Occasionally, our SEC writers will give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which writer is right.
It's only the spring, but looking ahead is a common reaction once you get some sort of grasp on how things are shaping up in practices. Sometimes it's careless, but it's always 100 percent fun.
So who are the best players the SEC has to offer? We will discuss who the best offensive and defensive players will be in the league in 2016. Today, we're looking at offense.
Today's Take Two topic: Who is the SEC's best offensive player?
Sam Khan Jr.: This is a trick question, right? It's easy: Leonard Fournette. No returning player in the SEC had more yards from scrimmage last season than Fournette (2,206) and only one returning player nationally (Christian McCaffrey) had more. Honestly, Fournette should have had a seat at the Heisman Trophy ceremony last December. His combination of size and speed is the best there is in the country.
I talked to an opposing coach recently who said Fournette has "Adrian Peterson-type ability," which is no small praise considering how successful Peterson has been in his career. It takes a tremendous effort to keep him in check -- basically, a defense as talented as Alabama's, which nobody else has -- because a missed tackle in the hole or an incorrect angle can allow Fournette to turn a 4 or 5-yard gain into a 50-yard touchdown. Next time you watch LSU play, watch how wide open their receivers run on play-action passes. They are that open because of the threat Fournette poses.
If he was eligible to be drafted this offseason, he would be a high first-round pick, no questions asked. But he's not, so he gets to terrorize SEC defenses for one more season.
When I listened to him speak before LSU's win against Texas Tech in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl in December, you could tell that not being a Heisman finalist is going to be a motivating factor for him in 2016. An angry Fournette with something to prove? Look out, college football.
Edward Aschoff: It's funny, when we first discussed this, Sam went all "Oh, you'll pick Chad Kelly" on me. Which is fair, because he was the SEC's best quarterback last season and he enters the 2016 season as the league's best returning quarterback.
But I'm not picking him as the SEC's best offensive player in 2016. Fournette is a good choice and Kelly will lead the league in passing (an Aschoff guarantee), but I'm going with Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley. Outside of Laquon Treadwell, no other receiver was more exciting in the SEC. He's a year older, and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has proven that he doesn't need an experienced quarterback to run an explosive passing game. My cat Meeko would have no problem throwing for 3,000 yards with Ridley catching passes.
And Ridley catches a ton. He had a team-high 89 catches and set Alabama's single-season freshman record for receiving yards with 1,045. Seventeen of his catches went for 15-plus yards, including eight of 40-plus yards, and five of his seven touchdowns came on plays of 30 yards or more. In addition, 44 of his 89 catches went for either first downs or touchdowns, and he caught five or more passes in nine of his 11 starts.
Ridley is the league's most explosive receiver and he's guaranteed to have a fantastic season with Kiffin calling plays. You know what's not a guarantee? Fournette being as dominant. Why? Oh, maybe because LSU doesn't know what its passing game will look like. You're ready to say quarterback Brandon Harris will take enough pressure off Fournette for him to be as deadly as he was before he ran into Alabama's buzz saw? Remember when Fournette was the Heisman favorite and then forgotten after LSU went totally one-dimensional?
Alabama will continue to run the ball, like it always does, but Ridley will once again be a major part of this offense. So much so that he will pull an Amari Cooper and claim the title of SEC Offensive Player of the Year.