Hoover, AL—One of the universal truths I’ve learned covering college football is this: With few exceptions, there is no problem that can’t be solved by recruiting better players.
Here is what I mean: It wasn’t that long ago that quarterback was considered a position of weakness in the Southeastern Conference.
That will not be the case in 2017. In fact, quarterback is going be a position of strength in the SEC this season. Consider this: 11 of 14 SEC teams will return the quarterback who started their final game of the 2016 season. The SEC had four true freshmen to start at quarterback last season: Alabama’s Jalen Hurts, Georgia’s Jacob Eason, South Carolina’s Jake Bentley, and Shea Patterson of Ole Miss. As a result, half of the schools in the conference could be starting quarterbacks who are sophomores or YOUNGER. So the present looks good and the future looks better.
That’s why one of the most popular themes at SEC Media Days, which started on Monday, is that 2017 is going to be the “Year of the Quarterback.:
“You know, I’m a big believer that every year is the year of the quarterback,” said Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema whose quarterback, senior Austin Allen, returns after throwing for 3,430 yards, which led the SEC.
Bielema’s point is that in today’s game, it’s hard to win a lot if you don’t have a pretty good quarterback.
Les Miles is no longer employed at LSU because he and his staff could not sign and develop an elite quarterback.
Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M had two five-star quarterbacks walk out the door in December of 2015. Now he is probably fighting for his job.
Here is a quick look at the projected starting quarterbacks in the SEC for 2017. It’s a pretty good list:
Alabama–Jalen Hurts, sophomore: Hurts was only one second away from going 15-0 and winning a national championship as a true freshman for the Crimson Tide. He will only get better under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Alabama has a true freshman, Tua Tagovailoa, who could challenge for playing time but he is not going to beat out Hurts.
Arkansas–Austin Allen, senior: Allen is a coach’s son and an incredibly bright player. While he led the SEC in passing he also threw 15 interceptions to his 25 touchdowns. That’s way too many.
Auburn–Jarrett Stidham, sophomore: Showed flashes at Baylor in 2015 when he played in 11 games including three starts. He could make Auburn the second best team in the SEC.
LSU—Danny Etling, senior: He completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 11 touchdowns in 11 games last season. The Purdue transfer should improve under new offensive coordinator Matt Canada. If he doesn’t there are several young quarterbacks waiting in the wings.
Ole Miss—Shea Patterson, sophomore: Patterson had his redshirt taken off after the ninth game of the 2016 season and threw for 880 yards. He will have a monster year in the new Ole Miss offense of OC Phil Longo. He is very, very talented.
Miss. State—Nick Fitzgerald, junior: Took over for Dak Prescott last season and was third in the SEC in total offense with 2,423 yards passing and 1,375 yards rushing. Dan Mullen says Fitzgerald is the most athletic QB he has ever coached.
Texas A&M—Jake Hubenak, senior: Became starter late in the 2016 season when Trevor Knight was hurt. He is going to be pushed by several young quarterbacks including Kellen Mond and Nick Starkel. So does Sumlin, who needs to win now, go with talent or experience?
Florida—Feleipe Franks, redshirt freshman: Looked good in the spring game and pulled ahead to be the starter over Kyle Trask. But there is a wrinkle now with the addition of graduate transfer Malik Zaire of Notre Dame. So who starts against Michigan?
Georgia—Jacob Eason, sophomore: Eason was the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the country and played reasonably well for a true freshman in 2016, completing 55.1 percent of his passes for 2,430 yards. But he is going to be pushed by talented freshman Jake Fromm.
Kentucky—Stephen Johnson, senior: Johnson, a transfer who started his college career at Grambling, became the starter last season when Drew Barker got hurt in the third game. He was 5-4 in his nine starts and led the Wildcats to a bowl game. Barker is finally healthy again and it will be interesting to see how they use him.
Missouri—Drew Lock, junior: Took a giant leap as a sophomore, throwing for 3,399 yards. Missouri led the SEC in total offense (500.5 ypg). Lock is a very underrated player.
South Carolina, Jake Bentley sophomore: Missed his entire senior year of high school to enroll early in 2016. Coaches took the redshirt off Bentley after six games and made him the starter. He was 4-3 in those starts. He is a coach’s son with a tremendous upside.
Tennessee—Quentin Dormady, sophomore, OR Jarrett Guarantano, redshirt freshman: Dormady is the classic drop back passer with an NFL arm. Guarantano is very athletic with an infectious personality. I predict both will play early as Tennessee figures out what it wants to be on offense.
Vanderbilt—Kyle Shurmur, junior: Came into his own in the final four games of the regular season, completing 61.2 percent of his passes for 1,162 yards and five touchdowns. With running back Ralph Webb returning, Shurmur is only going to get better.