7 hottest position battles in SEC this spring
There will be no shortage of competition and talk about quarterback battles across the SEC this spring and summer. There are several teams who have an incumbent, or long-term backup as a likely front-runner, but they must fend off a highly regarded recruit, or two. But other teams have battles beyond the quarterback, especially in the SEC East.
Here is our take on the seven best position battles across the league this spring:
Kentucky quarterbacks: Of all the position battles, Kentucky’s might be the most complicated, given the varying levels of experience of all the players. One-time backup and seemingly incumbent Stephen Johnson should have a leg up as former starter Drew Barker returns from back surgery that ended his 2016 season.
Johnson’s listed backup, rising sophomore Gunnar Hoak, was behind him on the depth chart, but walk-on transfer Luke Wright reportedly was set to replace Johnson late in the season, if needed. Perhaps that decision was to protect Hoak’s redshirt? And the Wildcats also have incoming recruit Danny Clark, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound prospect from Akron, Ohio, who flipped from an early commitment to Ohio State.
South Carolina running backs: For the second spring and summer, the Gamecocks have a slew of running backs capable of rising to the top of the depth chart. In fact, the depth chart was turned upside down from last summer to the end of the season.
Along with Rico Dowdle, A.J. Turner and David Williams, North Carolina transfer Tyson Williams will add another option. Dowdle wrestled the starting job away at the end of the season, but Turner played well in preseason camp and beat out junior David Williams at tailback, starting four of the first five games. Dowdle started the final five games of the regular season. Tyson Williams (6-foot, 220 pounds) was South Carolina’s scout team running back and will add speed to Dowdle’s power. What’s more, Caleb Kinlaw, a former Wisconsin running back, will be in the mix after coming from Pearl River Community College.
Auburn quarterbacks: Well-known Auburn QBs Sean White and John Franklin III will be in a position battle with incoming Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham, true freshman Woody Barrett and redshirt freshman Tyler Queen.
White has been Auburn’s starter since taking over a month into the 2015 season when the Tigers benched Jeremy Johnson. White suffered multiple injuries, including a knee injury last season and a recent shoulder injury. When healthy, White completed 65.2 percent of his throws for 1,644 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions.
Stidham, who was the No. 38 prospect nationally and the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback by 247 Sports along with being selected to the Elite 11 quarterbacks camp in 2015 before arriving at Baylor, will have three full seasons of eligibility left.
Franklin might not be on the roster by the time fall camp opens, but he was used sparingly this past season with 633 total yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and one lost fumble. While Franklin wasn’t immediately definitive about his plans for 2017, Barrett tweeted, then deleted it, before the Alabama A&M game that he’d, “waited long enough.”
Barrett was the No. 6 dual-threat quarterback rated by the 247 Sports Composite out of high school in Winter Garden, Fla. Queen is also in the mix, but not expected to be among the frontrunners to win the job.
Georgia offensive line: The Bulldogs should have at least three new starters on the offensive line as the unit continues to be re-made in the beefier image that offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, offensive line coach Sam Pittman and head coach Kirby Smart prefer.
Among the players already on the roster, incumbent left guard Isaiah Wynn, backup right guard Dyshon Sims, right guard and backup center Lamont Gaillard, backup right tackle Kendall Baker and redshirt freshman Ben Cleveland should get the first look.
But among the recruits in the 2017 class, 4-star guard Netori Johnson is expected to be listed on the two-deep depth chart and signee D’Marcus Hayes is expected to be a possible starter at tackle out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
The class also includes 4-star offensive tackle recruits in Andrew Thomas of Atlanta and D’Antne Demery of Brunswick, Ga., and 3-star guard prospect Justin Shaffer of Ellenwood, Ga., a high school teammate of Johnson.
There are 10 players vying for five spots, including four who were listed on the two-deep for the Liberty Bowl. For a unit that’s received blame in recent years, and criticized for being a soft spot in the recruiting rankings, these competitions should get plenty of attention this spring and summer.
Tennessee quarterbacks: The task to replace Joshua Dobbs will likely come down to a highly touted dual threat quarterback in Jarrett Guarantano, who redshirted in 2016, or two-year backup Quinten Dormady (below).
Dormady was a four-star recruit out of high school in Texas, and was ranked by 247 Sports as the No. 5 pro-style quarterback and No. 24 prospect in Texas. He appeared in limited action in four games in 2016 and 10 games overall in his career.
Guarantano was also a four-star recruit coming out of high school in New Jersey, where 247 Sports ranked him the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback overall and No. 3 prospect in New Jersey.
Florida quarterbacks: The Gators are another team with a loaded depth chart at quarterback, starting with Luke Del Rio, Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask, walk-on Nick Sproles, and incoming recruits Kadarius Toney and three-star quarterback Jake Allen.
Del Rio began this season as the starter, but knee and shoulder injuries caused him to miss six games, and opened an opportunity for Franks and Trask to compete. Franks and Trask, who enrolled early in January 2016, and both have more physical qualities than Del Rio, including size, arm strength and mobility. Though Franks, 6-foot-6, 219-pounds threw three interceptions in the 2016 spring game, he was Austin Appleby’s backup for six games, and considered the frontrunner. Trask is 6-foot-4 and 228 pounds and could be the best pure passer. Del Rio, if healthy, has the experience, and presumably least likely to make mistakes.
Texas A&M quarterbacks: The Aggies will start a new quarterback for the fourth consecutive year.
Among the competitors are recruit Kellen Mond, of IMG Academy, who is the No. 3 dual threat quarterback in America in this class. Then there’s Pearland, Texas’ Connor Blumrick, a 3-star recruit who is 6-foot-6, and chose the Aggies over Ole Miss.
Backup Jake Hubenak has the only college experience but started the Music City Bowl at the end of last season against Louisville (28-for-48, 307 yards, two touchdowns, interception) before starts against Mississippi State, Ole Miss and UT-San Antonio. He appeared in six games. Hubenak could be the safe pick. He passed for 884 yards in six games, including two starts, with six touchdowns and two interceptions.
Nick Starkel redshirted in 2016 after he was rated a 3-star quarterback by 247 sports and the No. 21 player at his position in Texas. He was an Elite 11 finalist and chose the Aggies over Oklahoma State and UCLA.