A year ago the SEC was as deep as I’ve ever seen it in really good quarterbacks. A quick rundown of the guys who are gone: Aaron Murray (Georgia), Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M), Connor Shaw (South Carolina), Zack Mettenberger (LSU), AJ McCarron (Alabama), James Franklin (Missouri), Austyn Carta-Samuels (Vanderbilt).
There are some proven quarterbacks returning (Nick Marshall, Auburn; Bo Wallace, Ole Miss; Dak Prescott, Mississippi State) and some seniors who have not started but are finally going to get their turn (Dylan Thompson, South Carolina; Hutson Mason, Georgia).
On Thursday senior Justin Worley was named the starter at Tennessee over Joshua Dobbs and Nate Peterman. So with two weeks left before the start of the regular season, there are no less than five SEC schools that have yet to name a starting quarterback. That’s a bunch for a conference that had seven teams ranked in the preseason Coaches Poll. Let’s take a quick look at the leading competitors for each job and, in an act I’m sure I’ll regret, yours truly will project the starter.
Alabama (Jacob Coker, Blake Sims): Coker, an Alabama native, graduated from Florida State last May and transferred to Alabama. He is competing with Sims, a fifth-year senior who has been waiting behind McCarron and has worked hard on his game. Nick Saban told ESPN on Wednesday that the two have been splitting first-team reps. Lane Kiffin is coaching them up. Tony’s pick: Coker.
Kentucky (Drew Barker, Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips): Each one brings something different to the table. Barker, the true freshman who enrolled early, has the most ability. Smith has the most experience but is coming off shoulder surgery. Towles was a high profile recruit who sat out last season. Phillips is a redshirt freshman. Tony’s pick: Smith starts early but Barker has to get on the field this season.
LSU (Brandon Harris, Anthony Jennings): Jennings had a moment when he came off the bench to throw the winning touchdown against Arkansas but then struggled in the bowl game (7 of 19 passing). Harris, a freshman who enrolled early, is the better athlete and has the most upside. Coach Les Miles said recently he feels no sense of urgency to name a starter. Tony’s pick: Harris.
Texas A&M (Kenny Hill, Kyle Allen): Hill, a sophomore, shot himself in the foot when he was suspended for violating team rules last spring. Still, he got on the field a little bit last season (completed 16 of 22 passes in four appearances). Reports say Hill has been a little quicker getting rid of the ball than Allen, one of the nation’s top recruits who enrolled last January. That’s important because OC Jake Spavital is a tempo guy. Tony’s pick: Hill.
Vanderbilt (Patton Robinette, Johnny McCrary, Stephen Rivers): Robinette got significant playing time last season (3 starts, 10 appearances). McCrary, a redshirt freshman, is the most athletic of the bunch. Rivers, brother of NFL star Philip Rivers, has been on campus since June after transferring from LSU. The Commodores had another big scrimmage on Thursday but head coach Derek Mason has told the local media that a decision will not be made until the first game on Aug. 28 vs. Temple. Tony’s pick: Robinette.