SEC QBs a mystery

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Florida quarterback Kyle Trask will enter the spring as the starter. [Lynne Sladky/Associated Press]
Here’s where a lazy writer would use a cliche to start out a column on quarterbacks in the SEC by saying, “now that the dust has settled” after the final mini-National Signing Day.
But as we know, the dust never really settles in the SEC, and, if it ever does, we are allowed to refer to you as legally dead.
Of course, there is no telling what can happen between now and September in this league as long as there are transfer portals, fourth cousins, fraternity keg parties, “voluntary” workouts, spring practices, campus police and lazy summer nights for 18- to-22-year-olds.
But we have a decent idea of what the quarterback situation is going to look like in this conference. In a word, it’s an unknown. That’s a year after the SEC was heading into a season full of known commodities.
We all went to SEC Media Days in 2019 proclaiming the conference to be quarterback rich and perhaps the best it’s ever been.
Of course, we didn’t know anything.
We knew the Heisman Trophy winner would come out of the SEC, we just had the wrong one.
We knew Florida would have improved quarterback play, we just had the wrong guy.
We liked the situation at quarterback at South Carolina and Missouri, but not so fast my friend. Jake Bentley was injured and has transferred. Kelly Bryant showed that it was the talent around him at Clemson that made him look so strong, not the other way around.
We picked the wrong guy to win the job at Auburn and instead Bo Nix started every game.
So I guess what I’m saying is that we didn’t know diddly-poo.
This year, we won’t even try to guess how good the quarterbacks will be in the league. Many of the stars (Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Jake Fromm) have cycled through and we are left with a lot of questions at the 14 schools who make up America’s best conference.
So there are 14 schools and I have 14 questions, none of which will be answered soon:
1. Can Kyle Trask take the next step?
Trask may be the preseason All-SEC quarterback when we meet in July after a stellar 10 games as a starter. He was second in the league in passing, in part because Florida could not run the ball.
Nobody is expecting a Burrow-esque type of season (we may never see that again), but with Dan Mullen, Brian Johnson and a full off-season knowing you are starting, it could be something special.
2. Is Kellen Mond as good as he thought he was heading into last season?
Remember, he told us at Hoover, Ala., he was the best quarterback in the league. The tough schedule made it difficult to tell just how good he was (although he did finish third in the league in passing yards). It’s not as tough this year and perhaps Jimbo Fisher has finally figured out SEC defenses. Or not.
3. Can Mike Leach work his magic on KJ Costello?
No quarterback is going to go through as much culture shock as the Stanford transfer (Palo Alto to Starkville, David Shaw to Leach). Leach probably didn’t bring an experienced quarterback like Costello in to sit the bench, but the quarterback will miss all of the spring while he completes his degree.
Garrett Shrader will battle for the job after having his moments last season and this is one of those situations where there are a lot of unknowns.
4. Can Feleipe Franks rejuvenate his career in Fayetteville?
Arkansas landed a big-time recruit in Malik Hornsby, but Franks is the odds-on favorite to win the job after transferring from Florida. We all know about the experience and big arm that Franks brings, but the talent at Arkansas is not the talent at Florida. It will be interesting to watch the love-hate relationship the Hog fans have with Franks.
5. Is Myles Brennan ready to step in to be a star?
Even with everything LSU lost, there are still plenty of quality receivers (most notably Biletnikoff winner Ja‘Marr Chase) and it’s not like offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger forgot everything Joe Brady brought to the table.
But replacing THE GUY is never easy.
6. Can Jamie Newman adjust to the SEC?
He was extremely accurate at Wake Forest, but the defenses are different in this league. Newman was the prized quarterback in the transfer portal and Georgia has freshman quarterback Carson Beck ready in the wings after enrolling early.
7. Can Bo Nix make the jump?
As a true freshman, there were times when he was really good and times when he was not good at all. With a season under his belt and a new play caller in Chad Morris, this will be fascinating to watch. But, again, it’s a bit of an unknown.
8. Can Terry Wilson be Terry Wilson again?
His injury last year turned Kentucky into an offense that used a wide receiver at quarterback (and, boy, was Lynn Bowden Jr. effective). If Wilson is healthy, the Wildcats will look different than they did in 2019, but more like they did in 2018. Also, Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood hopes to win his eligibility appeal and that could be a factor.
9. Because Phil Fulmer has declared Tennessee is back, can Jarrett Guarantano deal with the pressure?
He has been an erratic quarterback during his career, but finished strong when the schedule got easier. How does he fare in September and October when the Vols get Oklahoma, Florida and Alabama?
10. Is Mac Jones the man?
He did some good things after replacing Tagovailoa at Alabama, but we all know Nick Saban isn’t afraid to change quarterbacks.
11. Is Shawn Robinson the answer?
The TCU transfer will likely be the starter after sitting out the year and he has all the tools. New coach, new coordinator, new quarterback. Should be interesting.
12. Does baseball mess with Lane Kiffin’s plans?
John Rhys Plumlee was electric at times last year, but he’ll spend the spring playing a different sport. That could open the door for former UF commit Matt Corral, who was a sometimes starter last year. Only Kiffin knows for sure and right now, he probably has no idea.
13. Does Vanderbilt have a quarterback?
That’s what Derek Mason is about to find out. Four quarterbacks played last year and they have all left. Vandy has four guys for the position, but no idea who will win the job.
Freshman Ken Seals will get most of the snaps in the spring while juco transfer Jeremy Moussa rehabs a leg injury.
14. Can Ryan Hilinski get South Carolina over the hump?
He started 11 games last season with mixed results at best and had knee surgery in December. His quarterback rating was almost 100 points below both Burrow and Tagovailoa and he had more sacks than TD passes.
Colin Hill transferred in from Colorado State to join new coordinator Mike Bobo, but he will be out for a good portion of the spring.
So …. Say it with me, it’s a big unknown.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Trask will set the SEC on fire as long as he’s healthy, and Jones will come in behind him and pretty much do the same. I think — me, myself, and I — that this is the year CDM has been waiting for in the quarterback room. We’ll get a good look at Richardson too, and Pierce will come into his own. We’re going to Atlanta, folks. Whether we will win there or not, I can’t say. But we’re going.

    Franks will be OK and Arkansas will improve, finally. He is the best option for them to get going again, and he will go to the NFL from there. Can’t say much more, but I hope at least that he has a good year and the Arkansas fans will embrace him — I think they will, because they’re hungry by now for anything positive, and Franks can bring that in spades.

    Mike Leach will restore MSU to at least the level that Dan Mullen had them, and he’ll do it fast. He will be dangerous with any quarterback, but he’ll never win an SEC — but they will be good again, and sometimes great.

    Who gives a fig about Lane Kiffin? He won’t be there long even if Ole Miss starts to win again.

    • I’m with ya, my friend. Trask is no mystery. Whether he reaches Tebow (that’s for you daz), Weurffel or Grossman status remains to be seen, but we know he’s the best returning QB in the conference. If the Gators provide him any sort of running game, he should throw for 3,500 yards and 35 TD’s.

      When you think of it, he was the Gators’ version of Kentucky’s Bowden. Defenses knew Bowden was going to run, but they couldn’t stop it. That was in large part because he is a great athlete, but he also had a great O-line. They also knew Trask was going throw, but they couldn’t stop it. He was quick and accurate, but he also had a great receiving corps. I should also give CDM credit for play calling and managing the game.

      Next season is going to be a great one. With Trask in the pocket picking apart defenses, occasionally lumbering forward with his 240 pound frame to keep the D honest, and having Pierce to hand the ball to, this should be Mullen’s best offense as the Gators’ HC.

      Go Gators!!!

      • Agree with both you guys. I do think you nailed it in your last paragraph.
        Now on leach, they may pass alot but unless they have Trask, the good SEC DB’s will shut him off if they dont run the ball. Trask was the only exception to that Ive seen(or remember) in 50 years of watching. he was an anomaly last year.

  2. No disrespect to the other quarterbacks, but I am predicting KJ Costello under Leach will post great numbers if not the best in the SEC. Leach’s philosophy is to spend all his practice time on the passing game so that they will be great at it. He punts spending any time on the run game. Their run game starts with a short pass. They may not be win many games in the SEC but they will post great passing stats while giving up many points because there will be more possession changes.

    • You may well be right, Sly. Were I Leach — disdain that I normally have for pirates aside — I’d sure hire the best DC money could buy. That said, I do think Mullen got them about to their ceiling, which is about as far as I think Leach will get them as well. I could be wrong, tho.

      Thing about it is, he’s going to be very dangerous all the time. Might shake up the West pecking order a tad. Give him a couple of good recruiting classes — who knows?

    • Leach’s schemes will definitely test the old theory that SEC superiority vs. other P5 conferences is due mainly to superior defensive play, particularly along the LOS. If the old theory holds serve, MSU will have success under Leach vs. the bottom half of the league and struggle mightily vs. top teams, like LSU, Bama, Auburn, UF and UGA, who can keep the heat on his QB’s by rotating ten talented DL’s while speedy DB’s take away his primary WR targets on every play. That struggle will be magnified in the red zone, where the lack of real estate favors the DBs and the LBs won’t have to worry about Leach’s anemic running game.