Quarterback rating: Ranking the SEC signal-callers after spring practice

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Florida redshirt junior Feleipe Franks. [Lauren Bacho/Gainesville Sun]

Spring has sprung and all of the spring college football games are completed, so what better time to look at the SEC’s quarterbacks heading into the off-season workouts?

The conference has some real stars, some reliable grinders and some real question marks heading into next year.

Here’s how I rank the quarterback situations for 2019. At least, for now.

1. Alabama

You have to start with the quarterback who had the Heisman Trophy won pretty much until the SEC Championship Game. There have been some rumblings among the Tide faithful that Tua Tagovailoa had a bad stretch at the end of the season and then was unremarkable in the spring game. But he is still the early favorite to win the stiff-armed trophy.

Tagovailoa had a sick TD-to-INT ratio of 43-to-6 last season, but in two title games — SEC and national — he threw four picks.

The Tide does not have Jalen Hurts to kick around anymore so they will have to find a backup. Alabama has five quarterbacks on the roster and Mac Jones is the only one with college experience. Still, most expect Tagovailoa’s brother, Taulia, to win the job.

Certainly, there will not be the quarterback controversy of 2018 with this team.

2. Georgia

Jake Fromm has a new offensive coordinator in James Coley and it will be interesting to see if the Bulldogs throw it around a little more. Fromm has a veteran offensive line in front of him and plenty of talented skill players and might be the most underrated quarterback in the country.

Last year he averaged 9.33 yards an attempt and has as much big-game experience as any QB in the country. We’re talking Heisman contender at the very least.

With Justin Fields gone, Georgia went back to the future to recover former Bulldog walk-on Stetson Bennett from junior college. Either he or athletic quarterback Dwan Mathis, a freshman who flipped from Ohio State when Fields went to the Buckeyes, will be behind Fromm.

3. Florida

When was the last time Florida went into a season fired up about its quarterback? Like, 2009? That’s how impressive Feleipe Franks was in the back third of last season and the spring game.

Franks went from “willing runner” to “willing to run you over runner” late in the season to add to his tool kit. He ran for seven TDs and only threw six interceptions all season.

The biggest question is whether Franks can go from good to great. His offensive line is going to be a work in progress and that may hinder his ascent.

Florida is comfortable with redshirt freshman Emory Jones at backup and will wait to see whether Kyle Trask decides to transfer after he graduates in May.

4. LSU

Joe Burrow had a solid first year after transferring from Ohio State, but led the SEC by being sacked 35 times. In comes Joe Brady from the Saints as passing game coordinator to try to get the ball out quicker.

We will see if LSU truly changes its offense or is the same promise-breaker of the last half-dozen years. But it is definitely Burrow’s team.

One thing to look at — in his last four games last season Burrow threw 10 touchdowns and one interception.

A bulked-up Myles Brennan will be the backup for the third straight year.

5. South Carolina

Jake Bentley seems like he has been the South Carolina quarterback forever. And he will be again this year.

Bentley might not be by the end of the year because early enrollee Ryan Hilinski is considered the future of the program and could press for playing time.

Coach Will Muschamp has named Bentley the starter and has not named a back-up (redshirt freshman Dakereon Joyner is also in the mix), but the pressure will be on Bentley to cut down on the interceptions. He has thrown 26 in the last two seasons and led the SEC with 14 last year.

6. Texas A&M

Jimbo Fisher did wonders with Kellen Mond last year, turning him from a runner into a true dual-threat quarterback. Mond was sixth in the SEC in passing yards and third in rushing.

But he was also sacked 34 times, second most in the league. Fisher’s offense sometimes asks the quarterback to wait for receivers to come open.

In his second year under the offensive whiz, Mond should improve and it certainly is his job. The young talent waiting for a chance includes Connor Blumrick, James Foster and early enrollee Zach Caldoza, but it’s Mond’s show.

7. Missouri

There doesn’t seem to be much of a question that Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant won the job in the spring.

So you will likely see more designed runs in the offense than you did with Drew Lock. But one reason Bryant lost his job to Trevor Lawrence was his inability to be a consistent passer, especially deep.

His backup will likely be Taylor Powell, who threw 14 passes last season, or LSU transfer Lindsey Scott.

8. Auburn

Gus Malzahn isn’t giving any secrets away and says the quarterback battle is ongoing among four players.

But most observers feel it’s eventually going to be Joey Gatewood replacing Jarrett Stidham behind center. The redshirt freshman — 6-foot-5, 235 pounds — is being compared to Cam Newton even though he has thrown only one meaningless pass in his college career.

He can run and he can throw, but he is also in a battle with Bo Nix, the son of former Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix. Also in the mix are Malik Willis and Cord Sandberg. But it looks like a two-player battle.

9. Mississippi State

There were times last season that Bulldog fans wanted to see more of Keytaon Thompson and this is their year.

Thompson spent two years under Nick Fitzgerald and did a good job as a freshman when Fitzgerald was injured late in the season. He started last year’s opener when Fitzgerald was suspended, but didn’t throw any meaningful passes the rest of the season.

Thompson almost certainly will be the starter this year after a season getting to know coach Joe Moorhead’s offense, but two freshmen — redshirt Jalen Mayden and true freshman Garrett Shrader (perhaps the most talented of them all) — have a chance to play this year. If Thompson is the starter, one of them will be the backup.

10. Kentucky

Florida fans remember Terry Wilson’s performance in The Swamp last season, but he was erratic after that. A late-season surge has the Wildcats optimistic that he’s ready to take the next step as a passer.

He’ll have to because the Kentucky offense was mostly about now-departed running back Bennie Snell last year.

And backup quarterback Gunnar Hoak is contemplating entering the grad transfer portal next month. That would leave the Wildcats with two freshmen behind Wilson.

Wilson’s talented enough, an efficient runner with a whip of an arm, but he has to get more consistent if Kentucky is going to get to a nice bowl game.

11. Tennessee

One thing you can say about Jarrett Guarantano is he can take a beating. The redshirt junior kept getting up last year after massive hits and started every game.

He also threw the fewest interceptions of any SEC starter (three). But the production wasn’t overwhelming (12 TDs, 1,900 yards) and the Vols are hoping he’ll see that change with new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and quarterback coach Chris Weinke.

Guarantano, whose Twitter handle is “broadwayjay2”, threw four touchdown passes in the spring game.

His backup is expected to be redshirt freshman JT Shrout.

12. Ole Miss

There will be a new starter for the Rebels. Former Florida commit Matt Corral took advantage of the new redshirt rule to get his four games in last year, one of them finishing off the Egg Bowl.

He replaces Jordan Ta’amu, who led the SEC in passing last year. Corral won’t have the same supporting cast around him and he’ll have a new coordinator in Rich Rodriguez. So expect some more quarterback runs.

There are three freshmen behind him and a shaky offensive line in front of him so it could be a rough season for the Rebels to make it to a bowl game now that they are finally eligible again.

13. Arkansas

The Razorbacks will likely be counting on a transfer behind center. Ben Hicks followed Chad Morris from SMU and may not have the size, but has experience.

Then there is Nick Starkel, who is finishing up school at Texas A&M, but will be eligible to play.

The wild card is Connor Noland, who missed much of spring practice pitching for the Arkansas baseball team.

14. Vanderbilt

Riley Neal, a transfer from Ball State, looks like the guy who will start the season, although Derek Mason says the battle may go all the way up to the first game.

Neal started 32 games, but Mason knows it’s different in this conference. He looked good in the spring game, but his competition did not play because of an injury. Junior Deuce Wallace also did not play last year because of suspension, but he does know the offense.

Still, he has a chance to win the job — and might have already salted it away if he wasn’t suspended in 2018. Either way, it’s a tall order to replace four-year starter Kyle Shurmur. Both will probably play.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

22 COMMENTS

  1. “As of now” Florida’s still trailing Bama and U.G.A. at 3rd place in QB play… “as of now.” But the offense will produce enough to win big games. In the beginning, Miami will be an appetizer, UK and Tennessee, a salad so to speak. LSU, Auburn and U.G.A. the main course in the regular season. So how hungry are this year’s Florida Gators? Time will tell. GO GATORS!

  2. I think UGA should be 1, Bama 2 and UF 3. However, I like our back-up situation better than any of the top 2. Even with a potential transfer in Trask. Jones as a change-up who can slash vs Franks more power running game will be a nice wrinkle. Plus now Jones will be more comfortable in the offense and likely a more skilled passer. Receivers is the strength of this team and I still think our backs are very talented (albeit somewhat injury prone with Davis). You still have to like Perine and Pierce who will give Davis time to get his footing and game speed back. Plus the freshman backs. OL, as has been discussed much in the offseason, will be a ? heading into the season but the tools for a very good offense are all in place.

  3. Although it would certainly be wonderful to see Felipe go from “good to great” in 2019, personally I’d settle for “good to CONSISTENTLY good”. If we have an OL before Auburn, and if our tremendous stable of running backs do their thing, and if our WRs are as good as I think they are, and if Grantham delivers a Top-20 defense or better……….hell, we ought to be in the SEC game, shouldn’t we? Why not us?

  4. I could see Fromm being higher than Tua. I rank T&Am ahead of UF. I think right now there is a significant difference BAMA/UGA and everybody else. The fact that UF has a new offense line could play havoc on Franks. Mond can’t be sacked more that last year, can he? Also drop South Carolina a few spots. Think Bentley has capped out under Muschamp, the qb killer.

    • I think Muschbrain probably learned all the wrong lessons from last season and we’ll likely see him cast his spell of stupid on the SCAR offense. After they scored a bunch of points on Clemson I didn’t hear one word of praise for the offense from him, and look how they fell flat in their bowl game.

      I think we’re going to be okay on the offensive line. I really do.

    • I think Bama goes back to more of a power running, play-action based offense this year. It’s more Saban’s style, and he will want to run back to that using his new artificial hip after the whipping he got from Clemson. That should help Tua hide his weak play in the big games.

  5. Tua’s numbers against quality defenses are very average. I don’t see why all the hype. It means nothing that he can put up big numbers against Samford and Appalachian State. I need to see him do it against a good team in a big game as the starter– and he needs to stop with the Kaiser Soze act every time he struggles.

    Fromm is very good. None of the other guys we face scares me all that much, though when Bentley gets hot he can put up some points. The problem for SCAR is that they never know which Bentley they are going to get.

    I like Franks and our QBs. I think we were in a good place right now.

  6. I’m kind’ve confused. Is this an article ranking the best QBs or the best QB situations? The headline makes it seem like it’s best Qbs, but then the line right before the rankings says situations. Yeah Bama and UGA have the best QBs, but if either one of those guys goes down, they’re in some serious trouble. Personally I think the Gators have the best situation as I think we have some pretty good backups and we’d be in less trouble if Franks went down.

      • Sparky, Emory has far more significant snaps than Mac and Dwan have combined. He played in 4 games last season, including the entire second half against Idaho and saw action in big games against UGA and Michigan. Mac and Dwan have a total of 17 snaps combined and all of them came from Jones. In 3 years of college football, he has 17 total snaps. I know all 3 are question marks, but I’d feel much more comfortable with Emory being forced into the lineup than either of those guys based off the small sample size we have. That was kind’ve my point if we’re comparing the QB situations of the top 3 listed.

  7. Wow!!! UF quarterbacks led by Franks at no. 3 only behind Bama and UGA? That has to make those who thinks Franks is a lost cause and want Emory to start sooner rather than later wince a bit. Be careful what you wish for. I support Franks and want him to continue his development and success but I am a bit pleasantly surprised, if not shocked, by how high he stacks up against the rest of the competition.

  8. some of this i dont get. how auburn, who doesnt know who its qb will be, is ranked above kentucky, whose qb beat penn state. or rating the teas A&m qb so low. i think ut has a better qb than people think, but no way is tua better than fromm. i like franks but i think the last half of the year we had an easier schedule, not a huge leap.