SEC Football: Picking a winner in each 2017 QB battle
There was no shortage of SEC quarterback battles in 2016.
Next season will be no different.
The conference welcomed several new starting quarterbacks into the fold last year with the likes of rising sophomore Jalen Hurts (Alabama), Jacob Eason (Georgia), Jake Bentley (South Carolina) and Shea Patterson (Ole Miss).
There was also Stephen Johnson (Kentucky), Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State), Austin Allen (Arkansas), Danny Etling (LSU), Luke Del Rio (Florida) and Trevor Knight (Texas A&M).
The SEC loses only Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly, Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs and Knight.
But that doesn’t mean there won’t be competition at the position.
For the sake of this story, we have chosen to exclude Missouri (Drew Lock), South Carolina (Bentley), Vanderbilt (Kyle Shurmur), Mississippi State (Fitzgerald), Arkansas (Allen) and Georgia (Eason) from the list of quarterback battles.
Without further ado, lets examine who has the best shot at winning the SEC’s 2017 quarterback battles:
Incumbent: Jalen Hurts (2,780 passing yards, 23 TDs, 9 INTs)
Contenders: Tua Tagovailoa (No. 1 dual-threat QB), Mac Jones (No. 12 pro-style QB)
Jalen Hurts was the best quarterback in the conference last season in the eyes of SEC coaches.
The true freshman earned First-Team All-SEC honors, helped lead Alabama to a national championship appearance and also added 954 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns to his stat line.
On paper, there shouldn’t be a quarterback battle in Tuscaloosa. But Nick Saban doesn’t make decisions on paper.
For as productive as the true freshman was in 2016, Hurts finished as the SEC’s No. 9-ranked quarterback in terms of yards per game. He did complete 62.8 percent of his throws, but struggled in the College Football Playoff.
Hurts completed 7 of 14 passes for 57 yards against Washington and went 13-for-31 with 131 yards and a touchdown against Clemson.
The struggles down the stretch and the fact that the Crimson Tide brought in Tagovailoa are the only reasons why Alabama is even on this list.
There’s a lot of hype surrounding Alabama’s 5-star quarterback, who was ranked as the nation’s No. 1 dual-threat quarterback and the nation’s No. 32 overall player. He earned 2016 Gatorade State Player of the Year for Hawaii after throwing for 3,932 yards and 43 touchdowns as a senior.
It would not be surprising to see Saban go with the better player at the position despite Hurts’ strong freshman season.
Will it happen?
Expect Hurts to begin the season as Alabama’s starter, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t end that way.
Winner: Jalen Hurts
Incumbent: Sean White (1,679 yards, 9 TDs, 3 INTs)
Contenders: Jarrett Stidham (Baylor transfer), John Franklin III (204 yards, 2 TDs), Woody Barrett (redshirt freshman)
Sean White won the Auburn quarterback battle last season, and he will find himself in another one in 2017.
The junior played in 11 games for the Tigers in 2016 and led the SEC in completion percentage, connecting on 63.9 percent of his throws. He wasn’t forced to extend the field with his arm thanks to Auburn’s No. 1-ranked rushing attack, but how dangerous could the Tigers be with someone who can?
Welcome Jarrett Stidham.
It seems like a forgone conclusion that the 5-star Baylor transfer will be the Tigers starting quarterback on Sept. 2 against Georgia Southern. Stidham passed for 1,265 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions in 10 games as a freshman at Baylor, and was a student at McLennan Community College in the fall.
Coming out of high school, Stidham was ranked as the nation’s No. 1 dual-threat quarterback and seems like a perfect fit for Auburn’s system.
Look for John Franklin III to still see offensive packages because of his athleticism, but this job should be Stidham’s.
Winner: Jarrett Stidham
Incumbent: Danny Etling (2,123 yards, 11 TDs, 5 INTs)
Contenders: Brandon Harris (139 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs), Lindsey Scott Jr. (redshirt freshman), Justin McMillan (redshirt freshman), Myles Brennan (No. 6 pro-style QB), Lowell Narcisse (No. 9 dual-threat QB)
Danny Etling played in 11 games this past season for the Tigers, and finished as the SEC’s No. 6 passer.
The Purdue transfer ended up beating out Brandon Harris after the Wisconsin opener, and that was his main competition with both Lindsey Scott Jr. and Justin McMillian redshirting last season.
But it’s an even playing field in 2017 thanks to the addition of offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s new system. The new play caller transformed Nathan Peterman into the highest-rated passer in the ACC, and the hope is that he can do the same in Baton Rouge.
Who will that be?
This is one of the most interesting quarterback battles heading into the 2017 season, and it’s anybody’s guess. Harris and Etling have the most experience, but the Tigers also brought in two talented signal-callers in their 2017 class.
Under Armour All-American Myles Brennan is the most touted of the pair coming out of Mississippi as the nation’s No. 6 pro-style quarterback. Lowell Narcisse was the nation’s No. 9 dual-threat quarterback and is already enrolled at LSU.
This one is going to come down to who can pick up Canada’s system the best. On his official visit to Baton Rouge, Brennan learned that Canada has 3,900 plays that he runs.
It’s not impossible, but that’s a lot for a freshman to handle on top of getting acclimated to college.
While it might not be the sexy pick, look for Etling to start the season as LSU’s quarterback thanks to his experience and smarts.
Winner: Danny Etling
Contenders: Jason Pellerin (104 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs), Shea Patterson (880 yards, 6 TDs, 3 INTs)
This is Shea Patterson’s job.
The Rebels burned his redshirt 10 games into the 2016 season following a season-ending injury to Chad Kelly. That pretty much tells you all you need to know.
Patterson was ranked as the nation’s No. 1 pro-style quarterback coming out of high school and threw for 338 yards in his first college football action. He ended the year with 880 yards, 6 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in three contests.
Pellerin is his only real competition, who threw 3 interceptions on 22 pass attempts last season.
Winner: Shea Patterson
Contenders: Jake Hubenak (884 yards, 6 TDs, 2 INTs), Nick Starkel (redshirt freshman), Kellen Mond (No. 3 dual-threat QB)
Trevor Knight’s one season of eligibility has come and gone. Now where do the Aggies turn?
Rising senior Jake Hubenak played in seven games last season and filled in for Knight when he went down with a shoulder injury. Hubenak passed for 844 yards, 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. The Aggies went 1-1 with Hubenak starting, losing to Ole Miss and beating UTSA.
Hubenak passed for over 200 yards in each of those contests, but Texas A&M obviously didn’t feel that Hubenak was the man for the job last season, evidenced by the addition of Knight.
Starkel was ranked as a 3-star recruit and the nation’s No. 21 pro-style quarterback coming out of high school, but there is plenty of excitement surrounding 4-star quarterback signee Kellen Mond.
The IMG Academy product was ranked as the nation’s No. 3 dual-threat quarterback and the No. 108 overall prospect.
He’s listed at 6-foot-3, and produces a unique blend of size and speed. Mond has already enrolled at Texas A&M.
Kevin Sumlin has never been scared to roll out a freshman quarterback and I don’t think he will be this time. While he’ll need to improve on his passing, Mond has the legs to extend and create plays for the Aggies.
Winner: Kellen Mond
Incumbent: Luke Del Rio (1,358 yards, 8 TDs, 8 INTs)
Contenders: Feleipe Franks (redshirt freshman), Kyle Trask (redshirt freshman), Jake Allen (No. 23 pro-style QB)
Luke Del Rio played in six games for the Gators last season, but missed seven contests because of injury.
The Oregon State transfer went 5-1 as a starter, but two of those games came against UMass and North Texas. The other three came against Kentucky, Georgia and Missouri with his only loss coming against Arkansas.
While it might look good on paper, Florida’s offense was not effective with Del Rio under center — or for any quarterback. The Gators finished with the SEC’s worst offense, averaging a total of 344 yards per game. Not all of that falls on the quarterback, but it’s tough for an offense to get going without a passing attack.
So if the offense didn’t work under Del Rio or Austin Appleby last season, what do the Gators do in 2017?
They possess a highly rated quarterback in redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, who came to Florida ranked as the nation’s No. 5 pro-style quarterback.
The 6-foot-6, 214-pound signal-caller will have the opportunity to prove his abilities in spring practice with Del Rio being sidelined after having surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. Franks and Kyle Trask will get most of the reps.
Should Franks have a good spring practice, expect him to earn the starting job in 2017.
Winner: Feleipe Franks
Incumbent: Stephen Johnson (2,037 yards, 13 TDs, 6 INTs)
Contenders: Drew Barker (334 yards, 4 TDs, 5 INTs), Danny Clark (No. 17 pro-style QB)
Kentucky’s emergence in 2017 had a lot to do with Stephen Johnson.
The junior-college transfer filled in nicely for Drew Barker, who suffered a season-ending back injury and missed the final 10 games of the season. Johnson played in 12 games and passed for 2,037 yards 13 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Barker entered the season as the Wildcats’ incumbent starter after playing in five games during the 2015 season in which he threw for 364 yards, a touchdown and 2 interceptions.
He beat out Johnson for the job heading into last season, but will he be able to do the same this time around?
Barker is expected to be back for spring practice, but Kentucky’s offense was rolling at times under Johnson, who seemed to only improve as the season went on. He passed for 338 yards, 3 touchdowns and an interception against Louisville.
Given the way Kentucky finished the season — excluding the bowl game against Georgia Tech — look for Johnson to continue his reign under center in 2017.
Winner: Stephen Johnson
Contenders: Jarrett Guarantano (redshirt freshman), Quinten Dormady (148 yards)
Josh Dobbs was a staple at Tennessee during his time in Knoxville.
It will be tough for someone to match Dobbs’ personality, but can either Jarrett Guarantano or Quinten Dormady match his production? Dobbs threw for 2,946 yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season while also adding 831 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.
Both quarterbacks bring something different to the table. Guarantano has a similar ability to Dobbs after being ranked as the nation’s No. 1 dual-threat quarterback out of high school in 2015. Dormady, a rising junior, was viewed the country’s No. 11 pro-style quarterback.
Which style will new offensive coordinator Larry Scott prefer?
That remains to be seen, but if Guarantano proves to be a capable passer, look for him to win the job in 2017.
He also seems to have a bit of swagger to him, telling reporters that he plans to ‘run away’ with the starting opportunity.
Winner: Jarrett Guarantano