'Tis the season. We are less than 100 days away from kickoff to the college football season and it's time to prognosticate.
The following series is purely a time waster for you and I. We're going to pass the intervening weeks and days together by discussing those future icons of 2016. The guys that defined their position and, consequently, were awarded for it at the end of the year.
Yes, watch lists are already being released for these individual awards. This is just an exercise in highlighting those players from the Southeastern Conference who may be in the running at their respective positions. Obviously, I'm not omniscient, so any other number of players not mentioned below could end up making the cut. Just spitballin' right now.
This will be fun. You will enjoy it. Hahahahahahahaha FOOTBALL.
Today, we're going to start with the Davey O'Brien Award, given to the top quarterback.
Jacob Eason (Georgia)
Let's just get this one out of the way because I feel as ridiculous bringing it up as you think I am reading it. We don't know if true freshman Jacob Eason is going to be starting, but we do know that he was the crown jewel keeper for Kirby Smart when he got to Athens. He's the measurable quarterback, who, according to Rivals, is 6'5", 207 pounds (this probably means he's 5'10", 162).
That aside, the best decision for Smart was to bring on Jim Chaney, a quarterback whisperer of sorts; a terrific offensive coordinator with a high success rate of getting the best out of his gunslingers (Jonathan Crompton, Brandon Allen, Nathan Peterman). While there shouldn't be too much of an expectation for Eason to be the guy, recent history has taught us with a true frosh like Josh Rosen last season, the brainiacs tend to have a real shot.
Being a Saban acolyte, Smart is going to be wary giving the keys to an 18-year-old, but Eason got to campus early, had a pretty decent G-Day game and made 93,000 adoring fans very excited. He may not be the starter in the Georgia Dome against UNC, but depending upon Greyson Lambert's output, it's not too far-fetched to think he could carry them through the rest of the season.
This is the "watchiest" of the ones to watch for the Davey O'Brien. We just need to all be aware of his presence.
Brandon Harris (LSU)
Recent history has taught us that Les Miles and whichever offensive coordinator is working for him will rely upon a punishing ground game and a stifling defense to win games. It worked in 2007 and 2011 to the tune of two national championship appearances and one title. Yet, 2013 with Zach Mettenberger was the only prolific season a quarterback has had under Miles (3,082 yards, 22 TDs, 8 INT).
Harris, on the surface, doesn't seem to be much of an aberration from the norm. He did, however, show flashes of gamechanger ability in big games last season and with a full year under his belt and Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural to throw to, is it that out-of-bounds to think he can be one of the top quarterbacks in the conference in 2016?
I understand who LSU's running back is. We'll get to him when we discuss the Doak Walker Award, but think about it for a second: Cam Cameron was given a second full season with Mettenberger under center in 2013 and Mettenberger shined. Up until now, Cameron hasn't had the luxury of a repeat QB. This season's could actually be one of the more exciting offenses that Miles has fielded at LSU and, with dual-threat capabilities, Harris could be the driving force behind it.
Chad Kelly (Mississippi)
Coming into the season, no SEC quarterback will be as discussed as Chad Kelly. He threw for 4,042 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2015, so it stands to reason that he'll be the mantle guy for the conference. While he doesn't have Laquon Treadwell to throw to anymore, he does have Evan Engram at tight end.
If those two can lock into each other early in the season, it will open up a slew of opportunities for guys like Markell Pack and Demore'ea Stringfellow (a Key & Peele-worthy name, for sure). Hugh Freeze's offense is built for guys like Chad Kelly. While Bo Wallace had Stephen Garcia-like moments of brilliance, Kelly is a much better passer. He makes very good reads in an offense that allows for seventeen different options on any given play.
Last season, Kelly was simply destructive against outmatched opponents and he left an Alabama defense scratching their heads for four full quarters. There is always a chance that in a hit-or-miss offense like Ole Miss' that Kelly could take a step back, but it won't be enough to not give him the most eye-popping, award-trolling stats in the SEC. As it stands right now, Chad Kelly is the SEC's best chance for a Davey O'Brien appearance at the end of the year.
Joshua Dobbs (Tennessee)
Something needs to break through for Josh Dobbs. He's fast, he has a good arm and he's smarter than everyone. With weapons like Jalen Hurd, Josh Malone and Alvin Kamara around him, Dobbs can shine. He's entering his second full season as a starter for the Vols and he should be torching defenses. One cannot say if it's UT offensive coordinator Mike DeBord's scheme or not, but Dobbs just hasn't attained...it. At least, yet.
He accounted for a total of 24 touchdowns in 2015 (15 passing, 9 rushing), which isn't bad necessarily, but you just have to think that he can do so much more. Does his intelligence keep him from taking Manzielian-like risks? Who's to say? He did only throw five picks last year, which is always a good thing.
Dobbs is the kind of player who can transcend scheme. If you placed him in Lane Kiffin's or Cam Cameron's or Hugh Freeze's offenses, he would probably be just as successful as he is with his current team. He's not a one-trick pony. He can take what the defense is giving him and be counted on not to make a terrible mistake.
He led his team through an albeit-easier schedule of five straight wins last year and with Florida, Alabama and Missouri all coming to Knoxville this season, Dobbs could be the ringleader for the SEC East's rep at the conference championship. This is the guy that people need to take note of, because if he's the Tennessee quarterback who finally breaks THE losing streak, it...will...be...on.
Trevor Knight (Texas A&M)
Kevin Sumlin hasn't had the best off-season: his two former five-star quarterbacks transferred out and he had to fire his offensive coordinator of the last three years. Add in hot-seat rumors and you can feel it slipping away from him a little bit. Enter his Knight in Shining Armor (Shut up, you love it).
Trevor Knight will forever be remembered for one game. Sure, if he really goes above and beyond in Noel Mazzone's offense this season, he could break through his 2014 Sugar Bowl performance against Kick Six-traumatized Alabama. Aside from being the object of Katy Perry's affection, though, Knight never achieved the type of notoriety that he's obviously capable of.
Your rep takes a hit when you're usurped by a walk-on. This is Knight's moment, though. Mazzone is the steady type of hand that Knight needs. As highlighted in this terrific interview, Mazzone employs tempo (something Knight was able to flummox 'Bama with) and easier reads. Knight also has a cadre of receiving weapons at his disposal (Christian Kirk, Speedy Noil, Ricky Seals-Jones, etc.).
With a fifth-year mentality, this may be exactly what Trevor Knight needs to be the top quarterback in the SEC. What does he have left to lose? Throw it out and see what sticks. Metaphorically speaking, of course.