By Josh Neighbors
We are less than 2 weeks away from actual college football being played and people seem to be obsessed with preseason rankings these days. Whether it be for teams or rankings, as fans and analysts we love to compartmentalize things with order. Rankings typically seem arbitrary, so hopefully these do not.
I will be ranking every quarterback situation in the SEC West, and later the SEC East. What goes into this ranking you might ask? Great question! This ranking is a consideration of past performance, supporting cast, coaching, schedule and a few other small factors. The ranking will go from 1 to 7, with 1 being the situation I’d most like to have and 7 being the situation I would least like to have. Hopefully this ranking system is thorough in its considerations and lays out why each situation is ranked where it is.
#7 Arkansas Razorbacks
Ht/weight: 6’3 / 218 lbs
Year: Redshirt – Senior
Ht/Weight: 6’1 / 214 lbs
So Nick Starkel can really do more things for you than a Ben Hicks can. Starkel is a taller guy with a bigger arm and better play-making ability. Things just never really worked out for him at Texas A&M. Ben Hicks has three years of starting experience at SMU, where he racked up over 9,000 yards and 74 total touchdowns. He has the experience and was coached by Chad Morris during his freshman and sophomore seasons. You have to think he is going to be the guy who is going to get the start week one against Portland State (Las Vegas has him as the -200 favorite).
It probably won’t matter. Arkansas ranked 117th out of 129 FBS teams in total offense last season and 97th in passing offense. In addition to this, their leading receiver transferred and their offensive line was a dumpster fire last year. The right side of their offensive line is going to be very young, which might make establishing the run difficult. This team is going to have to run the ball more than it wants to while still in the process of changing personnel in Chad Morris’ second year.
There is some good news. The Hogs’ leading rusher Rakeem Boyd returns this season. Boyd averaged over 6 yards per carry in his sophomore campaign for Arkansas. More good news! Their schedule is absurdly soft for a team that plays in the SEC West. Out of conference they draw Portland State, Colorado State, San Jose State and Western Kentucky and they only have four road games. I think it is important to consider schedule, especially for the lower ranked QB situations.
Regardless of those factors, this is not a great Quarterback situation for Arkansas. Chad Morris knew taking this job it would take a total rebuild, considering they play in the most rigorous division in all of the sport. You roll with an unproven guy transferring from a major program
#6 Mississippi State Bulldogs
Ht/Weight: 6’4 / 225 lbs
Ht/Weight: 6’5 / 235 lbs
Yet another example of a coach bringing in one of his former quarterbacks to his new school. Keytoan Thomas is a holdover from the Dan Mullen era and, despite a fair amount of playing time, really has not amounted to much. The same could be said for Tommy Stevens during his time at Penn State.
There is a very limited amount of tape on Stevens, and even less of him in consequential situations. That being said, the physical tools are evident. He had scouts talking about him at Manning Passing Academy this summer and all signs point to him getting the starting nod for the Bulldogs. Joe Morehead has discussed his desire for a more dynamic passing game, and it is pretty clear that Stevens is the guy that gives them the best chance to have that.
MSSU should be really good running the football this year as they return 60% of their starting offensive line and a pair of solid running backs. The question for this team is in the passing game. The Bulldogs did not have a receiver in the top 30 of receiver yards in the SEC last season. This is not a good situation because of the uncertainty of wide receiver and the lack of sample/quality performances displayed by the guys competing for a job.
#5 Auburn Tigers
Ht/Weight: 6’5 / 233 lbs
Ht/Weight: 6’2 / 207
The Auburn quarterback competition is one of the most intriguing in the country because Auburn is the hardest college football coaching job in the country. Gus Malzahn’s seat is always hot, but this summer the oven underneath him has been set to high as Auburn comes off of an 8-5 season where the Tigers lost to both of their big rivals in Alabama and Georgia. Auburn won’t have much of an adjustment period this year as they square off with Oregon on the first weekend of the season.
Redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood is your betting favorite heading into camp at -150, and true freshman Bo Nix is the +110 underdog. At least one of the local news outlets reported that Nix struggled in Auburn’s scrimmage last week. Malzahn said that he is going to need at least one more scrimmage before he is ready to make any proclamation about who the quarterback is.
The offensive line needs to improve from last year. They bring back almost their entire offensive line, but the only problem is they disappeared in some BIG spots last year. Jatarvious “Boobie” Whitlow is back, and if they can keep him healthy there is no debate that he will be a focal point for the offense and an exceptional asset for either QB. An injury at wide receiver could set them back, which just goes to shows how many moving parts there are for Auburn heading into this camp.
Both of these quarterbacks are blue chippers, but the circumstances and the pressures surrounding this position are what make it as difficult as it is. I think Malzahn is going to play both guys early on in the season, as his creative offensive mind will allow him to scheme up ways to use both guys. While that appears to be the likely outcome, my former “No Huddle” colleague and former “Track Em’ Tigers” writer Cole Locascio pointed out to me last week that playing both guys feels like the wrong move. It will not allow the Auburn offense to establish an identity to develop.
My personal feelings are this: Gatewood physically and stylistically conjures up memories of a quarterback Malzahn once coached so adeptly in Cam Newton. Roll with him, and if that does not work, your backup plan is a 5-star QB. From that perspective, this feels like a fine situation. But as we know, things are never that simple with Auburn and their fanbase. Because of the amount of factors and the moving parts, the way I view the considerable talent at this position feels diminished. I do not envy Gus Malzahn, and I have not been a fan of how this situation has been managed or how it feels heading into the 2019 campaign.
#4 Ole Miss Rebels
Year: Redshirt Freshman
Ht/Weight: 6’1 / 201 lbs
Ole Miss probably won’t be very good this season, but their quarterback situation is definitely a clear one. If you have not heard of Matt Corral or watched any tape on this dude, go to YouTube right now. He is a blue chip prospect. He has the arm of Russell Wilson and the risk management of Brett Favre. He is going to be the most fun quarterback (maybe even player) to watch in the SEC this season. It is going to be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez manages his young QB, but I have a feeling it is going to be a trial by fire.
As for the rest of the offense, Ole Miss lost their three best receivers last year who compiled nearly 2800 yards and 15 touchdowns. The good news for Corral is the Rebels return their two leading running backs. Their schedule is also ridiculously hard, which includes a first month that features at Memphis, Arkansas, Cal and at Alabama. Those middle two games aren’t the most difficult, but building confidence for a young QB early in the season can be hard when facing power-5 competition early.
Expect a lot of mistakes. Expect a massive learning curve. But also, expect a couple moments where this kid pulls a few rabbits out of his hat. He has Johnny Manziel like play making ability. This is a crystal clear quarterback situation at a school where they have done great things with their offense as of late. With a coach like Rich Rodriguez, this is going to be a “roll out the ball and let them play” scenario. I like this situation in the short term. I LOVE it in the long term!
#3 Texas A&M Aggies
Ht/Weight: 6’2 217 lbs
There is a certain comfort level that Texas A&M fans should be feeling with Kellen Mond. He is one of the few quarterbacks in the SEC who can say they started the whole season for their team last year. It was touch and go for Mond, who ended the season with a 57% completion percentage. Nothing physically about Mond pops off the screen or the page, but you can see the potential. He is at his best when he uses his instincts. He is most effective when he hangs in the pocket as long as possible and gets through his progressions. Mond also demonstrates impressive open field speed, but those are mostly on designed runs and he is not a player who is great at turning broken plays into productive ones.
A&M lost two essential skill players on offense in tight end Jace Sternberger and running back Trayveon Williams, who accounted for 27 total touchdowns last season. Luckily for the Aggies, a majority of their receiving core is back and their entire starting offensive line should be upperclassmen. The line was not great in pass protection last year, but much of that had to do with Mond’s willingness to stay in the pocket and wait until the last possible second to throw.
Mond will have plenty of chances to show off his improvement in high leverage situations. The Aggies have at Clemson, Alabama, at Georgia and at Auburn all on the schedule this year. As one of the established quarterbacks in the conference, my confidence is high in Mond and the weapons he has around him. Dependability in this division is paramount and, after a pretty successful first go around for Mond, the Aggies should have plenty of faith in him as they build in year two under Jimbo Fisher.
#2 LSU Tigers
Ht/weight: 6’4 / 216 lbs
Joe Burrow was aggressively average last season. He was middle of the pack in passing efficiency, middle of the pack nationally in passing touchdowns and middle of the pack in passing yards per game. The one glaring hole was that he did not throw for a touchdown for the entire month of October. The Tigers played three ranked teams that month and went 2-1. On the other hand, last year Burrow tossed 1 touchdown against 4 interceptions against top-25 competition while only completing 50% of his passes.
All that being said, the LSU offense appears to be turning a corner. The Tigers hired Joe Brady away from the Saints to run their passing game. They bring back 4 of 5 starting offensive linemen. Their second leading rusher, Clyde-Edwards Helaire, will be paired with the number two running back recruit in the country, John Emory Jr., to provide very stout support behind Burrow, especially as this offense transitions to a more run pass option heavy attack. Burrow’s favorite target Justin Jefferson returns as well.
The bottom line here is that Burrow is in an awesome spot. He loves the new offense and he has an experienced line and plenty of talent around him. The situation is one of the best in the SEC. He should be able to build off of the positives from last year and become one of the elite signal callers in the SEC.
#1 Alabama Crimson Tide
Ht/weight: 6’1 / 218 lbs
Let’s keep this one short and sweet. Tagovailoa was number one in pretty much every major statistical category in the SEC despite exiting many of Alabama’s games early because they were blowouts. His injuries towards the end of last season provided the only semblance of weakness in the Heisman runner-up’s game.
We know about the support cast at Alabama, the fun question for me is how is he going to mesh with the coaching staff. Steve Sarkisian is going to be the new offensive coordinator and, depending on your vantage point, that could be a positive or a negative. Sarkisian’s offenses have a tendency to move the ball down the field and a penchant for cratering in the red zone. But, I’m not sure Sark futility around the endzone will be able to stop the juggernaut that will be the Crimson Tide offense.
This is an excellent situation with a quarterback who is without doubt the best player in his conference at the position. Whether or not he will win the heisman could easily depend on how long he or Trevor Lawrence are allowed to stay in blowout and run up their stats.
Edited by Emma Moloney | firstname.lastname@example.org