The last several years in the SEC have seen some lofty quarterback play. Last year, we witnessed the showcasing of Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Auburn’s Nick Marshall.
Even the next level of signal callers was very solid: Connor Shaw at South Carolina, James Franklin and Maty Mauck at Missouri, Bo Wallace at Ole Miss and Zach Mettenberger at LSU. Toward the end of the season, we began to see, perhaps, an emerging star in Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott. And even Vandy’s Austyn Carta-Samuels was solid for the Dores.
That only left Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky without somewhat reliable signal-calling and Jeff Driskel of the Gators spend most of the season injured.
The 2014 season, however, brings the departure of seven of the top eight quarterbacks in terms of passing efficiency. Most notably, Manziel, McCarron and Murray are gone. Auburn’s Marshall is, obviously, the top returning of last year’s top eight.
So, as this season rolls around, we are left to ponder who fills this vacuum of superstar QBs. Will this be a season where the emphasis shifts to other skill players, or, gasp, back to the defensive side of the ball? Or will this be a year where we see a new crop of stars start to rise?
To help us figure this out, let’s take a look at college football guru Phil Steele’s quarterback rankings, by team, for the upcoming season (according to his 2014 season preview magazine). I’ve put the presumptive starter in parentheses and keep in mind that Steele is ranking these teams as quarterbacking units, not simply by who the starter is.
- Auburn (Nick Marshall)
- Ole Miss (Bo Wallace)
- Florida (Jeff Driskel)
- (4) Mississippi State (Dak Prescott)
- (4) Missouri (Maty Mauk)
- Alabama (Blake Sims or Jacob Coker)
- (7) South Carolina (Dylan Thompson)
- (7) Kentucky (Patrick Towles)
- Georgia (Hutson Mason)
- (10) Arkansas (Brandon Allen)
- (10) LSU (Brandon Harris or Anthony Jennings)
- (10) Tennessee (Justin Worley)
- Texas A&M (Kyle Allen or Kenny Hill)
- Vanderbilt (Johnny McCrary)
One look at that list and, yes, you’ll see that the quarterback position in the SEC is definitely going through a transition in 2014.
There’s no doubt that Auburn has the best returning unit in the league. Marshall and backup Jeremy Johnson are an extremely talented duo. We saw Johnson some last year and he has loads of talent. It’ll be interesting to see how he is used this year and how much. It’s scary to think of a player more talented than Marshall running Malzahn’s offense.
But beyond the Tigers, I’m not sure I agree much with Steele’s rankings (either individually or taken as a unit). If these rankings hold true as the season progresses, we could see several upsets and a re-ordering of the league, at least for 2014. For example, if Wallace and Prescott are two of the top three quarterbacks in the West by season’s end, I wouldn’t be surprised to see either LSU or Alabama both shuffle lower than second in the West – at least for a season. That’s not bad mouthing either LSU or Alabama. That’s simply saying what effect such stellar play from both Wallace and Prescott could have this year.
For this to happen, both of these players will have to become much more explosive and will have to eliminate turnovers.
Driskel returns from an injury and the Gators are supposedly gassing up their offense. I’ll believe this when I see it. Driskel is talented and experienced, but, again, this is a see-it-to-believe it deal.
Tide fans like to think they could win 10 games no matter who the starter is. The rest of the team is so talented, that quarterbacking at Bama seems easier than it is. The truth is, either Sims or Coker can lead the team to double-digit wins, but winning one or more of the other games will require some very good play. Sims doesn’t seem like the protypical Saban-style Bama quarterback, but he brings some running skills to the game that could be interesting. Like back in 2011, this battle may last two or three games into the season.
Steve Spurrier has led the Gamecocks to rarefied air – at least by South Carolina standards. Three straight years of 11-2 records is, I’m guessing, the best stretch in school history. That stretch also happens to coincide with Connor Shaw’s emergence as Carolina’s steady signal-caller. This year he’s gone and Spurrier will turn to Thompson, who did have some significant playing time last year. Thompson’s a talented QB, but it remains to be seen if he has the “it” factor brought to the team by Shaw. If not, the Gamecocks take a step back this year.
Georgia loses Murray, but got an early jump on replacing him after his late season injury. Hutson Mason stepped in ably and I see no reason why he misses a beat in 2014. Steele has the Dawgs’ unit ranked as ninth in the league. I don’t see this at all.
With 14 teams in the league, it’s almost like writing a book to evaluate every QB, so I’ll save some time and keystrokes and give you this:
- Auburn (Nick Marshall) – This is pretty obvious. The Tigers won’t miss a beat without Marshall.
- Missouri (Maty Mauk) – Mauk got a lot of good experience and plays in an offense where he can sling up some impressive numbers.
- Georgia (Hutson Mason) – Mason has already assumed the job from Murray and also plays in a stat friendly offense.
- South Carolina (Dylan Thompson) – He won’t run as much as Shaw, but maybe won’t need to.
- Ole Miss (Bo Wallace) – Wallace threw for over 3,000 yards last year, but needs to be more consistent and cut down his turnovers.
- Mississippi State (Dak Prescott) – Was the shine at the end of last season real for Prescott? We’ll see soon enough.
- Florida (Jeff Driskel) – Even if he stays healthy, Driskel still needs to prove he can play at a level high enough for the Gators to win.
- Alabama (Blake Sims or Jacob Coker) – Don’t expect huge numbers from either Sims or Coker, but that doesn’t mean the Tide won’t win.
- Texas A&M (Kyle Allen or Kenny Hill) – I wouldn’t be surprised to see A&M’s quarterback in the top five by year end, but it’s hard to justify the ranking now.
- Tennessee (Justin Worley) – Worley may struggle (again) behind an inexperienced offensive line.
- LSU (Brandon Harris or Anthony Jennings) – Consistency is the key word at QB in Baton Rouge.
- Arkansas (Brandon Allen) – Allen doesn’t have much around him besides a decent running game.
- Kentucky (Patrick Towles) – I’ve never heard of Towles, but he plays for Kentucky.
- Vanderbilt (Johnny McCrary) – Ditto the Kentucky comment here.