Several sophomores are among QBs ready to help SEC offenses flourish in 2017
The SEC hasn’t been home to many high-octane offenses in recent years, and last season was no exception.
Missouri had the only offense that ranked among the top 20 in total offense, checking in at 13th. By comparison, the Big 12 (6), Pac-12 (4) and ACC (2) all had more. More embarrassingly, the Big Ten actually had none in the top 30.
Of course, the SEC has left more of its mark on the defensive side of the ball lately, and that’s certainly played a part in the modest display of fireworks, but let’s not kid ourselves. The conference hasn’t had the strongest quarterback play.
Well, that’s about to change in a big way because some SEC signal-callers, many of them sophomores, are poised to build off promising freshman seasons to give wings to many SEC offenses and boost the league’s perception offensively.
Before we get into each of the quarterbacks we’re going to talk about, let’s take a look at how each SEC team fared in total offense on a national scale over the last five years dating back to 2012, also the same year Texas A&M and Missouri joined the conference.
|SCHOOL||TOTAL YPG||NATIONAL RANK|
The Aggies were one of only two teams to rank among the top 20, and the Rebels barely check in at 20th, having played all five of those seasons during Hugh Freeze’s time in Oxford.
Let’s start with them.
Patterson, the No. 1-rated pro-style quarterback in the Class of 2016, was supposed to be more of an unknown commodity entering the 2017 season, but Chad Kelly’s torn ACL and lateral meniscus against Georgia Southern gave Patterson a chance to show what he could do.
Over the last three games of the season, Patterson posted a couple 300-yard games as he threw for 880 yards, 6 TDs and 3 INTs. Freeze showed full confidence in the true freshman, who threw at least 40 passes in each of those contests, which included two road games against Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.
Patterson, who is on record saying that Johnny Manziel was his favorite player growing up, resembled him on this touchdown throw, which coincidentally came against his idol’s former team in his first career start.
Of course, Ole Miss hasn’t exactly been struggling on offense, and it doesn’t look it will be under a playmaker like Patterson.
Whoever takes over as Alabama’s new offensive coordinator will have Hurts’ services for at least two years.
The Crimson Tide made it to the national championship game behind Hurts, who exceeded expectations as a true freshman. He certainly has room to improve as a passer, but that’s to be expected.
In his first season, Hurts set the school record for rushing yards by a quarterback (954 yards) to go with 13 rushing TDs. He also had the second-best season in Alabama history when it comes to total offense per game (248.9).
As a team, the Tide recorded its third-best season in total offense (455.3). Meanwhile, the school led the SEC in scoring (38.8 points per game) for the first time since 1989.
With an improved Hurts, Alabama’s offense can be even scarier.
The Bulldogs finished 11th in the SEC in total offense last season, but Eason will have his true freshman growing pains out of the way for 2017.
Georgia has gotten plenty of good news this offseason, starting with the announcement that running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel will be returning. Then, the team put together the third-ranked recruiting class in the entire country.
That includes one particular player who could fill in at a vital spot in 5-star OT Isaiah Wilson, a 6-foot-7, 350-pounder from Brooklyn. UGA is also bringing in four other 4-star offensive linemen (D’Marcus Hayes, Andrew Thomas, Netori Johnson and D’Antne Demery) as well as an additional 3-star (Justin Shaffer), clearly targeting a weakness from 2016.
Eason has plenty of room to grow after four rough games that saw him put up a passer rating below 100. Those games came against Ole Miss, Florida, Georgia Tech and South Carolina, a game where he went 5-for-17 for 29 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT.
Overall, his passer rating of 120.3 was 11th out of 12 qualifying SEC quarterbacks. Still, Eason showed off his arm enough to have everyone in Athens optimistic about 2017.
The Tigers landed one of the biggest names in the transfer market when the former Baylor QB announced he’d be making the jump to the SEC.
In 2015, Stidham — who will be a redshirt sophomore — showed potential in the pass-happy Big 12, especially in his first career start against Kansas State, a team he torched for 419 yards and 3 TDs (and another rushing) with no picks while completing nearly 70 percent of his passes.
He played through injuries in his other two starts against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State before being sidelined for the rest of the year.
Auburn is loaded with young wideouts such as soon-to-be sophomores Darius Slayton (redshirt sophomore), Kyle Davis, Eli Stove and Nate Craig-Myers as well as rising junior Ryan Davis.
Stidham will also be able to hand the ball to the player who led the league in rushing yards per game last season, Kamryn Pettway, who will be part of a dynamic backfield.
Gus Malzahn may have what he needs to breath some life into the SEC’s least productive — and least utilized — passing attack from 2016.
The Gamecocks’ season — and their offense — saw a flip get switched once Bentley assumed the starting role as quarterback.
Over the last seven games, Bentley averaged 202.9 passing yards per game while throwing 9 TDs and 4 INTs. Over the first six games, South Carolina had thrown 2 TDs and 3 INTs (both scores came vs. Mississippi State).
Meanwhile, the team’s yards per attempt jumped from 6.4 to 7.5, and the completion percentage went from 58.1 to 65.8.
That’s not bad for an 18-year-old.
Those numbers illustrate a much different Gamecocks offense, but it was never more evident than the last game of the season against South Florida in the Birmingham Bowl. In a tough 46-39 OT defeat, Bentley went 32-of-43, 390 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs.
South Carolina’s offense responded time and again when faced with two-possession deficits, then were down three possessions (39-21) midway through the third before Bentley helped the Gamecocks score 18 unanswered to send it to overtime.
If that performance is any indication, South Carolina — ranked 13th in the SEC in total offense last season — can see a big jump in that aspect.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE JUNIORS …
Nick Fitzgerald, who will be a redshirt junior next season, was one of only three FBS quarterbacks to throw for at least 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000, along with Heisman winner Lamar Jackson of Louisville and Quinton Flowers of South Florida.
Fitzgerald is in the same boat as Hurts: If he can improve from the pocket, look out. We all know what he can do with his legs after seeing him run for 1,375 yards. Only Cam Newton (1,473 in 2010) and Johnny Manziel (1,410 in 2012) have topped that.
He was also third in the SEC in total offense per game (292.2) behind only Chad Kelly and another junior, Missouri’s Drew Lock.
Mizzou’s QB will need to deliver on a consistent basis. The Tigers ranked first in the SEC in passing in August/September (391.3 YPG) before falling to 10th in October (199.0), then back to first in November (296.0).
The dip was mainly due to a couple road games against stout defenses in LSU and Florida.
… AND THE SENIOR
Despite taking almost as many sacks in 2016 (35) as the Razorbacks had allowed over the past three seasons combined (36) with big brother around, little brother Austin Allen showed plenty of talent and toughness.
He still managed to finish third in both passing yards per game (263.8) and passer rating (146.0), second in passing TDs (25) and first in yards per attempt (8.6).
Offensive coordinator Dan Enos has a problem on his hands as Jared Cornelius is the only one of his top five pass-catchers from last season who will be returning.
However, it’ll help that running backs Rawleigh Williams III and Devwah Whaley will be back to share carries, keep the offense balanced and assist Allen to sell the play-action.