Week 1 was a mixed bag for SEC quarterbacks, as some hyped veterans (Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs and LSU’s Brandon Harris) faltered, while a few new faces (Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight, Alabama’s Jalen Hurts and Georgia’s Jacob Eason) shined in big-time wins.
If games were just two quarters, Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly and Kentucky’s Drew Barker would be head and shoulders above the rest – and both still undefeated. Alas, that pesky second half exists.
We take all of that into consideration to bring you SEC Country’s weekly quarterback rankings, which you’ll notice are just a top 10 despite there being 14 teams in the league. Because not everybody gets a trophy around here, OK?
And no, LSU’s Harris didn’t make the list, because he plainly stunk in the opener. That’s why UT’s Dobbs just barely made the cut. Those were supposed to be two of the top three quarterbacks in the conference, but then the games started. And now we have this:
1. CHAD KELLY, Ole Miss
Last week: 21 of 39 for 313 yards, 4 TD, 3 INT; 13 for 15 rushing vs. Florida State
Why he’s here: Kelly couldn’t have played much better than he did in the first half against the fourth-ranked Seminoles, when he threw for 214 yards, ran for 52 and tossed three touchdowns to stake the Rebels to a 28-6 lead. When his offensive line imploded, though, so did Kelly. His three second-half turnovers contributed to 33 unanswered points for FSU in a crazy comeback. What does it say that he’s still the SEC’s best?
2. TREVOR KNIGHT, Texas A&M
Last week: 22 of 42 for 239 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 9 for 31, 2 TD rushing vs. UCLA
Why he’s here: The Oklahoma transfer, who once lit up Alabama in a Sugar Bowl, rose to the occasion again in a big game. His back-to-back touchdowns – one rushing, one 40-yard heave on the run – put the Aggies up 24-9 in the third quarter. When Josh Rosen and the Bruins closed the gap in a blink and forced overtime, Knight sprinted in on fourth-and-goal for the decisive score.
3. JALEN HURTS, Alabama
Last week: 6 of 11 for 118 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT; 9 for 32, 2 TD rushing vs. USC
Why he’s here: Forget the numbers. All you need to know is this guy is good enough to make Nick Saban play a true freshman at quarterback – and stick with him against a ranked opponent after he fumbled on his first college snap. That’s because he has both fleet feet and a rocket arm. Hurts is the future for Alabama and perhaps the end of its streak of good-but-not-great QBs.
4. DREW BARKER, Kentucky
Last week: 15 of 24 for 323 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT vs. Southern Miss
Why he’s here: The third-year sophomore, in his first season as a full-time starter, threw for more yards than anyone in the league Week 1. But most of that production came in the first half, before an epic collapse. Barker helped the Wildcats build a 25-point lead with a dialed-in deep ball – then threw for just 36 yards in the second half and turned it over three times (two fumbles) to help the Golden Eagles roar all the way back.
5. JACOB EASON, Georgia
Last week: 8 of 12 for 131 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT vs. North Carolina
Why he’s here: Veteran Greyson Lambert might’ve started the opener, but Eason finished it. The 5-star freshman looked the part and played up to his hype, especially on a third-and-5 deep ball he slung down the sideline to Isaiah McKenzie in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs trailed when Eason hit his receiver in stride for a 51-yard strike that set up the go-ahead field goal with 5:27 remaining. Kirby Smart needs to hand this kid the keys, especially with Nicholls State up next for some easy target practice.
6. LUKE DEL RIO, Florida
Last week: 29 of 44 for 256 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT; 6 for 11 rushing vs. Massachusetts
Why he’s here: It wasn’t a rousing debut for the former Alabama and Oregon State walk-on, but it was a solid start. Playing behind a still-suspect offensive line, with no running game to keep the defense guessing, Del Rio still managed to put away those pesky Minutemen in the fourth quarter. UMass trailed by just a field goal before he led the Gators to three straight scoring drives in the final period to provide some breathing room. Points for moxie.
7. DREW LOCK, Missouri
Last week: 23 of 51 for 280 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT; 9 for 29 rushing vs. West Virginia
Why he’s here: The sophomore’s career-high passing and total offense numbers are less impressive when you consider he completed just 45.1 percent and averaged only 5.5 yards per attempt, ninth-best in the league. And until the final two minutes of a lopsided loss, Lock had led the Tigers to just three points. He looked better than last season, but that’s a low bar (5.1 yards per attempt, 4 TD, 8 INT).
8. AUSTIN ALLEN, Arkansas
Last week: 20 of 29 for 191 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT vs. Louisiana Tech
Why he’s here: Yes, the Bulldogs scored after both of his interceptions in a game the Razorbacks narrowly escaped with a 21-20 victory. But he also delivered when it mattered most, completing 5 of 6 passes for 42 yards and a touchdown on the decisive fourth-quarter drive. Older brother Brandon, who he replaced as the starting QB, was no doubt proud.
9. JOSHUA DOBBS, Tennessee
Last week: 16 of 29 for 192 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 9 for -4 rushing vs. Appalachian State
Why he’s here: Take away one 67-yard scoring heave and Dobbs was objectively awful. He averaged just 4.5 yards on his other 28 attempts; the worst passing team in the country last season averaged 4.8. His most significant contribution of the night was a fumble, which running back Jalen Hurd recovered for the winning touchdown in overtime. The Volunteers senior QB must be better for their SEC East title dream to be realized.
10. DAMIAN WILLIAMS, Mississippi State
Last week: 20 of 28 for 143 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT; 12 for 93 rushing vs. South Alabama
Why he’s here: That inexplicable opening loss wasn’t on Williams. He’s no Dak Prescott, but he did complete his first nine passes and stake MSU to a 17-0 lead. Then, after the Jaguars stormed back to take the lead, Williams calmly guided his offense from its own 35-yard line to the USA 11 in just 48 seconds. Not his fault the game-winning field goal doinked off the upright. Nick Fitzgerald started the first game for Mississippi State, but Williams deserves to start the next one.
* Follow Kyle on Twitter @KyleTucker_AJC. Reach him at Kyle.Tucker@ajc.com.