The quarterback position is sort of important, right? We all agree? Good. Unless you have a monster at running back like Leonard Fournette, you probably need reliable play at the position to have a successful season.
Heading into the opening weekend of the college football season, plenty of questions still remain in each of the 14 Southeastern Conference camps. With the exception of Ole Miss and Tennessee, most every other school has some sort of question surrounding its quarterback position. If you have two, you probably don’t have one.
And if you have three? Get ready for a long season.
Below are the SEC’s 14 quarterback positions, ranked from worst to first.
14. South Carolina:
There’s some bad quarterback competition at other schools, but perhaps none worse than South Carolina’s. Moving forward, the Gamecocks will have some good options in four-star freshmen Brandon McIlwain and Jake Bentley. But for 2016, Will Muschamp must choose between two unproven QBs and underwhelming returner Perry Orth.
Missouri’s starter, sophomore Drew Lock, completed less than 50 percent of his passes (49 percent) and had a TD-to-INT ratio of 4-to-8 in 2015. You want those numbers flipped if you’re a Tigers fan. Yes, Lock was just a freshman last season, but he’s got a lot of improvement to do if Missouri is going to be a success under new coach Barry Odom.
He’s anything but flashy, but sophomore quarterback Kyle Shurmur should add some stability to a Commodores offense looking to take a big step forward under Derek Mason. As a freshman, Shurmur went 2-3 as a starter, throwing for 503 yards and five touchdowns. He needs to get his completion percentage up from 42.7 from a year ago. Perhaps the best sign Shurmur’s the guy in Nashville is the fact he threw for 209 yards and three TDs in the season finale at Tennessee.
Wildcats’ Drew Barker is another sophomore who saw significant time as a freshman in the SEC. He completed 50 percent of his passes, but for only 364 yards and one touchdown in five games. Barker was two different quarterbacks in 2015, the one who completed 7 of 9 passes for 42 yards against MSU with an INT and the one who completed just 6 of 22 attempts for 128 yards against Louisville in the finale. Neither was particularly impressive, but there’s reason for optimism with the 6-foot-3 quarterback.
: If Austin Allen is a clone of big brother Brandon the Hogs will be just fine. Allen won a four-QB race in the spring, but the problem is he’s only seen mop-up duty in actual games. Can he perform when it’s his offense and the lights are on? We don’t really know. He attempted all of 19 passes in two seasons — although that 35-yard TD pass Oct. 31 against UT-Martin was a beauty.
Projected Florida starter Luke Del Rio doesn’t have much more experience than the couple of guys who rank below him on this list. The former Oregon State QB completed 8 of 18 passes for 141 yards without a score in 2014 with the Beavers. Now he’s in the Swamp and has continually impressed, both in the spring and during fall camp.
8. Mississippi State:
And then there were two. Elijah Staley simplified the MSU QB competition a bit when he transferred, leaving Nick Fitzgerald and Damian Williams. Yes, MSU also added “Last Chance U” star — and current walk-on — Wyatt Roberts, but the first chance to replace Dak Prescott looks like it could go to Fitzgerald. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Georgia sophomore can do a bit of everything for MSU. He completed 11 of 14 passes for 235 yards and three TDs in spot duty against Northwestern State, Troy, Alabama and Southern Miss a year ago. He also rushed 23 times for 127 yards and three more TDs.
Another year and Auburn’s QB position is as muddy as ever. Jeremy Johnson was picked by many to be the breakout star of 2015. Things didn’t go as planned as he struggled out of the gate — six of his seven interceptions came in the first three games against Louisville, Jacksonville State and LSU — and he never matched his projections. Sean White wasn’t much better as Johnson’s replacement, and now former East Mississippi C.C./Florida State QB John Franklin III has complicated things. Gus Malzahn has named White the starter for the opener, but it’s no guarantee that the first QB-1 will be the only QB-1. Any one of those QBs could be fantastic — or a complete flop, again.
Whether or not super freshman Jacob Eason starts Georgia’s opener Sept. 3 against North Carolina in the Georgia Dome — the other two options are Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey — the smart money is on him to take over the Dawgs’ offense at some point this year. A five-star recruit, and considered by some as the best QB in the 2016 signing class, Eason enrolled in Athens, Georgia, in time for spring ball and completed 19 of 29 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown in the G-Day scrimmage. Don’t be surprised if Eason sets the league on fire and enters 2017 as the SEC’s top returning QB.
All that being said about Eason, what’s the difference between UGA and Alabama? If one four-star QB fails, the Tide have two others to fall back on. Similar to LSU, Alabama will probably — maybe? — be OK regardless of who Nick Saban chooses between returners Blake Barnett, Cooper Bateman and freshman Jalen Hurts. As most have pointed out, with Saban, it doesn’t seem to matter who Alabama anoints, the Tide just keep rolling.
Does it say more about Brandon Harris or the SEC that LSU’s signal caller is ranked fourth? Harris has been beat up pretty good by fans over the years, but he did fine last season as a full-time starter, throwing for 2,158 yards and 13 touchdowns and running for another 226 yards and four more scores. Luckily for LSU, as long as Harris isn’t a turnover machine and his handoffs are crisp, the Tigers should be in contention come November.
3. Texas A&M:
Once the revolving door at QB settled at Texas A&M, the Aggies landed on a pretty good one with former Oklahoma Sooner Trevor Knight. Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray both had their moments in College Station, Texas, but Knight has a chance to make Aggie fans forget about last year’s duo — at least in the short term. Knight threw for 3,424 yards and 25 touchdowns (2,300 and 14 as a sophomore in 2014), and rushed for another 853 yards and eight TDs with Oklahoma. He’s reportedly dating “Duck Dynasty” daughter Sadie Robertson. Will that be a distraction? We’ll see soon enough.
The Volunteers’ Joshua Dobbs is the top returning passer in the SEC East. The aerospace engineer — yep, you read that correctly — has thrown for 4,192 yards and 26 touchdowns in three seasons. He has also rushed for 1,329 and 20 scores. Look for Dobbs’ numbers to improve in 2016 with a better supporting cast around him at receiver.
1. Ole Miss:
Perhaps the only question involving Ole Miss’ QB play is whether or not super recruit, Shea Patterson, sees playing time. Coach Hugh Freeze has said he plans to bring Patterson on road games but has not decided if he’ll play or redshirt. Chad Kelly is easily the most accomplished QB returning to the SEC. As a junior, Kelly threw for more than 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns and rushed for another 500 yards and 10 scores. His 65.1 completion rate was fourth in the SEC. As long as Kelly remains healthy, Ole Miss’ passing attack should rank among the nation’s best.