Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson are both back after combining for more than 2,000 rushing yards last season
The SEC is in need of a bounce-back season in 2017, specifically those of you located outside the state of Alabama, which appears to have two well-situated football programs after last season.
The rest? We’ll see. Six SEC teams are in Athlon’s preseason top 25, meaning success could be just around the corner.
Here are the most interesting and important stats for all 14 SEC teams going into the 2017 season.
959: Rushing yards given up by Alabama all of last season
Hold up: Didn’t we start this post last year the same way? Yes, we did. Except the 2016 version of the Crimson Tide’s run defense somehow managed to give up 177 fewer rushing yards than it did in a masterful 2015. Both were the tops in the nation... despite playing in 15 games both seasons. Incredible. (Once again, LSU finished a distant second in the SEC, giving up 1,407 rushing yards in 12 games.)
4.13: Rushing yards per game by Arkansas
If there’s one thing a Bret Bielema offense is usually outstanding at, it is running the football. But the Razorbacks struggled last season, posting the worst rushing offense of the four-year Bielema era. They finished 10th in the SEC in rushing, despite Rawleigh Williams’ 1,360-yard season. Williams was forced to retire after a second neck injury this spring, and Devwah Whaley is the only returning back on the roster this fall, although the Hogs did just add Dave Williams from South Carolina (239 yards last season).
271.31: Auburn’s rushing average
What’s with all these running stats? In this case, Auburn led the SEC in rushing last season (and was No. 6 nationally). The Tigers have every reason to believe they will do it again in 2017, as they return the league’s leading rushing tandem in juniors Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson, who combined for 2,119 rushing yards last season.
1991: Florida’s last out-of-state non-conference game
The Gators open 2017 against Michigan in Arlington, Texas. Florida has not played a non-conference game outside the Sunshine State since a loss at Syracuse in 1991. Additionally, the Gators haven’t opened their season away from home since 1987, when they lost to Miami.
86.6%: Georgia’s percentage of tackles returning in 2017
This is according to college football guru Phil Steele, who has Georgia as tops in the SEC (and third nationally) in this category. While that should mean good things for the Bulldogs in 2017, Steele also notes that he had Arkansas at No. 1 in this category entering last season (86.76)... and the Hogs surprisingly saw their record drop from 8-5 to 7-6.
75%: Kentucky’s fourth-down conversion percentage
The Wildcats made their first bowl game under Mark Stoops last year, and they made some bold moves along the way. Kentucky converted on 12 of its 16 fourth-down tries in 2016, tops in the Power 5 and third nationally, behind USF and Western Michigan.
111.7: Derrius Guice’s elusive rating
Guice had the second-best elusive rating in 2016 among returning running backs for 2017, according to Pro Football Focus. Iowa’s Akrum Wadley was first (120.9). PFF defines elusive as “a runner’s success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers.”
3,798: Nick Fitzgerald’s yardage output
The Mississippi State quarterback began his starting career with a bang, leading the SEC in total yards of offense while adding 37 touchdowns. Fitzgerald, a redshirt junior, will look to bring the Bulldogs to their eighth straight bowl game in 2017.
500.5: Missouri’s yards per game
Surprisingly enough, the Tigers finished 13th nationally in total offense last season and led the SEC — by a fairly wide margin, too. Texas A&M finished second with 467 yards per game. Despite that output, Mizzou finished just fifth in the league in scoring, posting 31.4 points per game. (Alabama was tops in that category at 38.8 ppg.)
59: Number of 20-plus-yard completions by Ole Miss
Last season was uneven for the Rebels, but they were dominant with the deep ball. They led the SEC in pass completions of 20 or more yards, good for 13th nationally. They led the league in pass completions of 10 or more yards, too, with 159 connections, good for 10th nationally. Chad Kelly may be gone, as are a number of key receivers, but if history is any indication, head coach Hugh Freeze could have Shea Patterson and the offense up and running at a high level very soon.
86.2: Jake Bentley’s passer rating under pressure
According to Pro Football Focus, the South Carolina quarterback is far and away the best returning SEC quarterback under pressure from last season, posting an 86.2 rating. The next-best returners are Arkansas’ Austin Allen (68.3) and LSU’s Danny Etling (62.1). Bentley also led all returning SEC QBs on non-play-action passes, with an 89.9 rating, according to PFF.
29: Tennessee fumbles
The Volunteers were either really careless with the football in 2016, really unlucky or, most likely, a combination of both. They lost the ball 29 times last season, the most in the SEC and the fifth most nationally. Tennessee only lost 14 of those fumbles, though — second in the league behind Kentucky’s 16.
25.36: Texas A&M’s average punt return
The Aggies were by far the national leader in punt returns last season, averaging nearly eight yards more per return than runner-up Western Kentucky (17.93 ypr). A&M was tied with Alabama for the most punt return touchdowns, notching four apiece (three of which were by A&M receiver Christian Kirk).
93.48%: Vanderbilt’s red-zone conversion rate
The Commodores made it inside the opponent’s 20 on 46 occasions last season and scored 43 times, tops in the SEC and sixth nationally. Of those 43 scores, 32 were touchdowns and 11 were field goals.
— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for ESPN.com. Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.