Nick Fitzgerald is gone, which means the rest of the SEC actually has a chance.

The title of “top rushing quarterback in the SEC” is up for grabs.

And despite the belief that this era is all about spread, pass-heavy offenses, 8-9 teams have a quarterback who could easily rack up 400 rushing yards and I wouldn’t think anything about it.

That’s why this will be an interesting challenge, but it’s a challenge I will gladly take on.

So let’s predict which quarterback is going to lead the conference in rushing:

5. Kelly Bryant, Mizzou

Oh, did you think I was going to end this list with Bryant? Here’s the thing. He’s actually had the best single-season rushing total of anybody on this list. He racked up 665 rushing yards during his last full season as a starter at Clemson in 2017. Even better, he had 11 scores on the ground. The problem was it took him nearly 200 attempts at 14 games to get there.

I don’t think Bryant transferred to Mizzou so that he could run the ball 200 times again. I think he transferred to play in Derek Dooley’s NFL-friendly system, which calls for some running, but not 200 carries. He’s going to throw the ball more than he did in Dabo Swinney’s offense.

My guess is that Bryant’s legs will only be used in volume when Mizzou absolutely needs it. That is, Dooley recognizes a defense is gassed late in a game. Or maybe the Tigers have some injury issues at the skill positions and Bryant is the safest option.

I tend to think that Bryant won’t be near the 665 rushing yards he got in 2017. But he can still be plenty effective in that offense even if he’s more in the 400-500 range.

4. Joe Burrow, LSU

Let the record show that the quarterback we saw in the final 2 games of LSU’s 2018 season wasn’t a mirage. Burrow is capable of being a running quarterback as long as the Tigers don’t have major depth issues at the position like they had for most of last year. By hiring Joe Brady to implement a more RPO-heavy system, it seems like a foregone conclusion that we’ll see Burrow call his own number more.

And despite the fact that he took more sacks than anyone in the SEC, he still nearly hit 400 rushing yards last year. Will he have a bunch more 20-plus carry games like he did against Texas A&M? Probably not. That’s just what the situation called for with LSU’s offense running on empty.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if Burrow cleared the 500-yard mark now that he has Brady in his corner.

3. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M

Like Burrow, Mond’s high sack numbers might hurt his rushing totals. But also like with Burrow, my guess is that the sack numbers decrease and the ability to recognize running windows improves.

In terms of breakaway runs, Mond would be my bet to lead the SEC in those. The guy already has 3 runs of 50-plus yards. Most quarterbacks never even get 1, much less 3.

The reason a play like that was so effective was because Trayveon Williams had all the attention. Obviously now he’s gone after one of the more underrated SEC seasons of recent memory. That could impact Mond in multiple ways. It could force Jimbo Fisher to rely on him even more as a runner, or it could mean that with A&M’s strength in what it returns in the passing game, Mond’s running opportunities could take a slight dip.

Either way, though, Mond is still someone who can take it to the house in any given notice. That puts him on the short list.

2. Joey Gatewood, Auburn

Here’s a fun question — would I have Bo Nix higher or lower? I’d probably have him in the exact same spot. That’s the feeling I get after consuming all things Auburn quarterback battle this offseason. The strength of Gatewood and Nix is their mobility, albeit in different senses.

Gatewood has the frame to wear down a team like Fitzgerald did the past few years at Mississippi State (I really would like to see Gatewood go live just so we can see his complete game). Nix seems like he has more of that Mond-like ability to make a team pay for missing a tackle at the second level.

It’s super tempting to just put “1. Auburn Quarterback” atop this list. If Gus Malzahn really is going back to his Nick Marshall-type offense, we’re looking at a starting quarterback who will flirt with 200 carries and 1,000 yards. If that happens, I’d say there’s a favorable chance that Auburn’s quarterback is the SEC’s top runner.

But here’s my only hesitation.

My guess — just a guess — is that Gatewood is the guy. Even if he’s the clear No. 1, it wouldn’t surprise me if Nix is involved regularly as a runner. Like, more than the 4-game redshirt type of involvement. If that’s the case, it’ll eat into Gatewood’s overall production. What’s the safest bet? Auburn’s starting quarterback will surpass 300 rushing yards for the first time since Marshall hit 1,000 in 2014.

1. Terry Wilson, Kentucky

In the past 2 weeks, I bought a lot more Wilson stock. Why? As we just found out, Wilson admitted he played through a rather serious leg injury during the middle of the 2019 season. He had one of his own offensive linemen fall on his leg in the Mississippi State game, and he didn’t feel like himself again until Kentucky faced Middle Tennessee State a month and a half later.

In Wilson’s 6 healthy games, he ran 57 times for 358 yards (6.3 yards per carry) and 3 scores. In his 7 “not himself” games, Wilson had 78 carries for 189 yards (2.4 yards per carry) and 1 rushing score. That’s telling.

What’s also telling is that Kentucky’s main offensive weapon, Benny Snell, is gone. That’s 289 carries that are up for grabs. I have to think as long as Wilson is healthy, at least a chunk of those are going his way. That’s a good sign for someone who still managed to rack up 574 yards — more than any returning SEC quarterback — in his first season as a starter.

I’m starting to believe more and more that a breakout season is in store. Could that include 1,000 yards on the ground? I wouldn’t bet against it.

And about Feleipe Franks as a runner …

OK, so I’m not saying that the Florida junior is going to lead the conference quarterbacks in rushing, but I wanted to at least address the subject of him as a runner because it’s far more interesting now than it was a year ago.

As Dan Mullen often says, it’s not that his offense needs someone like Fitzgerald or Dak Prescott. The key is to have a “willing” runner. Last year, Franks at least showed that he was willing, especially in the Peach Bowl. It was such an encouraging final game of 2018 because it was clear that Mullen recognized a decimated Michigan defense had a clear weakness against the quarterback run, and Franks was willing and able to exploit it. Maybe Franks’ high volume running days will only come in similar circumstances, but that’s OK.

What’s interesting is that Florida has a bunch of skill player weapons returning. If all eyes are going to be on them and the defense is focused on making sure Mullen doesn’t find a way to scheme a receiver wide open, that’ll benefit Franks’ rushing totals.

It doesn’t seem crazy to suggest that Franks could finish the season with 125-150 carries with 400-500 rushing yards. Because of his size, it may not look as natural as some of the others on this list, but the guy showed he can be impactful in that aspect.

Having said that, I’d still be stunned if he topped this list at season’s end.