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SEC Post-Spring Quarterback Rankings

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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This season might feature the most interesting group of No. 2 quarterbacks the conference has seen, which should lead to some interesting moments in August camps.

Spring practices in the books in the SEC, as we now enter the doldrums of the college football calendar highlighted by transfers and arrests. Before we close the door on the spring, let’s take a look at the quarterback situations around the conference and how they rank.

This season might feature the most interesting group of No. 2 quarterbacks the conference has seen, which should lead to some interesting moments in August camps. Only two teams are without a quarterback who hasn’t started at least four games, so there is plenty of experience throughout the league.

Who leads the way? Well, it’s the team that almost always leads rankings, but like much of the conference, it doesn’t lack for quarterback drama.

1. Alabama

Only at Alabama could you have a quarterback who is 26-2 as a starter looking like the odd man out. Don’t write off Jalen Hurts yet, even after Bleacher Report’s in-depth interview with his father made it clear that leaving the program is definitely plausible. National championship game hero Tua Tagovailoa has missed most of the spring with a thumb injury, but he should be fine come August. Hurts’ strength is protecting the football. While Tagovailoa provides an element of explosion to the Alabama offense, he did make two nearly tragic errors against Georgia. Just freshman mistakes? Probably, but if there’s still recklessness to his game as a sophomore, don’t be surprised if Nick Saban reverts back to the steady Hurts.

2. Georgia

The Bulldogs are where Alabama was a year ago – led by a true sophomore who directed his team to the brink of the national title as a freshman, but with a five-star recruit already on campus and making noise in the spring. Jake Fromm answered the bell every time after replacing Jacob Eason, who has transferred to Washington, in the season opener, but Justin Fields, like Tagovailoa at Alabama, can do things that Fromm can’t. I’m not predicting a true freshman quarterback in the SEC to start a season opener until it happens again (the last was Tennessee’s Brent Schaeffer in 2004), so this should ultimately still be Fromm’s job. An added plus to Fields’ emergence could be the inability for Fromm to become complacent with the young Bulldog pup nipping at his heels.

3. Mississippi State

This ranking presumes senior Nick Fitzgerald returns to 100 percent after suffering a broken bone in his leg in the Bulldogs’ Egg Bowl defeat to Ole Miss on Thanksgiving Night. All indications are that he will, but first-year head coach Joe Moorhead has the luxury of sophomore Keytaon Thompson, who finished the Egg Bowl and led the Bullies to an upset of Louisville in the Gator Bowl, waiting in the wings. As Penn State’s offensive coordinator, Moorhead turned Trace McSorley into an All-American candidate entering his senior season, but his new quarterback may be even better. That’s living right.

4. Missouri

Lock made a savvy business decision by returning to school for his senior season, avoiding a loaded quarterback draft class and positioning himself to potentially be as high as the No. 1 quarterback in a far weaker contingent next spring. If there’s a knock against Lock, it’s that his numbers have been padded by massive outputs against bad teams. He played a decent game against Georgia, but was awful in blowout home losses to good, but not great, South Carolina and Purdue teams. Narrowing the gap between ceiling and floor is the last hurdle for Lock to climb as college player. Behind Lock, sophomore Micah Wilson returns as the backup after attempting 10 passes as a freshman.

5. Auburn

Auburn was edged out by Missouri due to Jarrett Stidham having a shortened offseason following non-throwing shoulder surgery after the season. Stidham was brilliant in the Tigers’ late-season surge to the SEC West title, as Auburn amassed 66 combined points in wins over Georgia and Alabama before the Bulldogs got revenge in the SEC Championship Game. A big arm, enough mobility to keep Gus Malzahn’s misdirections a threat, and a full year of experience will help Stidham carry an offense that saw its backfield and offensive line gutted by graduations. Sophomore Malik Willis is an exciting young player, but Tigers fan hope to not have to see him take a significant snap until 2019.

6. South Carolina

Jake Bentley joins Lock and Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur as likely the only starting quarterbacks in the SEC this season with at least 20 career starts. That bodes well for the Gamecocks, who look to be the biggest threat to a Georgia runaway in the SEC East. Bentley had to play without his top wide receiver, Deebo Samuel, for all but three games last season, but he’ll have Samuel back this fall along with an excellent group of skill position talent. No other quarterback on the roster has thrown a pass in the past two seasons. Senior Michael Scarnecchia threw (and completed) one pass in the Gamecocks’ forgettable 2015 season.

7. Texas A&M

Nick Starkel has played in both the Rose Bowl and Tiger Stadium. Kellen Mond has played against Alabama. Jimbo Fisher walks into a competitive quarterback room in College Station, but one that shouldn’t be susceptible to stage fright. Starkel won his job back late last season after an injury, but a true freshman Mond fared well in Starkel’s absence, guiding SEC wins over Arkansas, South Carolina and Florida. Starkel has a slight edge coming out of the spring, but unlike last year at Florida State when Fisher had to turn to a true freshman backup in the opener, he’ll have a great insurance policy.

8. Ole Miss

An expected intense quarterback battle in Oxford was squashed shortly after the 2017 season when former five-star recruit Shea Patterson left the program. Rising senior Jordan Ta’amu replaced Patterson after a midseason knee injury, leading the Rebels to upset road wins over Kentucky and Mississippi State while posting better overall numbers than Patterson did before going down. A dual threat, Ta’amu ran for four touchdowns in addition to his 11 passing scores last season. Behind Ta’amu is highly touted freshman Matt Corrall. Attrition at the position leaves Corrall as the top backup. While he won’t redshirt, Ole Miss hopes he’s a year away from any meaningful work.

9. Vanderbilt

This seems too low for a fourth-year starter, but Kyle Shurmur may have plateaued, while players like Starkel and Ta’amu are on the rise after only a half-season of playing time. That’s not to say Shurmur wasn’t a different quarterback as a junior than he was as a sophomore. He improved his completion percentage by four percent, threw for 400 more yards, and nearly tripled his touchdown pass output. He again faces the challenge of working with limited talent around him, but Shurmur should be very much a draftable player come next spring. Sophomore Deuce Wallace is, fittingly, the No. 2 quarterback behind Shurmur.

10. Florida

What looked to be a two-way competition is now a three-way battle, as sophomore Kyle Trask put together an impressive spring to join incumbent Feleipe Franks and true freshman Emory Jones as candidates to lead Dan Mullen’s first Gators team. Like Justin Fields at Georgia, I’m not predicting Jones to start the opener until a true freshman actually starts an opener. Of the two veterans, Franks appears to be the better fit for what Mullen wants to do, but Mullen is adept at tailoring his offense to the skill set of his quarterback. If there’s more confidence in Trask, he could very well be the guy.

11. LSU

The SEC West permanent rival of Florida also has a trio of contenders under center. Sophomore Myles Brennan is the only one with any notable playing time, but junior Justin McMillan has been in the program the longest. Redshirt freshman Lowell Narcisse rounds out the quarterback competition. All three completed between 45 and 50 percent of their pass attempts in last Saturday’s spring game, causing many Tigers fans to reach for the bourbon in anticipation of another offensively-challenged season. Brennan is probably a slight favorite entering the summer to start a huge opener against Miami (FL).

12. Tennessee

Tennessee is the only SEC team whose starting quarterback this fall may not yet be on campus. Jarrett Guarantano started the final half of last season for the Vols, but first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt landed Stanford graduate transfer Keller Chryst, who was a part-time starter for two seasons in Palo Alto before being beaten out by K.J. Costello late in the 2017 season. Neither player is going to have Big Orange fans dreaming of a trip to Atlanta in December, but both have at least played big games in difficult environments. Who ultimately gets the call to battle it out with possible preseason All-American Will Grier and West Virginia on Sept. 1 in Charlotte? I’d place a small wager on Guarantano.

13. Arkansas

Sophomore Cole Kelley has the physique and the jersey number of former Razorbacks signal-caller Ryan Mallett, but he’s a bit more fleet of foot than Mallett. Quick enough to be what new head coach Chad Morris prefers in his quarterbacks? Not really, but it’s on Morris to figure out how to fit his square pegs into round holes until he can reshape an Arkansas roster recruited for a pro-style attack. Kelley wasn’t bad last season filling in for an injured Austin Allen, but his size and strength causes him to play somewhat recklessly. Junior Ty Storey is also in the mix after a spring surge, and this will be a legitimate competition in August.

14. Kentucky

The Wildcats are the only SEC program with absolutely nothing in terms of returning experience. Stephen Johnson graduated, and Drew Barker left the program with a fifth year of eligibility remaining. Neither sophomore Gunnar Hoak nor junior college (via Oregon) transfer Terry Wilson have attempted a pass for Kentucky, and neither looked particularly comfortable during the team’s spring game. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran is an underrated coach and schemer, but he has his hands full with this inexperienced duo.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.