I am starting to realize more and more that I really don’t have much to say about important things. I’m still learning so much, so outside of some very limited-in-scope thoughts about things I am not qualified to speak on, I haven’t had a lot to write about.
Then I realized the SEC Network drops in 10 days, and it’s going to be available on the International Space Station. SEC football. In space.
As a red blooded southern male, I am beside myself in anticipation for the upcoming football season. In 24 days, I’ll make the trek to Atlanta to watch the Rebs take on Boise State. The time between now and then will be filled with studying for ordination exams, writing lessons, and kicking off another semester of ministry that, honestly, I am quite looking forward to. But in this moment of down time, I really, really want to write about sports. So here we go: My totally unscientific and largely uninformed ranking of the 14 SEC quarterbacks.
Before the list, though, it needs to be mentioned – there are only 5 returning starters in the SEC. LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, and Georgia’s Aaron Murray are all gone. That’s a lot of star power gone, which means there are a lot of unknowns coming into the year. So what I’m going to do is rank the five returning starters (Dak Prescott and Maty Mauk not included, because they weren’t full time starters), and then try to make heads or tails out of the other 9. Here we go:
5. Maxwell Smith, Senior, Kentucky – Maxwell Smith is a returning starter, but of the returning starters, he’s the most likely to lose his job. I don’t really know why, but he missed three games, and he split time with Jalen Whitlow, who transferred. So Smith is more or less the starter by default. He completed 57% of his passes for 1,276 yards, 9 TDs, and 1 INT. Those aren’t awful numbers, but Kentucky went 2-10, so it’s not hard to see him losing that job. Patrick Towles, a redshirt sophomore, is apparently a pretty real threat to Smith. I can’t see Kentucky winning more than 2 or 3 games again, so it might not matter all that much.
4. Brandon Allen, Junior, Arkansas – Allen isn’t #4 on this list by default. He’s entrenched as a starter, but he completed less than 50% of his passes for 1,552 yards, 13 TDs, and 10 INTs. He missed the Rutgers game, but Arkansas lost their last 9 games. They’ll have a strong running game, so he won’t have to go out and put up Manziel numbers, but if they’re going to improve, he’s going to have to be better. He did seem to improve as the year went on, at least on paper. He finished the year going 47 for 78, 485 yards, 4 TDs, and 3 INTs against Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and LSU. So maybe he can keep improving some? Bielema isn’t known for his great passing offenses, and while that’s not entirely fair, that reputation probably won’t change this year.
3. Jeff Driskel, Junior, Florida – Driskel is an enigma to me. The talk is always how talented he is, but his best season was pretty pedestrian. 2013 didn’t give us much to go on, either, because he got hurt in the third game of the year, but he was off to a 2 TD/3 INT start. But he’s right here because he’s better than whatever UK or Arkansas will put out.
2. Nick Marshall, Senior, Auburn – I flip flop between Marshall and Wallace, but Marshall just isn’t a good passer. He completed a shade under 60% of his passes, which is good, and he threw for 14 TDs and 6 INTs, which is also really good. He’s a great trigger man for Auburn’s offense, and he’s probably most effective as a runner. If you take away three plays from their season – the end of the game against Mississippi State, the ridiculous play against Georgia, and the shenanigans surrounding the Iron Bowl, then we’re talking about what a nice story Auburn was, going from whatever their crappy record was to 8-4 and a nice bowl game. But while Allen and Smith would be at the very bottom of the league, Marshall would be at the top because of how effective he is running that offense, even if he isn’t the best passer. If their ground game can produce like it did last year, Marshall should have another strong year.
1. Bo Wallace, Senior, Ole Miss – Wallace completed 65% of his passes for 3,346 yards, 18 TDs, and 10 INTs. Bo’s the best returning quarterback in the SEC statistically. It’s a bit more impressive considering he hasn’t been fully healthy since getting to Ole Miss. The end of the regular season left a bit of a sour taste in Rebel fans mouths, with the offense only generating one offensive touchdown in two games, but the season was capped off pretty nicely against Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl. The question for Wallace, and the entire Ole Miss offense, is the offensive line. Laremy Tunsil is the best LT in the conference, and if Aaron Morris can stay healthy, LG should be pretty solid, but the right side of the line is up in the air. Gone is Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan, but Laquon Treadwell, Vince Sanders, and Evan Engram come back. So if Bo’s really healthy, like they say, and the OL can get him some time, Dr. Bo should be able to lead the Rebs to another solid year.
This is a bit of a crap shoot, but two guys stand at the top of this list – Missouri’s Maty Mauk and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott. So beyond that, who knows? Three of these are “situations,” because I have no idea what is happening in any of them.
9. Tennessee’s situation – Tennessee just isn’t going to be good. They recruited well, but I just don’t know that they’re going to be good any time soon. Justin Worley is probably the best of their options, but he’s not all that impressive. Josh Dobbs finished the year when Worley went out with an injury, but he wasn’t great either. So…who knows?
8.Vanderbilt’s situation – I’m kind of assuming Patton Robinette wins this job, but apparently there’s a legit 4 way battle going on. Stephen Rivers is an intriguing prospect, because of his brother and because he’s huge. Robinette has experience, but Rivers apparently has the talent and only one year to play.
7. LSU’s situation – As I just mentioned, Stephen Rivers is gone. Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris are competing for the job. Most people seem to think that Harris has the edge, which wouldn’t surprise me, but going into the SEC with a true freshman quarterback is a scary thing, even if he was a highly sought after prospect. LSU’s quarterback play has left a lot to be desired over the last few years, so…again, who knows?
6. A&M’s situation – Kevin Sumlin knows QBs, and Kyle Allen should be a really good one. He lacks the mobility of his predecessor, but then again, so does everyone. My bet is Allen gets the nod, but I base that on nothing. But I have faith in Sumlin as an offensive coach, so he’ll have one of those guys ready to go. I also think that the biggest loss is Mike Evans, but we’ll see.
5. Hutson Mason, Georgia – Mason is this high because he was forced into action last year and looked pretty good. He’s kind of a rare breed in the SEC this year, as he’s a true drop back passer in a true drop back system. Georgia’s situation is pretty similar to Alabama’s in that there are some great running backs around their QB and a great OL in front of him, so whatever his weaknesses are will be masked in some ways other QBs weaknesses won’t.
4. Jacob Coker, Alabama – To me, Coker is the most intriguing potential starting QB in the SEC. Apparently he and Jameis Winston had a pretty legit QB competition at Florida State, which Winston obviously won, so Coker transferred. Alabama still has the best OL in the country, a phenomenal defense, and a stable of great running backs. He doesn’t have to be the most talented guy out there, but he may actually be the most talented guy out there. I don’t really like Alabama, but I am looking forward to seeing how he does as a starting quarterback in the SEC. Of course all of this is irrelevant if Blake Sims wins the job. Sims has some experience, but not much.
3. Dylan Thompson, South Carolina – Thompson got a decent amount of reps 2 years ago, and played sparingly last year. He seems a lot like Coker and Mason, who have a lot of talent around them. That’s really all I have to say about him.
2. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State – Prescott and Mauk could be changed out here, but Mauk gets the nod for reasons I’ll discuss in a second. Prescott is a great runner, but he’s a pretty average passer. If he’s going to be the guy State fans are hoping he is, he’s going to have to get better throwing the ball. He’s also going to have to stay healthy. He missed two games, and with a quarterback who embraces contact like he does, injury is always a concern. State ended the season with some momentum, so the hype surrounding him is totally understandable (though I think way over the top). He’s got some weapons – Jameon Lewis is really good and the SEC’s returning leading receiver, De’Runnya Wilson has a great name and has shown flashes, and Marcus Green is a really good tight end. Health, accuracy, and the offensive line are the major concerns here.
1. Maty Mauk, Missouri – When James Franklin went down last year, I think everybody thought Missouri’s run was over. And they did lose the South Carolina game, but Mauk was lights out in those games. Keeping a championship run alive and staying healthy are why I put him here over Prescott, but you could pretty easily argue this gets flipped back because Missouri lost 4 of their top 6 receiving targets. Mauk also did it as a true freshman.
This is a really hard list to come up with. Every single one of these guys has major question marks, and several of these jobs won’t be settled until well into the season. Coker, Marshall, and whoever LSU trot out will have a chance to lead their team to the SEC championship from the west simply because of the talent around them. My bet is on Thompson and South Carolina representing the East, but I wouldn’t sleep on Mason and Georgia, either. Florida may pull it off, but it’ll be more on the defense than Driskel.