It’s only been a few years since the SEC boasted some of the best quarterbacks in the nation. Johnny Manziel, A.J. McCarron and Aaron Murray helped raise the level of play to the highest level. But after the inconsistent play behind center in 2016, that might as well have been an eternity ago.
Only one quarterback, Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs, had a passer rating more than 150. There were five such players in 2013. Only two players threw for 3,000 yards — there were four in 2015. The All-SEC first-team quarterback is a true freshman with an inconsistent arm.
Experience played a major role: 11 schools had a new full-time starter, while Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Florida all handed the keys to backups after injuries. Regardless of the reasons, SEC quarterback play was arguably as bad as it has been in a decade.
Enter Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham.
The West Texan has been one of the golden boys of college football ever since he stepped onto a field. His first pass attempt — naturally — was a 42-yard touchdown pass.
— BaylorBears247 (@Baylor247) September 5, 2015
The Baylor transfer has not played since 2015, but he has already shown more talent at quarterback than the majority of the SEC. Despite playing just 10 quarters as a full-time starter before chipping a bone in his lower right leg, Stidham threw for 934 yards and 6 touchdowns.
While Big 12 defenses are clearly a step down from the SEC, he accomplished it against perhaps the three best in the conference: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State. The latter two were on the road. Baylor went 2-1 in those games, with the loss being to the playoff-bound Sooners.
After all the uncertainty at Baylor, Stidham opted to sit out a year at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas. He announced his decision to transfer to Auburn University over the weekend.
These last 6 months have been crazy and the craziness is finally over. Time to start my next chapter at Auburn University! WAR EAGLE! ? pic.twitter.com/BckaHMO6D3
— Jarrett Stidham (@Jarrett_Stidham) December 10, 2016
While a league full of returning starters should help change the SEC’s quarterback reputation, Stidham immediately belongs in the conversation for best quarterback in the conference.
The Tigers need a quarterback who can move the ball consistently, like what Cam Newton and Nick Marshall were able to do. Both players led Auburn to national championship games. When incumbent starter Sean White played well, the Tigers showed those kinds of flashes again.
White was the definition of a game manager in 2016. When he threw for 200 yards, the Tigers were 5-0. If he threw a touchdown, Auburn was 6-0. The fact those events occurred only five and six times, respectively, is a disappointment. Auburn’s offense should be much more dynamic.
Throwing for 200 yards and a touchdown pass would be a disappointing effort for Stidham. While Auburn’s offense limits pass attempts in favor of the run, head coach Gus Malzahn has to be salivating at the weapon he just procured. Don’t get it twisted, this is the most talented quarterback to take snaps at Auburn since Newton. Bringing back playmakers such as Kamryn Pettway, Kameron Martin and Darius Slayton will only help his development.
Hurts obviously deserves the mantle of All-SEC first-team quarterback as he goes into his true sophomore year. If he continues to grow, he will have all the opportunities in the world to be the best college quarterback to play at Alabama.
Stidham also is not the only blue-chip recruit in the conference. Georgia’s Jacob Eason and Ole Miss’ Shea Patterson were both supremely impressive as true freshmen, while Jake Bentley shocked the world at South Carolina. A quarterback revolution is in the works regardless.
But as long as Stidham stays healthy (which is a question mark) and Malzahn uses him correctly, he should already project out as the best quarterback in the SEC next season.