LSU Tigers running back Derrius Guice might be the best offensive talent in the SEC, but bad coaching in the conference might ruin his chance at a Heisman.
Few programs have as much in-state talent as the LSU Tigers down in Louisiana. The Bayou Bengals are the only Power 5 school in the state and are considered an SEC blue-blood by all accounts. However, winning on the recruiting trails wasn’t enough to keep Les Miles around for even half of the 2016 college football season.
He was canned after losing on the last play of the game to SEC West rival Auburn. LSU would somewhat salvage its season thanks to the charismatic leadership of interim and now head coach Ed Orgeron, as well as the brilliant play of two running backs: Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice.
Fournette was a running back prodigy out of New Orleans; a tailback destined to go in the first round of the NFL Draft after three years in Baton Rouge. Though his tenure at LSU largely underwhelmed, albeit to ridiculously high standards, Fournette went No. 4 overall to the toothless Jacksonville Jaguars.
While Fournette garnered most of the buzz last year, it was actually Guice who was the more reliable running back. As a true sophomore, Guice rushed for 1,387 yards on 183 carries for 15 touchdowns. He even added another touchdown on nine catches for 106 yards as a receiver. While Fournette was bulldozing a lousy Ole Miss team, it was Guice who gave the Bayou Bengals offense hope. Look for him to do the same in 2017.
The cloud of dust settled behind Fournette’s NFL departure, and now, what LSU sees is its best Heisman Trophy contender since some dude called The Honey Badger started pulling off insane feats in the secondary back in 2011. While the SEC was one of two Power 5 conferences to not send a player to New York for the 2016 Heisman ceremony, one could argue that Guice is the Obi-Wan Kenobi for the SEC this year.
Sure, other promising tailbacks like Nick Chubb of Georgia and Bo Scarbrough of Alabama have a shot, but Guice is the only one of them who will be a bell-cow back for his school this year. Chubb will have to split carries with Sony Michel and Scarbrough has Damien Harris as well as Joshua Jacobs backing him up. Can we really even trust an SEC quarterback to do enough to get to New York, anyway?
Frankly, all this Heisman hype doesn’t really matter. We’ve still got 12 games of football to be played before any of that nonsense. Is Guice the best offensive player in the SEC? He could very well be, but his on-field talent might be wasted for a middling LSU team.
Have you looked at the LSU schedule? The Tigers have to play an unheard of five SEC road games thanks to whatever we want to call that debacle involving Hurricane Matthew. LSU might be, at best, the third-best team in the SEC West behind Alabama and Auburn. In short, the Bayou Bengals will have to execute at a ridiculously high level to even get to 10 wins behind their lovable retread Coach O. Geaux Tigers!
So what we’re getting at is the best offensive player in the SEC has virtually no shot of winning the Heisman Trophy?
In a nutshell, yes, because the best player on an 8-4 LSU team isn’t going to take the spot of a stat Sooner State quarterback, a pro-level Pac-12 signal caller or a bruising Big Ten bell-cow back. What’s the reason for this? It’s simple: The SEC has become by far and away the worst coached conference in the Power 5.
Who is the second-best head coach in the SEC anyway after Nick Saban? One of his former Alabama coordinators? Gus Malzahn? Dan Mullen? Kevin Sumlin, who needs to win 10 games to not get the axe in 2017? The other Power 5 conferences may not recruit players like the SEC does, but they are sure beating the snot out of the SEC in the coaching department — it’s borderline embarrassing.
In this hypothetical, let’s say Guice can go play for any Power 5 school that’s not in the SEC. If he goes to Clemson, Louisville, Michigan, Stanford or Washington, Guice is a shoe-in to make it to New York if he plays up to his potential. While we can’t expect the Heisman voters to give Guice the proverbial Paul Hornung Notre Dame treatment should LSU have a so-so season, the SEC coaching problem is something the conference needed to get right yesterday.
Instead of trying to beat 65-year-old Nick Saban, try to hire a guy that would even get an interview should a blue-blood job open up in the Power 5. The passion of SEC football fans is essentially a Saturday religious experience. SEC fans deserve better than the face of the programs they are getting.
To expect the SEC will run the college football landscape like it did the previous decade for the next 10 years is ludicrous. Just not to the degree that its best talent can’t get to New York because it has to rely on former second-tier Purdue quarterbacking talent to win conference games.
Beating Saban is great in the SEC, as it gets so-so coaches raises. What is better than beating Saban is beating guys like Jimbo Fisher, Jim Harbaugh, Urban Meyer, Chris Petersen, David Shaw and Dabo Swinney in the non-conference and bowl games.
Does the SEC need to send a player like Guice to the Heisman ceremony? Absolutely, not just because it makes Guice and Coach O look good, but it is a coaching referendum on the SEC if the conference goes 0-for again with Heisman finalists. The on-field talent is here, but the coaching is definitely not.