SEC is loaded with Rimington Award candidates

Ben Cook

May 28, 2013 at 11:46 am.

Travis Swanson (64) is one of the nation's best centers. (Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports)

The Southeastern Conference is known as a conference with outstanding running backs, hot shot quarterbacks and head-hunting defensive monsters.

What it is not known for — but perhaps it should — is a conference of outstanding centers.

Okay, the center is the most obvious player among a usually faceless group of offensive linemen. He does snap the ball, so no play gets underway until the center does his thing. But centers are mostly taken for granted. But let him make a bad snap on a punt or field goal attempt and everybody in the stadium suddenly knows his name.

Other than those embarrassing moments, centers and the rest of his offensive line pals could very well be in the witness protection program.

The top center in the nation is honored each year with the Rimington Award, The award is named for Dave Rimington,  a consensus first-team All-American center at the University of Nebraska in 1981 and 1982, during which time he became the John Outland Trophy’s only double winner as the nation’s best college interior lineman.

When the Rimington Award committee announced its spring watch list last week there were nine centers from the Southeastern Conference on the list.

Last year the SEC had a center that everybody knew his name — Alabama’s Barrett Jones. The former Crimson Tide star made a name for himself by playing every position on the offensive line and playing them all up to All-American capabilities. He was the best in college football at what he did.

Jones was the exception last season. Mostly centers toil in anonymity. This season the SEC just might be the home of the best center in college football again. His name is Travis Swanson and he will be snapping the ball for the Arkansas Razorbacks. Swanson is just one of a strong class of centers that will populate SEC football teams this season.

Swanson is 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds and Bret Bielema believes he is the best center in the nation. Oklahoma will argue that because of the Sooners’ center, Gabe Ikard but Bielema is happy with his man. Let’s face it, in the world of Bielema an anchor for the offensive line may be the most important man on the football field. Bielema believes in running the football and you can’t run the ball without a dominating offensive line. That starts with a dominating center and Swanson certainly fits that mold.

“He’s a very good person to lean on whether it be the quarterback or the guards who haven’t played much next to him,”Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman said. “Even for me as a coach it’s a calming factor knowing you have a guy that cares so much for the team that plays well.”

Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney agrees with the assessment.

“Swanson’s brain is working faster than I can even think,” said Chaney said. “His brain works at great speed. It’s a big asset for our offense to have a super smart center.”

When Arkansas’ offense takes the field, Swanson will be one of only four returning starters so it will be incumbent on him to take a bigger leadership role. Swanson may be the brains of the Arkansas offensive line but it is going to take more than a solid center to help the Razorbacks put the disaster of the 4-8 2012 season behind them but it is a good place to start.

Swanson may be the best returning center in the conference but he will not be the only center to garner attention this fall. The other SEC centers on the Rimington Watch list are David Andrews of Georgia, Evan Boehm of Missouri, Dillon Day of Mississippi State, Reese Dismukes of Auburn, Jonotthan Harrison of Florida, Ryan Kelly of Alabama, Evan Swindall of Ole Miss and James Stone of Tennessee.

Having nine of 14 centers on the Rimington Watch List certainly seems to indicate a position of strength in the middle of SEC offensive lines. It might not be enough to earn the conference a reputation that it has for some of the more glamorous positions on the football field like quarterbacks or running backs, but coaches appreciate the down and dirty work done in the middle of the offensive line.