Jacob Eason, Shea Patterson, Luke Del Rio, Nick Starkel, Nick Fitzgerald, Austin Allen …
What if I told you there was pretty good chance your team’s starting quarterback will miss time in 2018 due to an injury.
Nobody wants it to happen, but playing QB in a league filled with defensive players on their way to the NFL is hazardous to anyone’s health. That’s one reason most teams try to sign a quarterback in every class.
Taking team expectations into account, what’s the panic level if your favorite SEC team loses its starting quarterback in 2018?
Alabama: The Tide have the only quarterback room in the country that includes one guy who led his team to two national championship games … and another guy who won a national championship game. Even if Jalen Hurts goes the Trey Burton route — not a bad role model, eh? — and agrees to try a new position in 2018, he’d always be available in a pinch should anything happen to Tua Tagovailoa. The more likely scenario is that Alabama plays both and designs packages with Hurts in mind.
Either way, it’s the best quarterback situation in the SEC.
Georgia: For the second consecutive year, Jake Fromm will keep a coveted 5-star on the bench. In 2017, Fromm replaced the injured Eason and took the job. In 2018, he’ll have Justin Fields watching from the sidelines. Expect Fields to play early and often, in a backup role, of course.
The real drama will come in 2019. How long is Fields willing to wait? It’s not like Fromm is ever going to forget how to throw those “simple slants.”
Texas A&M: The Aggies have two quality candidates in Starkel and Kellen Mond. Both played well in 2017. Both are different enough that new coach Jimbo Fisher could design some packages for Mond, but that’s typically not his style.
The expectation is Fisher picks and sticks with one. It’s most likely that Starkel will win the job, but Mond already has proven he is more than capable if called upon.
Few first-year coaches walk into a better situation than the one Fisher has in College Station.
Florida: Admittedly this is an optimistic point of view, but Dan Mullen has proven he can develop quarterbacks.
Whether that’s strong-armed Feleipe Franks or dual-threat signee Emory Jones, it would be a disappointment if the Gators didn’t soon throw for 2,900 yards for the first time since Tim Tebow left.
It’s more than fair to question either candidate, but the smart money is on Mullen and his schemes to carve up most of the SEC East in what should be viewed as a rebuilding year.
Not ideal, but we’ll be OK
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs won a bowl game without Nick Fitzgerald in 2017. Keytaon Thompson wasn’t the entire reason, but he wasn’t close to a hindrance, either. Thompson ran for 147 yards and 3 TDs, essentially mimicking his relief performance in the Egg Bowl. So what’s the rub? The sample size is way too small to make declarations, but he only completed 48.5 percent of his passes as a true freshman.
The Bulldogs won’t panic if Fitzgerald misses time again in 2018, but they won’t be nearly as dangerous, either.
Auburn: Jarrett Stidham is an established Heisman candidate who became the second quarterback in program history to throw for 3,000 yards. The recruit they just signed has been compared to a national champion and Heisman winner.
Most Tigers fans probably are hoping that Gus Malzahn doesn’t need to call on Joey Gatewood in 2018, but everything on tape suggests the Tigers will be OK if he does.
Ole Miss: The Rebels have some issues, but quarterback is not one of them. Jordan Ta’amu was fantastic in place of Patterson, and they flipped a touted 4-star QB in Matt Corral.
Corral is the second-highest rated QB entering the SEC, behind Fields.
Arkansas: Chad Morris knows quarterbacks and offense. He helped develop Tajh Boyd and Deshaun Watson at Clemson. He doesn’t have anything close to that level of talent in Fayetteville. But give him time.
The 2018 job is open, though it appears Cole Kelley is the frontrunner. There isn’t anybody on campus who is perfectly suited to execute Morris’ scheme.
So Morris will get a mulligan in 2018, but by 2019, the QB situation needs to be solved and productive.
More than a little nervous
LSU: The Tigers missed an opportunity to put away enough teams in 2017 to help get Myles Brennan and Lowell Narcisse ready for 2018.
Instead, Brennan threw just 24 passes and Narcisse redshirted.
Ed Orgeron will have another spring and fall to evaluate both, but there’s not a lot of game evidence for either candidate in what could be a make-or-break year for Orgeron.
Kentucky: The Wildcats haven’t determined their starter, though most believe it will be JUCO Terry Wilson, a former Oregon signee.
Behind Wilson there are questions, not unlike LSU. Gunnar Hoak has been in the system, if not games.
Missouri: Drew Lock just set the SEC record for touchdown passes in a season, throwing 44 in 2017.
The dropoff would be significant regardless of the backup. So much of what Missouri does on offense revolves around Lock’s NFL-ready right arm.
That said, Missouri was happy to land Linsdey Scott, a top-rated JUCO QB and original LSU signee.
Tennessee: Jarrett Guarantano threw for a team-high 997 yards last season. But of his 86 completions, just four resulted in six points. Will McBride looked overmatched in his few opportunities.
There’s a very good reason the Vols are in the market for a graduate transfer, particularly after losing out on Alex Thomson, whom some analysts view as an NFL prospect.
Vanderbilt: Kyle Shurmur is rewriting Vanderbilt’s record book, but there’s not much behind him.
Shurmur threw 380 of Vandy’s 403 passes last season. Backup Deuce Wallace threw 22 and Shawn Stankavage, who recently transferred, threw one.
Vandy’s offense is reinventing itself in 2018. That will be challenging enough with a fourth-year starting quarterback, let alone a backup pressed into duty.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks attempted 397 passes in 2017. Jake Bentley threw 394 of them.
Michael Scarnecchia has been a career backup to a host of starters. Jay Urich got an occasional rep during the Gamecocks’ bowl preparation.
But the real excitement lies with 4-star dual-threat Dakereon Joyner. Like most dual-threats, he’s raw and needs time to develop, but former Gamecocks QB Perry Orth has worked with Joyner and told The State that Joyner is the QB of the future.
Ideally for Gamecocks’ SEC East title hopes, the future is at least a year away.