Alabama's Smith, Florida's Pitts the real headliners in SEC title game

Mark Long
Associated Press

The Southeastern Conference championship game on Saturday features two of the top playmakers in college football. 

It also includes two quarterbacks who are Heisman Trophy candidates. 

Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith and Florida tight end Kyle Pitts are the real stars of the league’s most potent offenses. They are widely considered the nation’s best at their respective positions, generally projected as top-10 picks in next year's NFL draft and undoubtedly the players opposing defenders need to watch in Atlanta. 

Stopping them has been nearly impossible all season. Man-to-man coverage? No chance. Zone scheme? Try again. Double- and triple-team? Maybe, but that just opens the field for second and third options.

“There’s a lot of great players on my team that make me look a lot better than I am,” Alabama quarterback Mac Jones said. “That’s probably a good, accurate description of what type of quarterback I am.” 

It sums up Florida’s Kyle Trask, too. 

Neither QB is overly athletic, but both are unbelievably accurate, patient in the pocket and great at reading defenses. It’s also why Jones and Trask will be among the Heisman finalists announced next week.

But as great as their seasons have been — Jones has completed a staggering 76.4% of his passes while Trask has a nation-leading 40 touchdown throws — neither is the most dynamic player in their huddle. And they know it. 

Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith leads the nation with 1,327 yards on 83 receptions.

That distinction belongs to Smith and Pitts, speedy players with ridiculous body control and even better hands.

Smith, a 6-foot-1 senior, could have turned pro after last season and might be tearing up the NFL like former LSU standout Justin Jefferson. At the very least, he would have been an instant millionaire like former Crimson Tide teammates Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy.

Instead, Smith opted to stay in school. The decision could end up getting him drafted higher than any of those three. He has 83 receptions for a nation-leading 1,327 yards and 15 touchdowns in 10 games.

“Definitely explosive player, fast,” Florida linebacker Ventrell Miller said. 

Opponents say the same about Pitts, who caught eight passes for a career-high 170 yards and four touchdowns in Florida’s opener at Ole Miss to establish himself as the best tight end in the nation. 

He has backed it up nearly every week since. The 6-6 junior has 36 catches for 641 yards and 11 touchdowns in 6½ games. He missed 10 quarters following a vicious hit against Georgia in November that knocked his helmet so far sideways that his facemask fractured his septum. He had surgery and sat out two full games. 

He returned and scored three times against Kentucky, including a 56-yard reception in which he ran away from a starting cornerback. 

Florida tight end Kyle Pitts has 36 catches for 641 yards despite missing two games because of injury.

“He’s a big-body guy that creates separation through using his body,” Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II said. “He’s great at the point of attack.”

Pitts was in the middle of a cautious and costly decision last week. Florida’s medical staff decided to hold him out of the LSU game, a 37-34 loss in which the Gators had three turnovers in the second quarter and three three-and-outs in the fourth. 

While dealing with what Florida called a lingering injury from the previous week, Pitts watched helplessly from the sideline as the Gators ruined any chance they had of turning the SEC title game into a would-be playoff quarterfinal. 

“I just had to deal with it,” Pitts said. “It’s not something I beat myself up about. I trust their judgment.”