, employees, and alumni).
Warren Norman was a very solid running back for the Commodores last year. The only problem he had in the backfield was a severe lack of touches.
Quarterback Larry Smith carried more than any other back with 105 carries and managed a paltry 2.4 yards per carry.
Get the ball to Norman. He averaged an impressive 6.0 yards per carry. He added 110 receiving yards on 11 receptions as well. If new head coach James Franklin is smart, he'll make Norman the centerpiece of the offense.
(P.S. I'm allowed to take pot shots at Vandy. I'm a student.)
Honorable Mention: QB Jay Cutler?
2010 Stats: 112 carries, 700 yards, 6 touchdowns
Now that Heisman winner Mark Ingram is a New Orleans Saint, Alabama Crimson Tide running back Trent Richardson has the job all to himself.
I expect huge things.
Richardson has more natural talent than Ingram, but Saban correctly got the ball to Ingram more often due to his intangible leadership and heart. As a rising junior, there is no doubt that Richardson has taken note of Ingram's poise and will apply it to his game.
He had the best yards per carry average of any player on the team with at least 60 carries at 6.3. He has been used lightly in his first two years in crimson which bodes well for Alabama's running game.
Having lost quarterback Greg McElroy and wide receiver Julio Jones, Alabama will be rebuilding their passing game. Richardson is going to get a ton of carries, a ton of yards, and a ton of touchdowns because of this, and you can book it.
Honorable Mention: No one
2010 Stats: 204 carries, 1322 yards, 13 touchdowns
Knile Davis quietly racked up a ton of yards as the Arkansas Razorbacks' running back last year. He got credit for his awesome season, but most of the credit was given to head coach Bobby Petrino and quarterback Ryan Mallett.
Now that Mallett has graduated into the University of Bill Belichick, Davis will be the most important player on the Razorbacks' offense. New quarterback Tyler Wilson filled in admirably for a hurt Mallett in the uber-exciting Arkansas-Auburn game.
Now, Wilson will step into the full time role and will certainly use Davis a lot. Davis ran for more yards than any other SEC running back last season with 1,322 yards.
Honorable Mentions: QB Tyler Wilson, WR Greg Childs
2010 Stats: 95 carries, 810 yards (8.5 yards per carry), 1123 all-purpose yards, 10 touchdowns
How about a little shake-up in the status quo?
A lot of people would call running back Michael Dyer the best offensive player on the Auburn Tigers team, but I like Onterio McCalebb for one main reason: The dude is freaking fast.
His speed was unmatched in the already fast SEC, and he was perhaps the biggest reason for Auburn's great offensive success last year after quarterback Cam Newton.
I still expect Dyer to be the primary back, but when offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn needs a big play, he'll hand the ball or throw the ball to McCalebb.
Honorable Mention: RB Michael Dyer
2010 Stats: 33 receptions, 544 yards, 3 touchdowns
Take a look at the 2011 LSU Tigers' offense. It's going to be another fun year with head coach Les Miles.
There are a ton of question marks on the roster that Miles has to answer if he wants to somehow go 11-2 again. With the loss of top running back Stevan Ridley and top wide receiver Terrence Tolliver, quarterback Jordan Jefferson will have a huge offensive burden on him.
Jefferson is far from a quality passer. His 2010 stats were 56.5 completion percentage, 1411 yards, and 7-10 TD-INT. In other words, he needs another offensive player to step up.
Enter Rueben Randle, wide receiver. His 16.5 yards per catch was tops on the team last year, and his 33 receptions were second on the team.
Randle is not a new name in the Bayou, but the increased productivity will be. He is a former 5-star Rivals recruit and has every tool necessary to flourish.
Honorable Mentions: QB Jordan Jefferson (I guess), QB/RB/WR/MBA/J.D./Ph.D. Russell Shepard
2010 Stats: 58.6 percent, 1789 yards, 13-6 TD-INT, 194 carries, 713 yards, 5 touchdowns
Head coach Dan Mullen made a big statement when he decided to stay with the Mississippi State Bulldogs instead of going to coach at Florida the off-season: You can win with Mississippi players.
Of course, his best player is a native of neighboring Alabama.
Quarterback Chris Relf is the reason that the Bulldogs were get an 8-4 regular season record and an invitation to the Gator Bowl where they, excuse me, whooped Michigan's ass 52-14.
He controls the game and contributes with both his arm and legs. He actually had a 71-yard touchdown run last year, the same distance as Cam Newton's longest scoring run.
Relf kept things under control in the passing game, limiting his interceptions and keeping the ball protected. Also, it needs to be mentioned that he is a hoss at 6'4", 240 pounds.
More of the same in 2011 for the upcoming senior.
Honorable Mention: RB Vick Ballard
2010 Stats: 163 carries, 976 yards, 14 touchdowns
Brandon Bolden's solid 2010 campaign could've been better had quarterback Jeremiah Masoli not mooched 121 carries from the stocky running back.
In any event, the Ole Miss Rebels benefited from his strong runs and explosive speed. He's extremely tough to bring down at 5'11", 215 pounds.
Bolden is one of the most active pass-catching SEC running backs, too. He reeled in 32 receptions for 344 yards and three touchdowns last year.
With Ole Miss predicted to have another long season, Bolden will be relied on to help control the clock and move the chains in 2011.
Honorable Mention: No one