An All-SEC selection, an All-American selection, and a whole lotta luck: that’s what it will take for UK Center Jon Toth to bring UK it’s first individual player award in 66 seasons.
But despite that cynical reality, Toth could be theoretically be in good position to join Bob Gain’s company. Thanks to the SEC kicking butt and muscling itself nine out of the last 13 national championships, its players have garnished a bevy of post-season accolades.
If you didn’t know, Toth was named to the watchlist for both the Rimington Award and the Outland Trophy this past week. The Rimington Award is given out to the “most outstanding center” in football; The Outland goes to “the most outstanding interior lineman.”
Though he is on both watchlists, Toth is better aligned to be a Rimington Finalist. The SEC has brought it home five of the last ten years. If certain things go Kentucky’s way this fall, Toth could make history and make it six of the last 11 and give the conference three-in-a-row.
He has to show up and perform, of course. Plenty a season has come with a Wildcat full of off-season hype only to shrivel up when the lights came one. Toth has earned quite a reputation for himself thus far. Freddie Maggard can’t go a conversation about the Cats without mentioning his name, but the center has yet to be named to an All-SEC team.
Here’s how the last few First Team All-SEC Centers have faired:
2015- Ryan Kelly- Alabama: 1st Team All-America, 1st Team All-SEC
Kelly was member of three national championships at Alabama, but his best season was his obviously his senior campaign in 2015. The Tide ranked fifth in the conference in passing yards/game (227ish) and third in rushing yards/game (200ish) producing Heisman Derrick Henry in the process. The analytics site Pro Football Focus had him as the second-highest graded run blocking center in the SEC as he allowed zero sacks and only 13 pressures over the past two seasons. (*side note: you need to check them out if you like applying numbers to sports. Finally, offensive lineman can have relevant grades as opposed to “pancakes.”) Kelly was Colts first-round draft pick in this year’s NFL Draft. He won the Rimington.
2014- Reece Dismukes- Auburn: 1st Team All-America, 2X 1st Team All-SEC
Dismukes was vital to the resurgence of the Spread and Slash scheme Gus Malzahn installed at Auburn. Starting 50 games in four years, Dismukes lead a unit that finished top-5 in the SEC in rushing yards/game the past three seasons. The National Runner-Up season in 2013 was the high point of his Auburn tenure. PFF didn’t grade Dismukes favorably as a pro prospect, and he is currently on the Panthers’ practice squad. He won the Rimington
2013- Travis Swanson- Arkansas: 1st Team All-America, 1st Team All-SEC
Swanson started out snapping to Ryan Mallett as he set Razorback passing records, but ended up as the school’s most consistent offensive lineman since Jonathon Luigs. During 2013, Arkansas’ offense leaned on the run averaging about 208 yards on the ground, good for third in the conference. The Hogs were the SEC’s worst passing offense in terms of yards/game. Swanson was a third-round pick for the Lions in 2014 and has started 19/30 games in that span. But earlier this year, he was placed on injured reserve.
2012- Barrett Jones- Alabama: 2X 1st Team All-America, 2X 1st Team All-SEC
The versatile Jones was another cog in the Bama line that allowed it the win a bunch of games. He earned All-America honors as a guard in 2011 and captured a bunch of other awards the following season as he settled in a Saban’s center. In those two seasons, Bama lead the SEC in rushing yards/game averaging 220 on the ground. Jones has bounced around in his brief NFL stint. He was originally drafted by the Rams and is now currently with the Eagles trying to find a long term gig. He won the Rimington.
Can you spot the trend? Besides the glaring dominance of the SEC West, being on a team that runs the ball well translates well to being an All-SEC pick and, hence, a Rimington nod. Granted being on a great team helps, but it is not required. Dismukes won it on an 8-5 team and Jonathon Luigs won it twice on similar Arkansas teams in ’06 and ’07.
With new Offensive Coordinator Eddie Gran planning to be more balanced and keep the ball on the ground more often, UK’s rushing totals are bound to increase aiding Toth’s cause. The Cats were ninth in the conference last year in rushing yards/game (163ish) and Gran’s Cincinnati unit did about the same (178ish). But with a young QB, a homerun back in Boom Williams, and unproven options at wideout, running the ball might be his best bet to move the ball.
But trotting out a middling run game and winning four, five, six games won’t help Toth win the award. The Cats need to average at least 210 yards on the ground and make it to a bowl game for Toth to even be considered as a Rimington Nominee. To be “the most outstanding” collegian center, you cannot settle for mediocrity.
Beating out the other 60-plus centers named to the watchlist will be a tough task, but the formula to bring home the award is out there.