The 2016 season is over, and SEC football rosters are starting to come together for 2017. It’s the perfect time to evaluate each team’s quarterback situation for next season.
Quarterback issues were a significant part of the SEC’s struggles last season, but the conference has starters coming back at 12 of the 14 schools. The turnaround should be immediate. Vanderbilt returns its starting quarterback, who made strides towards the end of the season.
To clarify, this grade takes into account a team’s entire quarterback situation, including backups. Just having a great starter isn’t necessarily good enough to earn a quality grade.
Make sure and read all our previous quarterback installments:
Alabama Crimson Tide | Arkansas Razorbacks | Auburn Tigers | Florida Gators | Georgia Bulldogs | Kentucky Wildcats | LSU Tigers | Mississippi State Bulldogs | Missouri Tigers | Ole Miss Rebels | South Carolina Gamecocks | Tennessee Volunteers | Texas A&M Aggies
Key returners: Kyle Shurmur (junior), Wade Freebeck (senior), Shawn Stankavage (junior)
Key departures: None
Key additions: Deuce Wallace (redshirt), Jacob Free (true freshman)
Returning production: 210-375 for 2,486 yards, 9 TDs, 11 INTs
Departing production: None
For most of the 2016 season, Shurmur was the SEC’s worst starting quarterback. In his first eight games, Shurmur reached 200 yards passing just once. That was on the road against Western Kentucky in an overtime victory.
Over those games, Shurmur averaged a paltry 136.1 yards per game and 5.4 yards per pass attempt. He threw for 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Put simply, Shurmur was a complete non-factor. The entire offense focused on running back Ralph Webb.
But to close the regular season, Shurmur found his rhythm. Over the last four regular-season games, Shurmur completed 61.2 percent of his passes, averaged 9.0 yards per attempt and 290.5 yards per game. The Commodores went 2-2, including upset victories over Ole Miss and Tennessee. Vanderbilt probably should have beaten Auburn too, but lost by a touchdown.
Unfortunately, Shurmur regressed again in the Independence Bowl. He completed just 41.3 percent of his 46 passes for 158 yards, 0 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
Shurmur was a consensus 4-star recruit when he joined Vanderbilt in 2015. He enters the 2017 season as a true junior. Out of the top 25 quarterbacks in the class of 2015, only 8 were full-time starters last season. Shurmur can still grow tremendously this offseason.
Bringing back a starting quarterback is an advantage. Getting to focus on development instead of having to win the job will help Shurmur better prepare to run the offense. However, it’s unclear at this point what to expect next season.
Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig simplified the offense and put Shurmur in better positions later in the season. Giving Shurmur easier reads helps take advantage of his talent. It helps that every single player with 10 or more receptions is back next season, including star running back Ralph Webb.
At backup, Wade Freebeck has experience, throwing for 479 yards. However, he threw for one touchdown and seven interception, a ratio that indicates why Freebeck has no shot at being the starter.
Shawn Stankavage seems to be an odd man out but should provide depth. Deuce Wallace is another option after a redshirt year. Jacob Free likely will redshirt.
Vols QBs’ combination of depth and experience is good, but their performance must improve in 2017. With Zach Cunningham departing for the NFL, the defense might not be quite as stingy.
Shurmur hopes to be at the center of the resurgence of Vanderbilt’s offense.