Ranking the panic level of SEC QB competitions
Spring football is behind us, and some QB competitions are settled and laid to rest. Some others will linger over the summer. Some teams are confident in their QB situations, and others … well, they’re not. We’re separating the SEC into three levels of possible panic over their QB situations — cool as a cucumber, a little nervous, and finger on the panic button.
Bear in mind, these aren’t rankings of the QBs, but of each school’s comfort with their QB situation.
Cool as a Cucumber
It’s Drew Lock’s world and everybody else lives in it. Dude didn’t turn down the NFL (where he almost certainly would’ve been drafted ahead of LSU’s Danny Etling) to lose his starting job in Columbia. There’s not much experience behind him, but as long as he’s healthy, Mizzou fans are quite comfortable.
Kyle Shurmur isn’t one of the league’s best quarterbacks, but he is solid, consistent and experienced. He’s improving, too. He’ll be the man this fall at Vandy, and he could well end up with a ton of the school’s all-time passing records.
Two years ago, there was turmoil. There’s none now. Jake Bentley grabbed the job in mid-2016, and laid hold of it leading the Gamecocks to second place in the East last season. His numbers haven’t always matched his ability, but this Carolina offense should be much improved, and much of the reason for confidence in the solidity of Bentley.
As long as Nick Fitzgerald is healthy, it’s all good for the Bulldogs. There is the possibility that new coach Joe Moorhead’s offensive scheme might not fit Fitzgerald as well as Dan Mullen’s spread system, but that aside, Fitzgerald is the kind of established veteran leader anybody would be happy to have. Having a proven backup in Keytaon Thompson just in case helps, too.
Jarrett Stidham was — mostly — the upgrade that Tiger fans hoped he would be. Auburn had a legitimate passing game, and used it to beat Georgia and Alabama in the course of 2017. He’s back, and there’s no reason for concern in Auburn’s QB situation.
The conventional wisdom in early 2017 was that this was the Shea Patterson show. A year later, Shea is gone, and controversy aside, the Rebels are doing just fine. JUCO passer Jordan Ta’amu filled in more than capably during Patterson’s injury, and should have another excellent season on tap. Ta’amu is more mobile than Patterson and still has plenty of arm strength.
A Little Nervous
No, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Jake Fromm. But there is Justin Fields lurking in the wings. A year ago, Jacob Eason was the presumed Georgia QB. That didn’t last long. So the anxiety isn’t over a lack of talent here … it’s just that Georgia is coming off one quick QB turnaround, and Fields looks nearly superhuman. The tension here is just uncertainty, but however things would out, Georgia should be solid at QB.
Keller Chryst will arrive from Stanford, ostensibly ready to take the starting job. He’s long on talent and relatively experienced. So why does this feel so iffy? Tennessee has had plenty of QB decisions blow up in its face in recent seasons, and new boss Jeremy Pruitt can’t afford to botch this one. Jarrett Guarantano has a head start, but could this fall camp end with a real competition leading into the season?
Much like Georgia above, it’s not a question of quality. It’s a question of who? As we stand, it looks like Tua Tagovailoa will start for Alabama. Which means Jalen Hurts will probably transfer. Could this all blow up in the Tide’s face? It’s possible. But admittedly, it is one heck of a problem to have.
Cole Kelley is the heir apparent, and while he’s not the perfect fit, he should fit well enough with new coach Chad Morris. But he lacks a ton of experience and clearly has struggled with assuming a leadership role for his team. Kelley might work out just fine — or this could be a situation to watch.
Finger on the Panic Button
If Dan Mullen wasn’t the Gators coach, this would be a full-alarm QB panic. Florida’s offense has been a dumpster fire in recent years, and the talented players left around by Jim McElwain have plenty of potential, but not much positive experience. Is it Feleipe Franks, who is mobile and athletic, but can struggle on the fundamentals? Or is it Kyle Trask, who looks like more of a prototype passer, albeit with less experience? Or do they really roll the dice with freshman Emory Jones, who has the highest ceiling, but for the moment, also the lowest floor? There’s plenty of anxiety here, offset somewhat by Mullen’s QB whisperer ways. But he might feel like doing some QB screaming come September.
There’s no returning experience, and sophomores Gunnar Hoak and Terry Wilson each failed to lock down the job in the spring. Hoak is more of a pocket passer and Wilson is a dual-threat guy, but can Kentucky be sure that one or the other will lay claim to the job before the season starts? At this point, that’s looking less and less likely, and with Kentucky opening with a Central Michigan team that won eight games in 2017, UK can’t afford to be wrong.
Kellen Mond and Nick Starkel are both competent QBs. But with new coach Jimbo Fisher in town, neither is a sure thing to be the man. A year ago, much of A&M’s rhythm was destroyed by constant QB shuffling. The Aggies can’t afford the same situation in 2018, which makes the QB derby (Starkel looked a bit sharper in the spring game) deeply important.
The Tigers have struggled at the QB position for basically the past decade. Myles Brennan looked like the likely starter, but junior backup Justin McMillan was the best in their spring game. Don’t forget sophomore Lowell Narcisse. The fear here is that with a new offensive coordinator, the Tigers having two or three quarterbacks might ultimately mean that they have none. With the West ramping up for 2018, the Tigers can’t lay an egg at QB.