December is upon us, and the regular season is done. The Georgia Bulldogs are the SEC Champions, and now nine teams will look forward to their bowl games. As we head into the break between the regular and post seasons, it’s time for a 2017 SEC review complete with team grades and rewards.
2017 SEC Awards
Coach of the Year – Kirby Smart – Georgia Bulldogs
In just his second season in Athens, Smart has brought the SEC Championship back to his alma mater. He also has his team locked into a berth in the College Football Playoff. The former Bama defensive coordinator has the Bulldogs at #3 in the polls and ranked 4th in the nation in total defense. There have been some fine coaching jobs in the SEC in 2017, but Kirby Smart has done the best.
Offensive Player of the Year – Kerryon Johnson – Auburn Tigers
Johnson was a workhorse for the Tigers this year. He amassed 1,320 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground this season. That is despite missing two games and being hampered in the SEC Championship. Johnson had eight 100+ yard games this year, including 204 yards in a win over Ole Miss. Kerryon also added 188 yards and two scores receiving on 23 catches. He had four straight 100-yard games as Auburn made their late season push to win the SEC West.
Defensive Player of the Year – Roquan Smith – Georgia Bulldogs
The junior linebacker was everywhere for the Bulldog defense in 2017 SEC play. He seemed to be in on every tackle for the Dawgs. Smith is not the biggest linebacker, but he is super-fast and has great instincts. He finished the season with 113 total tackles, including 10.5 for a loss and 5.5 sacks. Smith also had two fumble recoveries including one in the SEC title game and was named MVP.
Head of the Class
Georgia Bulldogs – 12-1 (7-1) SEC Champs – A+
The Bulldogs reached new heights under second-year coach Kirby Smart. They played in the SEC title game for the first time since 2012 and won it for the first time since 2005. Now they prepare for a College Football Playoff Semifinal match-up with the Oklahoma Sooners in the Rose Bowl. Freshman Jake Fromm has grown into the quarterback role as the season has progressed. Sharing the backfield with future NFL tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel certainly helps. The defense has been dominant all year, allowing only 13.2 points per game.
Alabama Crimson Tide – 11-1 (7-1) – A
Nick Saban’s team is in a familiar position, back in the college football playoff. They are the only team to be a part of all four playoffs. Their chance at a fourth straight SEC crown was thwarted by a late-season Iron Bowl loss to Auburn. Alabama was still able to make to the final four, but not without controversy. The Tide fought through a litany of injuries on defense, and an offense that struggled at times. Jalen Hurts is still developing as a passer, but his 24-2 record as a starter speaks for itself. Alabama will have time to heal up some of their injured defenders before facing the Clemson Tigers for the third straight postseason. Their semifinal match-up will take place in the Sugar Bowl.
Auburn Tigers – 10-3 (7-1) – A
The Tigers got hot late in the season and beat both Georgia and Alabama handily at Jordan-Hare Stadium. These two big wins put them in playoff contention and secured the 2017 SEC West spot in the conference title game. They were not able to beat the Bulldogs a second time though. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham improved as the year went on and ended the season with 2,827 yards and 17 touchdowns through the air. His progress combined with Kerryon Johnson and a physical stingy defense allowed Auburn to win five straight games before falling in the SEC Championship. The Tigers will now face Central Florida in the Peach Bowl as part of the New Year’s Six.
LSU Tigers – 9-3 (6-2) – B+
These Tigers were able to right the ship after an underwhelming start to 2017. Sitting a 3-2 and fresh off an embarrassing loss at home to Troy, LSU finished the season winning six of seven games. Derrius Guice led the offense with 1,153 rushing yards, including a career – 276 yards against Ole Miss. D.J. Chark emerged as a solid deep threat for quarterback Danny Etling, totaling 811 yards at an impressive 23.2 yards per catch. Linebackers Devin White and Arden Key led the defense and were named 1st Team All-SEC by the AP. White led the SEC in tackles with 127. LSU will face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Citrus Bowl on January 1st.
Mississippi State Bulldogs – 8-4 (4-4) – B
The Bulldogs from Starkville had a solid 2017, in what would be Dan Mullen’s last season in charge. However, the positive momentum built was hurt by the late season injury to star Nick Fitzgerald, a loss to rival Ole Miss, and their coach’s departure for the Florida Gators. They hired Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead as Mullen’s replacement. The Bulldogs were too one dimensional at times this year, as the passing game never found enough rhythm. They now get to face Lamar Jackson and the Louisville Cardinals in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
South Carolina Gamecocks – 8-4 (5-3) – B
Coach Will Muschamp’s squad exceeded expectations for a second consecutive season. The Gamecocks were thought by most to struggle to get bowl eligible in the 2017 SEC season. Instead, they are an eight-win team and will play in a New Year’s Day bowl. How they got to this point is not as straightforward as some other teams though. There isn’t really a unit on this team that stood out, but they kept finding ways to win ball games. The offense sputtered often this season, and its inconsistencies hurt South Carolina in losses to Kentucky and Texas A&M. The defense was opportunistic and usually buckled down inside the red zone. A rash of Injuries during the middle of the year definitely hurt the offense. The Gamecocks will face Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
Texas A&M Aggies – 7-5 (4-4) – C+
The Aggies rebounded from their season-opening meltdown to win five of their next six games. Unfortunately, they struggled down the stretch once again and is cost Kevin Sumlin his job. After missing six games, Nick Starkel took back his quarterback job and brought some balance to the offense. Inconsistencies on offense and defense haunted Sumlin’s team as they lost three of their last five games. The Aggies will face Wake Forest in the Belk Bowl in late December. Texas A&M was able to get former FSU coach Jimbo Fisher to take over the program moving forward.
Kentucky Wildcats – 7-5 (4-4) – C+
The Wildcats are bowling for the second straight season under Mark Stoops. Despite losing three of their last four games, they will finish with a winning record regardless of the bowl game result. Kentucky will look back on this season as one of the missed opportunities. Close losses late in games to Florida and Ole Miss kept 2017 from being a banner year. Tailback Benny Snell is a star; he led the Wildcats with 1,318 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing. Kentucky will head to the Music City Bowl to face the Big Ten’s Northwestern Wildcats.
Missouri Tigers – 7-5 (4-4) – C+
Considering how this season started, Missouri’s late-season turnaround should get Barry Odom some coach of the year attention. The Tigers were dreadful during the first half of the season, losing five straight to fall to 1-5 at the midpoint. Drew Lock eventually got the Tigers’ offense rolling, as they averaged 51.3 points per game during their six-game win streak to close out 2017. Regardless of the opponent, the numbers they produced were impressive. Lock led the SEC with 3,695 yards and 43 touchdowns through the air. Missouri will face the Texas Longhorns in the Texas Bowl.
More Questions than Answers
Ole Miss Rebels – 6-6 (3-5) – C
The Rebels performed admirably under some adverse circumstances in 2017. They ended the season with an Egg Bowl victory over rival Mississippi State to avoid a losing season. A.J. Brown is a big-time playmaker and finished with 1,252 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. The Rebels struggles were mainly on defense, as they allowed 34.6 points per game. They are not bowl-eligible due to NCAA sanctions.
Florida Gators – 4-7 (3-5) – D
The Gators were coming off back-to-back SEC East titles but fell into disarray this season. Their offense once again was painful to watch, and the defense suffered because of it. The Gators lost six of their final seven games and fired Coach Jim McElwain during that poor stretch.
Vanderbilt Commodores – 5-7 (1-7) – F
“We Want Bama!” That will be what this season is remembered for. After a 3-0 start, this phrase was said leading up to the Dores hosting the Crimson Tide. Vanderbilt was then outscored 322-138 as they lost their first seven SEC games. They salvaged some positives by blasting Tennessee in the season finale.
Arkansas Razorbacks – 4-8 (1-7) – F
The Razorback had another rough year in 2017, and Coach Bret Bielema was fired because of it. The Hogs struggled to protect their quarterback and stop opposing offenses this season. They allowed 36.2 points per game.
Tennessee Volunteers – 4-8 (0-8) – F
What a strange and painful ride it’s been on Rocky Top. There are disasters, and then there is what has become of the Volunteer football program. Coach Butch Jones was fired amid the first winless SEC season in school history. There were a couple close losses, but also some embarrassing ones along the way. The offense never got going, and the Vols struggled mightily because of it. The situation has only gotten worse as the coaching search has become a circus.
2017 SEC Madness
Things have been crazy in the 2017 SEC season. Not only for the successful teams at the top but for the bad teams at the bottom. All in all, there will be nine teams going to bowls, two of them going to the playoff, and five teams making coaching changes. Georgia was able to end the SEC West’s dominance as they became the first Eastern division team to win the conference since 2008. The Bulldogs and the Crimson Tide each have a shot at the National Title as the SEC became the first conference to get two teams into the College Football Playoff.
Main Photo Credit: