SEC Quarterback Power Rankings, Week 2: First-year starters on the rise
Week 2 was a lot kinder to the SEC than Week 1, when several quarterbacks struggled to live up to their preseason billing.
This past Saturday, the best conference in America put together a few pretty impressive performances at the game’s most important position. You can’t go 10-0 in out-of-league games unless your QBs are playing well.
In particular, several of the fresh faces have begun to establish themselves at their respective programs. In particular, Austin Allen of Arkansas and Luke Del Rio of Florida threw the ball well in their second career starts. Each is now 2-0 and starting to gain the confidence necesssary to succeed on the big stage.
More encouraging: The no-rhyme-or-reason rotations we saw under center on opening weekend have settled down to some degree. Sean White of Auburn, for example, benefited greatly by not having to look over his shoulder.
Here are my SEC quarterback rankings following Week 2. A couple of first-year starters are beginning to move up the list.
14. Kyle Shurmur
Last week: 14
The least-efficient passer in the conference by a wide margin, at least Shurmur evened Vanderbilt’s record to 1-1.
While the Commodores scored 47 points against Middle Tennessee, it wasn’t on the strength of Shurmur’s right arm. As a matter of fact, he didn’t complete a single pass in the first quarter. Handing off to Ralph Webb was his best attribute.
Through two games, Shurmur is hitting on less than half of his throws (46 percent) and averaging 3.7 yards per attempt.
13. Perry Orth/Brandon McIlwain
Last week: 11
Of the 14 signal callers in the league with enough attempts to qualify, Orth is 13th and McIlwain is 12th in efficiency.
Getting the start again in Week 2 at Mississippi State, Orth was partially responsible for South Carolina being shut out in the first half for the second game in a row. He’s yet to throw for a touchdown this season.
Even if McIlwain fired a pair of second-half TD passes coming off the bench, a lot of his production was in garbage time late.
12. Danny Etling/Brandon Harris
Last week: 6
Etling has one thing going for him: He’s not Harris. That alone is enough for LSU fans to have faith in him.
With Harris starting an anemic 1-of-4 at home facing Jacksonville State, the Death Valley faithful was ready to riot before Etling entered the huddle. His 6-of-14 performance was far from electric, but he got the Tigers in the end zone.
We don’t know yet for sure if the Harris era in Baton Rouge is officially done, but Etling appears to be the guy for now.
11. Drew Barker
Last week: 7
About 30 minutes into the 2016 campaign, Barker looked like he was ready to make the leap with 4 first-half TD passes against Southern Miss.
It’s been a nightmare ever since, though. Barker was shut out in the second half of that game and watched a 35-10 lead turn into a 44-35 defeat. Week 2 was a complete disaster, as he completed just 2 passes at Florida against 3 INTs.
Eventually benched by coach Mark Stoops, Barker needs to hit the reset button. Actually, this entire Kentucky program does.
10. Sean White
Last week: 13
After supposedly winning the starting job in fall camp, White was curiously rotated with Jeremy Johnson and John Franklin III in Week 1.
Finally allowed to operate the offense by himself, White was 17-of-23 with 3 touchdown tosses against Arkansas State. He’s not the same running threat as Johnson or Franklin, but he did contribute 60 additional yards on the ground.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn would be wise to stick with White going forward. Stability under center is a requirement for any program.
9. Nick Fitzgerald
Last week: 12
Taking over for the legendary Dak Prescott, Fitzgerald lasted a grand total of two series in the opener before getting yanked.
Given a second chance in Week 2, he was a dual-threat monster in a 27-14 win over South Carolina. Throwing for 178 yards was nice, but Fitzgerald’s 195 yards rushing set a Mississippi State record at the quarterback position.
Even though Damian Williams did some good things when called upon in Week 1, Fitzgerald is clearly the higher-upside option in Starkville.
8. Drew Lock
Last week: 10
Nobody has thrown for more yards in the SEC through two games than Lock, who just scorched Eastern Michigan for 450 and 5 scores.
However, let’s not overreact. Just seven days prior, against a pretty mediocre defense in West Virginia, Lock completed 45.1 percent of his passes and averaged 5.5 yards per attempt. He hasn’t seen an SEC defense yet, either.
The skills are there, though. Lock was a four-star recruit coming out of high school, so he’s a candidate to rise up this list.
7. Luke Del Rio
Last week: 9
Despite throwing for 256 yards and 2 touchdowns with 0 interceptions in Week 1, overall Del Rio was inefficient against lowly UMass.
He was much more impressive this past Saturday against Kentucky, burning the Wildcats for 320 yards and 4 TDs. Most noticeable was his ability to hit the deep ball. His yards-per-attempt average jumped from 5.8 to an even 10.
Del Rio is a marginal talent. We know that. But with an improving supporting cast and a tremendous defense, he can win games.
6. Austin Allen
Last week: 8
Allen has started a grand total of two games in his Arkansas career. He has already engineered two fourth-quarter comebacks.
In the final period at then-No. 15 TCU, following a critical touchdown toss, he tied the game by reeling in a reverse pass for a two-point conversion. Then in overtime, he threw for one score and ran for another.
The Razorbacks have played their fair share of panic-inducing games under coach Bret Bielema. Allen appears to have the stomach for it.
5. Jacob Eason/Greyson Lambert
Last week: 4
Measuring strictly by the efficiency statistic, Eason is the No. 1 quarterback in the conference with a mark of 161.7.
All that aside, the freshman phenom has been up and down through two games. He was shaky enough at home to overmatched Nicholls that coach Kirby Smart felt the need to go to the bullpen late and bring in the senior Lambert.
It’s still Eason’s team going forward. That won’t change. But don’t put a bow on Lambert’s career as a Bulldog just yet.
4. Joshua Dobbs
Last week: 5
For about five quarters this season, the Tennessee coaching staff was trying to turn Dobbs into something he’s not.
Finally, in the second period of the Battle at Bristol, the Volunteers stopped worrying about Dobbs distributing the ball from the pocket and again let him run the ball with reckless abandon. He’ll always be more runner than thrower.
While he only completed 10 passes against Virginia Tech, three went for touchdowns. He ran for a pair, too.
3. Jalen Hurts/Blake Barnett
Last week: 3
After taking a back seat to Barnett in Week 1, Hurts got his first career start this past Saturday against Western Kentucky.
Putting a strong arm on display with plenty of throws downfield, the freshman was good on 23-of-36 attempts for 287 yards. He found the end zone twice and didn’t commit a turnover. Barnett also played, but this offense belongs to Hurts.
He wasn’t nearly as effective running the ball as he was in the opener. Still, Hurts is a genuine dual threat in the pocket.
2. Trevor Knight
Last week: 2
Delivering the first of what should be several 300-yard passing games, Knight was 21-of-37 through the air against hapless Prairie View.
Through two games, Knight’s completion percentage of 54.4 is definitely lower than it should be in an offense such as this one. But as a graduate transfer still getting used to his new surroundings, it’s no cause for alarm.
Somewhat below the radar, Knight has been sneaky effective as a ball carrier with 109 yards and 3 touchdowns already.
1. Chad Kelly
Last week: 1
Kelly was quite Jekyll-and-Hyde in the opener vs. Florida State, bouncing back and forth between touchdown maker and turnover machine.
A week later back home against overmatched Wofford, Kelly performed exactly as expected with 219 yards passing, 3 TDs and zero turnvovers. Although he’s yet to get uncorked on the ground, running for just 28 yards in two games.
He can solidify his hold on the top spot if he beats Alabama for the second straight time Saturday in Oxford.