Quarterback Jayden Daniels has presided over an explosive LSU offense that has mostly been enough to overcome defensive deficiencies.
Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner has been a star for a defense that has been good enough to largely cover up offensive issues, and Mississippi State linebacker Jett Johnson is a tackling machine for a struggling team.
Daniels is the Southeastern Conference’s top offensive player through the first half of the season, according to Associated Press reporters covering the SEC. Turner and Johnson shared defensive midseason honors with three votes apiece.
COACH OF THE FIRST HALF
Kirby Smart of No. 1 Georgia, the two-time defending national champion and lone remaining unbeaten SEC team, Smart and the Bulldogs just keep on winning. They’ve won a school-record 23 consecutive games even if Georgia did struggle to shake off South Carolina and Auburn. A 51-13 win over No. 24 Kentucky was much more emphatic, though.
Daniels has picked up where he left off after leading the Tigers to the SEC West title last season. He’s leading the league in total offense, passing and passing efficiency. The Arizona State transfer is even eighth in rushing with 422 yards and four touchdowns. Daniels is averaging 398.5 total yards a game, passing for 1,969 yards with 19 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He’s second in the FBS in both passing efficiency and total offense and third in passing yards per game.
Turner’s 6 1/2 sacks is tops in the league. The Tide’s pass rushing successor to Will Anderson also has nine tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and eight quarterback hurries.
Johnson is leading the SEC in tackles for the second straight season. Johnson has 66 tackles, including 6 1/2 for loss and four sacks. The sixth-year Mississippi State player had 14 tackles in each of the Bulldogs’ first three league games.
Alabama safety Caleb Downs was an instant starter after arriving as a five-star recruit. He is leading the Tide with 47 tackles and has an interception in each of the last two games against Mississippi State and Texas A&M. His third-quarter pick of the Aggies’ Max Johnson set up a tying field goal in the third quarter of a 26-20 Tide win.
Ray Davis, RB, Kentucky. The former Vanderbilt standout is leading the SEC in rushing and scoring with 653 yards and 12 total touchdowns. Davis is averaging 7.2 yards per carry and has eight scores on the ground. He’s also second in the league in all-purpose yards.
He ran for a career-high 280 yards and four touchdowns in a win over then-No. 22 Florida. Davis ran for 1,042 yards for Vandy last season after missing all but three games in 2021 with a knee injury.
MOST SURPRISING TEAM
Picked to finish sixth in the SEC East, Missouri won its first five games, including a victory over then-No. 15 Kansas State. The Tigers (5-1, 1-1) are coming off their first loss 49-39 to No. 22 LSU.
MOST SURPRISING PLAYER
Missouri WR Luther Burden III has emerged as one of the SEC’s best receivers as a sophomore, leading the league in receiving and all-purpose yards. Burden has 54 catches for 793 yards and five touchdowns, a stellar effort even for a five-star recruit.
Burden was also pretty good as a freshman when he became the first true freshman in the FBS to have two receiving touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns and a punt return for a score in the same season since 2008.
MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM
South Carolina came into the season with high expectations after winning 15 games in Shane Beamer’s first two seasons. The Gamecocks finished last season ranked No. 23 but now they’re 2-3 with one win in three SEC games. But the three losses have come to No. 12 North Carolina, No. 1 Georgia and No. 19 Tennessee.
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman got off to a strong start with the Razorbacks. But now they’ve lost four straight games and are 0-3 in the SEC heading into a game with Alabama on Saturday. Pittman is 21-21 at Arkansas, but won 19 games the last three seasons for a program that combined to win eight games and just one against an SEC opponent over the previous three seasons.
Texas A&M quarterback Conner Weigman’s right foot injury in the Auburn game was a season-ender, according to coach Jimbo Fisher. Weigman threw for five touchdowns in the opener against New Mexico, the most in regulation for an Aggies quarterback since Johnny Manziel in 2013. A four-game starter as a freshman, Weigman had 336 passing yards against Miami and 337 against ULM in back-to-back weeks leading up to the Auburn game.
AP Sports Writers Teresa Walker, Pete Iacobelli, Kristie Rieken, Mark Long, Gary Graves, Charles Odum, Brett Martel and Dave Skretta contributed to this report.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll