As the current crop of SEC starting quarterbacks illustrates, the path to finding a reliable signal-caller is far from simply locking down a 5-star prospect. In fact, teams are as likely to go with a junior college transfer or graduate transfer than they are settling on an elite QB and giving him the reins for four years.
There are multiple cases of a 5-star would-be face of the program transferring from the same roster as a 2-star, who stayed maybe ultimately won the starting job. What’s more, there are more current quarterbacks who are at least likely starters who were less than 4-star prospects than there are 5-star prospects across the league.
Here is how current SEC quarterbacks were rated before they arrived on campus, and the circumstances they find themselves in entering the season:
Jacob Eason, Georgia
Skinny: One of the biggest early recruits for coach Kirby Smart; Eason had wavered a bit after Mark Richt’s departure and even went on a visit to archrival Florida. While one of the highlights of 2016 was the dramatic win at Missouri, Eason has a lot riding on him in his sophomore season, beginning with his knowledge of the playbook and his adjustments at the line of scrimmage. He put up big numbers as a freshman and 12-game starter but was also inefficient and inconsistent, much like the team overall.
Shea Patterson, Ole Miss
Skinny: Patterson is the unquestioned face of the program as he enters his second season without the head coach or offensive coordinator who originally recruited him. Patterson offered plenty of optimism in the three games he played last season, most notably the come-from-behind win over Texas A&M. To his credit, Patterson said he hasn’t considered transferring since Hugh Freeze resigned as coach.
Austin Allen, Arkansas
Skinny: The 20th-ranked pro-style prospect in the class of 2013, Allen was second last season in TD passes in the SEC with 25. In his first season as the starter in 2016, Allen led the team to three top-15 wins. Allen was at the wheel of three fourth-quarter TD drives to either tie or take the lead, and with him at the helm the offense surpassed 400 yards of total offense in nine games including three games of at least 500 yards.
Jake Bentley, South Carolina
Skinny: The well-documented early enrollee, Bentley played last season in college after he was cleared academically despite having the chance to still play in high school near Auburn, Ala. He was the 11th-ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2016 class. Bentley’s freshman season was one for the silver screen as he took over after the bye week, and played far beyond his experience level in the final seven games of the season. Among his most notable accomplishments, he ranks first on the program list for career completion percentage at 65.8. He’s also in the company of a Gamecock great in Steve Taneyhill; Bentley was first South Carolina true freshman quarterback to win his first three starts since Taneyhill won four in a row in 1992.
Danny Etling, LSU
Skinny: The Purdue transfer is still trying to fend off Justin McMillan and Lindsey Scott to secure the starting job. Etling piloted the Tigers to a 7-3 record last year, and played 13 games at Purdue before the transfer. He graduated in May, and after minor back surgery in the spring he expects to be ready for the season opener.
Jalen Hurts, Alabama
Skinny: Hurts has plenty of firsts next to his name, including the first freshman to lead his team to an SEC title in divisional era, and the first freshman to start at quarterback on a Nick Saban-coached team. Hurts also became the first Alabama player ever to rush for 100 yards and pass for 300 or more in a single game, which he did against Mississippi State.
Drew Lock, Missouri
Skinny: The face of the Tigers high-powered offense, Lock returns for his third season, this time as the second-leading passer in the SEC. It’ll be the second year working with offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, and he’s expected to build on the 3,399 passing yards he had last season. While many expect him to be among the elite quarterbacks in the SEC, he’s also burdened with the team’s win-loss history. As a starter, Lock is 6-14, including 3-12 in SEC games.
Quinten Dormady, Tennessee
Skinny: Dormady has the experience of being on campus in the competition for the starting role with Jarrett Guarantano, but his 10 games of experience is largely in mop-up duty. While it’s not definitive, Dormady is believed to have a slight edge in the race. He did nothing in the spring game to take away from that belief, going 10-of-10 passing for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Many have pointed to Butch Jones’ history that dates to 2014 when he chose the older Justin Worley over the younger Joshua Dobbs, and obviously Dobbs went on to hold the job.
Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt
Skinny: The 13th-best pro-style prospect in the class of 2015, Shurmur was ranked behind Alabama’s Blake Barnett, Missouri’s Lock, Arkansas’ Ty Storey and Tennessee’s Dormady in that class. He started five games as a true freshman, and led the Commodores to wins over Missouri and Kentucky. He continued to put up noteworthy numbers last season as a sophomore, including 2,409 passing yards, which broke Jay Cutler’s sophomore passing record in the program set in 2003.
Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
Skinny: The No. 2 dual threat QB in the class of 2015 (behind Kyler Murray), Stidham is viewed as the player who can settle the Tigers’ quarterback situation, which has been in flux in recent years. Much of the optimism on The Plains is centered on his freshman season at Baylor when he was 75-for-109 passing for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was the offensive MVP of the spring game, and the only question is how his adjustment will be to the offense, and rapport with receivers.
Malik Zaire, Florida
Skinny: It’s a toss-up whether the Notre Dame transfer can unseat Feleipe Franks, who may be viewed as the front-runner since the spring game. Zaire no doubt is motivated by his Notre Dame tenure after he broke an ankle early in the 2015 season and couldn’t win back his job. While Florida has a host of other options at QB, Zaire appears to be the only one of Franks, Luke Del Rio and Kyle Trask who has mobility. At Notre Dame, Zaire had 816 passing yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions.
Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
Skinny: The 40th-ranked dual threat quarterback in the class of 2014, Fitzgerald is the kind of prospect teams like Mississippi State need to exceed expectations. He was only offered a scholarship by the Bulldogs and Middle Tennessee State. Here’s a bit of trivia: Fitzgerald is the SEC’s returning leader in total offensive yards. Last season he broke single-season SEC records for 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback with eight, and average yards per rush by a QB at 7.1.
Stephen Johnson, Kentucky
Skinny: One of the more improbable starters, given that he was signed in January 2016 after the Wildcats lost scholarship QBs Patrick Towles and Reese Phillips, and Drew Barker was the only scholarship QB left on the roster. A junior college transfer, Johnson stepped in for the injured Barker and led Kentucky to seven wins in its last 11 games. He is 5-4 as a starter.
Jake Hubenak, Texas A&M
Skinny: The perceived incumbent in the Aggies quarterback competition, Hubenak was the other quarterback in the 2015 class next to Kyler Murray. He’s the Aggies top returning passer with 1,283 career yards, nine TDs and three interceptions. Hubenak may not be the flashiest pick next to Kellen Mond and Nick Starkel, but he’s the safe bet to start the season.