The bowl season was full of star performances. From Chad Kelly torching Oklahoma State to Leonard Fournette’s four touchdowns to Cyrus Jones’ big game in the College Football Playoff, it was a postseason to remember for some of the SEC's top players.
But what about the breakthrough performances? What about the performances by players that might not be stars yet but will be by this time next year?
Here are five emerging stars from this postseason we can’t wait to see in 2016.
WR Terry Godwin, Georgia: Once Jacob Eason arrives on campus, how long will it take before the five-star quarterback commitment reaches out to Godwin? It'd better be the first day because these two could be a dangerous combination for years to come. Godwin showed flashes all season, but he had the best game of his young career in Georgia’s bowl victory. The freshman caught four passes for 34 yards and a touchdown, and it was his 44-yard touchdown pass to Malcolm Mitchell on a trick play that got the Bulldogs going. Godwin can do a little bit of everything, and he has star written all over him.
DE Arden Key, LSU: On paper, it doesn’t look like Key did much in the bowl game: He was credited with just three tackles. But if you watched the game, you know his impact went much further than the final box score. The freshman was active all night, wreaking havoc in Texas Tech’s backfield. He consistently beat his man at the line of scrimmage and spent most of the game chasing down quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Key had a solid freshman season with 6.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks, and if he can put on some weight this offseason, he has the potential be one of the elite pass-rushers in the SEC.
LB Darrin Kirkland Jr., Tennessee: Had he started the first three games, Kirkland might have finished as one of the top tacklers in the SEC. The freshman still managed 60 tackles, five tackles for loss and two sacks, but he saved arguably his best performance for the bowl game. Kirkland recorded six tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack in Tennessee’s rout of Northwestern. His role will only increase next year, and if fellow linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin opts to leave early for the NFL draft, Kirkland likely will be asked to take over that defense – an important job for a team with such high expectations.
RB Jovon Robinson, Auburn: Looking ahead to 2016, the SEC is going to be loaded at running back. There’s Fournette, Nick Chubb, Jalen Hurd, Ralph Webb … the list goes on. Go ahead and add Robinson to that list. It took a while before Robinson, the No. 1 junior college transfer, got his opportunity, but he was mighty impressive once he started playing. In the bowl game, he was quick, showed good vision and proved difficult to bring down as he rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown in Auburn’s 31-10 win over Memphis. Afterward, it was clear that he's the most talented back on the roster heading into 2016.
TE Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas: Arkansas fans will sorely miss Hunter Henry next season. The junior tight end, who declared early for the NFL draft this week, did a little bit of everything for the Razorbacks. But they can take comfort knowing that Sprinkle is waiting in the wings. Sprinkle is a bigger, more athletic version of Henry, and it was clear the coaches wanted to use him in the bowl game. He caught four passes for 81 yards and a touchdown, and at one point they even drew up a reverse for Sprinkle. He’s a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, and he’ll get his opportunity next season.