No other major conference has as many green quarterbacks as the SEC. Ole Miss and Tennessee are set at the position, but beyond that? A bunch of open competitions and iffy “starters” who haven’t proved much.
There are six quarterback competitions brewing in the Southeastern Conference this summer, meaning eight schools are supposedly set.
Here’s a quick rundown: We know Chad Kelly is a Heisman candidate at Ole Miss, Josh Dobbs is locked in at Tennessee, Trevor Knight is pretty much the guy at Texas A&M, Brandon Harris is ready to rebound at LSU, Drew Barker has the pocket to himself at Kentucky, Drew Lock is likely getting all the snaps at Missouri, Austin Allen is the sitting atop the depth chart at Arkansas and Kyle Shurmur is back for redemption at Vanderbilt.
Few of those guys are “sure things,” and then we’ve got chaos brewing elsewhere.
With preseason camps kicking off this week, we’re here to help sort it out, so we’ve handicapped each of the half-dozen competitions currently heating up across the south.
As spring practice kicked off, the consensus was that Cooper Bateman (one career start) and Blake Barnett (zero career pass attempts) would be the primary candidates to step under center. But speedy freshman Jalen Hurts put on a show at A-Day in April, making this a three-way competition (David Cornwell is the fourth option).
With the season still a month away, we’re giving the benefit of the doubt to Bateman, who beat out Jake Coker for a short spell last September. Put your money on: Cooper Bateman (Even).
Gus Malzahn typically has his first-team quarterback named by mid-August, but there are a couple abnormal factors at play this summer: There doesn’t appear to be an easy selection in this (mostly rough) bunch, and powerhouse Clemson is visiting town on Sept. 3.
Jeremy Johnson is likely out of the question, so Malzahn will probably be choosing between Sean White — a former 5-star recruit who struggled in the spotlight last year — and mobile JUCO phenom John Franklin III, who brings to mind an unknown Auburn quarterback that brought the Tigers within a hair of the national championship: Nick Marshall.
Smart cash is on a conservative choice to open the Clemson game, so, despite the strong feeling that Franklin will get plenty of starts this year, we’ll stick with the Tiger that has more experience. Put your money on: Sean White (Even).
New Florida ambassador Steve Spurrier declared this competition over during a teleconference last week, but presumed starter Luke Del Rio contradicted that claim on Wednesday, saying, “I appreciate the insight, but it’s still an open competition.”
Both coach Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier are saying the battle is still on between Del Rio — the son of former NFL linebacker and coach Jack Del Rio — and Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby. Despite the confusion, there appears to be a favorite in Gainesville. Put your money on: Luke Del Rio (-150).
Everyone and their mother wants 5-star freshman Jacob Eason to start on opening day. He’s the future, fans figure, so why not just play him now? Fifth-year senior Greyson Lambert had plenty of chances to impress the fanbase last season, and he failed despite owning a winning record and low interception rate.
“He isn’t the world’s worst quarterback,” DawgNation.com’s Mark Bradley wrote about Lambert this week. “He’s just the quarterback almost no Georgia fan wants to see start another game. But he might well start against North Carolina on Sept. 3.”
Pundits appear to be leaning toward a conservative decision by Kirby Smart, a staunch Saban discipline, and we’re inclined to agree here. Put your money on: Greyson Lambert (-150).
Dak Prescott is busy moving up the depth chart in Dallas, and there are four quarterbacks in his wake who still have a chance to start in Starkville.
The spring competition was such a toss-up that Dan Mullen used GPA as a deciding factor for first-team snaps. During the first week of fall camp, the passers played “rock paper scissors” to sort it out. The hopefuls: junior Damian Williams, sophomore Nick Fitzgerald, sophomore Elijah Staley and redshirt freshman Nick Tiano.
Given that Mullen has said he might extend the competition into October, putting money on a any one person to start the first quarter of the first game is a bit reckless, but we’ll stick with the guy whose “rock paper scissors” prowess is now nationally know. Put your money on: Nick Fitzgerald (+250).
Few SEC pundits expect South Carolina to make noise this season, but if there’s a flashier newcomer than Auburn’s John Franklin III, it’s the Gamecocks’ Brandon McIlwain, a former pro baseball player who brought his big arm to Columbia as an early enrollee this past winter.
The freshman is splitting first-team reps with senior Perry Orth, and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper offered the following insight this week: “I think experience is a great indicator,” he said. “Obviously, talent is a great thing to have on your side.”
McIlwain certainly has talent; enough that Orth was singing his praises after the first day of camp. South Carolina has an earlier opener (Sept. 1 at Vanderbilt) than any of these other schools with competitions, so we’re pretty sure the Gamecocks will lean toward experience when forced to make a decision. But we want to see McIlwain under center as soon as possible. Put your money on: Perry Orth (Even).