In a year with so many freshmen quarterbacks starting for SEC programs, the most touted has yet to play a snap. But that could change this Saturday for Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson.
Patterson, not Jacob Eason or Jalen Hurts, was the consensus No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country last year. 247Sports’ composite ranking had him as the No. 4 overall recruit in the country. But with All-SEC quarterback Chad Kelly ahead of him, the plan was for Patterson to redshirt this year.
That plan was thrown off course when Kelly tore his ACL against Georgia Southern. Head coach Hugh Freeze has yet to announce whether Patterson or redshirt freshman Jason Pellerin will start against Texas A&M, though one report indicates it will be Patterson.
If Patterson gets the nod, he would be the 14th true freshman to start for an SEC program since the start of the 2014 season. We’ve accumulated the stats of the other 13 true freshmen starters in their first games, as well the four No. 1 quarterback recruits prior to Patterson in 2016 to see how they have fared in their first starts.
Overall, the results are a mixed bag. None of the SEC quarterbacks have thrown for more than 300 yards or 3 or more touchdowns in their first start. Patterson would be the second quarterback to make his first start on the road against an SEC West team. And the first was an absolute disaster. But the quarterbacks combined record? 11 wins and two losses.
Treon Harris, Florida: 3 of 6, 27 passing yards vs. Georgia
Harris took over for starter Jeff Driskel in the annual rivalry game. He wasn’t asked to do much, as the Gators ran for 418 yards and upset the Bulldogs 38-20. In 2015, he lost the starting job to Will Grier. Harris announced plans his transfer to West Virginia in April.
Brandon Harris, LSU: 3 of 14, 58 passing yards at Auburn
Harris got thrust into action after Anthony Jennings had been benched the week before. In hindsight, starting a true freshman on the road was not the best decision, as LSU got blown out 41-7. The 4-star quarterback started every game in his sophomore year before getting benched in his junior season in favor of Purdue transfer Danny Etling.
Kyle Allen, Texas A&M: 13 of 28, 106 passing yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception vs. Louisiana-Monroe
Allen got to start after starter Kenny Hill flamed out. There wasn’t a high bar to clear, as Texas A&M got blown out 59-0 in the before Allen took over. Allen, who was also the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the 2014 class, led the Aggies to a win over Louisiana-Monroe. Allen split time with another freshman, Kyler Murray, in the 2015 season. Allen then decided to transfer to Houston, where he is currently sitting out the season.
Wade Freebeck, Vanderbilt: 1 of 2, 3 passing yards, 1 interception vs. UMass
Freebeck was pulled after the first series against the Minutemen. Vanderbilt ultimately got the win that day. Freebeck started three more games that year. He currently backs up Kyle Shurmur.
Johnny McCrary, Vanderbilt: 17 of 31, 196 passing yards, 2 touchdown passes, 1 interception at Missouri
McCray is one of three freshmen quarterbacks to start for Vanderbilt since Derek Mason took over. Of the Vanderbilt freshmen to start, he had the best debut stats, but was the only one to lose his first start, as the Commodores fell to Missouri. McCray transferred to Mercer.
Drew Lock, Missouri: 21 of 28, 136 passing yards, 2 touchdowns at South Carolina
Lock took over after Maty Mauk’s suspension and had a solid debut, albeit against a bad South Carolina team. The 24-14 win was the last SEC win for the Tigers, as they have dropped 11 straight SEC games. Lock has started every game since and while he’s showed some promise, the Tigers are 2-7 in 2016.
Lorenzo Nunez, South Carolina: 12 of 22, 184 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, 123 rushing yards vs. Central Florida
Nunez flashed a lot of promise in his first start. He led the Gamecocks to a win and showed that he could throw and run the ball. The problem was that the 31-14 win came against what turned out to be a winless Central Florida team. Nunez switched to wide receiver this season and has yet to make a catch.
Kyler Murray, Texas A&M: 20 of 28, 223 passing yards, 1 passing touchdown, 156 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown vs. South Carolina
Statistically, Murray had the best first debut start among SEC quarterbacks in our range. He led the Aggies to a 35-28 win. But Murray, like Allen, transferred after the 2015 season. He left for Oklahoma, where he will back up Baker Mayfield after sitting out this season.
Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt: 10 of 20, 89 passing yards vs. Missouri
Like other Vanderbilt quarterbacks, Shurmur wasn’t pretty in his first start. But he did earn a 10-3 win against the Tigers. Shurmur won the job this season and has started every game, despite splitting time with Freebeck. Shurmur and the Commodores are 4-5 on the season.
Jalen Hurts, Alabama: 23 of 36, 287 passing yards, 2 touchdowns vs. Western Kentucky
Hurts came in for former 5-star Blake Barnett in the Crimson Tide’s opening game and guided Alabama to a 52-6 win over Southern Cal, then got his first start the next week against the Hilltoppers. Alabama won fairly easily, 38-10, and Hurts showed off his arm. Alabama is unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the country. Hurts is tied for the SEC lead with 10 rushing touchdowns, as well as throwing for 12.
Jacob Eason, Georgia: 11 of 20, 204 passing yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception vs. Nicholls State
Eason made several key passes in Georgia’s season-opening win against North Carolina. He then started against Nicholls State in the next game. Eason showed flashes, but ultimately was pulled from the game for Greyson Lambert. Georgia held on to knock off the FCS foe, 28-26. Eason has started every game since, but the Bulldogs are just 5-4 this season.
Brandon McIlwain, South Carolina: 16 of 28, 195 passing yards, 34 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns vs. East Carolina
McIlwain took over for Perry Orth in the third game of the season after playing in the first two games of the year. McIlwain, like Nunez before him, showed off his dual-threat ability and led the Gamecocks to win. Despite the 20-15 win over the Pirates, McIlwain could not hold onto the starting job, as it went to another freshman.
Jake Bentley, South Carolina: 17 of 26, 201 passing yards, 2 touchdowns vs. UMass
Bentley took over for the Gamecocks and it appears to have had a real effect. After leading the Gamecocks to a win over the Minutemen, South Carolina then beat SEC East foes Tennessee and Missouri in back-to-back games. In his three starts, Bentley has thrown 6 touchdown passes to zero interceptions.
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The 13 SEC quarterbacks went a combined 11-2 in their first game, which bodes well for Ole Miss.
As for the No. 1 quarterback prospects to have started their first game since 2011, the results aren’t as clear. Only two of them played in their true freshman season.
2011 No. 1 quarterback Jeff Driskel 10 of 16, 114 passing yards, 1 touchdown vs. Bowling Green
Driskel saw action in five games as a freshman but not make his first start until his sophomore season in 2012, picking up a 27-14 win over the Falcons. Florida went 11-2 in Driskel’s first season as a starter, but injuries and poor play forced him to transfer to Louisiana Tech. The San Francisco 49ers picked Driskel in the sixth of the 2016 NFL Draft.
2012 No. 1 quarterback Jameis Winston, Florida State: 25 of 27 for 356 passing yards, 4 touchdowns at Pitt
The gold standard for first starts. Winston lit up a Pathers secondary in the first start of his redshirt freshman season in 2013. Winston led Florida State to a national championship that season and won the Heisman Trophy. Tampa Bay made Winston the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
2013 No. 1 quarterback Max Browne, USC: 14 of 29, 101 passing yards, 1 interception vs. Alabama
Browne sat behind Cody Kessler for his first two years at Southern Cal. His reward? A first start against No. 1 Alabama this season. Browne and the Trojans lost 52-6 and Browne would later be benched for Sam Darnold.
2014 No. 1 quarterback: Kyle Allen, see above.
2015 No. 1 quarterback: Josh Rosen, UCLA: 28 of 35, 351 passing yards, 3 touchdowns vs. Virginia
Rosen looked spectacular in his first start against the Cavaliers. He led the Bruins to an 8-5 record in his first year and validated his ranking. Injuries have hampered his sophomore season, as Rosen will miss the rest of the season after shoulder surgery.
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