While 2015 wasn’t the SEC’s best or deepest season in terms of overall team strength, the league still ended the year with eight teams with eight wins or more, including Alabama at 12-1 and No. 2 overall in the final College Football Playoff rankings. The Crimson Tide rallied from an early loss against Ole Miss to win the SEC title and finish with their eighth consecutive season of at least 10 victories.
The West Division was expected to be the best in college football this season, but Auburn finished 6-6, LSU’s offense sputtered down the stretch in a three-game losing streak, while Texas A&M was unable to build off the momentum from a 5-0 start. Arkansas and Tennessee took a step forward under third-year coaches, Ole Miss qualified for back-to-back New Year’s Six bowl games, and Florida surprised by winning the SEC East in coach Jim McElwain’s first season.
With the regular season completed and bowl season starting on Dec. 19, it’s time to recap and look back at the 2015 campaign. Athlon Sports offers its awards and honors the best players in the league with the first and second all-conference teams for the SEC:
SEC 2015 Season Awards
Offensive Player of the Year: Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
Henry was the catalyst behind Alabama’s offense in 2015, rushing for 1,986 yards and 23 scores in 13 regular season games. The junior recorded at least 200 yards in four out of his final seven matchups, including 271 in a 29-13 victory over rival Auburn. Henry averaged a healthy 5.86 yards per carry and led the SEC with nine rushing plays of 30 yards or more.
Runner Up: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Defensive Player of the Year: Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama
Alabama’s front seven was the best in college football this season, and Ragland was a key cog in a rush defense that held opponents to 2.4 yards per carry and generated 46 sacks. The senior recorded 90 stops (6.5 for a loss), 2.5 sacks, six pass breakups and two forced fumbles, while his ability to cover the field from sideline-to-sideline was a huge asset for coordinator Kirby Smart and coach Nick Saban.
Runner Up: Kentrell Brothers, LB, Missouri
Coach of the Year: Jim McElwain, Florida
McElwain made an immediate impact in his first season in Gainesville, guiding Florida to its first trip to the SEC Championship since 2009. The Gators finished the regular season at 10-3, which included a 27-3 victory over rival Georgia, a 38-10 win over Ole Miss and a last-minute 28-27 escape against Tennessee. McElwain still has work to do on offense, but the Gators were strong on defense, and the overall direction of this program is trending up headed into the bowl season.
Runner Up: Nick Saban, Alabama
Freshman of the Year (Offense): Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Alabama’s Calvin Ridley made a late push for this award, but Kirk was the SEC’s best all-around freshman in 2015. The true freshman led Texas A&M with 70 catches for 925 yards and six receiving touchdowns, scored on two punt returns and was the team’s top kickoff returner.
Runner Up: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Freshman of the Year (Defense): Dre Greenlaw, LB, Arkansas
It’s a tight battle for the SEC’s top defensive freshman of the year, but a slight edge goes to Greenlaw over Missouri linemen Walter Brady and Terry Beckner, along with Alabama cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick. Greenlaw ranked second among Arkansas defenders with 93 tackles (3.5 for a loss), one sack and two forced fumbles.
Runner Up: Walter Brady/Terry Beckner, DL, Missouri, Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama
Coordinator of the Year: Kirby Smart, Defensive Coordinator, Alabama
Smart has helped coach Nick Saban build some of the nation’s top defenses in recent seasons and is leaving Alabama at the end of this year to be the head coach at Georgia. Under Smart’s direction, the Crimson Tide held opponents to 4.2 yards per play and 14.4 points per game in 2015. Additionally, Alabama led the nation with 46 sacks and ranked sixth in third-down defense.
Runner Up: Barry Odom, Defensive Coordinator, Missouri/Dan Enos, Offensive Coordinator, Arkansas
Newcomer of the Year: Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss
Kelly quickly emerged as one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks in his first season in Oxford. The junior college transfer (and former Clemson quarterback) threw for 3,740 yards and 27 scores and rushed for 427 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Runner Up: Jake Ganus, LB, Georgia
Breakout Player: Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
After watching Vanderbilt’s defense surrender 33.3 points a game in 2014, coach Derek Mason decided to take over play-calling duties in 2015. The result was a much-improved defense for the Commodores, as Mason’s group limited opponents to 21 points a game and 5.2 yards per play. Cunningham’s emergence was a big reason why this defense improved, as the sophomore recorded 103 stops (16.5 for a loss), 4.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.
Runner Up: Drew Morgan, WR, Arkansas
SEC 2015 Postseason All-Conference Team
Dak PrescottMiss. State
QB Brandon AllenArkansas
RB Alex CollinsArkansas
RB Jalen HurdTennessee
Laquon TreadwellOle Miss
WR Calvin RidleyAlabama
Pharoh CooperSouth Carolina
WR Fred RossMiss. State
Christian KirkTexas A&M
WR Drew MorganArkansas
TE Evan EngramOle Miss
C Mike MatthewsTexas A&M
OT Dan SkipperArkansas
Laremy TunsilOle Miss
OT Dominick JacksonAlabama
OT Shon ColemanAuburn
OT Kyler KerbysonTennessee
Myles GarrettTexas A&M
DE Derek BarnettTennessee
DE Jarran ReedAlabama
DL Charles Harris (DE)Missouri
Robert NkemdicheOle Miss
DL Jonathan Allen (DE)Alabama
LB Skai MooreSouth Carolina
LB Zach CunninghamVanderbilt
LB Jalen Reeves-MaybinTennessee
Vernon Hargreaves IIIFlorida
CB De'Vante HarrisTexas A&M
CB Tre'Davious WhiteLSU
Trae ElstonOle Miss
S Marcus MayeFlorida
S Jamal AdamsLSU
K Taylor BertoletTexas A&M
Drew KaserTexas A&M
P Johnny TownsendFlorida
KR Brandon HollowayMiss. State
Christian KirkTexas A&M
PR Cameron SuttonTennessee