Ranking the SEC West quarterbacks heading into 2018
The SEC West will be one of the most intriguing divisions in all of college football in 2018 when it comes to the quarterback position.
Alabama, the defending national champion, has a huge question mark at the position, with Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts set to battle for the starting job.
From there, the division is separated by the haves and the have-nots. Four of the seven teams will enter the year with solid quarterback situations, while the other three face major questions.
Here’s an early look at how the SEC West quarterbacks stack up entering the spring and summer practice sessions:
1. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
Fitzgerald took a step backward as a junior in 2017, even before an ankle injury in the Egg Bowl loss to Ole Miss ended his season a bit early. He only threw for 1,782 yards, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions (adding 984 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground).
Still, his eight runs of 20 or more yards were more than any SEC quarterback not named Jalen Hurts, and his 2016 numbers (2,423 passing yards, 1,375 rushing yards and 37 total touchdowns) inspire hope that he can finish his college career with a bang.
First-year head coach Joe Moorhead will bring a new offensive philosophy to Mississippi State, and if he can press the right buttons with Fitzgerald, Heisman hype isn’t out of the question.
2. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
Stidham could easily be No. 1 on this list, but he doesn’t quite have the rushing acumen that Fitzgerald has.
Still, he came alive down the stretch last year, throwing 10 touchdown passes and only three interceptions in his final six games (with two of those picks coming against UCF in the Peach Bowl).
Stidham has become a master of the deep ball, connecting on 10 passes of 50 or more yards in 2017, good for fifth in the country (and second in the SEC behind Mizzou QB Drew Lock’s nation-leading 19). If he can keep making big plays in 2018, the Tigers could pull off some more major upsets.
3. Jalen Hurts or Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Tagovailoa came in and played hero for the Crimson Tide in the second half of the National Championship Game, but Hurts is the quarterback who took Alabama to two consecutive title games.
Two-quarterback systems rarely work in college football, but it’s not impossible (just ask Tim Tebow and Chris Leak from the 2006 Florida Gators). Assuming Hurts doesn’t transfer, expect new OC Mike Locksley to find a way to use both on a weekly basis.
Could Tagovailoa and his arm get the Tide off to a big lead and then give way to Hurts and his legs to run out the clock? Crazier things have happened in college football.
4. Jordan Ta’amu, Ole Miss
Ta’amu took over for an injured Shea Patterson and didn’t look back in 2017, throwing for 1,682 yards, 11 touchdowns and only 4 picks in seven games. He also added 165 yards and 4 TDs on the ground.
Now that Patterson has transferred to Michigan, the Rebels are Ta’amu’s squad in 2018, and that should be fun to watch.
Ta’amu will have star WR A.J. Brown back in the mix, and Brown led all SEC receivers (and was No. 3 in the nation) with six catches of 50 or more yards last year. If Ta’amu can continue to consistently get the ball to Brown and Ole Miss’ other receivers, the Rebels should be one of the SEC’s best offensive teams, even though they’re banned from postseason play for one more year.
5. Nick Starkel or Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
The Aggies’ quarterback situation can be best described as “Alabama Lite.” Will first-year head coach Jimbo Fisher go with the pure passer in Starkel or the strong runner with some problems in the passing game in Mond?
That big decision will likely decide how the Aggies fare in Fisher’s first season in College Station. The early edge could go to Starkel, though, as the redshirt freshman threw for 499 yards and 4 TDs in the Belk Bowl.
Fisher was at that game and might have been impressed enough to give Starkel the slight edge heading into spring practices.
6. Cole Kelley, Arkansas
Behind Arkansas’s leaky offensive line, which gave up 35 sacks in 2017 (third-most in the SEC), starter Austin Allen battled several nagging injuries.
Therefore, Kelley got a fair share of playing time, appearing in nine games and throwing for 1,038 yards, 8 TDs and 4 interceptions.
New coach Chad Morris doesn’t have a prototypical dual-threat on the roster, so Kelley likely will enter 2018 as the starter, and the 6-7 quarterback will cause a lot of problems for defenses if his offensive line can hold up (which is a big if, of course).
7. Myles Brennan, LSU
It’s worth noting that it could end up looking very foolish having Brennan in last place, but for now, he’s the most unproven quarterback in the SEC West, so no one is quite sure what to expect.
Brennan appeared in six games as a freshman, throwing for 182 yards, 1 TD and 2 interceptions. That’s not a large sample size to go on, and it remains to be seen how he’ll handle SEC defenses.
That, of course, is assuming he even wins the job, as he’ll be in competition with Lowell Narcisse and Justin McMillan for the starting position. Now that Danny Etling is gone, there are plenty of question marks offensively in Baton Rouge.
MORE: Ranking the SEC East QBs