It’s not often that freshmen contribute at a high level in the SEC. It’s even rarer that young players find themselves poised to contribute at the quarterback position.
However, with the strength of this year’s recruiting class, 2016 could be the year that changes. The SEC nabbed three of the top five ranked quarterbacks in this class, including the top two in Jacob Eason (Georgia) and Shea Patterson (Ole Miss). With uncertainty at the position, Eason even could take over as starter this season.
With players ready to make a difference right away, we are taking a look at some of the good, bad and ugly freshman seasons of the past 10 years.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (2012) – Far and away, this is the gold standard for freshman seasons. After redshirting his first year, Manziel took over the starting job and posted one of the great seasons in college football history. Manziel posted 5,116 total yards and 47 combined touchdowns in a monster freshman campaign. The Aggie became the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy. Of course, his career has since fallen off track, but Manziel is still one of the great freshmen ever.
Aaron Murray, Georgia (2010) – Murray oozed greatness almost from the second he first walked on campus. Although the Bulldogs got off to a slow 1-4 start, Murray showed tremendous poise while leading a young Georgia squad. His highlights included dropping 273 yards and three touchdowns on eventual champion Auburn (but in a losing effort) and throwing just six interceptions during the regular season.
Tyler Bray, Tennessee (2010) – When Bray took over against Memphis, he drastically changed the course of Tennessee’s season. The Volunteers were 2-6 with seemingly no hope of making a bowl game in Derek Dooley’s first season at head coach. Miaking his first start against Memphis, Bray took over and won his first four starts to unexpectedly lead the Volunteers to a bowl game. He threw for a combined 1,234 yards and 12 touchdowns in just those four games combined.
Treon Harris, Florida (2014) – For a second there, fans thought Harris actually might be a difference-maker. In his first start, the true freshman threw six pass attempts in an upset victory over No. 11 Georgia. He followed the next week by posting 264 total yards and two rushing scores in a win over Vanderbilt. His 1,019 yards and nine touchdowns were enough to inspire confidence, but not enough to save his job. Since then, Harris has regressed to the point that he is expected to move to wide receiver in the fall.
Kyle Allen, Texas A&M (2014) – Allen was hailed as the golden child, the No. 1 overall quarterback recruit in the class of 2014. With Johnny Manziel leaving for the NFL, Aggies fans were clamoring to see what Allen could do. But while the results were not bad, the total mismanagement of quarterbacks by Kevin Sumlin made for an awkward first season. QB Kenny Hill won the job at first and led the Aggies to a hot start. But after Hill struggled, Allen was given the reins. He played fine, but still went only 2-2 as a regular season starter. With all the mismanagement of quarterbacks in College Station, it’s easy to see why Allen transferred after the season.
Jarrett Lee, LSU (2008) – Say whatever you want about Lee’s career at LSU, but his freshman season was ugly. Lee did compile a solid season for a freshman starter, posting 1,873 yards and 14 touchdowns. However, Lee also threw 16 interceptions and accumulated a 4-4 record as a starting quarterback. Amazingly, 7 of his 16 interceptions – nearly half – were returned for a touchdown. Lee failed to retain his starting job, and started just 10 games over his final three seasons in Baton Rouge.
Kyler Murray, Texas A&M (2015) – While he did struggle mightily on the field, this ranking has less to do with poor stats (686 yards, 5 touchdowns, 7 interceptions) and more to do with the circus he brought off the field. There are multiple reports alleging Murray was displeased that he did not win the starting job out of fall camp, and that his tension with fellow QB Kyle Allen and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital eventually caused the locker room to implode. Murray eventually transferred to Oklahoma, leaving the Aggies without a captain.