Predicting the Starting QBs: SEC
After losing two Heisman finalists to the NFL, the SEC sees a lot of turnover at the quarterback position. However, the SEC arguably boasts the most talent overall at the position, even if experience is not necessarily on their side. Only time will tell how well the quarterbacks in the conference turn out in 2021, but the ceiling is high for many of them.
Image credits: Wesley Hitt, Getty Images
2020: Mac Jones (NFL)
The Bryce Young era begins in Tuscaloosa, and the hype is real. Young has big shoes to fill. The last three quarterbacks for the Tide (Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones) were Heisman finalists, national champions and are now competing for starting jobs in the NFL. Overall, Young has all the talent in the world to be the next big quarterback to come out of Alabama. In a backup role in 2020, Young managed to throw for 156 yards and one touchdown. Adding to this, in the Tide's annual A-day spring game, Young completed 25 passes on 44 attempts with 333 yards and one touchdown. Building off of an impressive spring performance and having a full offseason to continue to develop, Bryce Young has a lot of hype built around him, especially with the Heisman Trophy. Currently, he is at +600 odds to win the award, which is the second-best in the country, and he has yet to even start a game. Along with this, it has been reported that he is raking in over $800K in endorsement deals. Again, keep in mind that he hasn't even started a game yet. The hype is real for Bryce Young, and he has all the talent in the world to prove that it is well warranted, especially with Nick Saban as his head coach and the supporting cast of receivers and backs that surround him. The Tide should win the SEC West this season and Young will be successful, but only time will tell just how much Young lives up to the hype that surrounds him.
Image credits: Todd Van Emst, AU Athletics
As a University of Florida student who attended the 2019 Auburn game, the saying “Bo Nix throws picks,” is something I heard quite often, especially after he threw three interceptions in that game. Early 2019 Bo Nix looked promising. A true freshman who led the Tigers to a 5-0 record, Nix looked like the future for the Tigers and the SEC. However, the tide quickly turned, and Nix is now often criticized for lackluster performances. Overall, as a true freshman in 2019, Nix threw for over 2,500 yards with 16 touchdowns against only six interceptions. He added seven touchdowns on the ground. 2020 saw a slight dip in production. In 11 games, Nix threw for just over 2,400 yards with 12 touchdowns against seven interceptions. The stats show consistency on the field. However, there has been concern over the last two years over Auburn’s and Nix's ability to win games consistently. After starting 5-0 in 2019, they finished the season 9-4. In 2020, a lackluster 6-5 season led to head coach Guz Malzahn getting fired and calls for Nix to be replaced as the starter. It also doesn't help that early into the 2021 fall camp, Nix threw three interceptions in the first scrimmage. Going into 2021, Nix faces competition from LSU transfer TJ Finley. Finley, who announced his transfer in May, stated that he wanted to transfer to a school where he would not have to wait to compete for the starting position, and Auburn gives him that best opportunity (For Finley’s stats, see “LSU” below). However, the early signs point to Nix being the starter at the beginning of the season. Nix is the most experienced quarterback on the roster and one of the most experienced in the SEC. And, it cannot be said that he doesn’t have talent. He has shown sparks of brilliance over the past two season, but he has struggled to consistently show it. Mainly, he has struggled to bring home wins for the Tigers. Entering year three and with a new coach in Bryan Harsin, this is a make-or-break year for Nix. Should he show signs of breaking, Finley could easily take the starting position. Should he show signs of improvement, the Tigers could make some noise in the SEC West.
Image credits: John Raoux, AP (2019)
2020: Kyle Trask (NFL)
Patience is often described as a virtue, and Emory Jones perfectly emulates this. Like his predecessor Kyle Trask, Jones had to wait three long years before he could take control of the Gator offense. This will also be the first time in his three years as head coach that we can really see Dan Mullen run his offense, which is based on a running quarterback. Jones has yet to start a game, but is not entirely inexperienced. After playing in four games in 2018, thus keeping a year of eligibility, Jones played a more prominent role in the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Primarily as a wildcat backup quarterback, Jones wasn’t afraid to throw the ball when needed, accounting for five touchdowns in two seasons as a backup. However, running is his obvious strong suit, where he has accounted for six career touchdowns. These stats are minimal in comparison to the other starters in the SEC, and there are some questions about his true passing ability. Arm strength is not a question, but accuracy and touch on passes are a small cause for concern. However, Jones is so far silencing the doubters, at least according to teammate Trey Dean who said, “If people think Emory Jones cannot throw the ball, they need to second guess it… he’s going to surprise a lot of people.” However, all eyes are on the Sept. 18 matchup against Alabama, which will be Jones first test as the starter. Overall, Jones has the tools to be the next successful Gator quarterback. A combination of talent, decent experience, a solid receiving core, proper coaching as well as the payoff of waiting for the last three seasons, there is no reason that Jones should not be successful in 2021.
Image credits: Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images
2020: D’wan Mathis (Transfer), Stetson Bennet IV, Daniels
After a messy 2020 campaign with quarterbacks, Georgia finally found consistency at the end of the year with JT Daniels, who transferred from USC after losing the starting job due to a torn ACL. The Daniels-led offense looked like a completely different team in comparison to the Mathis and Bennet-led offense, which struggled in big games. In four games, Daniels threw for an impressive 1,231 yards and 10 touchdowns against only two interceptions. Georgia won all four games Daniels started. In the first six games of the season, Bennett and Mathis combined for 1,268 yards, nine touchdowns and nine interceptions while going 4-2. Going into 2021, this is clearly Daniel’s team, even with the arrival of five-star prospect Carson Beck. In the annual G-Day, Daniels continue to prove why he will start after throwing for 324 yards and three touchdowns. Arguably the best quarterback in the SEC going into this season, there is talent and turnover at the receiver position to back him up. Star wide receiver George Pickens tore his ACL in spring practice and is highly likely to miss games in the fall, but Kirby Smart said that Pickens is making good progress in his recovery. Also recovering from injuries are Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, who suffered a broken leg against Florida, and Jermaine Burton, who suffered a knee injury in spring practice. However, both should be ready to go by the time the season starts. Furthermore, making his way from LSU through the transfer portal is former five-star tight end Arik Gilber, who is expected to contribute immediately for the Dawgs. Needless to say, expect Daniels to thrive in year two at Georgia, who is looking to take back the SEC East from rival Florida.
Image credits: Penn State Athletics
2020: Terry Wilson (Transfer)
After a 5-6 campaign in 2020, Mark Stoops and the Kentucky Wildcats have found their starter after having a three-man competition throughout spring and fall camp. Longtime starter Terry Wilson transferred to New Mexico for his final year of eligibility in the offseason. Moving to this upcoming season, the three main competitors for the starting position were Joey Gatewood, Will Levis and Beau Allen. Now, the decision has officially been made. On Aug. 15, Stoops named Levis the starting quarterback going into 2021. Immediately after, Gatewood announced he was entering the transfer portal. The quarterback room as it stands is Levis as the starter and Allen as the backup. Levis is a recent transfer from Penn State who split starting time last season with Sean Clifford. Overall, he played well in a limited role. In two years with the Nittany Lions, he threw for 644 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. However, the most exciting part of Levis' game is his running ability, where he accounted for 473 yards and six touchdowns over the last two seasons. Levis had more in-game experience than Gatewood, and Stoops praised his ability to lead the offense throughout offseason workouts. Behind Levis is Allen, a rising sophomore who was a four-star prospect from the class of 2020. Overall, Allen rarely saw the field in 2020, but was outstanding in high school. He threw for over 11,000 yards and had 127 touchdowns during his high school career. Allen is the clear future of the program, but he isn't quite ready to take the reins just yet. The starter for 2021 will be Levis. With the most experience on the roster and an exciting athletic ability, Levis has all the tools to lead the Wildcats in 2021. Overall, Kentucky won't win the SEC East this season, but a season similar to the impressive 10-win 2018 season certainly can happen with Levis at the helm.
Image credits: Getty Images
2020: Brennan, TJ Finlay (Transfer), Max Johnson
LSU was home to one of the most compelling quarterback competitions in the country. That was until Aug. 2 when Myles Brennan injured his left arm that requires surgery and sidelines him indefinitely. This hurts LSU, but not as much as it would for other programs. Brennan was the heir to the position behind Joe Burrow in 2019 and had high expectations going into 2020. However, the injury bug hit Brennan early and hard. In the first three games, he threw for an impressive 1,112 yards and 11 touchdowns against only three interceptions. However, a lower body injury caused him to miss the rest of the season. His replacement was true freshman TJ Finley, who, although talented, was extremely inconsistent and failed to bring home wins. In five total games played, he threw for 941 yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions. Along with this, blowout losses to rivals Auburn and Alabama led to a quarterback change. With two games left in the season, Ed Orgeron took the keys from Finley and handed them off to fellow true freshman Max Johnson, who shined brightly in the middle of a dark season. His first career start was against then sixth-ranked Florida, but he looked like a veteran while picking apart the Gator defense and leading the Bayou Bengals to an upset victory. In six total appearances in 2020, Johnson threw for 1,069 yards and eight touchdowns. Moving into 2021, a quarterback competition opened between all three, but quickly became a two-man competition with Finley transferring to Auburn. As the season approached, it looked like Brennan would retain the starting spot. After all, he has more experience and was a top quarterback in the SEC before his injury in 2020. However, the injury bug bit Brennan again on Aug. 2 when it was announced he injured his left arm and would be out indefinitely. Now, Johnson is the clear starter for the Tigers. The only left-handed quarterback in the conference, Johnson has proven he is more than capable of winning big games.
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Arguably the biggest surprise in 2020 was the emergence of Matt Corral as the starting quarterback for Ole Miss. Entering Lane Kiffen's first season as the head coach, Corral won the starting job over 2019 starter John Rhys Plumlee, mostly due to Corral being a balanced quarterback while Plumlee mostly relies on his ability as a runner. The decision to start Corral worked out well, as he threw for 3,337 yards and 29 touchdowns in 10 games while leading the Rebels to a 5-5 record. Although emerging as one of the SEC's best quarterbacks, Corral did have a bit of a turnover issue last season, where he threw 14 interceptions, but 11 of them came in two games. His worst performance came in the loss against Arkansas, where he threw an astounding six interceptions. He followed that up with a five interception performance in the loss to LSU later in the season. These are only two games, though. In the other eight games, Corral proved that he belongs in the SEC and that he is here to stay. The stats, talent and experience are there for Corral to succeed in 2021, but he must improve on the turnover issue. Do not expect Ole Miss to compete for an SEC West title in 2021, but one impressive Matt Corral performance could ruin another one of the top team's chances.
Image credits: Rogelio V. Solis, AP
2020: KJ Costello (NFL), Rogers
The Mike Leach-led air raid offense failed to live up to the hype in its first year in the SEC. After throwing for five touchdowns in the week one upset over the defending national champion LSU Tigers, the offense fell off of the map quickly. KJ Costello, a grad-transfer from Stanford, only accounted for one more touchdown, which was in week two. This led to Leach turning over the keys of the offense to true freshman Will Rogers, who made his first career start in the win against Vanderbilt. The decision worked out well for Leach and the Bulldogs. In nine total games played, Rogers threw for 1,976 yards and 11 touchdowns. He started the final six games of the season, where he led the Bulldogs to a 3-3 record. Mississippi State finished the season with a record of 4-7. Rogers’ freshman season was full of record-breaking performances, too. With 45 completions against Ole Miss, Rogers trails only Tim Couch for SEC record for completions in a game. This record is also the single game record for Mississippi State. In the Ole Miss game, Rogers also broke the Mississippi State freshman record for total offensive yards in a game with 466 total yards. With the recent success and an offseason to grow under Leach, Rogers is the clear starter for the Bulldogs going into 2021.
Image credits: Jay Biggerstaff, USA Today Sports
The 2020 SEC Co-Freshman of the year returns to COMO for his sophomore season and looks to build off of his solid debut season. A four-star prospect in the class of 2019, Bazelak threw for 2,366 yards, seven touchdowns and six interceptions in his redshirt freshman season, his first as the full-time starter. He led the Tigers to a 5-5 record in head coach Eli Drinkwitz's first season. Bazelak has plenty of room for improvement, but he has plenty of weapons returning who will help. Missouri returns two of the top three receivers from 2020 in Keke Chism, who had 458 yards and a touchdown, and Tauskie Dove, who had 300 yards and two touchdowns. Also making his way to Missouri is Mookie Cooper, a transfer from Ohio State. Headlining the freshmen receiving group is four-star Dominic Lovett, who should see plenty of playing time this fall. Needless to say, with the talent surrounding him and an impressive freshman season, Bazelak is the future of the Tigers' program. Heading into 2021, the Mizzou is one of the sleeper teams in the SEC who could make some noise, but that relies on if Bazelak builds off of his solid 2020 campaign. Do not be surprised to see it happen.
Image credits: Travis Bell, Sideline Carolina
Luke Doty/Zeb Noland
2020: Collin Hill (Transfer), Doty
The South Carolina Gamecocks and first-year head coach Shane Beamer have a mess at quarterback going into the 2021 season. With 2020 starter Collin Hill transferring out of the program, the keys looked to be turned to Luke Doty, who started two games in 2020. Overall, the program struggled, but Doty showed some bright spots. In eight total appearances, he threw for 405 yards and two touchdowns against three interceptions. Heading into the 2021 season, South Carolina fans and coaches were high on Doty, including Coach Beamer who compared him to Jalen Hurts. It was clear that he was going to be the starter in 2021. However, an injury has forced Doty to miss at least the first game of the season. With this, the Gamecock offense turns to Zeb Noland, a former graduate assistant with the team who still has one year of eligibility remaining. In an unconventional career, South Carolina is Noland's third team. He played the 2017 and 2018 seasons at Iowa State, where he threw for 1,255 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions in limited playing time. After transferring to North Dakota State in 2019, he was the backup for Trey Lance in 2019 before becoming the starter for the 2021 spring season. During his one season as the starter, Noland struggled before being benched. He completed 51% of his passes for 721 yards and five touchdowns against six interceptions. After graduating, Noland joined the Gamecock coaching staff as a graduate assistant with a year of eligibility remaining. Needless to say, South Carolina is in one of the worst positions in the country with their quarterbacks, but watch out for Noland on Sept. 4 as it is one of the most talked about stories in college football.
Image credits: Dan Harralson, Vols Wire
2020: Jarret Guarantano (Transfer), Harrison Bailey
The tide has turned for the Tennessee Volunteers heading into 2020. Longtime struggling starter Jarret Guarantano transferred to Washington State this past offseason. Along with this, head coach Jeremy Pruitt was fired at the end of the season, ending one of the worst tenures in Tennessee history. Moving into 2020, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for Vol nation. In comes head coach Josh Heupel, who makes his way to Knoxville after a successful tenure at UCF. As for the quarterback position, Tennessee is holding an open competition with multiple talented quarterbacks, but three stand out the most. The first one that many people have their eyes on is Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker. In three years with the Hokies, Hooker threw for 2,894 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. A dual-threat quarterback, he also rushed for over 1,000 yards and had 15 touchdowns in his career. He brings experience to the Vols' young quarterback group. The second quarterback is Harrison Bailey, who is regarded as the future of Tennessee's program. A true freshman in 2020, he replaced the struggling Guarantano towards the end of the season. Although struggling to find the win column, Bailey still managed to throw for 578 yards and four touchdowns in six appearances. Overall, Bailey made the most of his opportunity during a shortened season with a disastrous program. Finally, former Michigan starter Joe Milton joins after a tough campaign in 2020 (stats and bio here). Many people predicted Harrison Bailey to take the position due to his youth, talent and experience with the Vols, but that is not the case. On Aug. 30, Heupel named Milton as the starter for the opening game against Bowling Green. Although he struggled in 2020, there are a lot of positives to Milton's game including his size (he stands at six feet five inches and weighs 244 pounds) and natural talent (he was a four-star recruit in the class of 2018). With three years of eligibility remaining, keep an eye on Milton's career at Tennessee as it could be what rejuvenates his career and the program as a whole.
Image credits: Icon Sportswire, Getty
2020: Kellen Mond (NFL)
Texas A&M was home to one of the most underrated QB competitions in the country. After losing longtime starter Kellen Mond to the NFL, Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies found themselves with an open quarterback competition with two sophomores: Zach Caldaza and Haynes King. Calzada, a three-star prospect from the class of 2019, enters his third year at Texas A&M, but he has not played much. In a reserve role, Caldaza has thrown for 133 yards, two touchdowns and one interception on 12 completions. Sizewise, he stands at 6-foot-3 and weighs 205 pounds. On the other side of the competition is King, a former four-star prospect from the class of 2020. The primary backup in 2020, King only threw for 59 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Similar to Caldaza, King stands at 6-foot-three and weighs 200 pounds. On paper, the competition seemed to be even as both are similar in size and lack in-game experience. However, Fisher announced on Aug. 25 that King would be the starter entering the season. Although lacking in experience, it is hard to overlook King's ability as a quarterback. In high school, King threw for 7,537 total yards and 82 touchdowns. He was 247Sports fifth-ranked dual threat quarterback in the class of 2020. Needless to say, King has big shoes to fill with Mond gone, and it will be interesting to see what he brings to the Aggie offense in 2021.
Image credits: Mark Humphrey, AP
It is hard to see positives from a team coming off of a winless season, but rising sophomore Ken Seals provides a spark for a struggling Vanderbilt program. A true freshman in 2020, Seals threw for 1,928 yards, 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in nine starts. Yes, the stats are not eye-opening, but it is what Vanderbilt needs to grow as a program. Going into Clark Lea's first season as the head coach, he gains a starting quarterback who was somewhat successful with valuable experience and four years of eligibility (the 2020 season did not count towards players' eligibility). Do not expect Vanderbilt to win a lot of games and compete in the SEC, but Ken Seals has the potential to put Vanderbilt back in contention to make a bowl game in 2021.