We take our final weekly look at the offensive player of the year, defensive player of the year and coach of the year races in the SEC before doing it for real next week following the SEC championship game:
Offensive Player of the Year
1. Auburn quarterback Cam Newton: Not only has Newton been the best player in the SEC, but he’s been the best player in college football, which should only be reinforced next week when the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner is announced. He’s the first player in the SEC and one of nine players ever in the FBS ranks to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.
2. Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett: A strong finish has pushed Mallett to the No. 2 spot behind Newton. He leads the SEC with 3,592 passing yards and 30 touchdowns and has played his best football down the stretch during the Hogs’ six-game winning streak.
3. South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore: Few true freshmen have come into this league and had the kind of impact Lattimore has for the Gamecocks this season. He leads all SEC running backs with an average of 101.3 rushing yards per game and has 19 touchdowns, which is one away from tying the SEC freshman record.
4. Kentucky receiver Randall Cobb: The only disappointment is that his team didn’t break through and win more games, but that was no fault of Cobb’s. He accounted for 16 touchdowns four different ways and leads the league with 79 receptions and 2,192 all-purpose yards.
Defensive Player of the Year
1. Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley: He delivered yet again last Friday when the Tigers needed him against Alabama with a couple of huge plays. No defender in the league has been as consistently disruptive as Fairley, who has an SEC-leading 20 tackles for loss, including 9.5 sacks.
2. LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson: One of the premier defensive backs in college football, Peterson has been exceptional for the Tigers this season in every way. He has four interceptions and is the most complete cornerback to come through this league in a long time.
3. Georgia outside linebacker Justin Houston: The SEC’s sacks leader with 10, Houston had an interception to seal Georgia’s 42-34 win over Georgia Tech last week and also returned a fumble 18 yards for a touchdown. Over and above his sacks, he has a staggering 42 quarterback hurries this season.
4. LSU defensive tackle Drake Nevis: Although overshadowed at times by Fairley, Nevis has had a stellar season in his own right and leads all SEC interior defensive linemen with 56 total tackles, including 13 for loss.
Coach of the Year
1. Auburn’s Gene Chizik: Not many people picked the Tigers in the West this season, and nobody picked them to go unbeaten in the regular season. Their halftime adjustments both offensively and defensively have been right on the money all season, and Chizik has done a nice job of getting his team to focus on what’s important and not get caught up in everything swirling around Newton off the field.
2. South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier: Sure, the East was down this season, but when you beat Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee all in the same season at South Carolina, you’re doing a lot of things right. The Head Ball Coach has the Gamecocks in the SEC championship game, and a lot of people thought they’d never see that happen.
3. Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen: From the Mississippi State perspective, maybe Mullen has done too good a job. His name keeps coming up in other head-coaching searches. The Bulldogs won eight regular-season games for the first time since 1999 and are headed to a bowl game.
4. Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino: If there were an award for coach of the year during the second half of the season, Petrino would be the leading candidate. The Hogs stayed the course after losing early at home to Alabama and were an improved football team across the board. With 10 wins, they have a chance to go to their first BCS bowl in school history.