Power ranking SEC quarterbacks heading into fall camp
I beefed up.
Those who know me know that I like to call myself out when I say or do something stupid.
What I did a few months ago, in hindsight, was stupid. Real stupid.
I ranked Malik Willis as the No. 8 quarterback in the SEC. Yeah, the same Malik Willis who entered the transfer portal about 5 minutes after my rankings came out (not literally but it felt like it).
That’s one of the challenges about doing quarterback rankings year-round. I can look extremely stupid 365 days a year. Many of these quarterback situations are fluid. Ergo, these rankings are fluid.
As fall camps opened, I thought it would be fitting to revisit the SEC quarterback discussion. A reminder that these rankings are based on the quarterbacks who I’d want starting my team tomorrow. It isn’t all statistics-based, and it isn’t all about who has the highest college/NFL upside.
So here’s hoping I don’t have a Willis-sized egg in these preseason quarterback rankings.
14. Riley Neal, Vanderbilt
After watching the spring game, I’ve been under the impression that Neal will win the job over Deuce Wallace. Derek Mason said that the plan is to take roughly 2 1/2 weeks of watching how they both perform in fall camp and go from there. My guess is that Neal’s experience gives him the opportunity. Remember that Vandy doesn’t necessarily need a creator at the position with “The Big 3” at the skill positions.
13. Ben Hicks, Arkansas
To be fair, I like Nick Starkel better than the limited amount I’ve seen from Hicks. I believe the A&M transfer will be the guy at season’s end. But with Starkel arriving late to camp, I’d give Hicks the early nod. Familiarity in the system and familiarity with the receivers will provide Hicks the upper hand early on. It’ll be interesting to see if he can execute the up-tempo style that Chad Morris wants to run at the SEC level.
12. Matt Corral, Ole Miss
The Corral-RichRod experiment is fascinating. Both have fiery personalities. Corral admitted that he likes a coach like RichRod who will chew him out. As for whether that’ll translate to the game remains to be seen. I’ll say this, though. It’s a good thing that Matt Luke already had enough faith in Corral to bring him to SEC Media Days. They’re fully invested in the former 4-star quarterback running and leading the offense. But he’s still a wild card at this point of his young career.
11. Joey Gatewood, Auburn
I know what you’re thinking. Why did I have Willis at No. 8 and Gatewood only at No. 11? As I said in the intro, I’m an idiot. I also said this is based on who I’d want leading my team tomorrow. As much as we’ve heard about Gatewood’s strides as a true quarterback and not just a runner, we still need to see it in live action. Gus Malzahn had the benefit of that live spring scrimmage, but I’m sure even he is using every last bit of data available to decided between Gatewood and Bo Nix. If Malzahn is going to gain the support of Auburn fans, it’ll be because Gatewood/Nix are way higher than No. 11 among SEC signal-callers.
10. Tommy Stevens, Mississippi State
I could see the Stevens/Keytaon Thompson battle going either way. I really could. It wouldn’t surprise me if Thompson got the nod and had great success in Joe Moorhead’s offense. But the more I hear about Stevens, the more I like. The leadership qualities are there, and not to get too caught up with how he threw at the Manning Passing Academy, but I think he’s going to look more comfortable than people realize when he gets going in fall camp. My gut says Moorhead doesn’t want deja vu in Year 2 of his offense. That is, an inconsistent quarterback who makes plays but struggles with accuracy. Stevens gives Moorhead a better chance to establish the identity he wants.
9. Terry Wilson, Kentucky
I’ll buy any Wilson stock that you’re willing to sell. I wrote a couple months ago that Wilson was primed for a breakout year. The physical ability is absolutely there. Contrary to what last year suggested, he can throw. I don’t doubt that. Hearing about the leg injury he dealt with in the middle of last season did change my outlook on him a bit. It makes me understand why the running numbers were so pedestrian in the meat of the season. I like Wilson’s chances of potentially breaking into that top 7 group as long as he’s healthy.
8. Jake Bentley, South Carolina
Previously, I had Bentley a couple spots lower on this list. I’ll be honest. I’m not as big of a believer as many are. For all the reps he’s had, I still question the decision-making. I wonder if calls for Ryan Hilinski will grow louder as the season progresses. Having said that, Bentley can still do a lot of things that we haven’t seen from guys lower on this list. The numbers in Bryan McClendon’s system were up in Year 1, and if the Gamecocks can get anything resembling a running game, he’ll have a chance at actually being one of the better SEC quarterbacks as a senior.
7. Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee
People love this guy. I mean, some are arguing that he’s the 3rd-best quarterback in the SEC. Keep in mind, we’re talking about someone who has never had more than 12 touchdown passes in a season, nor has he been to a bowl game. But Guarantano is in the top-half group because not only is he tough, but he’s accurate and he can move. I don’t think we saw all of his potential in Tyson Helton’s offense. We saw the flashes against Auburn and Kentucky. Now it’s time for Gurantano and Jim Chaney to put it all together.
6. Feleipe Franks, Florida
Franks is super difficult to rank because if it were strictly numbers, he’d probably be 3rd or 4th. If Franks continues his post-Georgia play, he’ll absolutely be 3rd or 4th on this list. The accuracy and the running are the 2 things that can take Franks’ game to the next level. I want to see him fit the ball into tight windows on a more consistent basis, too. I want to see him recognize the open running lanes like he did against Michigan. The arrow is pointing in the right direction, which is different than this time last year when I predicted that the rocket-armed quarterback would take a back seat to Kyle Trask.
5. Kelly Bryant, Mizzou
On the surface, some might look at Derek Dooley’s pro-style system and Bryant’s mobile skill set and wonder where the fit is. But the match actually makes a lot of sense when you consider Bryant’s precision in the intermediate passing game. That’s where he thrives. Let’s not forget that while Bryant’s Clemson career didn’t end the way he wanted it to, he still helped the Tigers earn a No. 1 Playoff seed. He needs to improve his downfield accuracy to become an All-SEC caliber player, but in terms of guys with big-game experience and confidence, Mizzou is in great hands with Bryant running the show.
4. Joe Burrow, LSU
Yeah, I’m higher on Burrow than you are. I won’t play the broken record too much, but I will say that I felt a bit justified to see Burrow earn 3rd-team All-SEC honors in the preseason media poll. That to me says I’m not crazy for thinking that Burrow is already one of the conference’s best. As I’ve said, it’s not any one thing that he does better than anyone in the SEC. But he leads, he understands what’s needed at the position in a given moment and he doesn’t shy away from the spotlight. That’s my kind of quarterback.
3. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
I couldn’t believe Mond said he thought he was the best quarterback in the SEC, but hey, you’ve got to have confidence to succeed at this level. Mond isn’t lacking that. He’s also not lacking experience. He’s suddenly in the upper echelon of SEC quarterbacks in terms of reps. That’s key for someone who got sacked too much last year. But as I always say with Mond, there’s nothing on the field he can’t do. He has the arm strength, the legs and the brain to be one of the country’s top 10 signal-callers. He’ll need to be in order for A&M to navigate that brutal schedule.
2. Jake Fromm, Georgia
No surprise here. I’ve been banging the Fromm drum for almost 2 years, and I don’t expect to stop anytime soon. It’s interesting to hear him get criticized for his arm strength and release. I tend to think the ball just looks a little weird coming out of his hand. Whatever the case, it hasn’t stopped him from being one of the most efficient and prolific quarterbacks in America the last two years.
Here’s the list of returning quarterbacks who started in consecutive New Year’s 6 Bowls:
- Jake Fromm, Georgia
Yeah. That’s it.
Give me the guy who has played in a combined total of 5 conference title/New Year’s 6 bowl games running my team. Jalen Hurts is the only quarterback with as many big-game starts. And if we’re being honest, give me Fromm over Hurts and nearly anyone in the country.
1. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Is it worth explaining anymore? For all the struggles we saw down the stretch — something that’s worth watching — we still saw a historic 2018 from Tagovailoa. There’s no reason to think that’ll disappear with nearly the same group of pass-catchers back. The 2 things besides Tagovailoa’s health that are worth monitoring are how Steve Sarkisian plans to scheme receivers open, and how much more Alabama uses the ground game with a pair of fresh, hungry backs. Tagovailoa might not put up the same insane numbers he did last year — don’t forget he was all-world levels of efficient — but he still has the highest ceiling and most proven résumé of anyone in the SEC.