SEC quarterback play was suspect last year. The forecast for 2016 looks equally bleak, if not more so. Ole Miss is set with Chad Kelly. Tennessee, for better or worse, has Josh Dobbs. Uncertainty reigns everywhere else, including multiple programs who expect to be in the SEC/National Title mix.
The SEC loses four of its top six passers from 2015. Brandon Allen, top five nationally in yards/att and passer rating, departs. So does Dak Prescott. The other quarterback in that top six besides Chad Kelly returning is…Greyson Lambert.
Help may be on the way. SEC schools signed three of the top five pro-style quarterbacks (two five-stars in the top five overall) and four of the top six dual-threats in 2016. But, they can’t be expected to contribute right away, even though at least a couple of them could be starting.
Here’s a look ahead at some of the major quarterback battles.
Alabama: The Tide have three Top 100 overall recruits – Cooper Bateman, Blake Barnett, and David Cornwell. Though, that is three Top 100 overall recruits who could not beat out an average Jake Coker in 2015. The thing is it’s Alabama. The team won a national title with Coker. It reached the playoff with 5th-year stopgap Blake Sims the year before. Should Alabama handle attrition elsewhere, this should not matter that much.
Auburn: Good news: both quarterbacks return. Bad news: both quarterbacks return. Jeremy Johnson’s Heisman campaign never materialized. He underwhelmed. Sean White had highs and lows. Neither offered a rushing threat, which is when Gus Malzahn’s offense truly clicks. Will dual-threat JUCO transfer John Franklin III (formerly of Florida State) be their Nick Marshall? He’ll need to be, with their questions on defense.
LSU: LSU has a lot of talent coming back, and brought in a monster recruiting class. The Tigers still have either no quarterback or no system in which a quarterback can thrive. Les Miles’ one quarterback signed was Lindsey Scott, a three-star flipped from Syracuse who may not be an immediate answer. Perhaps former Auburn assistant Dameyune Craig can help liven things up and get more from Brandon Harris? He is the assistant the “Hire Jimbo” crowd wanted back.
Florida: Will Grier was the answer. Then he got popped for PEDs and transferred. Whether it was the player or the system, the offense ground to a halt with Treon Harris. The Gators scored one offensive touchdown or less in their final three games. Incoming freshman Feleipe Franks may be the quarterback of the future. Will necessity push him into the starting lineup in 2016?
Texas A&M: The Aggies had two former five-stars who split snaps in 2015. Both opted to transfer this offseason. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital also left for Cal. Kevin Sumlin needs a strong season. Hopes for that will rest with…Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight. Knight did dominate Alabama in the Sugar Bowl after 2013. But, he struggled in 2014 and lost his job to Baker Mayfield last year.
Georgia: The Bulldogs have a new coach and a new offensive system. Fans will also hope they have a new quarterback. Greyson Lambert lived up to his Virginia transfer billing. His numbers were average. The closer you dug, the uglier it got. Lambert converted just 9/43 third downs between 4-9 yards throwing the ball in 2015. Will No. 5 overall recruit Jacob Eason be able to step in immediately?
Arkansas: The Razorbacks lose Brandon Allen, who was one of the nation’s most efficient passers. But, an SEC non-compete kept Dan Enos on campus. Arkansas has the closest thing to Allen left, his brother Austin. There are also options behind him, including USC transfer Ricky Town.
Those teams are just the contenders at the top of the SEC. Mississippi State has gigantic shoes to fill. There are messes to clean up at Missouri, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky. It’s looking like a good year to drum up that “SEC defense” narrative.
While the prognosis may be murky, there are two things to note:
Quarterback attrition won’t be just an SEC problem in 2016. Four of the top seven from that year lose quarterbacks. Michigan is replacing Jake Rudock. Florida State is rolling with Sean McGuire…maybe. Ohio State keeps J.T. Barrett but parts with just about everyone else. Notre Dame loses some huge stars. There aren’t that many teams in the realistic playoff mix. Many of them have issues on paper.
Moreover, as Alabama and the Denver Broncos winning titles showed, quarterback play is not everything. A dominant defensive front and a quarterback who doesn’t eff things up can take a team a long way. The SEC has no shortage of the former. We’ll see which schools have the latter.