Trust me. Keeping a list of the SEC’s best football players to 25 was one of those tasks that rates right up there with cleaning up the driveway the day after July 4th fireworks.
There were at least 12 to 15 other players I strongly considered and agonized over, but there’s only so many spots.
That said, here are five players, listed alphabetically, who just missed the cut:
Josh Bynes, LB, Sr., Auburn: The emotional leader of the Tigers’ defense, Bynes was sixth in the SEC last season in tackles. He finished with 104 for an average of eight per game. He’s the third leading returning tackler in the league behind Vanderbilt’s Chris Marve and LSU’s Kelvin Sheppard. The 6-foot-2, 239-pound Bynes will again anchor the Auburn defense from his middle linebacker position. In addition to being one of those guys who’s always around the ball and making plays, Bynes was an iron man for the Tigers in 2009 along with running mate Craig Stevens and played every meaningful snap.
Jeff Demps, RB, Jr., Florida: He’s the SEC’s fastest man after running a 9.96 in the 100 meters last month and one of the most dynamic breakaway threats in the league. Demps has 14 touchdowns during his first two seasons at Florida and averaged a team-high 7.5 rushing yards per carry last season. He’s Florida’s leading returning rusher after finishing with 745 yards last season and will be featured even more now that Tim Tebow won’t be around to spearhead the Gators’ ground game.
Justin Houston, OLB, Jr., Georgia: Houston was one of the toughest players to leave off the top-25 list, especially after finishing third in the SEC with 7.5 sacks last season and second with 15 tackles for loss. He’s a natural pass-rusher and is only going to get better as he improves from a fundamental standpoint. Houston will be moving from defensive end to outside linebacker in Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense and will be the guy opposing offenses scheme around.
Kentrell Lockett, DE, Sr., Ole Miss: Along with tackle Jerrell Powe, Lockett is a big reason the Rebels enter the 2010 season with what could be the best defensive front seven in the league. He finished with 10 tackles for loss last season, including five sacks, and led the Rebels with 13 quarterback hurries. He’s a complete player who plays the run equally well and also blocked a kick last season. The 6-5, 260-pound Lockett has 28 career starts and will wear the No. 38 patch on his jersey during the 2010 season after winning the Chucky Mullins Courage Award in the spring.
Warren Norman, RB/KR, So., Vanderbilt: Norman burst onto the scene last season as one of those freshmen who hadn’t been hyped up in the recruiting process and promptly played his way to SEC Freshman of the Year honors. He led the SEC in all-purpose yardage, averaging 161.8 yards per game, and broke Herschel Walker’s freshman record, which had stood for 30 years. Norman was Vanderbilt’s most effective offensive threat at running back with 783 rushing yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry, but he was also one of the league’s top return men on special teams. He tied an SEC record with three kickoff returns for touchdowns.