Up next for the Gamecocks: the Clemson Tigers
Will Muschamp has already been coach of the year once in the Southeastern Conference. Could it happen again?
South Carolina is 6-5 heading into the regular-season finale against No. 4 Clemson. It’s not a season that’ll go down in the annals of Gamecock history, but it’s twice as many wins as last season (three times as many conference wins) and includes four victories in the past five games.
Muschamp was named the conference’s top coach by his colleagues in 2012, when his Florida Gators finished 11-2. He shared the coach’s award that year with Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, who was named the coach of the year by the media.
This year could be as fractured a vote for coach of the year as the league has ever seen because there’s no clear cut choice. But there several interesting possibilities.
Mark Stoops has Kentucky bowl eligible for the first time since 2011, and with a backup quarterback at that.
Jim McElwain just beat LSU in Baton Rouge, La., and clinched the SEC East with an injury-plagued Florida team that also is playing with a backup quarterback.
Gus Malzahn turned around what seemed to be a sinking ship at Auburn and is in second place in the SEC West headed into the Alabama game.
And then there’s Goliath. Alabama’s Nick Saban has been the best coach in the conference basically since he came into the conference, but he hasn’t been named Coach of the Year since 2009. As a point of reference, he’s won three national titles since then.
A win over Clemson might get Muschamp some late traction in a multi-horse race, but it should be Goliath’s turn this year. Alabama is 11-0 and the most consistently dominant team in college football while playing with a true freshman quarterback. That’s not easy.
The Pick: Nick Saban, Alabama
Player of the Year
There are some really fantastic players in the SEC this season, but nobody has had a season quite like Alabama’ Jonathan Allen. The 6-foot-4, 295-pound defensive lineman has 9.5 tackles-for-loss and seven sacks, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. He’s playing all three downs and all across the defensive front for the Crimson Tide. When Alabama needs a play, Allen makes it. He has scored two touchdowns, one on an interception return against Ole Miss and one on a fumble return against Texas A&M. He’s also leaped over a running back Superman-style to sack Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight.
The Pick: Jonathan Allen, Alabama
Defensive Player of the Year
Picking Allen as the best player in the league isn’t an easy choice. It’s not even an easy choice to name him the best defensive player in the league, because there are a lot of guys having great seasons on that side of the ball. The pick here, though, is Tennessee’s Derek Barnett. The 6-foot-3, 265-pound junior defensive end leads the SEC in sacks (11) and tackles-for-loss (17). He has 31 career sacks, one shy of the Volunteers school record, which was set by a guy named Reggie White, and 28 of those sacks have come against SEC competition.
Barnett’s remarkable season has overshadowed another great defensive effort in the state. Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham leads the SEC in tackles with 109 and is second in tackles-for-loss with 16.5.
The Pick: Derek Barnett, Tennessee
Freshman of the Year
We’ve come to expect the machine that is Alabama’s program to spit out uncommon thing after uncommon thing. Hurts is the latest example. Freshmen quarterbacks are not supposed to have 30 combined touchdowns on the ground and through the air, or be sixth in the SEC in total offense with 270.1 yards per game. Most of all, they are not supposed to be 11-0.
The Pick: Jalen Hurts, Alabama