Before the 2014 season, a popular Atlanta-area radio show spent a lot of time lamenting the perceived lack of high-end quarterbacks in the conference, saying how Auburn’s Nick Marshall might be the only worthy candidate for the All-SEC preseason team (voting during SEC Media Days).
But when the smoke cleared on the season, four QBs (South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson, Alabama’s Blake Sims, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, Ole Miss’s Bo Wallace) passed for at least 3,000 yards; and nine quarterbacks (including Auburn’s Marshall) racked up at least 20 passing touchdowns by year’s end.
The larger point: The SEC might not be experiencing a golden age of passing stars right now, but the ‘established’ and ‘upside’ assets are in the pipeline, for sure. Also, one can never underrate The Vacuum Effect in sports, with talented backups rising to starring roles — when necessary.
On the veteran front, Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs (2,291 yards passing, 26 TDs in 2015), Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight (dominated Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl), Alabama’s Cooper Bateman, Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson (or Sean White), UGA’s Greyson Lambert, Florida’s Treon Harris, Missouri’s Drew Lock (or Maty Mauk) and LSU’s Brandon Harris all have the potential for dynamic seasons.
And on the novice front, it’s only a matter of time before Jacob Eason (5-star QB committed to UGA), Feleipe Franks (5-star QB committed to Florida), Blake Barnett (redshirt freshman with Alabama), Ricky Town (Arkansas transfer), Austin Appleby (Florida transfer), Luke Del Rio (Florida transfer) and Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State backup last season) hit the ground running with their respective programs.
(Obviously, there’s some overlap with the above lists, since the majority of SEC offenses would prefer to settle on a primary quarterback for the season.)
In the meantime, Chad Kelly (4,042 yards passing, 41 total TDs) shall serve as the conference’s redoubtable face among quarterbacks — but even that comes with a minor caveat, in the wake of Ole Miss losing wide receiver Laquon Treadwell (82 catches, 1,153 yards, 11 TDs in 2015) and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil to the NFL.
How good are Treadwell and Tunsil? I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re top-three picks in the upcoming draft — with the Tennessee Titans snagging Treadwell at No. 1 overall (or at least trading down before selecting Treadwell) and the San Diego Chargers identifying Tunsil as their cornerstone offensive tackle at No. 3. (The Chargers were absurdly racked by injuries in 2015.)
Of course, head coach Hugh Freeze can recruit like few other coaches in Rebels history. That should mollify Kelly in his quest to become the only modern-day Ole Miss QB to lead his squad to back-to-back Sugar Bowls.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.