SEC Quarterback Rankings after 2018 regular season: Who made the best closing argument?
A dominant performance at the end of the regular season can do a lot. It really can.
It can give a coach an entire offseason to think about how a quarterback is ready to take the next step next year. It can give NFL Draft evaluators the “this guy is trending in the right direction” vibe. Or it can simply show that a player who faced criticism — because all quarterbacks in the SEC do — rose above it and balled.
Make an emphatic closing statement and you’re likely to sway the opinion of the jury. In this case, I am the judge and the jury.
Here are my final regular season SEC Quarterback Rankings of 2018:
14. Ty Storey, Arkansas
Yikes, Chad Morris. The offense that showed some promise in the middle of the season fell off the face of the Earth after the LSU loss. Part of that was on Storey, who never really gave the Hogs much of a chance and was subsequently benched in the regular season finale. Connor Noland looks like he’ll be favored to replace Storey next year, or maybe even Kelly Bryant could do the same. Storey’s duds to close the season didn’t show his first-year coach that he’s worthy of being the guy to build this offense around.
13. Terry Wilson, Kentucky
For all the questions about Kentucky’s offense all year, Wilson made one of the best closing arguments of any SEC quarterback. He stretched the field as well as he had since that Florida game, and as a result, the Cats were unstoppable against free-falling Louisville. Wilson did develop as a passer, and he deserves to be the unquestioned starter heading into 2019. Finishing the year with 7 consecutive games with a touchdown pass and 6 games of at least a 62 percent completion rate showed that he’s definitely trending up heading into the postseason.
12. Feleipe Franks, Florida
I think at this point, this is just what Franks is going to be. The FSU game sort of epitomized what he is as a quarterback. He’s capable of looking lost and making bizarre decisions, and he’s also capable of going off in a half like he did Saturday. Those inconsistencies are just always going to be there. For now, Dan Mullen is willing to take the good with the bad because when Franks is on, he does things that few people in the SEC can.
When kept clean, Florida QB Feleipe Franks saw a perfect passer rating – pacing the nation's QBs in the process pic.twitter.com/ra9uihjy03
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 25, 2018
As for whether Emory Jones will have a chance to win the starting job next year, I’m sure Mullen will at least leave that on the table this offseason. I expect Franks to put up a better fight than he did on this play on Saturday:
And the Oscar goes to…. Feleipe Franks! pic.twitter.com/SIJNBxmh2Z
— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) November 24, 2018
11. Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee
I’ve been all over the place on Guarantano this year. I was too low on him to start, then I probably got a little too high on him and now we’re back to the bottom half of this list. I realize Guarantano wasn’t at 100 percent Saturday. Based on the way he’s been hit, I’d be surprised if he was at 100 percent at any point this season. He ended his school record interception streak on a throw he shouldn’t have made while he was getting hit, but he still had a decent year with first-year coordinator Tyson Helton. But man, the idea of him having another new offensive coordinator would be brutal.
10. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
I know. It looks like I’m dropping Stidham because he faced Alabama. Do I still believe in the talent? Absolutely. But what SEC game did you walk away from thinking, wow, that Stidham is elite? I didn’t have any. Sure, he had his nice moments like the comeback against Texas A&M, but it was maddening to watch him in Gus Malzahn’s offense this year. It just wasn’t a fit, and it’s hard to keep saying a guy is one of the SEC’s best when we don’t get to see it on a weekly basis. My guess is that Saturday was Stidham’s last game in an Auburn uniform and that he’ll skip the bowl game. Could you blame him?
9. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
Fitzgerald might rank No. 12 or No. 13 in the SEC when it comes to pure passing, but there’s simply no better running quarterback in the conference. Fitzgerald doesn’t get enough credit for his decision-making in the run-pass option plays. There’s a reason the guy ran for at least 80 yards in every non-Alabama game since the disastrous Florida showing. Another season of 1,000 rushing yards and double-digit touchdowns on the ground was darn impressive. The lows were frustrating, but you can do a whole lot worse than Fitzgerald as your starting signal-caller.
8. Joe Burrow, LSU
Yes, his stats were padded by 7 (!) overtimes, but don’t overlook how impressive of a performance that was from Burrow. Despite all of those chances when LSU had the game taken away, he kept willing that team to conversion after conversion. Call it gritty or just call it special, but Burrow did something that I don’t think any LSU quarterback in the last decade would’ve done. He’s up to 2,500 passing yards and 57 percent accuracy, and his running ability has improved significantly:
This was Joe Burrow's 29th carry of the game.
Twenty. Nine. Carries. pic.twitter.com/tLhXsBUDFN
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 25, 2018
With a bowl game, Burrow will indeed become the first LSU player to account for 3,000 yards from scrimmage since JaMarcus Russell (don’t forget that Zach Mettenberger had -133 rushing yards after passing for 3,082 yards in 2013). Not bad at all.
7. Jake Bentley, South Carolina
Tip of the cap, to Jake Bentley and Bryan McClendon. That was a Clemson defense that hadn’t allowed a meaningful touchdown since September, and Bentley dropped over 500 (!) passing yards against them for a program single-game record. To me, that was a fantastic proof of concept game for McClendon’s offense and Bentley’s development in it. He really played well down the stretch, which is going to increase the offseason hype if he returns for his senior season. Bentley still has an Akron game to pad his stats, which means with a bowl game, he’ll have a chance to become the first South Carolina quarterback to ever throw for 30 touchdown passes in a season. My how things have changed in a month.
6. Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt
The time has come to give Shurmur his due. I’ve been too low on him all year and it took that brilliant performance against Tennessee for me to finally see the light. I said that I didn’t have confidence in Shurmur’s ability to function without Ke’Shawn Vaughn, and I didn’t trust him to hold a lead. Well, he proved me wrong on both accounts in a win-or-go-home game against Tennessee. Completing 31-of-35 passes was as precise as it gets, and even more impressive was the fact that he averaged 10.5 yards per attempt. On the year, Shurmur is up to a 23-6 touchdown-interception ratio, and at 2,844 passing yards, he’ll need 345 more to set the program’s single season record. Get ready for a lot more NFL Draft buzz.
5. Jordan Ta’amu, Ole Miss
I hated to see Ta’amu end his career on the sideline like that. That didn’t seem fair for someone who made that program interesting the past 2 years when it could’ve been a complete dumpster fire. Ta’amu didn’t get the SEC single-season passing record, but he still showed that he was one of the country’s better quarterbacks. Few people would have been able to step into that role as the Shea Patterson replacement and do what Ta’amu did. The knock on him in at the next level will be how talented his receivers were, but I think someone who can move and play in a spread system like that is going to look more enticing than he would’ve maybe 5 years ago.
4. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
Sure, Texas A&M didn’t deserve to win that game because of the missed calls down the stretch. But every second chance Mond got, he delivered. Like Burrow, Mond was the worst possible thing for a gassed LSU defense. He scrambled, he made throws into tight windows and he avoided the costly mistake that it would’ve taken to end that game.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 25, 2018
Mond still isn’t as accurate as he needs to be, and Jimbo Fisher would prefer if he took fewer sacks (34), but it’s hard not to be optimistic about the sophomore’s future in that system. The Aggies are going to put up a ton of points in 2019, especially if Trayveon Williams returns for his senior season.
3. Drew Lock, Mizzou
November Drew Lock is the best Drew Lock. Look at these numbers in his past 2 Novembers:
- 2,109 passing yards (264/game)
- 24-6 TD-INT ratio
- 8-0 record
Those were all against SEC foes, too. For as much as I’ve criticized Lock’s struggles against real competition, I can’t ignore how good he’s been in November the last 2 years. The fact that Mizzou is sitting there with a chance to win 9 games despite the loss of Josh Heupel says a lot. If Lock plays in the bowl game — that’s never a given in today’s world — he could finish with a better touchdown-to-interception ratio than last year when he set the SEC’s single-season touchdown mark. Here’s hoping we get one more look at college Lock. Or rather, November Lock.
2. Jake Fromm, Georgia
By now, you’ve seen the stat about Fromm having the nation’s second best quarterback rating since the LSU loss. That was before he lit up Georgia Tech on Saturday. It’s the efficiency numbers that are impressive with the Georgia sophomore. After Saturday’s career-high 4 touchdown passes on just 16 attempts, here’s what Fromm has done since the LSU game:
- 73 percent accuracy
- 9.7 yards per attempt
- 11-1 TD-INT ratio
- 41.6 PPG
- 5-0 (4 wins by +3 scores against Power 5 teams w/ winning records)
Fromm has only been sacked 12 times all year, and his 5 interceptions on just 233 attempts (19/game) are why some will point to him being a game manager, but watch the guy play and you’ll realize that he’s a top 10 quarterback nationally.
1. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
The race is over. Tagovailoa has the Heisman Trophy and there’s nothing that can happen next weekend that’ll change my opinion of that. He’s been the best player in college football this year, and there shouldn’t be much debate about that. Against another top-flight defense on Saturday, Tagovailoa had a career-high 5 touchdown passes (6 total) with 350 yards from scrimmage. The guy just closed the regular season without having thrown an incompletion in the fourth quarter. That’s insane.
Don’t get me wrong. Kyler Murray is having an unbelievable year. He deserves to be in New York and honored for the video game numbers he’s putting up. But against better defenses, Tagovailoa is having nearly as good of a statistical season, if not better than Murray. Tagovailoa just capped off one of the most impressive regular seasons we’ve ever seen from a quarterback, and he’ll be rewarded for it in a couple weeks.