I’m being told by my editor that I need to support the above statement (Editor’s Note: Yes you do!), even though the reasoning should be simple to those of you who follow the SEC.
Well, here goes.
As a sophomore, Guice led the SEC and finished 20th in the FBS in rushing last season with 1,387 yards. If you don’t remember last season very well, Guice only started half the Tigers’ games because the best running back in the conference had lingering leg issues.
With Leonard Fournette getting a bulk of the carries—understandably so—when healthy, Guice had four games last year with five or fewer carries. That accounts for one-third of the games he played.
And let me repeat this: He still led the league in rushing.
Guice’s efficiency—albeit helped by being fresher than most players—was off the charts. He needed just 183 carries to nearly reach 1,400 yards. For comparison, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley racked up 1,496 yards on 272 carries.
The difference between them in yards per attempt? Two yards. Guice averaged 7.58 and Barkley was right at 5.5. NFL Network ranked both players in the Top 5 of its #CFBTop25 countdown, so I think that’s a fair comparison.
It’s not hard to imagine Guice reaching the 1,700-yard range in 2017. He should also see his touchdown total increase from 15 in 2016 to over 20 this time around.
Regardless of what anyone else does, those numbers would easily put him in the conversation for Offensive Player of the Year. If he were to win, Guice would be the first Tiger to earn the award since wide receiver Wendell Davis in 1987 (Note: They only handed out an overall Player of the Year award in those days—no Offensive and Defensive designations).
One of Guice’s biggest challenges will be overcoming the QB-colored glasses that most people wear when watching football. Since 2002 (when Player of the Year Awards were first split into Offense and Defense), only six running backs have earned the honor. Three of those played for Nick Saban’s Alabama and one of them was two-time winner Darren McFadden.
So you ideally have to be on an excellent team and have an outstanding season to be considered. You also have to unequivocally outshine all of the league’s quarterbacks, which could happen this season.
Defending OPOY Jalen Hurts looked shaky in the College Football Playoff National Championship game, and he could be end up relying on his supporting cast more this season. Other returning quarterbacks with some promise include Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald, Arkansas’ Austin Allen and Missouri’s Drew Lock.
Guice’s main opposition might be Auburn signal-caller Jarrett Stidham. If the Baylor transfer has a big season for the Tigers, Guice might need to be in the 2,000-yard, 25-touchdown range to win the award. Those numbers would also likely earn him an invitation to New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation.
A season like that is not out of the realm of possibility. I mean, did you see what Guice did against Texas A&M last year? Or against Arkansas? Or Missouri?
It would strongly help Guice’s case if he became more of a factor catching the ball out of the backfield. He had just nine receptions all of last season. Three of those came in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, which was his only game with multiple receptions and his only game with a receiving touchdown.
At the end of the day, the stage is set for Derrius Guice to have one of the best seasons by a running back in SEC history. If health—he has already been banged up this fall—and a lack of QB bias are on his side, expect him to bring the SEC Offensive Player of the Year award back to Baton Rouge.