A post-spring prediction of who wins each SEC quarterback battle
As we sit here in the beginning of May, I feel pretty good about two things.
SEC quarterback play will be improved in 2018, and nearly half the conference doesn’t have a clear favorite to win the starting quarterback job.
Both things can be true. That’s not to say that there’s blind optimism that the unnamed starters will undoubtedly be better this year than last, but with offensive-minded coaches like Jimbo Fisher, Dan Mullen and Chad Morris running the show at some of these places, that’s not so crazy of a prediction.
Speaking of predictions, I realized I’m probably a touch overdue to predict how the quarterback battles will play out.
Here are the SEC quarterbacks who will be the unquestioned starters:
- Auburn — Jarrett Stidham
- Mississippi State — Nick Fitzgerald
- Mizzou — Drew Lock
- Ole Miss — Jordan Ta’amu
- South Carolina — Jake Bentley
- Vanderbilt — Kyle Shurmur
As for the rest, let’s take a stab at that:
Candidates — Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts
Predicted starter — Tagovailoa
Why — If Hurts set the world ablaze in the spring and looked far improved as a passer, maybe this would be a different discussion. But the National Championship Game shed light on Hurts’ lack of development as a passer, and even with Tagovailoa essentially out for the spring, the southpaw is still the obvious favorite to win the starting job. The fact that we saw Nick Saban’s frustration with Hurts’ inability to move the offense through the air in the spring game probably didn’t help his case, either.
Candidates — Cole Kelley, Ty Storey, Connor Noland
Predicted starter — Kelley
Why — I’m not convinced that Kelley is the guy for the entire season, but to start the year, I think he’ll be the slight favorite to win the job. I understand that he and Storey basically had the exact same spring game stats. And obviously it’s a new coaching staff so last year doesn’t matter.
Still, Kelley has the ability to make all the throws. He still has to improve on playing faster, as Morris would say. But without an obvious fit to start in Morris’ offense with the current roster, Kelley makes the most sense.
Candidates — Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask, Emory Jones
Predicted starter — Trask
Why — I’ve been saying since before the spring game that I think Trask is the best fit to run Dan Mullen’s system. After watching his performance in the spring game, I still think that’s the case. Even though Franks showed off his legs, I’m not convinced he’ll have the accuracy and understanding of the offense to be effective. Trask, while unproven, looks like he’ll be better in both aspects. Will Mullen potential pursue a grad transfer this summer? Possibly, but if we’re picking right now, give me Trask to emerge as Mullen’s guy.
Candidates — Jake Fromm, Justin Fields
Predicted starter — Fromm
Why — I included this because the Fromm/Fields dynamic has been such a popular conversation, but to me, Fromm is still the obvious starter. Fields won’t be able to do anything in fall camp to vault ahead of the guy who was the SEC’s most efficient passer en route to a national championship berth. As talented as Fields is — he definitely looked the part at G-Day — he isn’t supplanting Fromm as the starter anytime soon. Will he keep pressure on Fromm? Absolutely. Fields will probably get into games during nonconference play and SEC blowouts, but that’ll be all for now.
Candidates — Terry Wilson, Gunnar Hoak, Danny Clark
Predicted starter — Wilson
Why — This is anyone’s guess based on how even the spring game was. Well, and the fact that Mark Stoops refused to tip his hand. I’ll give Wilson the nod because I think he gives the Cats a better option to pair alongside Benny Snell. Besides his ability to use his legs, Wilson also isn’t afraid to throw the deep ball. The former Oregon signal-caller might not have been able to beat out Justin Herbert for that job, but Hoak isn’t on that level as a passer. At least not yet. Hoak also doesn’t have the mobility that Kentucky’s offense usually covets. My guess is that the top JUCO recruit in the country isn’t coming to Kentucky unless he’s the obvious favorite to win the job. For now, Wilson has the slight edge.
Candidates — Myles Brennan, Justin McMillan, Nowell Narcisse
Predicted starter — Brennan
Why — McMillan played the best in the spring game, but it wasn’t like he was the vastly superior option. To be honest, Brennan hasn’t looked like the undisputed starter, either. But with a quarterback battle that lacks an incumbent starter, I tend to favor the guy who actually played the previous season and held the No. 2 spot on the depth chart. That’s still Brennan.
LSU fans hope that the former 4-star recruit thrives with the opportunity and ends LSU’s quarterback woes. Do I expect him to be named the starter publicly before the season opener? No. Do I expect McMillan or Narcisse to transfer? Yes. Could you still see LSU add a grad transfer? Absolutely. Even if Brennan is expected to win the job, we could have several developments the next few months.
Candidates — Jarrett Guarantano, Keller Chryst
Predicted starter — Chryst
Why — Obviously this is a big roll of the dice because Chryst hasn’t even arrived. Meanwhile Guarantano looked solid in the spring game. That painful 2017 season looks like it paid dividends for him. So why isn’t he the guy? He could be, but I’ll give the edge to Chryst because Tyson Helton saw him play and got him to come to Tennessee. The Vols were desperate to add a grad transfer because as tough as Guarantano was to finish 2017 in oe piece, the guy who starts half the season should probably have more than 997 passing yards and 4 touchdown passes. Chryst has had accuracy issues, which ultimately cost him the starting gig at Stanford. But assuming he shows up ready to roll, I think he winds up being the guy that Helton prefers to work with.
Candidates — Kellen Mond, Nick Starkel
Predicted starter — Starkel
Why — The Justin Bieber-loving quarterback might be a little bit of a character, but he’s still going to give the Aggies the best chance to win. New coaching staff or not, it’s hard to ignore the boost he gave the offense after he took over as the starter down the stretch. Fisher already said that he “loves” Starkel and that his ability to make all the throws is key. I don’t think Mond is as developed as a passer, which limits what the offense can do with him. Fisher doesn’t want to be limited offensively. He wants his quarterback to be able to attack all over the field. I think Fisher does whatever he can to keep Mond at Texas A&M, but ultimately, Starkel will emerge as the guy.