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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.