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SEC Post-Spring Quarterback Rankings

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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With spring practices over in the SEC, it’s time to look at where the SEC teams stand at football’s most important position: quarterback.

With spring practices over in the SEC, it’s time to look at where the SEC teams stand at football’s most important position: quarterback.

The league is in far better shape than it was at this time a year ago when it had Joshua Dobbs, Chad Kelly, and a whole bunch of unknowns. There’s no certain NFL star here, but there is a nice mix of potential and experience that should boost the SEC this fall after a down 2016.

Here we go, from No. 1 to No. 14, the SEC post-spring quarterback rankings.

1.  Alabama

Jalen Hurts was one second away from winning a national championship as a true freshman – which would have been the first occurrence since Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway in 1985. There is plenty of room for growth in the passing game for Hurts, who still completed a respectable 63 percent of his attempts. His deep ball was on point during the A-Day game, but it’s his mobility and poise of a coach’s son are his invaluable traits. There might be more talented players at the position, but none in the league have been shined in the big moments yet like Hurts did as a freshman. Early enrollee Tua Tagovailoa looks like a future star, but Hurts is the man for another year at least.

2. Mississippi State

After a rough start to the season and a back-and-forth battle with Damian Williams, sophomore Nick Fitzgerald was one of the biggest surprises of the season’ second half, guiding Mississippi State to upset wins of Texas A&M and Ole Miss in November to sneak into a bowl game. No SEC player had more total offensive yards than the 3,798 racked up by Fitzgerald. Like Hurts, Fitzgerald isn’t a great natural passer, but he’s coached by one of the best quarterback developers in the sport in Dan Mullen. Given his coach and his stature (6’5”, 230 pounds), the Tim Tebow comparisons will be early and often in the fall if Fitzgerald maintains his 2016 pace.

3. Auburn

For us football nerds, watching Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham throw the football leaves us drooling. The effortless nature in which Stidham throws deep balls and out routes is something Auburn has lacked at quarterback over the past few seasons. Head coach Gus Malzahn didn’t officially name Stidham the starter after the spring, but no one is buying that there will be an actual quarterback competition in August. Sean White started for most of the past two seasons, but isn’t physically capable of holding up in the SEC. He’s a nice backup option, which will likely matter at some point, but this is Stidham’s team, and that’s great news for a Tigers passing game in need of a jolt.

4. Ole Miss

Shea Patterson was forced into action sooner than expected last season after Chad Kelly’s knee injury. His first start was a huge success with a road upset of No. 8 Texas A&M, but losses to Vanderbilt and Mississippi State kept the Rebels out of the postseason. Despite the mixed results, expectations are sky high for Patterson as a sophomore. There’s no throw he can’t make, and he’ll have arguably the best receiving corps in the conference at his disposal. There’s not much behind Patterson, but if he stays healthy, he should provide a much-needed boost to the spirits of a downtrodden fan base resulting from the ongoing NCAA investigation.

5. Georgia

Jacob Eason and Patterson will likely forever be linked as two of the top prospects in the 2016 signing class, but Eason saw the field much sooner than Patterson did as a true freshman, taking over the starting role in Week 2. The Bulldogs offense fizzled for much of the season, as Eason had little help around him while making his share of freshman mistakes. There were some jaw-dropping moments as well, including Eason’s go-ahead touchdown pass against Tennessee that many quarterbacks simply can’t make. Early enrollee Jake Fromm made some noise in the spring, but this will still be Eason’s job in the fall.

6. Arkansas

Austin Allen was the victim of a rare Bret Bielema team with poor offensive line play. The Razorbacks allowed 35 sacks last season, as Allen’s first year under center resulted in way too many hard hits. He withstood the hard hits about as well as one can hope, but won’t be able to help the Razorbacks crack the nine-win mark for the first time since 2011 without more help in front of him. The interceptions (15 in 2016) need to be reduced, but Allen’s fearless attitude shouldn’t be considered a negative. Sophomore Ty Storey and girthy redshirt freshman Cole Kelley appear to be capable backups should something happen to Allen.

7. South Carolina

Jake Bentley should have still been in high school last season, but instead started seven games for the Gamecocks, including a big upset of Tennessee and a second conference win over Missouri. Like Hurts, Bentley is a coach’s son who never looks uncomfortable on the field. His accuracy is a strength, having connected on 66 percent of his passes as a true freshman. Don’t be surprised if Bentley climbs into the top five of SEC quarterbacks by season’s end.

8. Kentucky

Stephen Johnson didn’t win the starting job coming out of fall camp last season, but passed Drew Barker during the season and guided the Wildcats to their first bowl game since 2010. Johnson’s dual-threat style is a perfect fit for underrated offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, who improved the Kentucky attack by more than five points per game and 0.8 yards per play in his first season in Lexington. Redshirt freshman Gunnar Hoak had a good spring, but is unlikely to push Johnson in the fall. This ranking is as much a belief in Gran as it is in Johnson.

9. Missouri

Drew Lock wasn’t ready to play as a true freshman in 2015 when Maty Mauk was dismissed from the team, but it paid dividends in his sophomore season. Lock threw for 3,400 yards in 2016, going from a measly 5.1 yards per attempt as a freshman to 7.8 as a sophomore. Lock has good size at 6’4”, a capable arm, and now has 20 starts under his belt entering his junior season. The Tigers offense brings back almost everyone of relevance from last season, so Lock should continue to grow.

10. Vanderbilt

Like Lock, Shurmur was forced into action prematurely as a freshman in 2015, parlaying the early playing time into a productive sophomore season. The 9-to-10 TD-INT ratio was a disappointment for Shurmur, but that can be partially attributed to Vanderbilt being extremely successful in the red zone with the running game. There’s a ceiling with Shurmur and the Commodores offense, but the junior is capable of maximizing the potential of this unit. His best game of his career was last year’s win over Tennessee (21-of-34, 416 yards, 2 TD), so he’s in the good graces of Vanderbilt fans for a while at least.

11. Florida

There may or may not be a quarterback battle in August in Gainesville. That depends on how 2016 starter Luke Del Rio recovers from shoulder surgery that kept him out of the spring. Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks is the front-runner after performing better than classmate Kyle Trask during the spring, but Del Rio remains the wild card as the only known commodity on the depth chart. It would be best for Florida going forward if Franks wins the job, but don’t count out head coach Jim McElwain reverting to Del Rio if he returns to form in fall camp.

12. Tennessee

Heading into the fall, it’s a battle between junior Quinten Dormady and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano. The quarterbacks are far from mirror images of one another, with Dormady more of a pro-style quarterback than Guarantano, who more resembles departed starter Joshua Dobbs. With the tight-lipped nature of head coach Butch Jones, no starter will likely be named until very close to the season opener against Georgia Tech. Regardless of who wins the job (Dormady has a slight edge exiting the spring), there will be plenty of questions around a Vols offense that lacks experience at the skill positions.

13. LSU

It’s the million-dollar question we’ve been asking for most of the past 10 years. Can LSU complete forward passes with any sort of consistency? Danny Etling wasn’t awful last season, but neither did he look like the quarterback who will finally bring much-needed balance to the Tigers offense. New offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who resurrected the career of Nathan Peterman at Pittsburgh, should help, but Etling has to be better in big games after struggling mightily against Alabama and Florida last November.

14. Texas A&M

The Aggies have the only three-way quarterback battle in the conference, with senior Jake Hubenak in competition with redshirt freshman Nick Starkel and early enrollee Kellen Mond. The two who have yet to see the field have the better measurable, but Hubenak has helped stabilize a quarterback room with a revolving door over the past few seasons since Johnny Manziel left College Station. Starkel might have a slight edge coming out of the spring, but August will decide who starts a critical opener on Sept. 3 at UCLA for both the program and head coach Kevin Sumlin.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.