SEC QB Power Rankings, Week 12: Joe Burrow’s leap year is as dramatic as they come

Quarterbacks: There are a lot of them! Each week throughout the season, SEC QB Power Rankings will help you keep the game’s most important position in perspective by ranking the SEC starters 1-14 according to highly scientific processes and/or pure gut-level instinct. Previously: Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4Week 5Week 6Week 7Week 8Week 9Week 10. … Week 11.

1. Joe Burrow, LSU

Has any college quarterback ever made as dramatic a leap over the course of a single year?

It’s a legitimate question. The 2018 version of Joe Burrow was, on the whole, just another guy whose team got shut out by Alabama on his way to finishing in the bottom half of the SEC in almost every major statistical category. The 2019 version has laid waste to every team on the schedule — now including Bama, which allowed more points in Saturday’s 46-41 loss to LSU than in any other game in the Nick Saban era — and emerged as both the undisputed Heisman favorite and the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in next April’s NFL Draft. Watching him this season, and against the Crimson Tide, especially, has been like watching a completely different dude.

I can’t come up with another college QB in the past 40 years who has come that far, that fast, and there’s a good reason for that: There aren’t any. Using pass efficiency as a baseline, Burrow’s year-over-year improvement to date is the most dramatic of any I-A/FBS passer who has posted a rating of 160.0 or better in any season since the NCAA introduced the statistic in 1979:

A gaudy passer rating is one of the most difficult numbers to sustain into the postseason, especially over the course of an extended run against multiple Playoff-level defenses. Even if Burrow winds up ceding his place at the very top of that list, though, the turnaround is remarkable — and the fact that he’s sustained the trend against the likes of Bama, Florida, and Texas even more so.

Russell Wilson makes for an interesting comparison, mostly because, like Burrow, he was a grad transfer who only realized his potential

after leaving his original school. (Unlike Burrow, who barely saw the field at Ohio State, the first column in Wilson’s case reflects his output in his last season at NC State, where he was a 3-year starter before transferring to Wisconsin as a senior.) A better comparison might be to a guy who didn’t quite make the cut for the chart: Vince Young. In his last season at Texas, in 2005, Young improved his efficiency rating by more than 35 points; snapped a 5-game losing streak against Texas’ nemesis, Oklahoma, avenging a shutout loss to the Sooners in 2004; and transcended the “athlete” label to become the first quarterback taken in the 2006 Draft.

Burrow has already checked the first two of those boxes, and played himself into good position to check the last one. If he can take the analogy all the way by capping an undefeated season with a historic performance on a championship stage, it will be hard to remember anyone ever thought about him any other way. (Last week: 2)

2. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

This is the first time since the start of the 2018 season that Tagovailoa is not the automatic, no-doubt-about-it No. 1 on this list, and the fact that his demotion comes after a game in which he bombed a secondary full of future NFL starters for 418 yards and 4 touchdowns on a gimpy ankle says a lot more about Burrow’s excellence than it does about Tua.

True, the first half against LSU was one of the worst of his career: In addition to general shakiness, 2 bad Tagovailoa turnovers — a phantom fumble on the opening series, followed by an ill-timed interception just before halftime — represented a 14-point swing that Alabama ultimately could not overcome. In the end, though, Bama’s offense was Bama’s offense. The Tide’s last 4 possessions were TD drives covering 95, 78, 75, and 85 yards, respectively, and there was little doubt how it was going to end if LSU’s offense failed to hold serve.

Is the Heisman still in play? Honestly, probably not: Tua will likely to return to New York as a finalist, but barring a total implosion by Burrow and our old friend Jalen Hurts over the coming weeks it looks like a 2-horse race. (Hurts finishing ahead of Tua in All-America/Heisman voting, which he very likely would if the ballots were due this week, would be yet another entry in the “how the tables have turned” Hall of Fame.) A shot at redemption in the National Championship Game? Also a long shot at this point, unless a very specific set of dominoes falls in Alabama’s favor in the Playoff chase. The closer we get to the end of the Tagovailoa era in Tuscaloosa, the more it looks like 2nd-and-26 is going to remain the crowning moment. (Last week: 1)

3. Jake Fromm, Georgia

Fromm followed his best game of the season against Florida by connecting on just 13-of-29 attempts Saturday in a 27-0 win over Missouri — a new career low for completion percentage (44.8) despite the lopsided final score. On the next episode of the long-running series Is Jake Fromm Elite?: Georiga visits Auburn, site of his first loss as a starter back in 2017. (Last week: 3)

4. Kyle Trask, Florida

Trask torched Vanderbilt Saturday for 363 yards and 3 touchdowns to 3 receivers, his 7th consecutive game with multiple TD passes. That’s the longest such streak by a Florida QB since Tim Tebow did it in 9 consecutive games en route to the 2008 national title. (Last week: 5)

5. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M

Saturday’s home finale against South Carolina might not feel like a must-win for the Aggies, who are bowl-eligible at 6-3 and have no realistic hope of winning the SEC West. But with road trips to Georgia and LSU on deck to close the regular season a loss would put A&M in very real danger of finishing with a losing record, pending the bowl game. For what they’re paying him, the last thing Jimbo Fisher needs going into Year 3 is 6 months of hearing about a 4-game losing streak to end Year 2. (Last week: 4)

6. Kelly Bryant, Missouri

As expected, backup Taylor Powell struggled mightily in Bryant’s absence against Georgia, finishing 10-of-22 for 84 yards and an interception before getting the hook in garbage time. True freshman Connor Bazelak

threatened to break up the shutout late, leading a 17-play, 76-yard drive that consumed nearly half of the 4th quarter before stalling out on downs inside the UGA 10-yard line. Bryant is expected back this weekend against Florida, Mizzou’s first home game in more than a month on the heels of a 3-game losing streak on the road. (Last week: 6)

7. Bo Nix, Auburn

Nix’s production has been dramatically better in Jordan-Hare than in road/neutral games, although it’s impossible to separate that from the fact that all of Auburn’s toughest games so far (vs. Oregon, at Texas A&M, at Florida, at LSU) have come away from home — based on ESPN’s Football Power Index, the best defense he’s faced in the friendly confines is Mississippi State’s, which ranks 54th. That will change in a big way this weekend against Georgia, which comes in at No. 6. (Last week: 7)

8. Lynn Bowden Jr., Kentucky

The fan base is on the fence in the debate between the electric Bowden, who has run for 634 yards (not including sacks) in 4 games since converting from wide receiver, and Sawyer Smith, who might actually give the Wildcats some semblance of a passing game. Electricity notwithstanding, Bowden’s arm is a liability: He’s just 19-of-44 passing on the season with 9 first downs and 3 completions of 15 yards or more. As a team, Kentucky racked up 302 yards rushing on 62 carries in Saturday’s 17-13 loss to Tennessee but failed to score after the 1st quarter.

On the other hand, the offense was seriously struggling with Smith as the starter, managing just 13 points in a loss to Mississippi State and 7 in a loss at South Carolina, and turned in its best performance, a 29-7 romp over Missouri, behind Bowden. He is one-dimensional, but at least he is undeniably effective in that dimension. As offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said after the Tennessee game, “Lynn Bowden gave us a chance to win tonight. That’s a fact.” As long as that’s still true, it’s hard to see them taking the ball out of his hands. (Last week: 8)

9. Brian Maurer or Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee

Once again Guarantano made the bizarre but increasingly compelling case against Kentucky that he’s more valuable in a relief role, coming off the bench at halftime to rally the Vols from a 13-3 deficit. With that, he’s come out of the bullpen with Tennessee either leading or within reasonable striking distance in 5 consecutive games, which is hardly a definitive sample size but does make for a bona fide trend:

Completion percentage is steady; everything else — touchdowns, interceptions, yards per attempt, efficiency rating — has improved significantly since Guarantano was demoted from the starting job. With just 2 games left on the other side of an open date (one of them against lame-duck Vanderbilt), no one in Knoxville appears to be in any hurry to resolve the “or” between him and Maurer on the depth chart, and why would they? Leave that question for spring practice. For now, stick with what works, whether it makes any sense or not. (Last week: 9)

10. John Rhys Plumlee and Matt Corral, Ole Miss

Coaches haven’t officially conceded the job to Plumlee, but the writing is on the wall. The freshman took every meaningful snap in Saturday’s 41-3 win over New Mexico State, the first time that’s happened since Corral returned from the injury that opened the door for Plumlee in the first place. Corral was also a spectator for the entire second half of the Rebels’ Week 10 loss at Auburn, a fairly obvious signal that the choice has been made.

There’s still time for that to change, but if the final 2 games against LSU and Mississippi State play out the same way it’s a safe bet that Corral — a California native and the highest-rated prospect in Ole Miss’ 2018 recruiting class — will be portaling out of Oxford after the season. That will likely mean sitting out 2020, but based on the list of teams

that expressed interest in his talents out of high school he should have no shortage of options. (Last week: 10)

11. Garrett Shrader or Tommy Stevens, Mississippi State

Joe Moorhead described Shrader and Stevens as “QB 1A and QB 1B” for this weekend’s game against Alabama, indicating (in keeping with the season-long trend) both were in line to play. Speculating on which guy takes the first snap is about as dramatic as that game is likely to get. (Last week: 11)

12. Ryan Hilinski, South Carolina

Which feeling is worse: Watching your quarterback overthrow a potentially game-winning touchdown so badly he forces his wide-open target to dive into the hedges behind the end zone as time expires …

… or actually connecting for the score, only to have it called back by a holding penalty on the left tackle? All things considered, Hilinksi’s devastating inaccuracy might have actually spared Carolina fans from an even more painful fate. Credit where credit is due. (Last week: 12)

13. Riley Neal, Vanderbilt

Deuce Wallace was predictably overwhelmed in his first career start, finishing 7-of-18 for 60 yards (3.3 yards per attempt) against Florida with an interception and a fumble that the Gators returned 80 yards for a touchdown. Neal, who is 1-6 as a starter on the season, is expected to return to the lineup this weekend against Kentucky after missing the trip to Gainesville due to a concussion; the fact that that actually qualifies as good news should tell you all you need to know. (Last week: 13)

14. K.J. Jefferson or John Stephen Jones, Arkansas

Arkansas’ long-suffering QB situation hit a new low against Western Kentucky, largely due to the guy on the other side: The Hilltoppers’ starter, former Razorback Ty Storey, transferred to WKU after behind shown the door last winter, and returned to post a better stat line Saturday against his former team (290 total yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) than he ever did in an Arkansas uniform. Meanwhile, the 2 grad transfers Chad Morris recruited to Fayetteville to replace Storey, Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel , spent the afternoon watching as Jefferson and Jones combined to 9-of-25 for 87 yards with 2 INTs — including a pick-6 — in a 45-19 debacle that emphatically ended Morris’ tenure on the spot.

If there’s a glimmer of optimism in the abyss, it’s that Jefferson, a 4-star recruit, will have all 4 years of eligibility remaining under the next head coach. Realistically, that might be how long it takes before Arkansas begins to resemble a competitive SEC team again. (Last week: n/a)

View Comments

    • Jake (like most QB's) is a product of his system, which is a disaster. He has proven over his career that he has all the abilities to be an elite QB. He doesn't have great arm strength but he also doesn't make mistakes. The offensive scheme this season isn't doing him any favors. It's the opposite of what is happening with Burrow. Last year Burrow was a good QB. This year he's elite. What changed? The offensive game plan and scheme.

      But you're right based on this season Jake is good not great. He's a great competitor though and he plays his best in the big games. He still has time to prove what he can do as long as the OC doesn't put him in a position where he can't succeed. Which is very possible.

      • The offense is the main reason for Burrow's success, but his skills have improved as well. His arm is stronger, and he is more accurate on downfield passes. His receivers have upped their skills, too. All of which makes Burrow more confident and more willing to throw into coverage.

        • I think burrow is a product of his environment. He’s clearly more confident in this system and with his receivers which in turn makes him a better QB. I agree with UGADawg78 I think Fromm could be just as successful at LSU right now as Burrow is but UGAs offensive scheme is the reason he looks subpar. It’s why I was shocked at why Fields ever went to UGA in the first place since that offense would not compliment his skill set at all. If I was a QB I would not go to UGA until they brought their offense up to date. Even the NFL is going away from your traditional power offense. Then again with all the cheating in recruiting I’m sure UGA will land a good QB

        • Crackhead Ben

          UGA doesn't cheat in recruiting, mullet and uf just really su ck at it.

          Who will be the next UF player in the portal, guess we'll find out soon.

        • TDOW make no mistake Im not saying that only UGA cheats. I think a lot of teams cheat like Alabama, LSU, Clemson, Texas, Ohio State, FLorida, Georgia ect. I think the difference is some schools have to boosters and funds to do it better than others ie Clemson, Alabama, Georgia. If you think that none of these teams are cheating even a little bit you are beyond gullible. This cheating mostly comes from the boosters who help certain recruits families relocate closer to their son, help them get certain jobs, lease them cars ect. Do you really think college football is clean? Even though college basketball and many other areas aren't? What makes college football any different from anything else? Come on we can all sit on a high horse and pretend that cheating doesn't happen in college sports. But just like in politics there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes that we just don't see. You think Reggie Bush was the exception to the rule and no one else has cheated besides him or that the rape stuff is only confined to what happened at baylor? Do you really think the NCAA doesn't have a vetted interest in what teams are good and what teams aren't? The name of the game has and always will be money.

        • No, the offense is NOT the main reason for Burrow's success, Joe Burrow is the reason for the offense's success.

          Burrow worked hard to finish his degree early so that he could dedicate his time as he has to being the best physical and cerebral QB he could be, and the result are what you're seeing on the field.

          Fact, in the last 3 games of 2018 he played about as well as any QB and that was in the old system. I wish we could have him longer in Baton Rouge, but I look forward to watching him set records in the NFL, also.

        • BengalBeaux I disagree. Im not saying Burrow is not part of the reason for his succes but if you think that other QB's in the SEC could not come in and have success in the offense with LSU's talent thats just bs. No QB has such a crazy turn around as Burrow has had without being put in a offense that focuses around what he does well. Do you really think Fromm is as bad as the stats say this year? Fromm has shown the ability to read defense make accurate and NFL type throws ect. Do you think Alabama QB's are only good now because of Tua and not the fact they run a scheme that complements the QB with the talent bama has at receiver? Do you think Lamar Jackson would be a succesful pocket passer in the NFL or his success is based on the scheme and offense he is in that compliments his skill set.

      • I don't think Fromm is Heisman material or an All-American candidate, but he is an elite talent.

        His lack of "shine" this season is schematic, a new OC and a completely new set of #1 receivers.

        Go back and watch Fromm's performance against bama in the 2018 SECCG. Lost in the drama of bama's come back was an incredible, ELITE performance by Fromm.

        As far as arm strength, Fromm throws back, across the field as good as anybody. There is no better 3rd down, clutch QB.

        Put Fromm in New Englands/Belicheks system and he'll be an All Pro.

        Burrow for Heisman.

      • A lot of Burrow's success is the new offensive scheme he is in this year with Brady. And yes he had improved 10 fold from last year to this year. It's a combination of both. Although one of the main improvements from last year to this is the receiver's ability to catch the ball. Too many times last year Burrow hit them in the hands and they simply dropped it. That isn't happening this year. It will be interesting to see if Brennan (or possibly someone else) can do the same. Let's just pray we can keep Joe Brady on our staff. He is a hot commodity right now

      • UGA's system is the same one that won 3 titles in 4 years 2009-2012 and as recently as 2015 beat Deshaun Watson and Clemson for a national title. Or had people forgotten that?

  • Jason Campbell went from being booed off the field to being a 1st round pick. He wasn't as good as Burrow, but it was quite a dramatic turnaround in 1 year.

  • I predicted that Burrow would be the most improved QB in the conference. I didn’t know he would take that improvement to this level though. Great season so far.

  • "after a game in which he bombed a secondary full of future NFL starters for 418 yards and 4 touchdowns on a gimpy ankle says a lot more about Burrow’s excellence than it does about Tua.".. Nah it actually says Tua is pretty good as well. Burrow is 1 of the few scenarios I agree with the transfer portal. Went to a school who recognized what he could do and he's since added a ton of value to his name. Systems matter.

    • No disrespect to UGA fans but Fields ain't coming to the SEC and do what Burrow is doing. Burrow on the other hand could easily go back to OSU and torch the Big 10.

      • I disagree I think if you put Fields at LSU with Joe Brady and those LSU receivers he would dominate in the SEC. No QB makes as dramatic a turn around as late in their career as burrow has without a better coach and scheme like Brady brought to LSU. Burrow looked very average last year

        • Wrong. Justin Fields brings a lot to the table, but pinpoint throws in tight windows is not one of them. Every game, Joe makes pinpoint throws to keep drives alive. Fields is a more explosive runner, but not near as good of a passer or field general as Burrow.

        • Nope. JO256 above has it right, "Fields ain’t coming to the SEC and do what Burrow is doing. Burrow on the other hand could easily go back to OSU and torch the Big 10."

        • It's amazing how Burrow was a 50% passer last year but now he can make pinpoint throws and its definitely not the system. Maybe he really turned the corner, but we generally don't see that kind of improvement between year 4 and 5 at any position.

  • Crazy to see Trask go from not on this list in the beginning of this year to top 4 near the end of this year with a chance to be in the top 3. With the possibility of the other top 3 QBs leaving next year it would be crazy to think UF could have the best QB in the conference next year

        • No, I don't really think that, I was being sarcastic. But all joking aside, these are very young men we're talking about and I've never heard anything negative about Fellippe. I'm sure he has exceptional work ethic and is driven; so you never know.

          I can say that after seeing Trask play, as an LSU fan, I went quickly from not being too concerned about the LSU/Florida game to being very concerned.

          Regarding Burrow, we'll just have to agree to disagree. I think he's the real deal and is a notch better than the other very good college QBs.

          Miles Brennan will probably be LSU's starting QB next year. I'm excited to see him play and think he'll do well. Not necessarily Joe Burrow well, but well.

        • I’m not disagreeing that Burrow isn’t a good qb but I don’t think he would be as successful as his is at LSU at any other program. Look at how good Matt Ryan was in the offense he was in when the Falcons played the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Look at him now. He didn’t magically become a elite QB for one season. He was put in an offense that complemented what he and the talent around him did well. Once that OC left he looked average even with really good talent around him. Tim Tebow was one of the greatest QBs of all time but he was in an offense that had talent and complimented what he did well. The system has to compliment what QBs do well

        • ben7254:

          I wonder how many people actually watched Burrow play last year - in games other than Alabama that is - instead of just looking at stats. I want to say that if LSU had the same QB play that they did from 2007-2017 last year, they lose 6 games instead of 3 (to Auburn, Arkansas and UGA) and Orgeron - who was on the hot seat entering the season because he was considered a bad hire to begin with - gets fired.

          A lot of people forget: LSU wasn't a powerhouse last season. They weren't the loaded squads that Saban and Miles produced from 2003-2014, when LSU was competing with the likes of UF, USC, Texas, Alabama etc. for recruiting national titles and would have the most players drafted. Their talent level had long dropped off and those #1 defenses, great OLs and running games etc. were a distant memory. LSU was a good team last year, not a great one, and his almost 2900 passing yards and 400 rushing yards were a huge reason for their success last year.

          It is amazing. Fromm has less than 2700 total yards in 2017 and folks were talking about him as a potential #1 overall pick. Burrow has 3300 total yards in 2018 without the great OL, RBs or defense that Fromm had in 2017 and folks claim that he was a mediocre player. Again, amazing ... and unfair.

  • To see how ignorant this rankings are, please go to NCAA Stats and see the rankings for the teams and individuals.
    You can check total offense, total passing efficiency, and so on.
    Then draw you own conclusions.

  • Jake Fromm is elite. Why the hate? He took over in emergency as freshman and hasn't looked back. He beat out 2 others who had more physical ability. He plays in a different system and uses intelligence and leadership to overcome whatever limitation ns he may have. He isn't perfect but no QB is. I wouldn't trade him for anybody.

    • I don't hate Jake Fromm. I "hate" UGA fans who keep playing the "intelligence and leadership" card. As if QBs who put up big stats don't also have Fromm's intangibles.

      Let me put it another way. Have we forgotten that Joe Burrow beat - and decisively outplayed in the process - Jake Fromm in a head to head matchup last year while LSU was still in their old conservative offense? Honestly there is more evidence that Burrow would be an effective player in UGA's system than there is that Fromm would be effective in Burrow's, because to run the Saints/Cowboys version of the pro-style offense you need mobility plus the arm strength to make difficult intermediate and vertical throws.

      Lacking measurables doesn't make you smarter and having measurables doesn't make you dumber or a worse leader. This is more so in the case of Fromm, whose "intangibles" are actually four or five future NFL players on the OL, two or three future NFL tailbacks, a bunch of future NFL players at WR and TE and oh yeah a top 10 defense.

      I know UGA fans - and most everyone outside of Auburn and Carolina - despise the guy but Cam Newton is a great example. He ran the table against a much tougher SEC than the current one (LSU won 11 games, Arky and Bama won 10, SCe and MSU won 9, UF won 8 and every SEC team went to a bowl game except Ole Miss and Vandy) with one of the 10 worst pass defenses in the NCAA and only 1 other guy who did anything in the NFL on the depth chart (Nick Fairley). The UGA team that lost 3 games with Fromm in 2018 had 6 guys drafted last season and will have almost 12 drafted this season. It's easy to have "intangibles" when you can hand off 40 times a game and your defense rarely lets the other team score 20 points.

  • What you seem to miss on Joe Burrows is the number of drops last year to this year went way down due to Joe Brady's work with the WR's. Joe is possibly the best QB ever in the NCAA. But also has a good O line, and really good WR's. Without those his numbers would not be half what they are. A great QB can't be great without a great team backing him up.

    • Did you just say Joe is possibly the best QB ever in the NCAA? He's having a great year, but I'm not sure I'd go that far.

      • As long as the word, POSSIBLY, is in there, I'm good with jmrtsus statement. I'd definitely give him the nod as the best we've ever seen at LSU and I go back a ways, I was attending games when Bert Jones was playing.

  • How can you rank QB's then completely ignore the QB in the writeup? They don't even mention Mond's name when explaining his being at #5. Did they forget what they were ranking?

    • Most likely because A&M had a glorified bye, so there is not much of substance to talk about.

      • What the heck is a "glorified" bye? I don't see the relevance here. You don't have to talk about this weeks play in order to explain why a QB drops, moves up, or stays put. Literally none of the writeup had a thing to do with his movement.

Published by
Matt Hinton

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