Predicting the starting QB for every SEC team in 2020
Back to reality?
I hope not, but after losing some generational QB talent, the SEC appears to be hitting the reset button in 2020.
And if we’re being honest, Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa diverted our attention from quite a bit of average QB play in 2019.
The reality is they were the only 2 SEC QBs who topped 30 TD passes in 2019. The last time the SEC leader didn’t reach 30 TD passes was 2016, when Josh Dobbs led the league with 27.
I believe the 2020 leader will eclipse 30 but fall short of 40 for the 1st time since 2016. Much of that is based on who I believe will win the starting QB job at each SEC program. And one of these jobs could change if Clemson grad transfer Chase Brice picks an SEC program.
Alabama: Mac Jones
Nick Saban started a true freshman in 2016 and asked another true freshman to save the season in 2017. So it’s not out of the question that 5-start Bryce Young could win the job.
But this is different from the 2016 competition, when Jalen Hurts didn’t start the opener but claimed the job after a few series and never looked back.
Mac Jones proved he was more than capable to direct this offense to the end zone, something Blake Barnett or Cooper Bateman never did.
Jones finished with 14 TD passes in 141 attempts — that’s a nifty 1 per 10 attempts. That’ll work. And he didn’t beat up on cupcakes, either.
He threw for 335 yards and 4 TDs against Auburn and 327 yards and 3 TDs against Michigan.
Arkansas: Feleipe Franks
I like KJ Jefferson’s raw ability, but Sam Pittman would have been in trouble if he had to turn everything over to Jefferson in 2020.
That’s why landing Franks was so critical.
Big picture, it won’t matter much. Arkansas remains a longshot to make a bowl game in 2020. But Franks alone will prevent next season from being anything nearly as chaotic as this past season. He’ll provide more highlights, too.
He’ll steady, lead, guide, mentor and, if necessary, be the fall guy as Pittman and Kendal Briles develop and build for 2021.
Auburn: Bo Nix
Gus Malzahn made his decision last spring. This is Nix’s team for as long as they’re both on campus.
Whether that’s the right call is debatable. But there’s no QB battle.
Florida: Kyle Trask
Is Emory Jones a more exciting prospect? Sure.
Is Emory Jones a better quarterback? We haven’t seen evidence yet.
Trask not only saved the Gators last season after Franks’ injury, he made the offense more productive. There weren’t any wow throws — and there won’t be in 2020, either — but accurate, on time 8-yard throws will move the sticks just fine, thank you.
Trask completed 67% of his passes.
He was Jake Fromm … in a year in which Jake Fromm was not.
Georgia: Jamie Newman
The question isn’t whether Newman will win the job. He will. The question is: What’s his ceiling?
He put up good numbers at Wake Forest — better numbers than Jake Fromm did last year, actually. But I also saw the Clemson game. For now, I’m willing to excuse that as Wake Forest being completely outmanned in the trenches and skill positions, all of which contributed to Newman’s worst game.
Kentucky: Terry Wilson
As long as he is healthy and Joey Gatewood is forced to sit out, the job is Wilson’s.
Any combination of Wilson not being 100% and Gatewood gaining eligibility would create a fun QB battle in Lexington.
LSU: Myles Brennan
Myles Brennan is the obvious leading candidate, but the key question is: Is Ed Orgeron finished looking?
Brennan’s sample size is small, which leads to doubt. It could lead some to compare Brennan, a program guy, with Blake Barnett, a program guy who started Alabama’s 2016 opener before quickly giving way to true freshman Jalen Hurts.
Here’s why I believe in Brennan maybe a bit more than the evidence suggests I should: Ed Orgeron doesn’t lose many recruiting battles. And if he truly believed he needed a QB, what grad transfer wouldn’t want to play for these Tigers in 2020?
The fact he didn’t land one tells me he likes what he has.
Mississippi State: Garrett Shrader
For now, this is Shrader’s job to lose.
In light of Brice’s decision to transfer, this could get really interesting. Brice has 2 years of eligibility. Remember, he replaced an injured Trevor Lawrence and saved Clemson’s perfect season in 2018. He rallied the Tigers from a 23-13 hole against Syracuse. His 4th-down completion during the winning drive secured his spot in Tigers lore.
Brice is from Georgia. He hasn’t revealed a preferred list, but he told The State that he wants to go somewhere that is “quarterback friendly.”
Who is more QB friendly than new MSU coach Mike Leach?
Missouri: Shawn Robinson
Mizzou is starting anew, but there is some familiarity. Robinson and new OC Curtis Luper were at TCU together.
Robinson was a 4-star recruit and former starter at TCU, but it didn’t end well. After transferring to Missouri, he petitioned for immediate eligibility, claiming he was mistreated at TCU. The NCAA denied his appeal, so he sat out last season.
A 6-2, 225-pound dual-threat QB, he threw for 1,334 yards with 9 TDs and 8 INTs in 7 starts for the Horned Frogs in 2018.
He was the No. 14 overall QB prospect in a 2017 class that included Tua Tagovailoa (No. 3), Jake Fromm (No. 4), Kellen Mond (No. 7), Myles Brennan (No. 10), Keytaon Thompson (No. 12) and Mac Jones (No. 29).
Ole Miss: John Rhys Plumlee
Lane Kiffin helped develop Jalen Hurts into an honest to goodness QB.
Can he do the same with an even more electric runner like Plumlee?
Plumlee is playing baseball, too. Others, including Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray, have juggled both. Former coach Matt Luke said in November that he planned on having Plumlee at spring practice, but Luke knew the deal going in.
Will things change under Kiffin?
Plumlee and Jerrion Ealy are listed on the Rebels’ baseball roster but they are the only 2 without a headshot.
South Carolina: Ryan Hilinski
Pressed into duty and forced to throw more than he should have, it was an up-and-down freshman season.
The good news: The raw numbers were solid enough to be excited about 2020 and beyond.
But if you’re Chase Brice, this would be an intriguing possibility, and not just because it’s your in-state rival.
Tennessee: Jarrett Guarantano
Nothing would surprise me in this race. Guarantano opted to return to Tennessee, but it’s not like Jeremy Pruitt hasn’t pulled the plug on him once … or twice … or more.
There will be fierce competition. Harrison Bailey, a 4-star QB, already has enrolled. He’s seen as the 6-5 savior. He’s also the highest-rated pro-style passer coming to the SEC.
Will he be ready in Week 1 against Charlotte? Or, more important, Week 2 at Oklahoma?
Logic suggests you’d want as much experience as possible for that Week 2 clash.
Texas A&M: Kellen Mond
The question isn’t whether Mond will win the job. It’s whether the league’s top returning QB will help the Aggies win the West.
Vanderbilt: Kumar Rocker
I’m kidding. Or maybe simply wishing. Rocker clearly has the strongest arm on campus. And he not only has an NFL body at 6-4, 255, he has NFL lineage. His dad, Tracy, starred at Auburn and spent 4 seasons with the Washington Redskins as a defensive tackle. An uncle also played in the NFL.
I can only imagine what Derek Mason must think when he sees Rocker on the mound for the VandyBoys. (In fairness to all, Rocker was a defensive end in high school, not a QB, but, still … that arm.)
Back to reality: Vandy’s QB situation was a mess last season and it doesn’t appear to be any better heading into 2020. According to The Tennesseean, 7 QBs have transferred on Mason’s watch. That wasn’t a problem when Kyle Shurmur was running the show for 3 seasons, but it’s certainly an issue now.
Maybe Mason just goes all in on true freshman Ken Seals, a 3-star pro-style passer from Texas.
Or maybe Brice decides this is best spot to play immediately and pursue a master’s degree. I couldn’t argue with either thought.