A trio of true freshmen quarterbacks are about to begin their college careers in the SEC with a considerable amount of hype. The history of evaluating quarterback recruits suggests that at least one of the three will probably prove to be worth that attention, and at least one other will likely be a bust.
The names to know are Shea Patterson, the five-star recruit from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., who has enrolled at Ole Miss; Jacob Eason, the five-star recruit from Lake Stevens, Washington who has enrolled at UGA; and Feleipe Franks, the four-star recruit from Crawfordville, Fla., who has enrolled at Florida.
All three bring an enormous collection of accolades, but which player is the most likely to succeed in college, and which one is in danger of disappointing? There is a case to be made for all three:
Shea Patterson, Ole Miss
The case for Patterson:
Patterson played for IMG Academy — a non-traditional program that chooses to play a schedule filled with national powerhouses as opposed to the typical region/district schedule favored by most high school teams. That tough competition has presumably prepared Patterson for the SEC in a way most quarterbacks aren’t. The challenges Patterson has already faced might explain in part why he was able to win the MVP at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl earlier this month. Furthermore, Patterson will have the comfort of knowing he likely won’t face the pressure that comes with playing as a true freshman. Ole Miss is expected to be led by returning starter Chad Kelly at quarterback next season. Kelly is an NFL prospect and could prove to be a valuable tutor for Patterson.
The case against Patterson:
Patterson will be playing in the ultra-competitive SEC West, and while college football can be a cyclical sport, the balance of power in the SEC doesn’t appear to be shifting anytime soon. Making Patterson’s job even more difficult is Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze’s recent inability to complement the play of his quarterbacks with much of a running game. The Rebels haven’t finished higher than seventh in the SEC in rushing over the last three years.
Jacob Eason, UGA
The case for Eason:
While Patterson earned the hardware at the postseason all-star game, Eason was among the most decorated players in the country during the regular season — winning Player of the Year awards from both Gatorade and the U.S. Army, as well as being named Offensive Player of the Year by USA Today. However, Eason’s greatest reward for his accomplishments might prove to be the talent he’ll have around him at UGA. The current roster includes Heisman Trophy candidate Nick Chubb, and Georgia’s 2016 recruiting class is currently ranked No. 9 in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
The case against Eason:
UGA’s offense is undergoing a period of change for reasons that have nothing to do with Eason’s arrival. The two coaches who had primarily been recruiting Eason are gone — UGA’s longtime offensive coordinator Mike Bobo left to become head coach at Colorado State after the 2014 season, and Mark Richt was dismissed as UGA’s head coach in November. New UGA head coach Kirby Smart has selected Jim Chaney — a well-traveled coach with an inconsistent track record — to lead the Bulldogs offense. In other words, Chaney’s success is by no means a guarantee, and therefore neither is Eason’s.
Feleipe Franks, Florida
The case for Franks:
Florida’s offense may have struggled in 2015, but it wasn’t devoid of upside; Antonio Callaway emerged as possibly the next in a long line of great wide receivers for the Gators. Another luxury for Franks is that his head coach Jim McElwain has an offensive background — specifically tutoring quarterbacks. Plus Florida’s offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is a respected figure in the sport who guided Alabama’s AJ McCarron to an All-SEC selection at quarterback in both of his years as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator (2012-13).
The case against Franks:
The major recruiting services have soured a bit on Franks as of late because of a disappointing performance at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Based on the decisions Franks made in that game against other high school players, it seems reasonable to expect Franks’ progress at Florida to take some time.
As crucial as any factor in evaluating quarterbacks is the programs they’ll play for. In that area, Patterson is at a big disadvantage. Ole Miss hasn’t won a conference championship since 1963. In that time, UGA and Florida have combined to win the SEC 16 times. Of course, college football history can change, but for Patterson at Ole Miss, that change will probably come too slowly. The Rebels will still have less talent than LSU and Alabama for the entirety of Patterson’s eligibility, while Eason and Franks will enjoy a comparatively easier trek through the much weaker SEC East.
As for who’ll be the best between Eason and Franks? A few head-to-head matchups at the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party might just provide that answer.