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Conference Preview: Chubb-Thumping

John McKechnie

John is the 2016 FSWA College Writer of the Year winner. He is a Maryland native and graduate of the University of Georgia. He's been writing for RotoWire since early 2014.

Top-5 Fantasy Stars

1. Nick Chubb -
When the NCAA suspended Todd Gurley for four games last season, not even Georgia fans knew how the running game would survive with true freshman Nick Chubb as the workhorse, despite his impressive first 31 carries (224 yds, one TD through first five games). Then, in his first career start, Chubb ran all over Missouri to the tune of 143 yards and a touchdown on 38 carries. He followed that with a 30-carry, 202-yard outing against Arkansas and it became clear Chubb was the next big thing at Georgia. After taking over the starting role, Chubb never rushed for less than 113 yards in any of his eight starts down the stretch (165.4 YPG in 8 starts), finishing on a high note by steamrolling Louisville for 266 yards and two scores in Georgia's bowl victory. Expectations are high for Chubb entering this season as he's no longer looking over his shoulder for Gurley; instead, Chubb will have the chance to make his own mark as one of the best running backs in school history. However, it won't be easy for Chubb to match his ridiculous 7.1 YPC mark from last season with every team knowing full well that stopping him is the key to stopping Georgia. There's also the matter of Sony Michel and Keith Marshall, both of whom are likely to get snaps and carries in Georgia's offense. Still, Chubb is the unquestioned workhorse for Georgia this season and his mix of size, speed, burst and athleticism will make him one of the toughest runners to stop in college football.

2. Pharoh Cooper -
Cooper may not have ideal size (5-foot-11, 208) or a highly regarded quarterback to catch passes from, but he can flat out play. As a sophomore in 2014, Cooper did anything and everything well. He finished second in the SEC in receiving yards (1,136) and third in receptions (69) while also catching nine touchdown passes. It didn't stop there, however; Cooper also racked up 200 yards and two touchdowns on the ground despite getting just 27 carries. He makes defenders miss with his shiftiness, he can blaze past defenders and he's not afraid to go up for a ball over the middle. Now that most of South Carolina's other stars from last year are gone, Cooper figures to take on an even bigger workload. Coach Steve Spurrier will certainly make Cooper the focal point of the passing game and should also find creative ways to get the ball into his best playmaker's hands.

3. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama -
Henry comes into the season as Alabama's unquestioned top running back as he'll no longer compete for carries with T.J Yeldon. He actually outgained Yeldon last season despite having 22 fewer carries than the current Jacksonville Jaguar. Henry has the uber-durable 6-3, 242-pound frame that just wears defenses down late in games, but he also possesses much more speed and elusiveness than typical backs his size. When Henry gets a full head of steam, which should continue to be a regular occurrence behind Bama's o-line, he is one of the most dangerous runners in the game, whose combination of size and speed makes him incredibly difficult to stop. Factor in that Alabama will also trot out an inexperienced quarterback and receiving corps and 2015 promises to be a big year for Henry.

4. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU -
Fournette not only came close to doubling any other LSU running back last season as a true freshman, he did so over a tandem of senior running backs in Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard. Now that he is the unquestioned No. 1 back, Fournette appears poised to take the next step toward stardom this season. Despite a slow start relative to his hype coming out of high school, Fournette began to show why he was the top-rated recruit. Touted as "The Next Adrian Peterson," the hype quieted after Fournette failed to record a 100-yard game against legitimate competition until his seventh game, when he rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns against Florida. He continued to be up-and-down until a strong finish to the season when he turned in back-to-back 140-plus-yard performances against Texas A&M and Notre Dame. Watch this run against Notre Dame (1:57-2:09) and you'll understand why Fournette is so highly regarded. He will run behind a strong offensive line in an offense focused on getting Fournette the ball any way it can. One thing to monitor is Fournette's role combined with the competition he'll face. The SEC West features a slew of strong front sevens that will be intent on slowing Fournette. With the unsettled situation at quarterback, Fournette will be asked to be the catalyst on offense, and he won't sneak up on any opposing defenses.

5. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State -
Prescott has been an excellent runner since before walking onto Mississippi State's campus, but his development as a passer under coach Dan Mullen has made him an elite dual-threat fantasy option. In 2014, his passing numbers exploded to 3,449 yards, a 27:11 TD:INT ratio and a 61.1 completion percentage after a modest 1,940 yard, 10:7 TD:INT ratio and 58.4 completion percentage in 2013. That level of production would be great for a regular pocket passer, but Prescott is also an imposing rusher who can reach 1,000 yards on the ground. In the red zone, Prescott is a nightmare for opposing defenses; 11 of his rushing touchdowns and 14 of his passing touchdowns came in the opposition's 20-yard line, making him one of the nation's most reliable sources for touchdowns. Running back Josh Robinson is gone to the NFL, so Prescott could be even more heavily relied upon around the goal line. He'll also have a proven receiving corps in De'Runnya Wilson, Fred Ross and Fred Brown at his disposal. Prescott is the most proven fantasy option at quarterback in the SEC, and there's no reason to think that he'll have anything less than elite production every week.

FANTASY SLEEPERS

Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn -
Johnson has spent the last two years biding his time behind Nick Marshall to become Auburn's starting quarterback. This will be the year Johnson takes over at the helm, though, and the buzz is starting to get louder and louder as the season approaches. He's not the runner Nick Marshall was, but the former Mr. Alabama has impressive arm talent. Johnson went 28-for-37 for 436 yards, three touchdowns and no picks across six separate appearances last season, averaging an astounding 11.78 yards per attempt. He won't have Sammy Coates to throw to, and Duke Williams appears to be at odds with the school, but Ricardo Louis isn't exactly a slouch out wide. If Auburn is to live up to its billing as a top-10 team, Johnson will have to remain consistent all season while shouldering an increased role given that Auburn likely will have a more balanced attack this season. Provided Johnson can manage that, and we think he will, it should be a highly productive season for the first-year starter.

Josh Dobbs, QB, Tennessee -
Dobbs has long been thought to be the next great quarterback at Tennessee since committing to the program in 2013. He got a taste of SEC competition as a true freshman, but he really started to show flashes last season when he took over for an injured Justin Worley. His first start of last season was against Alabama, not exactly a cakewalk; unsurprisingly, Dobbs struggled to figure out the Tide's defense and was held to 19-for-32 passing for 192 yards, though he did rack up three total touchdowns. His next start, however, Dobbs put on an absolute show against South Carolina, throwing for 301 yards and two touchdowns and adding 166 yards and three scores on the ground. You can't expect him to pull that kind of statline off every week, but Dobbs has shown he's capable of shredding opposing defenses. He also has a great supporting cast to take some of the pressure off, with Marquez North, Alton Howard and Von Pearson as his main targets and Jalen Hurd to carry the load in the run game. Dobbs has the added bonus of playing against the SEC East, which features some inferior defenses compared to the conference's western counterpart. There may still be some hiccups for Dobbs early in the season as the Vols have a tough early slate, but look for Dobbs to figure it out sooner than later and become a consistently productive dual-threat fantasy option.

Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida -
Robinson had an impressive 2014 campaign (53/810/7), but it's even more impressive when you consider Florida's subpar quarterback situation. This year, he'll have unproven Will Grier as the likely starter, but all indications are he can produce at a higher level than the departed Jeff Driskel. Because of Florida's paltry quarterback play last season, Robinson had to run shorter routes and get a lot of his yards after the catch. That wasn't much of a problem for Robinson, however, as his ability to immediately make people miss with one move allowed him to pick up big chunks of yardage on short and intermediate routes. Now that Florida has purged itself of the Will Muschamp era and brought in the offensive-minded Jim McElwain to run the show, Robinson should be in line to get more favorable looks. McElwain turned Colorado State's offense into a top-20 unit nationally last season and a top-10 passing team. He polished Garrett Grayson into an NFL draft pick and leaned on stud wideout Rashard Higgins to absorb most of the targets. This is not to say that Robinson will make the leap to Higgins' production level (96/1,750/17) in year one under McElwain, but he is certainly trending upward. Even if Florida still has uneven quarterback play this season, Robinson stands to benefit from a better overall system and should still be able to put up high-level production.

Jovon Robinson, RB, Auburn -
Robinson is stepping into his first year at Auburn after a decorated career at junior-college powerhouse Georgia Military College. He ran for a JUCO record 2,387 yards and 34 touchdowns and 2013 and finished his career with 3,198 yards and 43 touchdowns over two seasons. Now, he'll step into a loaded, yet inexperienced backfield group at Auburn after the departures of Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant. Roc Thomas, Peyton Barber and Kerryon Johnson are all vying to move up the running back depth chart, but Robinson's raw size (6-0, 230) makes him a favorite to handle short-yardage situations. Whether that'll translate into Robinson becoming Auburn's red-zone/goal-line back remains to be seen, but his skillset and track record should at least give him a shot cement that role among the stable of running backs. There are no guarantees Robinson will wind up as the featured back this season after starting out at JUCO, but it wouldn't be unprecedented under Gus Malzahn; Cameron Artis-Payne rushed for 610 yards and six touchdowns behind Tre Mason in his first year at Auburn before exploding for 1,608 yards in 2014. Given Auburn's undecided RB situation, Robinson could wind up having a better first year as a Tiger than Artis-Payne did as the backup to Mason.

Tra Carson, RB, Texas A&M -
Carson somewhat flies under the radar thanks to playing in a conference that already boasts Nick Chubb and Leonard Fournette. It also doesn't help that A&M is most closely associated with a high-flying passing attack than a grind-it-out running game. Still, Carson enters the year as the Aggies' top option on the ground and coach Kevin Sumlin wants to establish a stronger and more reliable rushing attack this season following a disappointing 2014 campaign. Carson led the Aggies with 581 yards and five touchdowns on just 124 carries last year, and those numbers should increase provided Sumlin stays true to his word on running a more balanced offense this season. If Carson can get a fantasy-competitive workload in the 200-carry range, he should provide solid production and flirt with becoming the first A&M back to reach 1,000 yards since Cyrus Gray in 2011.

FANTASY BUSTS

Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri -
Mauk's first full season as Mizzou's starter was solid on the base level as the redshirt sophomore threw for 2,648 yards and 25 touchdowns. There are some concerns heading into this season, however. His penchant to chuck the ball downfield helped lead to 13 interceptions last season, and he has trouble translating any success from one week to the next. Mauk is capable of throwing for 300 yards and three touchdowns in a given week, but he's just as likely to throw in a total clunker against tougher competition. The upside here might be enough for some people to consider Mauk, but it's hard to imagine him topping last year's touchdown mark, especially with the lack of returning talent at receiver. Instead, it's more likely that Mauk will have a down year in 2015. His completion percentage, already among the worst in college football last season at 53.4 percent, doesn't figure to get a ton better given his playing style and lack of receiving options. The interceptions probably aren't going anywhere, either. Until Mauk shows he can produce on a weekly basis, it's probably best to avoid him. His best stretch of the season may come early, making him a potential rental in September with Missouri going against Southeast Missouri State, Arkansas State, UConn and Kentucky to start the season. Otherwise, Mauk is too difficult to rely on consistently to be a mainstay in your lineup.

Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M -
Noil enters his sophomore campaign on the preseason first-team All-SEC list as a return specialist and third-team all-purpose player, but his upside as a receiver might be stunted by the weapons around him. The Aggies should be set at quarterback regardless of whether they go with Kyle Allen or freshman phenom Kyler Murray, but Josh Reynolds (6-4, 197) and Ricky Seals-Jones (6-5, 235) provide much bigger targets for the quarterback than the 5-11 Noil. There's no denying Noil's talent or A&M's ability to put up points, but it might not all translate to a huge season out of Noil with all of the weapons in the Aggies' arsenal. Freshman five-star wideout Christian Kirk should also push for snaps and targets in A&M's offense, which makes for yet another road-block in front of Noil taking the proverbial leap this season.


Jacob Coker, QB, Alabama -
This time last year, Coker seemed ready to take over the reins following A.J. McCarron's departure, but the FSU transfer ultimately lost out to Blake Sims. This time around, it should be Coker's job to lose, and he may be doing just that. Redshirt freshman David Cornwell came out of spring practice as the favorite to win the job over Coker and true freshman Blake Barnett, and although Nick Saban tends to play this sort of situation very close to the vest, you can read between the lines and see that Coker may not be all that he was made out to be when he arrived in Tuscaloosa as a transfer. If Coker does wind up winning the starting job, he won't have a star-studded cast of receivers at his disposal with Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones all playing on Sundays this fall. Regardless, there are plenty of options out there at quarterback that figure to have far more productive seasons than Coker; don't overvalue him simply because he is Alabama's quarterback.