Below is a list of candidates from each school in the SEC to have a “breakout” season in 2016-17.
Alabama — Bo Scarbrough, RB
The most hyped player on this list is without a doubt Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough.
He arrived on campus last year as a consensus five-star recruit, and was expected to become an immediate impact player for the Crimson Tide. Overshadowed by Heisman Trophy recipient Derrick Henry and hindered by injury, though, Scarbrough compiled only 104 yards and one touchdown during his freshman campaign. All signs point toward 2016 serving as a coming-out-party for the Tuscaloosa, Ala. native.
Arkansas — Rawleigh Williams, RB
For the first time since 2012, the Arkansas rushing attack will be led by someone other than Jonathan Williams or Alex Collins. The duo of Williams and Collins combined to rush for 4,216 yards and 32 touchdowns at their peak during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, with Collins rushing for 1,577 yards and 20 scores last season as his backfield mate’s collegiate career was cut short by a foot injury.
Replacing these two will be no simple task, but sophomore Rawleigh Williams has potential for success after earning SEC All-Freshman honors in 2015.
Auburn — Jovon Robinson, RB
The Auburn Tigers are looking to bounce back from a forgettable 2015 campaign in which they went 7-6 and finished dead last in the SEC West, and with Peyton Barber leaving school early for the NFL, they will attempt to do so with a new starting running back.
The man filling Barber’s shoes will be a familiar face in senior Jovon Robinson. The junior college transfer will be handed the bulk of the rushing load for the Tigers in a year that could have heavy implications on the future of head coach Gus Malzahn.
Florida — Luke Del Rio, QB
The Florida Gators were picked to finish second in the SEC East at last week’s SEC Media Days, which considering their quarterback situation, is pretty impressive.
The Gators have yet to name a starting quarterback with just over a month until the season begins, with a pair of transfers in Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby appearing to be the favorites to claim the job. Del Rio, son of Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio, is considered to have the edge in the competition. Regardless of who Florida’s starting quarterback is, the Gators will have a chance to make a name for themselves in an SEC East that could be facing a down year.
Georgia — Elijah Holyfield, RB
With the electric duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel slated to dominate Georgia’s carries this season, Elijah Holyfield was expected to fade to the background in 2016. When Michel sustained an off-the-field injury during the Fourth of July, though, all of that changed.
Holyfield, whose father Evander Holyfield,is regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all-time, could potentially start week one for the Bulldogs if Chubb is not at 100 percent.
Kentucky — Stanley “Boom” Williams, RB
The Kentucky Wildcats have posted six consecutive losing seasons, a streak that spans the entire tenures of two head coaches. If this trend is going to come to a close in 2016, the Wildcats are going to need a strong performance from Stanley “Boom” Williams.
The junior running back has led Kentucky in rushing during each of his first two years on campus, and is easily the team’s top offensive playmaker heading into the upcoming season.
LSU — Derrius Guice, RB
Heisman hopeful Leonard Fournette is the unquestioned star in LSU’s backfield, but the SEC is about to become well-acquainted with his backup — sophomore Derrius Guice — as well.
The Texas A&M Aggies and South Carolina Gamecocks already are. Guice torched the two teams for a combined 234 rushing yards and two touchdowns while averaging nine yards per carry. The Baton Rouge, La. native finished his freshman year having rushed for a total of 436 yards and three touchdowns with an 8.5 yards per carry average.
Mississippi State — Nick Fitzgerald, QB
There is no player in the SEC that will be missed more by his former team than departed Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott.
Prescott led the Bulldogs to their best season of the 20th century as a junior in 2014, as the team climbed to No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the first time ever before finishing the year with a 10-3 record. During this time, and throughout the rest of his collegiate career, the dual-threat quarterback rewrote the Mississippi State record books.
Merely by the fact that he is replacing arguably the greatest player in program history, redshirt sophomore Nick Fitzgerald has an opportunity to burst onto the scene in the SEC this season.
Missouri — Terry Beckner Jr., DT
Terry Beckner Jr. arrived at Mizzou with high expectations last season, but fell short during a freshman campaign marred by injury trouble.
The Mizzou athletic department is an utter mess at the moment, with former athletic director Mack Rhoades bolting for Baylor on the eve of SEC Media Days. First-year head coach Barry Odom faces an uphill battle in 2016, and a breakout performance from his talented defensive tackle would be a major boost.
Ole Miss — Quincy Adeboyejo, WR
First team All-SEC wide receiver Laquon Treadwell is no longer on campus after being selected in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, but fortunately for Ole Miss, senior quarterback Chad Kelly is back. The greatest question mark surrounding the SEC’s top passing offense of 2015 is who Kelly will turn to without his No. 1 target from last year.
Damore’ea Stringfellow is a popular pick due to his massive potential. Quincy Adeboyejo, however, is a production machine who led all returning Ole Miss receivers with 38 receptions for 604 yards and seven touchdowns in 2015.
South Carolina — Bryson Allen-Williams, OLB
The loss of Skai Moore — arguably the top outside linebacker in the SEC — for the entire season generated a need for somebody to step up among the Gamecocks’ linebacker corps.
At the moment, Bryson Allen-Williams is the only linebacker appearing to have locked up a starting job, and was already slated to play a big role during his junior year prior to Moore’s injury. His performance could be a significant factor in whether or not South Carolina is respectable in Will Muschamp’s first year with the program.
Tennessee — Kahlil McKenzie, DT
The Tennessee Volunteers are receiving no shortage of attention this offseason, having been picked to win the SEC East, but defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie has managed to fly under the radar for the most part. That could change immediately upon the start of the upcoming season.
McKenzie did not start a game as a true freshman in 2015, but it is only a matter of time before he becomes a weekly headache for opposing offenses. His responsibilities will increase drastically during his sophomore season, and his production should follow suit.
Texas A&M — Trevor Knight, QB
The Texas A&M Aggies were an utter joke last December, as both of their starting quarterbacks from the 2015 season transferred prior to the team’s Music City Bowl loss to Louisville that later month. When Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight joined the Aggies shortly after the new year, people stopped laughing.
Knight is not an elite quarterback, and there is a reason why he was never able to secure the starting job in three seasons with the Sooners. He is being handed the keys to a dangerous offense headlined by a pair of explosive wide receivers in Josh Reynolds and Christian Kirk, though, and could emerge as a star in his final year of collegiate eligibility.
Vanderbilt — Kyle Shurmur, QB
The Vanderbilt football program has taken a turn for the worst since James Franklin left for Penn State two years ago, and in 2016, current head coach Derek Mason is on the hot seat.
Mason does have something working in his favor for the upcoming season, though; stability at arguably the two most important positions on the field. First team All-SEC middle linebacker Zach Cunningham is already a household name within the conference. And although he is a relative unknown outside of Nashville, Tenn., Shurmur has a chance to lead the Commodores back toward prominence after a pair of losing seasons.