Matt Corral or JT Daniels? Let the SEC's 2021 preseason first-team All-SEC QB debate begin
There are a pair of SEC quarterbacks who started 2021 with dramatic bowl victories against top-15 teams. Oh, and even better, they happened against top-20 defenses.
If you did your homework — or simply read the headline — you know that referred to Matt Corral and JT Daniels. Both turned down the NFL to return for another year in college. Both are among the early leaders in the Heisman Trophy discussion, and both will be the overwhelming answer to a question that’ll be asked throughout this offseason.
Corral or Daniels for preseason first-team All-SEC quarterback?
This is the part where Alabama fans yell “Bryce Young!” or Florida fans yell “Emory Jones!”
I know, I know. Both of those guys have Heisman Trophy odds, too. The quarterback position, including Max Brennan (I combined Max Johnson and Myles Brennan), looks rock solid in the SEC in 2021.
This is the part where I remind you that we’re talking about a preseason award. As in, who will start the upcoming season as the best at the position. Young and Jones might end up there, but they haven’t started a game yet. Tua Tagovailoa didn’t even get third-team All-SEC honors in the preseason heading into 2018 because he didn’t have an SEC start yet, and that was fresh off 2nd-and-26. Assuming Mac Jones doesn’t return to school, Corral and Daniels are now the elder statesmen of the SEC (I probably should’ve added that caveat earlier).
Corral vs. Daniels is a unique debate to have, despite the fact that both were Elite 11 quarterbacks from the state of California in the 2018 class. Both were committed to/attended different schools before winding up at their current SEC programs. Actually, Corral was once committed to USC’s 2018 class, which was where Daniels ultimately signed. Their 2020 quarterback ratings were separated by less than 1 point (Daniels was 178.5 and Corral was 177.6).
Speaking of side-by-side comps, let’s do some more of that!
Again, it’s a unique comparison in part because Daniels had 40% of the games that Corral had. That’s why the per/game numbers seem most relevant.
For what it’s worth, it’s probably unfair to look at pre-2020 data points when both played in vastly different offenses than the ones they’ll play in next season.
If we’re talking about just the surroundings they’ll have next year, it’s hard not to favor Daniels. That young group of Georgia pass-catchers is special. Everyone knows about George Pickens, but it’s the 2020 emergence of Kearis Jackson and Jermaine Burton that projects well. James Cook, the SEC East version of Ainias Smith, also returns. Georgia already has the freakishly athletic tight end Darnell Washington, but if the Dawgs add 5-star LSU tight end transfer Arik Gilbert, look out.
I mean, already look out. That’s a darn good group.
If there’s a case to be made for Corral’s surroundings having the edge on Daniels, it probably boils down to the Outback Bowl. Against a top-20 defense, Corral still put up nearly 400 yards offense despite the fact that he was without Elijah Moore, Kenny Yeboah, Braylon Sanders and Jerrion Ealy. A whopping 75% of Ole Miss’ receiving production (!) was out. What did Corral do? He turned to Dontario Drummond, who will return for 1 more year, and John Rhys Plumlee.
That’s right. Plumlee, AKA one of the most electric players in all of college football (the guy did have a 1,000-yard rushing season as a true freshman in 2019). If Plumlee dedicates himself to the receiver position, we’re suddenly talking about a group of weapons that’s still plenty dangerous with Sanders, Ealy and Snoop Conner back, as well as promising freshman tight end Casey Kelly, who emerged as a downfield threat in Yeboah’s absence.
Corral and Daniels have weapons. That’s not up for debate. Neither is the fact that both play in systems that love to stretch the field.
This type of stuff isn’t going anywhere:
Matt Corral hit a NASA spaceship with this ball
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 28, 2020
JT Daniels to Arian Smith for 55 yards! pic.twitter.com/08v94Qf2xk
— 🌹 (@RespectDaBeard1) January 1, 2021
Welcome to the new age of SEC football, wherein you’d better have a dude who can air it out for 50-plus with the flick of the wrist. Fortunately for Ole Miss and Georgia, that’s not lacking.
What was lacking in 2020 was a head-to-head matchup with Corral and Daniels. We won’t get that in 2021, either. That is, unless Ole Miss shocks the world and gets to an SEC Championship.
Instead, we’ll have to just continue the breakdown. For every argument of “Corral can have games where he throws 5 interceptions and Daniels doesn’t,” there’s the counterpoint of “well Corral can beat you with his legs and Daniels can’t.”
Both are fair points. Consider it all part of the discussion.
And to be clear, nobody is discounting the odds of someone coming out of nowhere and finishing as the conference’s undisputed best quarterback. Certainly nobody predicted Heisman Trophy finalist upside for Joe Burrow, Mac Jones or Kyle Trask.
For all we know, Will Rogers is going to rewrite SEC record books in Year 2 of Mike Leach’s offense. Or maybe K.J. Jefferson is going to become the next big thing after a full offseason in Kendal Briles’ offense. Who knows?
What does feel likely is that with all the 2020 data points in the books, the battle for preseason first-team All-SEC quarterback will come down to Corral or Daniels. It’s OK if you don’t have your mind made up yet. Something tells me we’ll have plenty of time to dissect SEC signal-callers over the course of the next few months.
Let the debate begin.