The stage is set for upcoming showdowns, a heated chase to the championship game and perhaps even a shootout or two in the SEC. No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia won their divisions last year and still look like national title contenders. No. 5 LSU and No. 7 Florida — even with an injury to quarterback Feleipe Franks — also remain unbeaten.
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been every bit as good as last season, if not better. His LSU counterpart, Joe Burrow , has emerged as another potential Heisman Trophy contender in leading the Tigers’ suddenly prolific passing attack.
The Associated Press writers covering the SEC voted on the best — and worst — of the league so far. Here are some of the standout teams and players with the second half of the season approaching:
COACH OF THE FIRST HALF
Ed Orgeron, LSU: His offensive overhaul with the hiring of passing game coordinator Joe Brady has helped the Tigers become a legit national title contender. They lead the nation in scoring with 54.6 points per game. The only time they exceeded 45 points last year was in a seven-overtime marathon against Texas A&M. Also receiving votes: Dan Mullen, Florida; Gus Malzahn, Auburn.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE FIRST HALF
Tagovailoa, Alabama. The 2018 Heisman Trophy runner-up has been impressive, mixing up big plays and efficiency just like most of last season. He has passed for 1,719 yards and 23 touchdowns without an interception in five games. He is completing 76.4 percent of his passes. Also receiving votes: Burrow, LSU.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE FIRST HALF
Jon Greenard , LB, Florida. Greenard has helped spearhead a strong defense and harass opposing quarterbacks. He has four sacks among his 26 tackles along with a forced fumble, an interception and three pass deflections. Also receiving votes: Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn; David Reese, LB, Florida.
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Bo Nix, QB, Auburn. Nix won in a close vote that emphasizes the big role freshmen have played around the SEC. Nix has started every game for the Tigers, who are 2-1 against Top 25 teams, though he struggled with mistakes and misfires in last weekend’s loss to Florida. He threw for the game-winning touchdown in the opener against Oregon. Also receiving votes: Derek Stingley Jr., DB, LSU; John Rhys Plumlee, QB, Mississippi; Jerrion Ealy, RB, Ole Miss.
MOST SURPRISING TEAM
Florida: The Gators have continued to thrive without an injured Franks thanks in part to a defense that ranks among the nation’s best and produced a whopping 10 sacks in a season-opening victory over Miami. Florida also has received a big boost from quarterback Kyle Trask, who rallied the Gators to a come-from-behind victory over Kentucky the night Franks was hurt and has played well ever since. Also receiving votes: LSU, Auburn, Missouri.
MOST SURPRISING PLAYER
Burrow; Trask. A close contender for offensive player of the year, the second-year LSU starter Burrow has flourished under new passing game coordinator Joe Brady. Burrow already has thrown 22 touchdown passes, surpassing his 2018 season total of 16. His completion percentage has soared from .578 in 2018 to a Football Bowl Subdivision-leading .784 this season. The Florida offense hasn’t missed a beat with Trask, who hadn’t been a starter since his freshman year of high school. He led the Gators to the win over Auburn. Also receiving votes: Kelly Bryant, QB, Missouri; Plumlee, Mississippi.
MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM
Tennessee. Volunteers’ fans were hoping their team could end a string of two straight losing seasons and earn a bowl bid. The Vols instead are 1-4 and off to their worst start since 1988, when they dropped their first six games. That poor start includes a stunning season-opening 38-30 loss to 26-point underdog Georgia State. Also receiving votes: Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Kentucky, Texas A&M.
Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee. Pruitt’s only in his second year but owns a 6-11 record and has lost his last six games against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer voiced his support for Pruitt last week by saying that “I totally believe in Coach Pruitt and the job that he’s doing.” Also receiving votes: Derek Mason, Vanderbilt; Will Muschamp, South Carolina.
Terry Wilson, QB, Kentucky; Franks, Florida. Both Kentucky and Florida have lost their starting quarterbacks to season-ending injuries, but Trask’s strong play has eased the Gators’ pain. He just led them to the win over then-No. 7 Auburn. Kentucky is 2-0 in the games Wilson started and 0-3 in the games he has missed. Also receiving votes: Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama; Jake Bentley, QB, South Carolina; Cale Garrett, LB, Missouri.