Alabama Team News

There’s a reason to believe in SEC QBs

Chad Kelly

For a conference that won an eighth national championship in 10 seasons, went 9-2 in the postseason and scored at least 38 points in seven of those games, the SEC didn’t exactly dazzle the nation with its quarterback play.

Only four SEC quarterbacks averaged at least 200 passing yards per game and only six were in the top 60 in pass efficiency. And a stunning nine SEC quarterbacks were benched during the season for poor play or suspension. Only Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Tennessee stayed with the same signal-caller the entire season.

Of course, statistics alone don’t tell you the entire story of a quarterback. Alabama’s Jake Coker, benched before the Ole Miss game, didn’t have impressive regular-season numbers, but he was outstanding in the Crimson Tide’s two playoff wins.

Although the SEC is losing three solid quarterbacks — Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, Arkansas’ Brandon Allen and Coker – the league could be improved at the most important position on the field. Nine schools return quarterbacks with starting experience. And when it comes to quarterbacks, the SEC had a huge National Signing Day.

SEC schools signed the top two pro-style passers and three of the top five. Ole Miss’ Shea Patterson and Georgia’s Jacob Eason were ranked first and second, respectively, and Florida’s Feleipe Franks was fifth. In addition, SEC schools signed the top three dual-threat quarterbacks — in order, Tennessee’s Jarrett Guarantano, South Carolina’s Brandon McIlwain and Alabama’s Jalen Hurts. The best part: Five of the six (all but Guarantano) enrolled early.

Overall, six quarterbacks were ranked among the top 100 recruits nationally, and SEC schools signed four of them (the three pro-style passers plus Guarantano).

Ole Miss has the best returnee. Chad Kelly easily led the league in passing yards (4,042) and total offense, and was second in pass efficiency. He had 31 touchdowns to 13 picks.

Tennessee has the next-best quarterback in Josh Dobbs. He was only eighth in the SEC in pass efficiency and 70th in the nation, but he did complete 59 percent of his passes and ran for almost 700 yards.

Here is a look at the other quarterbacks situations in the SEC:

Lane Kiffin

Lane Kiffin has gotten excellent production from his quarterbacks the past two seasons. Can he do so again in 2016? JASON GETZ/USA TODAY SPORTS

Alabama: Coordinator Lane Kiffin has done a masterful job maximizing the talents of Coker and Blake Sims the past two seasons. His next project figures to be productive as well. Blake Barnett is the favorite to win the starting job.

Auburn: The Tigers went back and forth with Sean White and Jeremy Johnson. Each passed for more than 1,000 yards. White is the better passer and field general, Johnson the better runner. Whoever wins the job should be better than last year. Or the job could go to junior college transfer John Franklin, a former Florida State player. Gus Malzahn has had two JC quarterbacks who performed quite well: Cam Newton and Nick Marshall.

Arkansas: Brandon Allen, who led the SEC in pass efficiency, is a huge loss. Hogs coach Bret Bielema said Wednesday during his NSD news conference that Austin Allen — Brandon’s younger brother — is the clear front-runner. Ricky Town, rated the No. 2 pocket passer in the class of 2015 and a transfer from USC, also could get in the mix.

Florida: Will Grier played well before his suspension, then transferred. Treon Harris did well at LSU, then regressed and now is at wide receiver. The starter likely will be one of two transfers Autin Appleby or Luke Del Rio; Franks also will get an opportunity.

Georgia: Starter Grayson Lambert is back, and so is Brice Ramsey. But it appears the job will go to Eason, the five-star signee with a strong arm. On talent alone, he would give Georgia an upgrade.

Kentucky: Strong-armed Patrick Towles decided to transfer following the season after Drew Barker took over the starting role. Like Towles, Barker has good size, a fine arm and some mobility. If he is consistent, he could be an upgrade over Towles.

LSU: Brandon Harris showed flashes, and with a year under his belt, he could emerge as a solid quarterback. He has a good arm, and his mobility adds a positive dimension to the attack.

Missouri: With Maty Mauk suspended twice, then finally dismissed, the job belongs to sophomore Drew Lock, who has a strong arm but showed a lack of experience last year. He didn’t get much help from his receivers. He averaged 111 passing yards per game and had four touchdowns and eight interceptions. He ranked 111th in the nation in pass efficiency.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs might have the biggest drop-off at the position of any SEC team. Prescott was a multi-year starter who set school records for touchdown passes, passing yards and total offense. Nick Fitzgerald (6-5, 227) seems likely to take over.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks started Connor Mitch, Perry Orth and the mobile Lorenzo Nunez. All three are back, but the job might be won by McIlwain.

Texas A&M: The Aggies lost two touted quarterbacks in Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray, both of whom started last season. The job could go to Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight, who lost the Sooners’ job to Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield. Knight was brilliant in a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama three years ago but wasn’t as the starter in 2014 and was OU’s backup last season. Jake Hubenak, who started the Aggies’ bowl game, also will contend. Freshman Nick Starkel arrives this summer.

Vanderbilt: Johnny McCrary started the first part of the 2015 season, but ineffectiveness (six TDs, 12 picks) led Vandy to promote freshman Kyle Shurmur. McCrary has transferred and the job is Shurmur’s. His dad, Pat, is a longtime NFL assistant who spent two seasons as Cleveland’s head coach.

(You can follow Jimmy Hyams on Twitter @JimmyHyams)

(Feature photo of Chad Kelly by MATT BUSH/USA TODAY SPORTS)

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