Ranking all 12 quarterbacks SEC will face during 2016 bowl season
While it’s been a down year at the quarterback position in the SEC, there are an awful lot of very good ones across the country.
The best conference in America will see several of them throughout bowl season, including three that finished among the Top 6 in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. The headliner, of course, is Lamar Jackson of Louisville.
It’s safe to say that two-thirds of the league’s opponents will have the superior signal caller when toe meets leather in these bowl games — of the 12 matchups, in only one will the SEC have the advantage at QB by leaps and bounds. Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs is light-years better than either of the two Nebraska passers.
Here are the enemy quarterbacks you’ll see throughout the postseason ranked in descending order from 12-1.
12. Tommy Armstrong Jr./Ryker Fyfe, Nebraska
Both seniors, Armstrong and Fyfe have combined to complete only 51 percent of their passes with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 14-to-8.
While Armstrong has been the starter for the majority of the season, he’s currently dealing with an injury and will likely be a game-time decision for the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl against Tennessee.
The choice between Armstrong and Fyfe could alter the game plan for the Volunteers. Armstrong is a threat to run, but Fyfe isn’t.
11. Ryan Finley, N.C. State
Finley had a stretch of three straight 300-yard passing games against Boston College, Florida State and Syracuse, although he lost two of them.
A 60.2-percent passer, he didn’t throw a single interception in his first five starts of 2016. But once the levee broke with a pair of INTs against Clemson, Finley was picked off seven times in his next four outings.
He gets Vanderbilt in the Camping World Independence Bowl. Expect coach Derek Mason to gleefully dial up some confusion for Finley.
10. Kenny Hill, TCU
SEC fans know Hill quite well, as he took over for Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M in 2014 and had a lot of success early. It didn’t last, though.
Hill transferred, sat out the 2015 campaign and won the job with the Horned Frogs in fall camp. A 6-6 finish to the regular season was unexpected to say the least, as Hill’s TD-to-INT ratio of 15-13 was unimpressive.
Georgia, which is tied for the conference lead with 15 picks, might be a bad matchup for Hill and Co. in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
9. Jesse Ertz, Kansas State
As a passer, Ertz has completed 50 percent of his throws or less in four of his 12 starts. His arm isn’t the strength of his game.
But as a runner, he has racked up 954 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 5.9 yards per carry. In three of his final five starts during the regular season, Ertz went north of 100 on the ground, including 170 and a score at TCU.
Texas A&M’s rushing defense was atrocious down the stretch, so getting Ertz off the field will be a challenge in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl.
8. C.J. Beathard, Iowa
A senior, Beathard is short on talent but long on experience. He’s thrown for 17 touchdowns in each of the last two seasons.
In the four games the Hawkeyes have lost, it’s hard to hang any of them on Beathard, who sports a respectable TD-to-INT ratio of 6-to-3 despite coming out on the wrong end of the final score. He’s a 60.2-percent passer in those defeats.
Beathard faces Florida’s aggressive secondary in the Outback Bowl, although he’s only been picked off 12 times in two years as the starter.
7. Gus Ragland, Miami (Ohio)
The RedHawks opened the season with Billy Bahl under center and promptly went 0-6. Bowl eligibility was the last thing on their minds.
Enter Ragland, who engineered a six-game winning streak and managed to get his team a vacation over the holidays by putting together a perfect touchdown-to-interception ratio of 15-to-0. No matter the competition, that’s an achievement.
Mississippi State has played in its fair share of shootouts this year. It’s reasonable to expect another one in the St. Petersburg Bowl.
6. Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech
A three-year starter for the Yellow Jackets, Thomas knows coach Paul Johnson’s triple-option scheme as well as anyone.
Even if he only threw 134 passes in 11 games and hit on just 54.5 percent of them, he averaged a sparkling 10.9 yards per attempt. Because DBs are forced to creep down into the box to defend the run, they’re susceptible to over-the-top throws.
Thomas has also run for 2,370 yards in his Atlanta career. Kentucky’s 108th-ranked rushing defense is on alert in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
5. Quinton Flowers, USF
A quarterback that doesn’t get enough respect nationally, Flowers has thrown for 22 TDs and run for 15 more this season.
Much more than an athlete taking shotgun snaps and making plays, his passer efficiency rating of 153.5 is better than any QB in the SEC. Eight times in 12 games he’s thrown for multiple scores, and six more times he’s done it on the ground.
Flowers could have a big day vs. South Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl. The Bulls run the ball very well, while the Gamecocks struggle to stop it.
4. Jerod Evans, Virginia Tech
A pleasant surprise for the Hokies, Evans has put together a fabulous campaign as a JUCO transfer with 4,068 yards of total offense.
Through the air, he’s a 63.5-percent passer and averages a hefty 8.5 yards per attempt. On the ground, he’s good for an additional 58.4 yards per game and has scored 10 touchdowns. He’s one of the country’s more unheralded dual threats.
This could be the best mano a mano for the SEC this bowl season. Austin Allen of Arkansas will be on display in the Belk Bowl, too.
3. Jake Browning, Washington
Coming out of nowhere to finish sixth in the Heisman race, Browning led U-Dub to the Pac-12 title and a berth in the College Football Playoff.
A prolific passer all season long, his 42 touchdown tosses are surpassed only by the 45 thrown by Toledo’s Logan Woodside. He’s also the fifth-rated QB in the country, as his mark of 176.5 is far better than anyone from the SEC.
That being said, Browning is yet to face the Alabama defense. He better be flawless if the Huskies hope to compete in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
2. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
The Sooners started 1-2, which hamstrung Mayfield’s Heisman hopes, but he still got invited to New York and placed third.
A model of consistency, Mayfield has thrown multiple TD passes in all 12 contests. In a video game-like 66-59 win over Texas Tech, he fired 7 touchdowns without an interception. He’s been picked off just three times in his last six games.
Facing Auburn in the Sugar Bowl, Mayfield will presumably target Biletnikoff Award winner Dede Westbrook early and often.
1. Lamar Jackson, Louisville
The Heisman winner, Jackson delivered more highlight reel-worthy plays than anybody in the nation this season.
A blur of speed and athleticism in the running game, he’s No. 9 in America on the ground with 1,538 yards and fifth among QBs with an average of 6.6 yards per carry. However, don’t underestimate his arm. Jackson’s TD-to-INT ratio is 33-to-9.
LSU faces the Cardinals in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. While the Tigers defend the run and pass equally well, Jackson is an X-factor.
John Crist is the senior writer for Saturday Down South, a member of the FWAA and a voter for the Heisman Trophy. Send him an e-mail, like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.