With seven weeks completed, the midpoint of the 2015 college football season has officially arrived. And at the halfway point of the season, it’s time to take a look back at what’s transpired in the SEC so far and look ahead to the second half of 2015.
LSU running back Leonard Fournette is the biggest storyline in the SEC from the first seven weeks, as the sophomore is the frontrunner to win the Heisman and has guided the Tigers to a 6-0 start. Alabama stumbled against Ole Miss, but the Crimson Tide have rebounded with wins over Georgia and Texas A&M, setting up a huge showdown against LSU for the SEC West title on Nov. 7.
There’s still plenty to be decided in the SEC East as well. Florida and Georgia are the frontrunners, while Kentucky and Tennessee have two conference losses headed into Week 8.
Here are some award winners, plus second-half predictions from the SEC in 2015:
SEC Midseason Review and Second-Half Predictions
Offensive Player of the Year: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Fournette is the driving force behind LSU’s 6-0 start and playoff hopes this season. The sophomore has rushed for 1,202 yards and 14 touchdowns and has surpassed at least 150 yards in every game in 2015. Fournette recorded three straight games of at least 200 yards this season and ranks first nationally with an average of 200.3 rushing yards per game. The sophomore is also the frontrunner to win the Heisman.
Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Garrett has been unstoppable off the edge for new coordinator John Chavis, recording 30 tackles (11.5 for a loss) and 8.5 sacks through six games. The sophomore also has three forced fumbles and two pass breakups. With Garrett and Daeshon Hall coming off the edge, Texas A&M ranks third in the SEC with 20 sacks so far this year.
Coach of the Year: Jim McElwain, Florida
McElwain has pushed all of the right buttons in his first season in Gainesville. The Gators are off to a 6-1 start and emerged as the frontrunner to represent the East Division in Atlanta. Despite breaking in a new quarterback (Will Grier and now Treon Harris) and overcoming preseason question on the offensive line, Florida’s offense is averaging 31.6 points per game. The Gators fell short on the road against LSU (35-28) for their first loss of the year, but McElwain’s team picked up a win over Tennessee and a 38-10 rout over Ole Miss.
Freshman of the Year: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Scoring points hasn’t been a problem for Texas A&M in recent seasons, and this offense only got better with the addition of Kirk. The talented true freshman leads the team with 39 catches for 609 yards and four scores. He also averages 25.1 yards per punt return (with two touchdowns). Kirk leads all SEC receivers by averaging 101.5 receiving yards per game.
Related: 10 Coordinators on the Rise for 2015
Newcomer of the Year: Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss
Kelly started fast in his first season at Ole Miss, tossing nine touchdowns and recording back-to-back 300-yard games through the first three contests of 2015. Despite two losses over the Rebels’ last three matchups, Kelly continues to put up big numbers, as he threw for 372 yards in a loss to Memphis and completed 26 of 40 passes for 259 yards in the 38-10 defeat at Florida. Through seven games, Kelly is completing 65.5 percent of his passes and leads SEC quarterbacks by averaging 9.5 yards per attempt.
Biggest Disappointment: Auburn
Auburn started the year as a playoff contender, but the Tigers are 4-2 and nearly lost to FCS opponent Jacksonville State. Both sides of the ball have been problematic for coach Gus Malzahn. The offense is averaging only 5.3 yards per play and has only nine plays of 30 yards or more. New coordinator Will Muschamp was supposed to fix a defense that surrendered 32.8 points per game in SEC contests last season. However, Auburn isn’t much better in 2015, as this defense is giving up 29.7 points in league games and 5.8 yards per play.
Biggest Surprise: Florida
Plenty of question marks surrounded Florida in the preseason. Whether it was quarterback play, coaching transition or the performance of the offensive line, new coach Jim McElwain had his hands full. However, the Gators have emerged as the team to beat in the East and are 6-1 at the midpoint of the season. With quarterback Will Grier suspended for the rest of the year, Treon Harris is back in the starting role and completed 17 of 32 throws for 271 yards against one of the SEC’s top defenses. The offensive line isn’t perfect, but the Gators are still finding ways to show improvement on offense. McElwain may have to lean even more on his defense over the second half of 2015, but this unit is allowing only 17.3 points per game.
Four Things to Watch in the Second Half
1. Battle to Win East and West Divisions
A lot can change over the next few weeks, but Georgia and Florida are the favorites in the East, with Alabama and LSU at the top in the West. How will these divisions play out over the second half of the season? Can the Crimson Tide win out and play their way back into playoff contention? Or will LSU run the table? If Florida wins out, the Gators will be in the discussion for a playoff bid as well.
2. Leonard Fournette’s Heisman Chase
LSU running back Leonard Fournette is a heavy favorite to win the Heisman Trophy at the midpoint of the 2015 season. Fournette still has a few obstacles in his path, as the Tigers have a huge showdown ahead against Alabama and remaining games against Ole Miss and Texas A&M. Even if LSU stumbles against the Crimson Tide, can Fournette put up enough numbers to stay ahead of the pack?
3. Quarterback Play
Quarterback was considered a weak position for the SEC this preseason. So far, it’s hard to say quarterback play is a strength. However, the second half will be a proving ground for a couple of names. LSU’s Brandon Harris has showed promise, Florida has to go with Treon Harris after Will Grier’s suspension, while Greyson Lambert (Georgia) and Jake Coker (Alabama) are entrenched as the starter. These four quarterbacks will have a chance to answer some of the doubters in the next six weeks.
4. South Carolina's Coaching Search
Will South Carolina be the only SEC team with a head coaching vacancy this offseason? Shawn Elliott won his debut last Saturday as the interim coach, but the road will get tougher for the Gamecocks with matchups against Texas A&M, Tennessee and Clemson the rest of the way. How quickly will South Carolina move to fill this job at the end of the year?
Top Five Games in the Second Half
1. LSU at Alabama (Nov. 7)
Huge showdown in Tuscaloosa should decide winner of the SEC West. Leonard Fournette versus Alabama’s defense is a must-see matchup.
2. Florida vs. Georgia (Jacksonville – Oct. 31)
Florida’s upset over Georgia last season knocked the Bulldogs out of the top spot in the East Division. Can Georgia return the favor in 2015? Winner of this game should claim East Division title.
3. LSU at Ole Miss ((Nov. 21)
If LSU wins in Tuscaloosa, it still has to navigate a trip to Oxford and a home date against Texas A&M the following Saturday. The Tigers lost their last road date at Ole Miss (27-24) in 2013. Could the Rebels play spoiler?
4. Texas A&M at LSU (Nov. 28)
LSU has Texas A&M’s number since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012. Could that change in 2015? There’s also the intriguing storyline of Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis against his former team in this matchup.
5. Ole Miss at Mississippi State (Nov. 28)
Pencil in any of the rivalry matchups on the Nov. 28 Saturday here. The Ole Miss-Mississippi State showdown may not mean anything in terms of the SEC West title picture, but the Egg Bowl shouldn’t disappoint.