College football hasn’t even found its 2019-20 champion yet, but that shouldn’t stop us from looking ahead to next year’s action. KSR’s own Freddie Maggard has already broken down Kentucky’s first opponent of the year, Eastern Michigan, which you can read right here. News also broke Wednesday afternoon that Jake Fromm, Georgia’s quarterback who has dominated in the SEC for the last three years, will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft. Georgia is also losing other key players, including D’Andre Swift and offensive lineman Cade Mays, who announced he will enter the transfer portal Wednesday.
The Bulldogs’ roster will look fairly different come next season, but Georgia isn’t the only team in the SEC East undergoing some major changes. Thanks to injuries, transfers, graduations and the NFL Draft, only two schools in the SEC East are expected to start the same quarterback in 2020 as they did in the first game of 2019: the University of Kentucky and the University of Tennessee.
Terry Wilson started in all 13 games during his sophomore season and in the first two games of Kentucky’s 2019-20 season, good for 15 collegiate starts with an SEC team. Of course, he was ultimately injured during the Cats’ matchup with Eastern Michigan University, which ended his season in a heartbreaking way.
Lynn Bowden stepped up and carried the Cats to eight wins this season, but Terry Wilson is expected to return to the QB1 position come next season.
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) December 30, 2019
The Volunteers have three scholarship quarterbacks set to return next season, and Army All-American Harrison Bailey is set to enroll this month. Jarrett Guarantano is Tennessee’s most-experienced QB, and he’s the only player on this list with more career starts than Kentucky’s Wilson. Guarantano has notched 22 starts and 30 appearances throughout his UT career, earning 4,306 yards, 29 yards and 10 interceptions along the way. He’ll be a redshirt senior come next season.
Guarantano has the most starts of anyone on this list, but that doesn’t mean he played as a QB1 for the majority of the season once the games actually started. In fact, Coach Jeremy Pruitt would often bench Guarantano in favor of backup Brian Maurer or even play out of the Wildcat because of Guarantano’s inadequacies.
The Volunteers have a tough road ahead of them. Wes Rucker with 247Sports went in-depth in a recent column detailing Tennessee’s potential problems at the quarterback position next season, titled better QB play required for Vols to improve in 2020. At one point, Rucker says he can “safely suggest [Guarantano] probably never be what everyone hoped he would be when he enrolled at Tennessee.”
His worries voice a legitimate concern for Coach Pruitt and his team – can experience at the starter position correlate with success in a way that’s strong enough to offset a player’s serious flaws? For his full analysis on Tennessee’s specific situation, click on the link above.
The Gators began last season with Feleipe Franks in the driver’s seat, but Kyle Trask saw his first start with the Gators this year in game No. 4 after Franks’ own season-ending injury. By the end of the year, Trask certainly earned the title. With Alabama and LSU both bringing in new quarterbacks, Trask will start next season as the conference’s leader in yards per game (245.1), total yards (2,941), and completion percentage (66.9 percent) from the 2019 season.
Still, he’s only started in 10 games at this point in his career.
Jake Fromm is officially headed to the NFL, which means the Bulldogs will bring in a new quarterback next season. Of course, we don’t know who that guy will be yet – the Bulldogs’ depth chart includes three potential options, and graduate transfers could be on the table. Unless Georgia lands an elite graduate transfer (or a quarterback who started every game at a smaller school), it’s hard to image he’d have more collegiate starts than Terry Wilson.
Go Dawgs and God Bless pic.twitter.com/hz0qxJLumE
— JakefromStateFromm (@FrommJake) January 8, 2020
Since Justin Fields left Georgia to pursue the starting position at Ohio State, there has been very little depth behind Fromm on the roster. Former walk-on Stetson Bennett played as Fromm’s backup this season, but he didn’t see much action. Dwan Mathis is a top-150 recruit in the Bulldogs’ 2019 class, but he underwent surgery to remove a cyst from his brain and is reportedly still recovering. Then there’s the four-star 2020 signee, Carson Beck. All three of those options, plus a potential grad transfer, will compete for the job during spring practices.
It’s the University of Georgia, and you’d be silly to think Kirby Smart and his staff didn’t anticipate Fromm’s departure from the program. Still, it’s hard to predict who will run the Bulldogs’ offense next season at this point in the year.
Jake Bentley started last season as the Gamecock’s senior rock, but a foot injury ended his season during USC’s opening game. Now, Bentley has announced he will transfer to Utah for his final year of eligibility. He graduated from South Carolina in December, giving him one final season to spend with the Utes. Bentley had 33 starts with the Gamecocks, but his replacement, Ryan Hilinski, has just 11.
Hilinski threw for 2,357 yards and 11 touchdowns with five interceptions this year. He was first among SEC freshmen with 214 passing yards a game, and he set a school record by throwing 180 passes without an interception. He’s undergoing surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee this offseason, but he’s still expected to be healthy before the Gamecocks begin off-season workouts later this month.
— Jake Bentley (@JakeBentley19) December 9, 2019
The Gamecocks’ other option is Collin Hill, a graduate transfer from Colorado State. He served as CSU’s starter after his first game as a true freshman, but went down with a knee injury after five games. His most durable year saw him play in 10 games in 2018, and he ended his career there with 3,323 yards in the air, 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Even after another knee surgery this offseason (ACL), Hill told reporters he’s transferring to compete for the starting job, according to South Carolina’s newspaper, The State.
“I’m just gonna be completely honest – I think as a player you want to play,” Hill said. “I mean, that’s what you do everything for. That’s why you work so hard. So yeah, you want to be the starter. You want to be the guy. That’s why you go through all the stuff you do. You know, I’m a competitor and I definitely want to play.”
Riley Neal came to Vanderbilt from Ball State as a graduate transfer, and he began last season as the Commodores’ starting quarterback. However, he didn’t hold the title for long. Neal didn’t get through Vanderbilt’s first game of the season before the backup, Deuce Wallace, was brought into the game (to be fair, Vandy’s first game was against Georgia, which is brutal).
Vandy went on to start three different quarterbacks throughout the season: Neal, Wallace and Mo Hasan. As a former grad transfer, Neal has no eligibility remaining, while Mo Hasan announced he entered the transfer portal in late December. News of his pending transfer came just one day after the Commodores signed three different quarterbacks in their incoming recruiting class. Hasan made the only start of his career in Nashville against Missouri (the Volunteer’s only SEC win of the season), before missing the final five games of the year due to a concussion. He’ll have one year of eligibility remaining, but he hasn’t made any announcements regarding where he’s heading next.
Wallace will start the 2020 season as a redshirt senior after appearing in seven games last year.
Kelly Bryant was the Tigers’ main starter last season, and there was never really any competition, as then-head coach Barry Odom named Bryant the starter before spring camp had even begun last year. This year will be different, with transfer Shawn Robinson, redshirt junior Taylor Powell, and redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak all competing for the spot and playing under a new head coach.
Robinson transferred from TCU, but he will be eligible this season after sitting out in 2019.
Bryant sat out two games last season due to injury, and Powell and Bazelak each got one career start in his absence. Bazelak played in three games for the Tigers last season before tearing his ACL against Arkansas (a game where he completed 7-of-9 passes for 80 yards). Powell then came in for Bazelak and threw for 105 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He saw his first career start against Georgia but struggled against the Bulldogs.
Clearly, the SEC East will look quite different next season – some of the most familiar faces are gone. Florida’s quarterback, Trask, was solid for the Gators last year, but most of the other schools in the east still have serious question marks without clear solutions.
And while most of those SEC teams are undergoing major changes, the Kentucky Wildcats will see a large percentage of their own starters and playmakers return (minus Lynn Bowden, obviously), as well as Terry Wilson’s comeback as the team’s starting quarterback and strongest leader.
It begs the question…
With Jake Fromm turning pro, who is the favorite to win the SEC East?
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) January 8, 2020