There are 39 bowl games plus a national championship this year, but with the college football regular season finished, let's take stock of the regular season, conference by conference, with league awards and grades for every Power Five team. The series already covered the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12. We end with the SEC.
Offensive Player of the Year: Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn. Johnson wasn't even supposed to be the Tigers' lead runner this year, but with Kamryn Pettway dealing with nagging injuries, Johnson emerged as a star alongside new QB Jarrett Stidham in the Auburn backfield. Johnson rushed for 895 yards as the No. 2 back last year, and this year he emerged with 263 carries for 1,320 yards and 17 TDs, grinding out yards and consistently producing at a high level in SEC play for the SEC West champions.
Defensive Player of the Year: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia. A Bulldogs defense loaded with experience took a huge step forward this season, ranking sixth in yards per play allowed to help fuel the team's rise to an SEC championship. Smith has been the centerpiece. Athletic and experienced with excellent range and the ability to adeptly defend the run and drop into coverage, Smith has 113 tackles and 10 ½ tackles for loss. He didn't necessarily fill the stat sheet in a variety of ways, but watch Georgia's defense, and Smith's impact is clear. He made a strong argument as the nation's best defender.
Coach of the Year: Kirby Smart, Georgia. In this calendar year, Smart has signed the No. 3 recruiting class of 2017, led Georgia to its first SEC title since 2005 and cleaned up in the 2018 early signing period with a class that currently ranks No. 1. The Bulldogs went just 8-5 in his debut, but this season, Smart built a fantastic defense that paired with a dominant running game to leap to the top of the SEC East. And after losing to Auburn in November, the Bulldogs get revenge, easily beating the Tigers in the SEC championship game to earn a trip to the Rose Bowl for the College Football Playoff.
Freshman of the Year: Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia. Georgia's offense was built around the running game, but beyond a tough performance in the loss to Auburn, Fromm handled his true freshman season superbly. Jacob Eason entered the season as the starter, but Fromm was forced into action after Eason was injured in Week 1. Fromm never let go of the job, completing 63 percent of his passes for 2,173 yards, 21 TDs and five INTs. He ranks sixth nationally in passer rating and yards per attempt, and he became the second true freshman quarterback to lead a team to the playoff, joining Alabama's Jalen Hurts last year.
How successful should this season be viewed by each team? Grades for each team's season reflect 2017 achievements within the context of program history and expectations.
Georgia (12-1): A. The only stain on Georgia's resume was a 23-point road loss to Auburn on Nov. 11. Three weeks later, the Bulldogs made that loss irrelevant, as they beat Auburn by 21 in the SEC championship game. Everything came together to make this one of the best -- if not the best -- Georgia football season since it won the national championship in 1980. Led by a veteran defense, a veteran running game (it still feels unbelievable that both Nick Chubb and Sony Michel stayed all four years) and true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, Georgia won its first SEC championship since 2005, beat Tennessee 41-0, beat Florida 42-7, beat Georgia Tech 38-7, won by a point at Notre Dame and, as mentioned, got revenge against Auburn with the conference title on the line. The Bulldogs dominated their rivals, built a dominant defense and had 10 wins by at least 21 points. After struggling to get over the hump in the last several years of the Mark Richt era, Georgia won big games in impressive fashion and took a huge leap forward from Kirby Smart's first year (8-5) to his second year, sending the Bulldogs to a playoff semifinal at the Rose Bowl with a chance to compete for the national title. Georgia was viewed as a sleeping giant of sorts -- this is its first major bowl game in a decade -- and Smart is unlocking that potential both on the field and on the recruiting trail.
Alabama (11-1): A-. Alabama lost to Auburn, and Alabama did not win the SEC West, let alone the entire SEC. That makes this season sound like a failure, especially compared to the Crimson Tide's past decade of success under Nick Saban. But … Alabama still made the College Football Playoff, and any season that ends with a trip to the playoff, and thus a chance to win a national title, has to be graded in the "A" range. The Tide spent the first two months of the season crushing just about everyone, from the 24-7 win over an overrated Florida State to back-to-back wins over Vanderbilt and Ole Miss by a combined score of 125-3 to a 45-7 win over Tennessee. However, the schedule was weaker than usual, and the biggest tests came in November, when the Tide beat LSU by 14, barely escaped Mississippi State by seven and lost at Auburn by 12. Injuries on defense have been a problem, particularly at linebacker, and this remains a one-dimensional passing game in which Calvin Ridley has 55 catches and nobody else has more than 13. Of course, for all the criticism of Jalen Hurts as a passer, he's led Alabama to a 25-2 record over the past two seasons. This is still the most talented roster in college football, and thus it has as good of a chance as anybody in the playoff to bring home another national title.
Auburn (10-3): A-. The 2017 season represented a strong rebound for Auburn in which it finally met expectations and had a solid top-10 season. In the past nine years, the Tigers played for the national championship twice and finished with at least five losses (and no more than eight wins) in every other season. This year, they lost a pair of frustrating regular-season games -- 10 sacks allowed to Clemson, a blown 20-point lead at LSU -- but the offense snapped out of a multi-year funk thanks in part to the arrival of quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who allowed the Tigers to stretch the field through the air. Meanwhile, the defense has been fantastic for the second year in a row under coordinator Kevin Steele, with a disruptive front leading the charge for a unit that ranks ninth in yards per play allowed. Auburn could have easily slid to 8-4 in November, perhaps ending the Gus Malzahn era; instead, the Tigers beat rivals Georgia and Alabama, who were both ranked No. 1 at the time, by double digits each to win the SEC West. Georgia turned the tables on Auburn in the SEC title game to prevent the Tigers from wining a conference championship, but it's nevertheless been a successful season that got Auburn back on track as it heads to the Peach Bowl.
Mississippi State (8-4): B. The end of the season was undeniably frustrating: Mississippi State lost standout QB Nick Fitzgerald to an injury in the Egg Bowl, which it lost to Ole Miss. Head coach Dan Mullen then left for the Florida job. It's nevertheless been a relatively successful season in Starkville. A bowl win over Louisville would give the Bulldogs just their 14th AP top-25 finish ever. They earned their biggest margin of victory against LSU ever, 37-7, one of six wins by at least three touchdowns. Fitzgerald and Aeris Williams formed a potent one-two punch in the ground game, and the defense improved from 103rd to 40th in yards per play allowed. The season just wasn't quite what it could have been, as Mississippi State followed the blowout win over LSU with blowout losses to Auburn and Georgia, lost a heartbreaker to Alabama and then ended on the Egg Bowl low note.
Missouri (7-5): B. Back in mid-October, this season was heading for an "F" grade. The Tigers started 1-5, beating an FCS team before losing five in a row. That included a 35-3 home loss to Purdue, and they allowed over 30 points in each of their first six games. However, fortunes changed down the stretch. Although Missouri still hasn't beaten a bowl-bound team, give credit to the Tigers for waking up on both sides of the ball and winning six in a row to end the regular season. They beat Idaho by 47, UConn by 40, Florida by 29, Tennessee by 37 and Vanderbilt by 28 before edging Arkansas 48-45 in the finale. Led by QB Drew Lock and offensive coordinator Josh Heupel -- who got the UCF head coaching job -- Missouri ranks sixth in yards per play and ninth in scoring. Plus, the previously maligned defense stepped up and took advantage of a late-season schedule featuring lackluster opposing offense. After back-to-back losing seasons and a 1-5 start to 2017, 7-5 sounds pretty great.
LSU (9-3): B. The grade for a season in which LSU spent September losing at home to Troy and losing at Mississippi State by 30 can only go so high. But after that rough start that led to widespread questions about whether Ed Orgeron really was the right man for the job, LSU bounced back and won six of its final seven regular-season games, including a comeback win over Auburn that helped change how this season would be perceived. LSU still lost to Alabama, yes, but that the Tigers have a chance for a 10-win season if they beat Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl seems like a minor miracle, given the way that the season started, and given that they dealt with injuries to their two biggest stars, RB Derrius Guice and DE Arden Key. The transition to Matt Canada's offense didn't always go smoothly, but in a year of upheaval in the SEC, LSU looked impressive and stable by the end of the regular season. Instead of letting Alabama beat it twice, LSU responded by blowing out Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas A&M to get to nine wins. It's not exactly where LSU wants to be, but a top-20 ranking is satisfying compared to where this season could have gone.
South Carolina (8-4): B. South Carolina went 3-9 the year before Will Muschamp took over as widely criticized coaching hire. He improved the Gamecocks to 6-7 in his debut, and now he's gone 8-4 in Year 2. The Muschamp era has been a mild success so far, as the team has improved each year. This season was still somewhat difficult to judge: The Gamecocks won a somewhat fluky opener against N.C. State, then easily beat a Missouri team that started the year terribly. They then pulled out tight wins against Louisiana Tech, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Florida. They scored 17 points or less in losses to Kentucky, Texas A&M, Georgia and Clemson, and the offense struggled after a season-ending injury to all-purpose weapon Deebo Samuel. The Gamecocks rank 83rd in yards per play on offense and 43rd on defense, and Muschamp decided to fire offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. Jake Bentley is a talented, high-upside quarterback, but both Bentley and the South Carolina offense still have a ton of room for improvement.
Kentucky (7-5): B-. There's still a ceiling on Kentucky football, and despite down years from both Tennessee and Florida, the Wildcats can't quite break through. After starting 5-1 -- with yet another heartbreaking loss to Florida in which they blew a 13-point lead -- the Wildcats lost four of six down the stretch, with a 38-point loss to Mississippi State, a 29-point loss to Georgia and a 27-point loss to Louisville. Despite the 7-5 record, Kentucky ranks 94th in the Football Outsiders S&P+ ratings and 58th in the Massey composite. Mark Stoops has undeniably improved Kentucky, as it is going bowling in back-to-back years after a five-year drought, but the school has now lost at least five games in 33 consecutive seasons.
Ole Miss (6-6): B-. Given the circumstances, getting to six wins without being allowed to be bowl-eligible is a mild success, and it's part of the reason that interim coach Matt Luke, who was the offensive line coach under Hugh Freeze (fired in the summer), was promoted to the permanent job. With problems on defense, the lingering NCAA scandal, an in-season injury to starting quarterback Shea Patterson (who has since transferred to Michigan) and Freeze's preseason ouster, there was a lot working against the Rebels this season. At times, that showed, like the 63-point loss to Alabama. The defense ranks 99th in yards per play allowed, and while the offense was occasionally prolific, it was also inconsistent. Still, with Jordan Ta'amu at quarterback, the Rebels won three of their last four games, including road trips to both Kentucky and, most importantly, Mississippi State, the latter of which was a win that made the entire season feel better.
Vanderbilt (5-7): C+. On Sept. 16, Vanderbilt beat Kansas State 14-7. It was an impressive nonconference victory for Derek Mason's Commodores, who appeared to have a lights-out defense against a preseason top-20 team. And then Alabama visited Nashville. Seven days after the Kansas State win, Vanderbilt lost 59-0 to Alabama, a rout in which the Commodores were outgained 677-78 and had 35 fewer first downs. It sent Vandy on a tailspin in which it lost seven straight SEC games in which that previously praised defense allowed at last 34 points every time. Vandy only snapped out of it in the regular-season finale, when it inflicted further humiliation upon Tennessee's season with a 42-24 win over the Vols. It's that victory that earns a "+" on the "C." This wasn't a great Vanderbilt football season, but ensuring a winless SEC season for Tennessee can't help but be viewed as an enormous positive for the Commodores.
Texas A&M (7-5): C. Kevin Sumlin entered 2017 on the hot seat for a couple of reasons: 1) Texas A&M was plagued by post-Manziel instability at quarterback and 2) the Aggies became known for fast starts only to collapse in the second half of the season. This year, they got the collapse over with in Week 1: The Aggies built a 44-10 lead over UCLA, only to lose 45-44, as the Bruins staged the second-biggest comeback ever. While Texas A&M won its next four games, recovering from the UCLA collapse was impossible. Losing three of four in the middle of the season, including a 35-14 home loss to Mississippi State, all but sealed Sumlin's fate, and he was dismissed after a blowout finale loss to LSU. The Aggies rank 89th in passer rating in a season in which freshmen Kellen Mond and Nick Starkel both saw action, and it's the fourth straight year they've lost five games.
Arkansas (4-8): D. Hiring Bret Bielema from Wisconsin was an impressive move by Arkansas after the Bobby Petrino mess, but Bielema could never get Arkansas over the hump. The high point was an 8-5 season in 2015, and this year the Razorbacks tumbled to 4-8 overall and 1-7 in the SEC. Bielema was fired after five seasons, and athletic director Jeff Long was also ousted. QB Austin Allen's injury troubles hurt, but Arkansas had many problems, including an offensive line that was below Bielema's typical standards over the past couple years and a defense that ranks 116th in yards per play allowed. Arkansas allowed over 40 points five times, and the season produced Bielema's fourth losing record in SEC play in five years.
Florida (4-7): D-. Florida won back-to-back SEC East titles in Jim McElwain's first two seasons, but neither team's performance was satisfying. The offense could not get out of its rut. Still, Jim McElwain not even making it through his third season in Gainesville couldn't help but be shocking. Florida won its first three SEC games, including a 26-20 win over Tennessee on the last play of the game, but it stumbled to 4-7 overall and 3-5 in the conference. McElwain was fired after a 42-7 loss to Georgia on Oct. 28, due to a combination of the team's performance and his deteriorating relationship with university decision-makers. Florida's offense continued to be a mess, ranking 103rd in yards per play and 114th in passer rating, and those problems were compounded by the collapse of the defense. With Will Muschamp's players mostly gone, Florida fell from seventh to 74th in yards per play allowed.
Tennessee (4-8): F. Florida's season was but, but at least it beat Tennessee. The Vols were actually ranked in the AP top 25 early in the season, thanks in part to their overtime escape against Georgia Tech on Labor Day, but a rough past decade ended up hitting a new low. Butch Jones improved the Vols over his first four years, but 2016's 9-4 record felt like a missed opportunity, as the team went 4-4 in the SEC despite it being a weak year in the SEC East. With significant pressure on Jones and a lot of turnover on the roster, Tennessee ended up having its worst season in decades, going 0-8 in the SEC with a 41-0 loss to Georgia, a 45-7 loss to Alabama, a 50-17 loss to Missouri, a 30-10 loss to LSU and, finally, a 42-24 loss to Vanderbilt. Tennessee went three straight games against Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama without scoring an offensive touchdown. Jones was fired after the loss at Missouri on Nov. 11, and things continued to get worse even after the season, with an adventurous coaching search that including an athletic director change.
Sports on Earth All-SEC Team
QB: Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
RB: Kerryon Johnson, Auburn
RB: Nick Chubb, Georgia
WR: A.J. Brown, Ole Miss
WR: Calvin Ridley, Alabama
TE: Hayden Hurst, South Carolina
OL: Jonah Williams, Alabama
OL: Braden Smith, Auburn
OL: Isaiah Wynn, Georgia
OL: Martinas Rankin, Mississippi State
OL: Will Clapp, LSU
DE: Jeff Holland, Auburn
DE: Raekwon Davis, Alabama
DT: Jeffery Simmons, Mississippi State
DT: Da'Ron Payne, Alabama
LB: Roquan Smith, Georgia
LB: Devin White, LSU
LB: Rashaan Evans, Alabama
CB: Donte Jackson, LSU
CB: Carlton Davis, Auburn
S: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
S: Armani Watts, Texas A&M
K: Daniel Carlson, Auburn
P: Johnny Townsend, Florida