Quarterback play in the SEC was no doubt down this season. But that wasn’t really predicted to be the case heading into the year.
Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson fell flat on his preseason 12-to-1 Heisman odds. SEC East Champion Florida lost Will Grier to suspension, forcing Jim McElwain to revert to Treon Harris, whose 9-for-24, 5.1-QBR performance in the SEC Championship might serve as a microcosm for his forgetful season under center. Georgia was so underwhelmed with the play of junior transfer Greyson Lambert that it voluntarily started third-stringer Faton Bauta against its biggest rival in a key divisional matchup.
Those were some of the bigger problems while, turning away from the vanilla years had by most, the conference’s best three quarterbacks –– Arkansas’ Brandon Allen, Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott –– each saw their efforts obscured by some measure of inconsistency.
Allen and Prescott are graduating after the season and uncertainty abounds across the southeast. We already know a couple of the conference’s 2015 starting quarterbacks are transferring to play elsewhere in 2016. And that the league recently saw a major coaching shuffle only muddies the signal-calling waters.
But if you’re scratching your chin as you ponder the 2016 quarterback situation at your school, you can scoop a spoonful of solace from a glimpse at the crop of quarterbacks in this year’s College Football Playoff.
Three of the four quarterbacks in the Playoff were three-star prospects out of high school. Two were transfers. And only one –– Clemson’s Deshaun Watson –– has garnered Heisman spotlight.
Jake Coker began his career at Florida State before transferring to Alabama. He’s a first-year starter with the Crimson Tide and has strung together a solid season, helped in large part, of course, by the presence of Heisman favorite Derrick Henry in his backfield. He has thrown for just shy of 2,500 yards and has done well to keep his team in close games.
Michigan State’s Connor Cook has grown into a future NFL talent, according to many. The third-year starter has passed for 2,921 yards this season, throwing 21 touchdowns and just five interceptions. But he didn’t really jump off the board while a prep quarterback. He was considered a three-star prospect and the 60th best player in his home state of Ohio, but has this year helped to lead the Spartans to a No. 3 ranking in this year’s College Football Playoff.
And most surprisingly, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has the Sooners in position to take down undefeated Clemson on New Year’s Eve, despite being a walk-on with Bob Stoops’ program. A three-star dual threat quarterback out of Austin’s Lake Travis High School, Mayfield originally enrolled at Texas Tech but underwent an unconventional transfer to Oklahoma in January of 2014 without even contacting Stoops’ staff. This season, however –– his first as an eligible Sooner –– he has come out of nowhere to pass for nearly 3,400 yards, rushing for another 420, while passing for 35 touchdowns, rushing for seven and doing it all against a five-interception backdrop.
Watson at Clemson, meanwhile, is the outlier in this conversation, having been rated the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the nation out of high school, amassing looks from all across the country from the time he was a sophomore.
No matter how baffling the quarterback situation looks for your team next season, you may not need a Watson or a Marcus Mariota or a Jameis Winston or an A.J. McCarron or a Cam Newton to get you a top-4 spot; 2015 may have proven that an out-of-nowhere walk-on, an embattled transfer or an overlooked three-star will do.
*All recruiting information courtesy of 247sports.com