It’s great to be Chad Kelly or Joshua Dobbs these days.
The standout passers for Ole Miss and Tennessee, respectively, are likely the only SEC quarterbacks to know they’ll absolutely be starting 12 regular-season games this fall — barring injury.
As such, Kelly (4,042 yards passing, 41 total TDs in 2015) and Dobbs (2,962 total yards, 26 TDs) represent the only conference passers who aren’t craving endorsements — public or private — from their coaches during spring practice.
They already know the deal: Just play ball.
But that isn’t the case with the other SEC programs:
Defending national champion Alabama? Cooper Bateman started the Ole Miss game last year (11 of 14 passes for 87 yards), but the highly touted Blake Barnett (reportedly hand-picked by offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin) also waits in the wings.
UGA’s Greyson Lambert? Yes, he completed 24 of 25 passes against South Carolina last season, but the Dawgs also have a new head coach (Kirby Smart) and 5-star true freshman (Jacob Eason) influencing the QB competition.
LSU’s Brandon Harris? Decent sophomore numbers (2,165 yards passing, 17 TDs), but he also has a middling career completion rate of 54 percent. Digging deeper, Harris completed just 50.4 percent of his attempts during the Tigers’ three-game skid last season (three TDs/four INTs in that span).
Texas A&M’s Jake Hubenak? Yes, the kid looked great in the Music City Bowl (307 yards passing, two TDs in his collegiate starting debut); but alas, here comes Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight — who once carved up Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl … to the delight of pop star Katy Perry.
The ‘Drew’ duo of Drew Lock (Missouri) and Drew Barker (Kentucky)? They seemingly have unobstructed paths to starting (and perhaps stardom) … but there should never be any guarantees with quarterbacks cumulatively sporting underwater TD-INT ratios (5/10) and completion rates below 50 percent.
In other words, the 2016 season represents great change among the SEC’s quarterbacking circuit; and if all goes well, it should lead to great stability for the 2017 campaign.
Which brings us to this: Why would any SEC head coach declare a starting quarterback during spring practice, unless that passer was the undisputed clubhouse leader? What’s their motivation for doing so?
COMPETITION DRIVES US ALL
In 1998, Michigan quarterback Tom Brady was four years away from claiming his first Lombardi Trophy (with the NFL’s New England Patriots), seven years from capturing back-to-back Super Bowl titles and nine years from ostensibly clinching a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (then NFL-record 50 touchdown passes in 2007).
Brady (then a junior) was also not a lock to be Michigan’s starting quarterback for that ’98 campaign. That fall marked the arrival of 5-star freshman Drew Henson — arguably the most heralded preps quarterback in state history.
As such, Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr resisted every opportunity to name a permanent starter for the season, encouraging a heated competition between the passers that would spill into the 1999 campaign.
Did Carr know Brady (30 TD passes his final two college seasons) would someday be on the short list of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks? Probably not.
But Brady, in the present day, also cites that uncomfortable Michigan experience as his primary motivation for getting better every day — even though he already has 58,000-plus passing yards, six AFC championships, four Super Bowl rings, three Super Bowl MVP trophies, two NFL MVP awards and one supermodel wife on his resume.
That anecdote (minus the likelihood of landing a supermodel girlfriend) carries over to this year’s crop of talented-but-flawed SEC quarterbacks:
Cooper Bateman, Brandon Harris, Jake Hubenak, Drew Barker, Greyson Lambert or even John Franklin III — Auburn JUCO transfer getting a lot of buzz — may be chagrined by the lack of public support on the starting front.
But their coaches are ahead of this time-tested game. They know hope springs eternal during spring practices.
They also know that nothing ensures a productive fall … like making quarterbacks sing for their proverbial supper during the summer.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.