If SEC teams lost their starting QB to a positive COVID-19 test, who would hold steady and who would falter?
I can’t emphasize this enough — this is a backup plan.
Nobody is wishing/predicting/expecting/forecasting any specific person to test positive for COVID-19. In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be a flattening of the curve. It would just be a free-fall down to 0 and we’d have an uninterrupted college football season.
But if voluntary college football workouts and early pro sports returns are any indications, there will be players who test positive for COVID-19. Teams with the most depth this year are set up to handle that better than teams without it.
With that in mind, I decided to break down which SEC teams would at least hold steady and which would falter in the event that their starting quarterback tested positive and was quarantined for at least 10 days:
Backups: Emory Jones, Anthony Richardson
There are some who believe that Jones has a higher ceiling than Trask and that he’ll wind up starting games in 2020. Regardless of whether that comes to fruition, Dan Mullen has a talented quarterback entering Year 3 in his system. The fact that Jones appeared in 15 games is huge. In this era of the transfer portal, it’s rare to have a capable backup like that. Florida’s quarterback situation is so good that it boasts the most deserving preseason All-SEC quarterback in Kyle Trask while also boasting arguably the best plug-and-play backup of anyone in the league. Mullen is fortunate.
Backups: JT Daniels, D’Wan Mathis, Carson Beck, Stetson Bennett IV
I wrote after Daniels made the surprising decision to transfer to Georgia that I thought he was brought in for security. That was before knowing if the former 5-star USC quarterback was eligible. I listed him as the backup because I believe Jamie Newman’s deep-ball ability makes him the more natural fit in Todd Monken’s offense. With Daniels eligible, Georgia is in position to turn to a quarterback with 397 passing attempts at the Power 5 level. Again, that’s rare. And behind him are a couple of former 4-star recruits in Mathis and Beck, which definitely isn’t the norm for 3rd and 4th string quarterbacks these days.
Backups: Bryce Young, Paul Tyson
Yes, I believe Mac Jones will be the opening day starter after this weird offseason wherein Young didn’t even get a spring game. But all signs point to him having a Jalen Hurts-like ability to step in as a true freshman and run the offense if needed. The 5-star recruit has been getting rave reviews all year, and with Steve Sarkisian in his corner, you wouldn’t have to worry about them being on the same page. Don’t sleep on Tyson, either. He’s the forgotten guy in that quarterback room following the transfer of Taulia Tagovailoa, but he absolutely has a Power 5 arm and frame. He’s entering Year 2 in Sarkisian’s offense and could factor into the equation more than people think.
4. Ole Miss
Backups: Matt Corral, Grant Tisdale, Kade Renfro, Kinkead Dent, Sellers Shy, Brice Johnson
Have you heard that Lane Kiffin has a few quarterbacks? I’m a John Rhys Plumlee fan, and I believe Kiffin will be willing to build the offense around his run-first skill set. Having said that, Corral is an ideal backup if he stays in Oxford. He’s learning his 3rd offense in as many years, and he has 14 games of experience at the SEC level. Last year’s split time with Plumlee still allowed for him to get some much-needed reps, and as we saw in the Egg Bowl, he’s more than capable of leading the offense. Tisdale is the sleeper. For all we know, Kiffin has plans for him in 2020. It’d be surprising if all of those quarterbacks were on the roster at season’s end, but for now, it suggests Kiffin isn’t lacking depth.
5. South Carolina
Backups: Collin Hill, Luke Doty, Dakereon Joyner
Adding Hill was a sneaky-good move by the South Carolina staff for the obvious reason that he spent 4 years in Mike Bobo’s offense at Colorado State. Multiple knee injuries limited Hill to a shortened 2019 season, but the Gamecocks would turn to someone who understands the system and has over 400 passing attempts at the FBS level during 3 seasons of action. Doty is the promising true freshman who would ideally redshirt in 2020. It’d be interesting to see if Joyner, the former 4-star quarterback who made the full-time switch to receiver this year, would be used as the 3rd-string quarterback. There’s no guarantee that’d be the case with such limited time playing quarterback in the new offense, but at the very least, the Gamecocks would have a veteran quarterback to turn to in an emergency.
Backups: Max Johnson, T.J. Finley
LSU needs its starting quarterback to stay healthy more than any other SEC team. It’s as simple as that. Why? Besides my growing belief that Myles Brennan is going to be much more developed than people realize, it’s what’s behind him. A pair of true freshmen are the backups following Peter Parrish’s indefinite suspension this offseason (he’s no longer on LSU’s roster). You have a couple of 2020 players who didn’t even get a spring game because of COVID-19. Given how much Joe Burrow elevated the expectations for future LSU quarterbacks, that’s an awful lot of pressure to put on a pair of players who have yet to even stand on the sidelines for their first college game. Don’t be surprised if LSU tries to pounce on an unhappy 2nd-string quarterback who enters the transfer portal in August.
Backups: Connor Bazelak, Taylor Powell, Brady Cook
On the bright side, Mizzou has 2 backups who saw meaningful snaps in SEC play, assuming that former TCU transfer Shawn Robinson is the starter. There aren’t a ton of teams who can say that. On the not-so-bright side, Bazelak is coming off a torn ACL he suffered in last year’s regular-season finale, which was 1 of 2 career games in which he got legitimate work. Powell played last year, but he didn’t complete 50% of his passes and he averaged 4.8 yards per attempt en route to getting benched in favor of Bazelak late last season. And Cook is a true freshman who hasn’t exactly had normal time to learn Eli Drinkwitz’s offense. Shoot, nobody in that Mizzou quarterback room has had those key offseason reps in the new system. Consider that another reason Mizzou’s quarterback depth is troubling.
Backups: KJ Jefferson, Jack Lindsey, John Stephen Jones, Malik Hornsby
Look. There’s a reason Arkansas got Feleipe Franks. The Hogs needed a veteran in that quarterback room, and one who has proven he can make plays at the SEC level. Jefferson was promising in flashes last year, but he’s coming off shoulder surgery and mastering Kendal Briles’ offense in this weird offseason seems like a tall ask. That same logic applies to Hornsby, who might be the future, but it’s hard to imagine coaches feeling great about turning to a true freshman after these offseason limitations and with what’s expected to be a subpar offensive line. Lindsey and Jones started at different points last year, but they averaged 4.2 and 3.9 yards per attempt, respectively. Here’s hoping Sam Pittman would elect to recreate the Wild Hog with Rakeem Boyd if Franks were to be sidelined.
4. Texas A&M
Backups: Zach Calzada, Haynes King
I say this as someone who is slowly buying into the Calzada hype in College Station. James Foster apparently bought into it, too, which was why he announced this week that he was entering the transfer portal. Calzada was the backup as a true freshman last year, which said a lot about what Jimbo Fisher thought of him. But A&M is almost a default entry in the “falter” category. Why? It’s no secret that Fisher asks a lot of his quarterbacks. There’s a steep learning curve. Let’s not forget that while Calzada is promising, he’s entering Year 2 and he has 0 career reps against Power 5 defenses. He played in 3 games against the likes of Texas State, FCS Lamar and UTSA, and he averaged 5.5 yards per attempt. Given the pressure on A&M to capitalize on this favorable schedule and make that next step, the Aggies aren’t exactly in position to deal with a redshirt freshman quarterback who is still figuring things out.