The prestigious Heisman Trophy will be handed out Saturday night, and the finalists include a pair of ACC quarterbacks, two teammates from Oklahoma and lastly, the Big 10 defensive player of the year.
Noticeably absent? A representative from the SEC. It’s the first time since 2005 that the SEC hasn’t had a player in New York City among the finalists, and during that 10-year stretch, the conference has had five players win the award. It’s no coincidence that the league won eight of the 10 national championships in that same span.
So where did all the SEC’s stars go in 2016?
Sure, there was some late buzz for Alabama freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts to at least earn an invitation to the ceremony. And some would argue that if any defensive player should have gone, it should have been Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen. On Thursday, the senior star took home the Bednarik Award, honoring college football’s best defensive player.
But both will be forced to watch Saturday’s Heisman presentation from home, along with every other player from the SEC.
Before the season, it was LSU running back Leonard Fournette who was the odds-on favorite to win the award. Most believed Fournette deserved to be a finalist the year before, and he was all but guaranteed a trip to New York City this year, right?
Wrong. Fournette wasn’t even the leading rusher on his own team. He suffered a high-ankle sprain in fall camp and never seemed to be 100 percent. He missed four games during the season, and on the biggest stage, he managed only 35 yards on 17 carries against Alabama. It also didn’t help that LSU lost two of its first four games and four games overall.
Fellow running back Nick Chubb burst back onto the scene with 32 carries for 222 yards and two touchdowns in Georgia’s win over North Carolina in the season opener, but like Fournette, he battled injuries most of the year.
Chubb, who was one of the SEC’s best backs before tearing his ACL last year, only reached the 100-yard mark in four games this season.
At SEC media days, Chad Kelly said he was the best quarterback in the nation. The Ole Miss senior led the league in passing the year before, and with the Rebels flying under the radar as a darkhorse contender in the West, there were some who believed that Kelly could make a run at the Heisman Trophy, especially after he thew three touchdowns in the first half against Florida State.
Those dreams came to an end the first Saturday in November when Kelly suffered a season-ending injury against Georgia Southern. But it would’ve been a long shot at that point anyway seeing as how Ole Miss was 3-6 and struggling just to make a bowl game.
Even Myles Garrett was considered a possible candidate for the Heisman Trophy back in August. Defensive players rarely ever get invited to New York City, but the Texas A&M star defensive end led the SEC in tackles for loss (19.5) and sacks (12.5) the year before.
But Garrett, like the others, missed some time due to injury and played the majority of the season at less than 100 percent.
To win the Heisman Trophy, it’s necessary to stay healthy. And in most cases, your team needs to win a lot of games. The only finalist this year on a team outside the top 10 is quarterback Lamar Jackson, and his Louisville team was a serious contender for the playoff before losing its final two games.
The stars of the SEC couldn’t stay healthy. And outside of Alabama, who were the league’s contenders? Every other team finished with at least four losses.
The conference should bounce back, and there's a good chance it will send somebody to New York City in 2017. Hurts will be a favorite heading into next year, and between Derrius Guice, Calvin Ridley and Christian Kirk, there are plenty of talented skill players returning in the SEC.
Nothing is a guarantee, though. 2016 proved that.