For several years, it’s seemed that SEC football’s greatest challenge has been producing quality quarterbacks with any level of consistency.
Last season, four teams started transfers under center: Florida, Kentucky, LSU and Texas A&M.
Another four started true freshmen at the position for multiple games. South Carolina went as far as starting two different true freshmen at different points in the season.
The years of Aaron Murray and AJ McCarron staying on campus for five years appears to be a thing of the past.
Additionally, since 2012, only one SEC quarterback has been selected in the first round of the NFL draft: Johnny Manziel. Over that stretch, there were 59 SEC players drafted in the first round. It’s a glaring hole relative to every other position group.
Losing quarterback recruits
Between 2007 and 2016, current SEC schools signed 67 blue-chip quarterbacks — either 4- or 5-star prospects per the 247Composite rankings. Out of that group, only 32 stayed with their original school. Thirty-three transferred, while two signed to play baseball before arriving on campus.
From 2007 to 2014, 60 percent of the SEC’s blue-chip quarterback recruits transferred. The 2015 and 2016 seasons were not included in that statistic because several of those quarterbacks have yet to get on the field.
Astonishingly, all nine quarterbacks signed in 2011 and 2012 finished their careers at different schools — Jeff Driskel, Kiehl Frazier, Jerrard Randall, Christian LeMay, Jacoby Brissett, Matt Davis, Maty Mauk, Zeke Pike and Patrick Towles.
In 2015 and 2016, five quarterbacks opted to transfer. Another two — Jauan Jennings and Lorenzo Nunez — ended up not playing quarterback at their chosen school.
The trend is obvious: Players are less likely than ever to wait in line or compete for jobs. Take Alabama for example.
True freshman Jalen Hurts jumped in last year and beat Blake Barnett, Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell. Just weeks later, Barnett transferred to Arizona State. Bateman (Utah) and Cornwell (Nevada) joined him after the 2016 season. That means Hurts is the only quarterback on the Alabama roster with any playing experience. True freshman Tua Tagovailoa will have to back him up immediately.
Granted, quarterback is a unique position. Teams can only play one at a time successfully, so whoever loses the job is out of luck for the foreseeable future. The exclusivity is always going to make managing the position complicated. However, the departure rate has spiked dramatically in recent years.
Between 2002 and 2010, the conference recruited 46 blue-chip prospects. Thirty ended their careers at their respective schools. Compare that 65.2 percent retention rate to the 22.2 percent retention between 2011 and 2014.
SEC quarterback transfer stats
|Year||# of recruits||Stayed||Transferred||Retention rate|
While losing recruits is a big deal in the short term, it hurts quarterback depth and development tremendously down the road.
Just one SEC quarterback finished in the top 20 nationally in passing efficiency last season. Three finished in the top 30: Josh Dobbs (senior), Chad Kelly (senior, former transfer) and Austin Allen (fourth-year junior).
While it seems obvious that leaning on upperclassmen leads to better results, coaches created many of these scenarios. Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU and South Carolina all played younger quarterbacks last season, replacing upperclassmen who they gave up on. Texas A&M brought in Trevor Knight to try and fix the mess left by the departure of Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray.
It’s no coincidence that the three schools with the most consistent quarterback play the last few seasons — Arkansas, Mississippi State and Tennessee — have generally avoided transfers.
Ultimately, failing to commit to a long-term project eventually catches up with teams. Only one transfer quarterback since 2004 led the conference in passer rating — some kid named Cameron Jerrell Newton at Auburn in 2010. Otherwise, every other passing leader has been a homegrown prospect.
Granted, there is a young wave of encouraging SEC quarterback talent. Jake Bentley, Shea Patterson, Jacob Eason and Jalen Hurts could dominate the conference for the next two years. Additionally, as many as 11 homegrown starters could take the reins for SEC programs in 2017. This could lead to a powerful wave of experienced talent in a few years.
Regardless, it appears the SEC transfer pipeline is open. It’s hard to see it closing anytime soon.