Basically the entire SEC decided to name a starting quarterback Monday. What to make of each decision
If you stepped our for lunch Monday, you basically missed the entire SEC announce its starting quarterback for 2018.
OK, not really. But for a 1-hour stretch, it felt like we got new developments about an SEC quarterback battle every 5 minutes. Some announcements came as a bit of a surprise, while others were rather expected.
And, of course, neither Nick Saban nor Kirby Smart named a starter.
But instead, let’s take a look at the teams who did announce that decision ahead of Week 1.
Arkansas — Cole Kelley
I love the tweets that actually announce these things. I always wonder to myself, what did the player think these photos would be used for?
QB1. @ColeKelley10 pic.twitter.com/3Nt42ln2NE
— Razorback Football (@RazorbackFB) August 27, 2018
Kelley being named the starter wasn’t necessarily a surprise, simply for the fact that he has the experience. While he might not be the prototypical fit for Chad Morris’ offense, he was the best Week 1 option to be able to face an SEC pass rush and stretch the field. It remains to be seen how Connor Noland will do both of those things.
Morris tried to not tip his hand by basically suggesting that 4-5 guys had a legitimate chance to play, but Kelley seemed like the best choice based on his willingness to stay and learn the offense, coupled with what he did last year.
A 58 percent completion rate will have to rise, as will 6.9 yards per attempt. This is still an ongoing battle. But with a favorable start to the schedule, Kelley should earn himself some security and take a clear hold on the job heading into SEC play.
Florida — Feleipe Franks
Yes, I was wrong. Dead wrong. In fact, one of my bold offseason predictions was that Kyle Trask was going to start every game for the Gators. On Saturday, Franks will prove that wrong.
I’ll just come out and say it. I’m not a believer in Franks running Mullen’s system. While it was obviously difficult to succeed in Jim McElwain’s offense, I question if Franks really has the intangibles to complete a high percentage of his passes and consistently execute run-pass options.
Mullen referenced Franks’ mobility as a strength. Does that mean Florida is worried about its offensive line and it felt Franks was better suited to escape pressure? Possibly. Nobody will argue that he’s superior in that regard to Trask. And in terms of arm strength, that’s obviously another positive for Franks.
I just wonder what the leash will look like. Last year, Franks essentially got one half against Michigan before getting benched. Is Mullen going to have patience with Franks to try and work out the kinks? For Franks’ sake, I hope so. Maybe he can prove me wrong.
Kentucky — Terry Wilson
As my SDS Podcast co-host Chris Marler pointed out, it’s pretty disappointing to see that one of the great quarterback names we’ve had in recent memory, Gunnar Hoak, will not be the starter. But Kentucky fans probably care more about having a difference-maker at the position.
It always felt like the starter was going to be the player who Kentucky coaches felt best took some pressure off Benny Snell. Whether that was stretching the field vertically or being a true running threat, the Wildcats needed someone who was capable of making a team pay for selling out to stop Snell.
Can Wilson be that guy? Possibly. The former Oregon transfer has been getting some pretty solid reviews in camp, and he did look good in “Last Chance U” in that 1 episode. If Wilson can continue to develop as a passer, there’s no reason why he can’t start every game for Kentucky in 2018.
LSU — Joe Burrow
The worst-kept secret in the Bayou was that Burrow was going to be the Tigers’ starter. It would have been stunning if the Ohio State transfer didn’t win the job. But all signs pointed in that direction after he chose to come to LSU following a less-than-stellar spring for the Tiger quarterbacks.
Burrow was physically more prepared to play the position than Myles Brennan (it’s somewhat baffling that he’s 6-5 and just 183 pounds still). And while we still haven’t seen a ton of either quarterback yet, Burrow can make every throw, and he can do so out of the pocket. That’s huge for an LSU offense that’s going to be trying to find its identity in the early part of the season.
Ohio State players and coaches raved about Burrow’s readiness to take on the challenge that lies ahead. Is there still a learning curve? Absolutely. He’s never started a game in his career. Dicing up that Miami defense in Week 1 could prove to be a tall task.
But as Urban Meyer said about Burrow, he’s a made quarterback. LSU doesn’t have to develop his skills. It just has to find a way to maximize them. There’s plenty of reason to believe that the Tigers can finally have their answer at the position.
Texas A&M — Kellen Mond
This, in my opinion, was the toughest quarterback battle to predict. While I said that Nick Starkel seemed like the favorite after the way he finished 2017, it was clear that Jimbo Fisher wasn’t going to use that as the trump card. He wanted the player with the skill set he felt he could best maximize. As we found out, that’s Mond.
It’ll be fascinating to see how different of a player Mond is in Week 1 this year compared to when he was thrust into the opener at UCLA last year. Mond had flashes of greatness in 2017 — that scramble play he made against Alabama was one of the best plays in all of college football last year — but he couldn’t put it all together.
Against Northwestern State, we’re not going to know if Mond has put it all together yet. But the big difference with him compared to others on this list is that I tend to think Fisher is going to give him a long leash. Fisher will make it his mission to make sure Mond has a chance to succeed. He won’t pull him if he gets off to a bad start in a given week.
Regardless of what Fisher says about both guys having an opportunity, I believe that path for Starkel is a straight uphill climb.
It’s because of that reason that I wouldn’t be surprised if Starkel transferred in the very near future.
And a couple thoughts on Nick Fitzgerald’s suspension …
Lost in the shuffle of the hoopla that was quarterback announcement armageddon was Joe Moorhead informing media that Fitzgerald would be out Week 1 for a violation of team rules. Moorhead said that was for an incident that occurred in March. That was a surprising development, to say the least.
Moorhead brought Fitzgerald to SEC Media Days knowing that he wouldn’t be playing in Week 1. Nobody spilled the beans on that. It’s rare to see a player representative at media days who’s facing a suspension. But perhaps it would’ve been more suspicious had Moorhead not taken his senior quarterback to Atlanta.
This doesn’t impact MSU in a big way in Week 1 because as we saw in the TaxSlayer Bowl, Keytaon Thompson is plenty capable of running the offense.
My concern if I’m a Bulldog fan is that Fitzgerald’s debut will presumably be in Week 2 at Kansas State. Keep in mind that he still hasn’t played in an actual game since that brutal ankle injury in the Egg Bowl last year. In addition to that, he’s also going to play his first game in Moorhead’s system. As much as Penn State thrived in Year 1 under Moorhead, the first month was rough. It took a bit for Trace McSorley, and it could take a bit for Fitzgerald.
It would’ve been nice for Fitzgerald to have that Stephen F. Austin game to ease back into things. Now, he’ll be thrown into the fire on the road in Week 2.
That matchup — as well as Fitzgerald’s Heisman candidacy — just got a little more interesting.