SEC QB Power Rankings for Week 3: It's getting late early for Jarrett Guarantano
Quarterbacks: There are a lot of them! Each week throughout the season, the power rankings will help you keep the game’s most important position in perspective by tracking where each of the 14 starters stand. Previously: Week 1 … Week 2
1. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Last week: 1
Tua was his usual efficient self against New Mexico State, effortlessly eviscerating the Aggies for 227 yards and 3 touchdowns before calling it a day early in the 3rd quarter. (It would have been more, but the screen he threw to Henry Ruggs for a 75-yard TD on the first play was recorded as a lateral.) In other news, he also provided the semi-occasional reminder that when the moment calls for it he has some legitimate wheels.
For your consideration:
Tua Tagovailoa pic.twitter.com/inPLjYFHQL
— Tua’s Bodyguard (@TuasBodyguard) September 7, 2019
That was the 2nd-longest run of Tagovailoa’s career, coming in only behind his 44-yard TD jaunt last year at LSU on a bad knee. He might not be Jalen Hurts in this regard, and he’s much too valuable as a passer to subject to frequent hits running the option. But Tua showed up to Alabama touted as a dual-threat and his escapability in the pocket remains an underrated aspect of his game.
Also relevant to Tagovailoa’s interests: The Miami Dolphins lost their season opener on Sunday by a nearly identical score (59-10) as Bama’s win over New Mexico State (62-10), giving new salience to the old question about what it would look like if a college team took on the pros. The Tank for Tua 2020 campaign is officially underway.
2. Joe Burrow, LSU
Last week: 3
How much praise can one man endure for a couple hours’ work? I’ve already written my paean to Burrow’s 471-yard, 4-touchdown extravaganza at Texas, so I’ll let that stand along with his (tentative) promotion to the No. 2 slot over Jake Fromm and the promise never to refer to him as a “game manager” again.
3. Jake Fromm, Georgia
Last week: 2
Georgia doesn’t face a real test until a Week 4 visit from Notre Dame, and one of the top priorities in the meantime is establishing a reliable target or two from an immensely talented but completely unproven set of receivers. Rest of college football, meet George Pickens.
Jake Fromm drops a dime for a George Pickens diving catch and then finds him for a TD 2 plays later! NASTY pic.twitter.com/DqEk1yy5FP
— Bobby Skinner (@BobbySkinnerNFL) September 7, 2019
The 5-star freshman hauled in 4 receptions against Murray State for a team-high 78 yards, affirming the preseason hype after a quiet night (zero catches) in UGA’s season-opening win over Vanderbilt.
The Bulldogs’ other blue-chip freshman wide out, Dominick Blaylock, also flashed late, hauling in 3 catches including a 25-yard touchdown in garbage time. Along with junior Demetris Robertson — a former 5-star recruit, like roughly half of the roster these days — it looks like the kids are going to be alright. Surprise.
4. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
Last week: 4
Mond took a beating from Clemson’s defense in Saturday’s 24-10 loss and from A&M fans in the aftermath. He’s not budging in the rankings, though, for the simple fact that the Tigers are going to do what they did to him to almost every quarterback they face.
True, if Mond were on track for a breakthrough junior campaign an early statement against the nation’s No. 1 team would have been the ideal moment to show it, especially after his electric performance against the Tigers in last year’s upset bid in College Station. That night remains an outlier, and it’s looking increasingly likely that it will go down as Mond’s best game as an Aggie, by far.
But there was plenty of blame to go around on the Aggies’ side and plenty of time for one of the league’s most naturally gifted passers to get back on track. A visit from Auburn in 2 weeks will be more telling.
5. Kelly Bryant, Missouri
Last week: 5
Bryant’s output in his first 2 games as a Tiger is a useful reminder that passing yards, taken out of context, is a largely meaningless statistic:
Compared to the opener at Wyoming, Missouri’s overall offensive production vs. West Virginia plummeted by 155 yards (from 537 to 382) and more than a full yard per play (from 6.0 to 4.9), due entirely to the fact that there was no need for Bryant to force the issue in a desperate comeback bid — the early success of the defense and running game, which collapsed in the opener, made his arm a luxury rather than a necessity. The quietly efficient, mistake-free performance is exactly what the Tigers are looking for on a weekly basis.
6. Feleipe Franks, Florida
Last week: 7
It’s been awhile since Florida fans have looked at Kentucky as any kind of measuring stick. But Franks struggled badly against the Wildcats the past 2 years, and UK held the Gators to just 16 points last year en route to snapping a 31-year losing streak in the series. This weekend’s trip to Lexington will be a meaningful gauge of his progress, or lack thereof.
7. Tommy Stevens, Mississippi State
Last week: 9
Stevens started hot in MSU’s 38-15 win over Southern Miss, hitting 9-of-10 for 105 yards and 2 TDs before leaving the game for good with a shoulder injury, and although his status is still in doubt for Saturday’s game against Kansas State, there’s no doubt that he’s going to remain the Bulldogs’ long-term starter as long as he’s healthy.
Last week I typecast Stevens as a clone of his predecessor, Nick Fitzgerald — huge, surprisingly mobile, Mendoza Line-level accuracy from the pocket. But his abbreviated outing against a relatively stingy Golden Eagles defense suggests he might have a more polished arm than that comparison lets on.
As long as there are questions about his health, the Bulldogs’ backup situation is worth keeping an eye on. The guy Stevens beat out for the starting job, junior Keytaon Thompson, rejoined the team last week after briefly mulling a transfer; his temporary absence opened the door for true freshman Garrett Shrader to move into the top backup role, which he handled well Saturday (read: no turnovers) in his first career action. The current depth chart for K-State offers no insight into how that situation might play out, listing Thompson and Shrader as co-backups. If Stevens can’t go, deciding who starts in his place could have much more far-reaching implications than just beating the Wildcats.
8. Bo Nix, Auburn
Last week: 6
Compared to the drama of his debut, Nix’s 2nd career start was uneventful: 19-of-37, 207 yards, 1 TD, no turnovers, no sacks, point spread covered in a routine, 24-6 win over Tulane. Up next is another tune-up, against Kent State, before the SEC schedule kicks into high gear at Texas A&M and opinions about the freshman really begin to take shape.
9. Ryan Hilinski, South Carolina
Last week: N/A
As feared, Jake Bentley’s foot injury is going to keep him on the shelf for the rest of the season. That means the Hilinski Era in Carolina is officially underway, much sooner than anyone expected and with none of the controversy that it would have entailed if Bentley had lost his job to the touted freshman outright.
So far, so good: Hilinski looked every bit the prized prospect in Saturday’s 72-10 annihilation of Charleston Southern, torching a thoroughly outmanned CSU secondary for 282 yards and 2 touchdowns on 30 attempts and adding a 3rd TD on the ground.
Most of that output was of the short and intermediate variety, but he flashed a glimpse of his blue-chip arm, as well.
Keep that in mind this weekend when Hilinski is abruptly catapulted into the deep end against Alabama. It’s going to be ugly, sure, but the kid has a future.
Bentley’s future, which once seemed very bright itself, is in flux. He has a redshirt available, which will allow him to play in 2020 as a 5th-year senior. The question is where he’ll play.
A vocal segment of the fan base already was calling for Bentley to pass the torch before his injury rendered the question moot. There’s always a chance that Hilinski will unravel against the Gamecocks’ buzzsaw of a schedule; more likely, he’ll take his lumps, offer enough flashes of potential to keep the vibes positive, and enter his sophomore campaign as the entrenched starter, a la Bentley 3 years ago.
If so, then Bentley will almost certainly be on his way out as a graduate transfer. After 2 stagnant seasons and a dismal start to Year 4, that might be the best result for everyone involved.
10. Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee
Last week: 10
Coach Jeremy Pruitt insisted on Monday that Guarantano is in no danger of losing his job in the wake of back-to-back losses to Georgia State and BYU, but … well, yeah, the head coach is fielding legitimate questions about the status of his 4th-year junior QB in the wake of back-to-back losses to Georgia State and BYU.
For a guy with 20 career starts, that pretty well sums it up.
Last week, I defended Guarantano to the extent that the Vols had bigger issues in the opening-day humiliation than ongoing mediocrity behind center. But that was based on the premise that, whatever his other deficiencies, he remained an unlikely candidate to suddenly burst into flames: Guarantano posted the lowest interception rate among SEC starters in 2018, throwing just 3 picks in 246 attempts, and his only INT in the opener came with the game essentially already out of reach in the final 5 minutes.
I was feeling generous enough to avoid mentioning an earlier, egregious pick against GSU that was wiped out by a borderline pass interference call, as well as the fumble that set up the Panthers’ clinching touchdown on the drive preceding the interception.
This week? Not so much. Again, Tennessee’s issues against BYU were legion, most obviously with the ball in scoring range: The Vols managed just 16 points in regulation on 6 opportunities inside the Cougars’ 35-yard line — possessions that yielded 1 touchdown, 3 field goals and 2 turnovers on downs. Even the lone touchdown in that sequence, an ill-advised throw that somehow clanged off the hands of a BYU defender and into the arms of Jauan Jennings in the end zone, was a fluke; it should have been intercepted or (given that it came on 4th down) batted down to end the threat. On multiple other occasions Guarantano’s spotty accuracy forced the Vols to leave points on the table.
The low point of Guarantano’s night, however, came just after the half, on what probably ranks as the costliest decision of his career to date:
Jarrett Guarantano with a pass into triple coverage…. went how you'd imagine it would lol pic.twitter.com/QA2FmbqqND
— #BOOMIN (@ftbeard_17) September 8, 2019
Attempting to rifle a ball into triple coverage is bad enough in any case, but in this particular case it was devastating: BYU’s moribund offense turned the subsequent short field into its only touchdown in regulation, cutting a 10-point deficit to 3 and turning a game that Tennessee had controlled to that point into a nail-biter. You know how it ended from there.
Pruitt explained his vote of confidence in Guarantano in part by implying that he doesn’t have any alternatives: “There’s no doubt, if you’ve been around our program for the last six months, who the best quarterback on our team is.”
Frankly, that’s true even if you haven’t been around the program — the top backups, freshmen J.T. Shrout (redshirt) and Brian Maurer (true) are former 3-star recruits who have yet to take a college snap. For better or worse, it looks like Guarantano is entrenched for the foreseeable future. But it’s getting awful late to expect Vols fans to keep going on hoping for better.
11. Matt Corral, Ole Miss
Last week: 12
Here’s your #SEC freshman of the week, #OleMiss QB Matt Corral, going through his first reads on the left side of the field before coming back and finding Elijah Moore up the seams on his right. Good patience and progression through the reads pic.twitter.com/Sq4dxdoVwy
— Nathanael Gabler (@nategabler) September 9, 2019
Corral rebounded Saturday from a dreadful debut at Memphis, slicing up Arkansas for 246 yards and 2 TDs on just 24 attempts in a 31-17 win. That stat line should be par for the course against Arkansas for most SEC quarterbacks this season, but after coming up well short of expectations in the opener hitting par against a division opponent is an encouraging step forward. A big stat-padding effort this weekend against Southeast Louisiana would be another.
12. Riley Neal, Vanderbilt
Last week: 14
Neal passed for 378 yards and 2 touchdowns at Purdue and still wound up as the butt of jokes (sorry) after getting partially pantsed on national television. When not running for his life, Neal proved on a couple occasions against the Boilermakers that his downfield arm strength is as advertised. Again, though, any time Vanderbilt’s offense is forced to lean more heavily on its quarterback than on Ke’Shawn Vaughn the result is not going to be good.
13. Nick Starkel, Arkansas
Last week: N/A
Starkel took over in garbage time for a woefully ineffective Ben Hicks in the Razorbacks’ loss at Ole Miss and looked competent enough by comparison, finishing 17-of-24 for 201 yards, including all 81 yards on Arkansas’ only touchdown drive. Yes, the score was purely cosmetic, coming in the final minutes of a game that was already decided; it was also the first semblance of life from the Razorbacks’ passing game in either of their first 2 games. Starkel will get the nod Saturday against Colorado State. Beyond that, it’s a fluid situation.
14. Sawyer Smith, Kentucky
Last week: N/A
Smith, a grad transfer from Troy, will step take the reins in place of injured starter Terry Wilson, whose season is done due to a major knee injury. Although he’s starting on the bottom, Smith isn’t doomed to remain here: He comes with some starting experience, having logged seven starts last year at Troy (also due to injury) with mixed results, and at 6-3, 219 pounds arguably gives the Wildcats a sturdier pocket presence than the shifty, undersized Wilson.
The Wildcats’ breakthrough in 2018 was based on the quarterback doing as little as possible to get in the way of the defense and running game, and while much of the personnel has changed, the basic formula has not.