Marcus Lattimore and 5 Dark Horse Candidates for the SEC Player of the Year

John Bain@John_BainCorrespondent IIAugust 12, 2011

Marcus Lattimore and 5 Dark Horse Candidates for the SEC Player of the Year

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    With the 2011 NCAA football season rapidly approaching, preseason talk of who the SEC Player of the Year will be is also coming up. Last season, it was a pretty clear-cut winner, in Cam Newton, but this season is different. With several stars leaving for the NFL, the SEC is more wide open in every aspect than it has been in many years.

    There are several players poised to have breakout years and to help their schools to the SEC Championship game. Anyone could take home the bragging rights of being the Player of the Year in the powerhouse SEC. 

Tyler Wilson: QB Arkansas

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    With the departure of Ryan Mallett to the NFL, Tyler Wilson will finally get his time to shine. Wilson split time with Mallett in the 2010 season, mostly when Mallett was busy throwing picks, and performed well for a backup. 

    Wilson threw for just under 500 yards last season and had a 66.7 percent completion rate. Wilson is a far more accurate quarterback than Mallett was, and his high rate of completed passes could blow competition out of the water, as he has a strong receiving corps returning in 2011. Wilson fits in perfectly to the pass-heavy offense of Arkansas, and could just take the SEC Player of the Year award this upcoming season.

    This is a new year for the Razorbacks, who just might be the dark horse to make the SEC Championship game. If Tyler Wilson has anything to say about it, he could take them there.

Casey Hayward: DB Vanderbilt

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    This is probably the only player in this list coming off a team, who in 2010, had an absolutely horrendous year. Casey Hayward of Vanderbilt is one of the few bright spots on a terrible squad, and unfortunately for the Commodores, Hayward is going into his senior year. 

    In 12 games last year, Hayward grabbed six interceptions and had 70 tackles for one of the worst defenses in the BCS. Things won't be getting any easier for Hayward in his last year with the Commodores. If he utilizes his quick feet and soft hands, he could help his team to more than two victories this season. 

    If Vanderbilt's star defensive back improves his numbers from last season, he could be in the conversation for Player of the Year.

Mark Barron: DB Alabama

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    In the 2010 season, Alabama defensive back Mark Barron did not find himself on the field as often as expected due to Alabama's high powered offense eating up time. He still managed 77 tackles, three interceptions and two sacks. Undoubtedly, Barron, in his senior year, is hoping to return to his form from 2009 where he used his good play recognition to record seven interceptions.

    The Crimson Tide DB helped 'Bama to the third best defense in the nation last year, and with any luck, will do it again in 2011. Barring any injuries or getting beat out in camp, look for Barron's name in the Player of the Year conversation, come the end of the season.

Michael Dyer: RB Auburn

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    Now, coming off a BCS National Championship season may not classify the Auburn running back as a "dark horse" in many peoples minds, but when you lose Cam Newton, Michael Dyer has to come into the SEC Player of the Year conversation. He won't be a favorite to win the award, so you almost have to call him a dark horse. 

    Dyer will be in just his sophomore year this season, a year after putting up 1,000 yards as a true freshman in the SEC. If the 2010 BCS National Championship game is any indicator, Dyer has the potential for some huge games in 2011. With Newton gone, Dyer can expect to get a whole lot more touches in 2011 and is expected to bear the load for the Tigers on offense. 

    Dyer could have the biggest breakout season of any RB in the SEC this year. Although Auburn isn't expected to be in the national title game for a second consecutive year, Dyer should be able to lead his team to at least a bowl game.

Malik Jackson: DE Tennessee

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    In his second year with the Tennessee Volunteers (since transferring from the USC Trojans in 2010 due to all the scandals and penalties involved in the Reggie Bush case), Malik Jackson is expected to shine. He put up solid numbers in his first season in the Vol's defensive scheme. Now that he is immersed in the defense, he should dominate offensive lines this season.

    Jackson had 11 tackles for a loss last year to go along with five sacks. The Tennessee senior will also be working especially hard this season, as he hopes to get drafted into the NFL in 2012. If Jackson comes into the 2011 college football season in tip-top shape, he will rip by offensive lines, getting straight to quarterback on more plays than most defensive ends.

    This guy is a machine.

    Malik Jackson has the potential to put up huge defensive numbers in the SEC this year and will surely be in the talks for Player of the Year at season's end.

Marcus Lattimore: RB South Carolina

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    Now the previous five players mentioned could be surprising to hear in the conversation at the end of the 2011 college football season for SEC Player of the Year honors, but this name will be no surprise: Marcus Lattimore.

    In the SEC this season, there are plenty of tremendous running backs, but Lattimore is in a league of his own. In his freshman season, Lattimore put up 1,197 yards and 17 TDs. It only goes up from here.

    Listed as a fullback, Lattimore uses his powerful legs to not only blow past, but also run over, defenders. In 2010, he put up several 100-plus-yard games, including a 212-yard performance in a victory over Florida. 

    If there was a clear-cut winner in 2011, it could be Marcus Lattimore. Over-hyped or not, Lattimore is the real deal and is poised to have a big campaign in 2011.

SEC Player of the Year in 2011: Open Season

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    To win SEC Player of Year is no easy task. The victor must perform at his highest level in every game played, from Game 1 to the last game on the conference schedule. Not only must he perform at his best, but he also must outperform the competition. In the 2011 season, the SEC has several candidates for this award, some shocking, some not, but nonetheless, it should be an interesting race for the title. 

    A lot of seniors will be vying for the award this year, as opposed to young up and comers, and they all have lots on the line. 

    It should be yet another exciting year of SEC football, and we will all be watching closely to see who, indeed, comes out with the elusive Player of the Year title.