As you've probably heard, Warren Norman of Vanderbilt won AP SEC Freshman of the Year. (Complete team here; Eric Norwood, Chris Culliver, and Cliff Matthews were also honored. Also check out the coaches' picks.) This has come as a surprise to many Gamecocks fans, who would have liked to see our own Alshon Jeffrey or Stephon Gilmore honored. Did we get jobbed?
I would say no to any conspiracy theories, but I do think Alshon and Stephon have arguments. Norman got the award based on his all-around effective play. As I'm sure you remember, Norman contributes in many ways, being both Vandy's leading rusher and one of the conference's top return men. He rushed for over 700 yards and returned over 1000 with seven total TDs, one of which came against us. His profile features a solid blend of downhill speed and moves. All in all, a very impressive season for a freshman.
By comparison, Alshon and Stephon had statistically underwhelming debuts. Jeffrey probably has the best argument of the two, He caught for over 700 yards and six touchdowns, not too terribly far from the numbers that Sidney Rice put up back in 2005. Stephon was our best cover corner over the course of the year, but his stastics were underwhelming. It's difficult for a defensive player to win an award like this without a wealth of gamebreaking plays, and unfortunately keeping the quarterback from throwing to one side of the field doesn't mean as much to the voters as sacks and interceptions. All in all, neither had the statistical year that Norman had. One of course wonders what would have been the case, say, had Alshon been ready to play earlier in the year or if Steve Spurrier had used Stephon in the Wildcat before the Clemson game, but we can only speculate about these possibilities.
However, the fact remains that Vanderbilt went 2-10 overall and 0-8 in conference this year. Despite his efforts, Warren couldn't keep his team from having what was a horrible year, even by Vandy standards. Indeed, the fact that a true freshman was asked to do so much for this team tells you a lot about how bad they were. On the other hand, Alshon and Stephon both helped us win games. Alshon almost single-handedly won the Kentucky game for us, caught the winning TD against Vandy, and had many other memorable moments. Stephon was a key player for our defense all year, and his play in the Clemson game will go down as part of the lore of the rivalry. Should these factors have played into the AP voters' thinking? Perhaps.
All in all, though, I can see why they picked Norman. The guy had a truly phenomenal year and deserves any accolades he receives. I believe, though, that in a couple of years, Alshon and Stephon will be remembered as two of the very best players to come out of the class of 2009, not Norman. The wins they bring to Columbia will be an acceptable consolation to us.