Jarrett Stidham will have plenty of opportunities against top-flight competition to build his Heisman resume
As good as the SEC has been overall the past few seasons, there is one glaring weakness for the conference that has shown up in early December each of the past two years: zero Heisman Trophy finalists at the annual award ceremony in New York City. While it wasn’t that long ago that Alabama’s Derrick Henry lifted one of the most famous trophies in sports up, the league has not been able to get back in the running for college football’s most outstanding player.
Could 2018 be the year that changes? Given the wealth of candidates and what should be another strong season across the conference, it very well may be. Who might wind up representing the SEC come December? Here are 10 of the top candidates to get the job done on the field so they can take home the trophy off it:
10. Greedy Williams, CB, LSU
Defensive players usually get the short end of the stick when it comes to the Heisman but one of the Tigers’ star defensive backs might just be able to crack the podium. As a redshirt freshman last year, he developed into a true lockdown corner at LSU and led the SEC with six interceptions. He could make similar waves just like Tyrann Mathieu did when he was a sophomore in Baton Rouge and Williams already has a terrific nickname for a defensive back too. The biggest issue might be teams avoiding him too much in 2018.
9. Damien Harris, RB, Alabama
All of the attention has been on the quarterback position in Tuscaloosa but the Crimson Tide’s previous Heisman winners have all come at Harris’ spot in the backfield. Given that he’ll have a quality offensive line to pave the way for him it shouldn’t be out of the question that a big campaign from the senior, who has already posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, could wind up with him leading Alabama’s Heisman charge. Perhaps his biggest competition comes from his own running back room in order to see if he can get enough carries.
8. D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
Swift’s numbers from a year ago are fairly modest: 618 yards, three touchdowns. Of course, that’s to be expected with the Bulldogs' backfield consisting of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Now it’s Swift’s turn to be the primary ball carrier and based on the flashes he showed as a true freshman (7.9 yards per carry), he could be ready to put up some monster numbers and keep Georgia in the College Football Playoff hunt.
7. A.J. Brown, WR, Ole Miss
Brown had a phenomenal 2017 campaign (1,252 yards, 11 touchdowns) in the Rebels’ up-tempo offense and didn’t see much of a drop off at all when Jordan Ta’amu had to replace Shea Patterson at quarterback. He’ll be the focal point offensively for Ole Miss once again this season and his ability to put up highlight-reel catches and break off big plays on the way to the end zone could be enough for a ticket to New York.
6. Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina
Samuel (right) missed most of last season for the Gamecocks but it’s pretty clear to everybody in the SEC just how good of a playmaker he is. In just three games, he managed three scores receiving, one rushing and added in two more on kick returns. That kind of versatility plays well with Heisman voters and if he can keep putting up those kinds of numbers over a full year, the speedster will easily be able to run all the way to the Big Apple.
5. Drew Lock, QB, Missouri
Lock was prolific leading the Tigers offense last year and was named the All-SEC first team quarterback after throwing for 44 touchdowns and nearly 4,000 yards. He’s much more of a household name going into this season as a result and the talk that he could be the first quarterback taken in the draft will certainly keep him in the conversation much of the year. If he can click with a new offensive coordinator and put up similar numbers while making the team an SEC East contender, Lock certainly will be right in the thick of the Heisman race.
4. Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State
Fitzgerald already enters the season as one of the SEC’s best signal-callers and the noted dual threat could be ready to put up even bigger numbers in new head coach Joe Moorhead’s offense. He’ll have a wealth of options to spread the ball around to and it certainly helps that there will be a good offensive line in front of him to hopefully stay healthy. It goes without saying that playing in the SEC means playing in big games and if Fitzgerald can lead an upset or two, he just might find himself headed to NYC in December.
3. Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia
All Fromm did as a true freshman was lead the Bulldogs to overtime of the national title game. He figures to shoulder more of the load on offense thanks to departures of his two main tailbacks and that should result in even bigger numbers after throwing for 2,615 yards and 24 touchdowns a year ago. While there is plenty of talk about incoming five-star QB Justin Fields in Athens, the presence of a talented youngster should push Fromm to be even better in 2018 and that could help him make the jump into the Heisman conversation.
2. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
We still don’t know for sure that Tagovailoa (above, right) will be the starting quarterback at Alabama but it seems like a pretty solid bet given his performance in the national title game and natural upside as a passer. Though he won’t be putting up huge numbers like some of his peers, leading the Crimson Tide back to the playoff again with some big offensive performances should be more than enough to get the native Hawaiian to New York.
1. Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn
Stidham is putting up numbers on the Plains not seen since the days of Cam Newton and he is once again primed to have a monster year throwing the ball around for the Tigers. One thing separates him from a lot of the other candidates in the SEC though: opportunity. Stidham will play three top 10 teams on the road in 2018 and that’s not even bringing up other major SEC West games like those against Mississippi State and Texas A&M. If he can guide Auburn back to Atlanta for another shot at the league title and playoff berth, the Texas native will certainly garner plenty of votes as one of the best players in the country.
-- Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.