For the next few weeks leading to the start of the College Football season, I will be previewing different teams, players, and more from the SEC. This week, I preview the most important position on the field for each team: quarterback. Here I rank each team’s projected starter at the position.
1. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
This was a bit of a no-brainer here, but Tagovailoa is, of course, the best quarterback in the league entering the season. He narrowly lost the Heisman Trophy in one of the closest races ever after passing for almost 4,000 yards and over 40 TD’s (despite not playing in the majority of fourth quarters).
Believe it or not, there is still room for improvement. Against the three toughest defenses he faced last season, Tagovailoa had a 4-5 TD/INT ratio, only passed for an average of 207 yards per game, and a 57.5% completion percentage. If Alabama wants to get back to winning national titles then their quarterback must play better when it matters the most.
All in all, Tagovailoa is still one of the favorites to be the first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. The Crimson Tide’s schedule this year is surprisingly (and disappointingly) easy so I expect possibly even better numbers from him. Remember, Tagovailoa was still just a true sophomore last year. I expect the Heisman race between him and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence to be very close.
2. Jake Fromm, Georgia
Fromm really proved me wrong last season. I wasn’t all that high on him coming into 2018 as I thought that uber-talented Justin Fields would eventually take over at the position. That obviously is not what happened as Fromm started all season and tallied a 30-6 TD/INT ratio.
Jake Fromm is the perfect “win now” QB prospect. https://t.co/db2BfcBXtb
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) July 6, 2019
The biggest question facing Fromm as he returns for his senior season is who will he be passing to? Gone are Riley Ridley, Mecole Hardman, and Issac Nauta – Georgia’s leading receivers. De’Andre Swift is a reliable pass catcher out of the backfield and Jeremiah Holloman notched over 400 yards receiving and five TD’s last season. But who else will step up?
Despite questions facing the receiving core of the Bulldogs, Fromm is one of the most experienced QB’s in the conference, and it shows. While the passing yardage numbers won’t “wow” anyone, Fromm can make every throw on the field, and he absolutely knows how to win big games.
3. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
In 2018, Mond was possibly the most improved player in the SEC. In just eight starts as a freshman, he passed for only 1,375 yards. In 13 starts as a sophomore, he threw for over 3,000 yards while earning a TD-INT ratio of 24-9. The work that Jimbo Fisher has done to this quarterback is just outstanding.
Mond is also a lethal runner with the football as well. He notched seven rushing touchdowns while also rushing for almost 500 yards on the ground. As Mond enters his junior season, I expect him to take another leap as his entire receiving core returns with the exception of tight end Jace Sternberger.
As far as improvements, the talented quarterback still needs to work on his accuracy. He only completed 57% of his passes in 2018. His accuracy is what’s keeping him from making the jump to “elite college quarterback.” If he takes another step and gets his accuracy up to around 63%, then Mond could find himself selected in the early rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Kellen Mond throws a LASER to Kendrick Rogers for the @AggieFootball TD!
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 9, 2018
4. Joe Burrow, LSU
Burrow was fascinating to watch in 2018. While he was the definition of a game manager, he made several incredible throws in critical moments to get the Tigers off to a fast start to the season. Similar to Fromm, the passing yardage numbers were not incredible, but Burrow knows how to win games.
Just like with Mond, Burrow’s 57.8% completion percentage needs to be better. He played terribly against the likes of Florida and Alabama in hostile environments so there is certainly room for improvement there as well.
The good news is that LSU’s offense returns its entire receiving core and four starters on the offensive lineman. Burrow is going to be even better in 2019, and the Tigers will be a legitimate title contender. If Burrow can take a significant step forward then I could easily see them winning it all. This is an incredibly tough quarterback that won’t go down easily.
This was Joe Burrow's 29th carry of the game.
Twenty. Nine. Carries. pic.twitter.com/tLhXsBUDFN
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 25, 2018
5. Kelly Bryant, Missouri
Here is the first wildcard of the bunch. Bryant, who famously transferred from Clemson, will be Missouri’s replacement for Drew Lock. In 18 starts for the Tigers over the last few years, Bryant was actually more accurate than Lock (66% completion percentage compared to Lock’s 62.9% last season).
The big difference between the two is that Lock has a much better arm than Bryant. The former Clemson standout is best at completing short-to-medium routes on the run. During his time there, Bryant also ran for almost 1,000 yards.
Bryant will be a good quarterback for the Tigers because that’s what he’s always been. He just got stuck on a team that had a better quarterback (Trevor Lawrence). The Tigers return their leading rusher and four of their top five receivers so Bryant will have plenty of weapons at his disposal.
Former Clemson QB Kelly Bryant was in a "real bad place" when he lost his spot to Trevor Lawrence after having already been stuck behind Deshaun Watson.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 12, 2019
6. Jake Bentley, South Carolina
Bentley is officially the Perry Ellis of SEC football. He is the player that everyone asks, “How is he still in college???” All jokes aside, Bentley does return for his final season in Columbia. Say what you want about him, but the guy has been consistently above average his entire career and that’s why he is at No. 6 on this list.
His career record as a starter is 19-13, he has thrown for 7,385 yards, and his career TD-INT ratio is 54-30 in three seasons. Yes, he is definitely slightly above average, and that’s exactly what I expect from him in his last season. Without Deebo Samuel to throw to anymore, I think Bentley has reached his respectable ceiling.
7. Feleipe Franks, Florida
This was possibly the hardest quarterback to rank on this list (along with Terry Wilson). The numbers point to a respectable season (2,457 passing yards, 24-6 TD-Int ratio, 58% comp. percentage), but Franks was just flat-out bad against top-tier opponents in 2018.
Don’t forget that Franks was actually benched against Missouri and only got the job back because Kyle Trask broke his foot. Franks was often booed by the home crowd as well. Overall, I can’t rank him any lower than 7th because, despite his struggles, he did take a big step forward in just one season with quarterback whisperer Dan Mullen. Frank should improve in 2019 and become more of a dependable leader in year two under Mullen.
Feleipe Franks just went 79 yards in 20 seconds.
Is that good? pic.twitter.com/C11n17U12A
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 15, 2017
8. Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee
I think Guarantano is a good quarterback. I said what I said. Despite playing behind terrible pass protection in 2018, he still managed to set a school record for most passes without throwing an interception. That is undeniably impressive no matter how you try and spin that.
He did struggle at times last season as he failed to even pass for 2,000 yards in his 12 starts. However, it was a rebuilding year for the Volunteers, and everyone on the team struggled. 2019 will be a different story for Tennessee. The entire offense returns with the exception of one starter. Guarantano will be much, much better as a big, accurate pocket passer. Don’t be surprised if he ends up being the most improved player in the SEC this year.
During the 2018 season, @Vol_Football quarterback Jarrett Guarantano threw 166 consecutive passes without an interception – a Tennessee program record.
Guarantano finished the season with a 4:1 TD-to-INT ratio, the best by a UT starting quarterback since Peyton Manning in 1995. pic.twitter.com/iFMjGMTHM0
— Tennessee Stats & Info (@Vol_Stats) July 10, 2019
9. Terry Wilson, Kentucky
If you are angry with Wilson being ranked this low, just know that I’m actually higher on him than the national consensus. Many have him at the very bottom of the conference, which is absurd. Overall, I think Wilson is a great leader, a very good runner, and a winner. However, none of those three things make him a good passer.
Yes, he had a better completion percentage than Guarantano did and their passing yardage is similar, but Wilson’s stats are a bit inflated. Remember that a hefty portion of his passing stats are counted in with all of the shuttle passes Kentucky ran. When it comes down to it, Wilson just wasn’t good at passing the ball down the field and his pocket presence was lacking, to say the least. He was also unplayable against the likes of Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee.
Overall, I think Wilson will improve in his second season with Kentucky. He is the best running quarterback in the SEC, but this is his ceiling until he becomes more confident as a passer.
10. Ben Hicks, Arkansas
Like with Missouri and Kelly Bryant, the Razorbacks will also be starting a transfer at quarterback. While former Texas A&M starter Nick Starkel is also competing for the starting job, Hicks is widely seen as the favorite. Hicks actually played for Arkansas head coach Chad Morris at SMU. In that system, Hicks passed for 3,569 yards, a 33-12 TD-INT ratio, and a 58% comp. percentage.
Of course, SMU did not play in the SEC West so Hicks will have his hands full. However, this is an experienced quarterback who has no fear in slinging the ball around the field. Arkansas will be much improved in 2019, and I see a path where Hicks easily outplays this ranking.
For those of you that believe the misconception that Ben Hicks isn’t very mobile, here’s a highlight of him getting away from a salty TCU D line in 2017 to find his open receiver and make a big play. pic.twitter.com/Swz6vQlmja
— Woo Pig Dustino (@DustinoTheGreat) January 14, 2019
11. Bo Nix/Joey Gatewood, Auburn
This is the must-watch quarterback competition in the SEC this season. Both Gatewood and Nix were highly ranked coming out of college, and both are very athletic. While Gatewood did redshirt in 2018, both have no in-game experience at this level. Auburn is projected to field a good team once again.
No matter who starts will be playing underneath a ton of pressure as Auburn has one of the toughest schedules in the country. Gatewood has a much bigger body and a year of experience with this team, but Nix is widely seen as the savior of the program. I expect Gatewood to start game one, but there is a very, very slight chance that Nix takes the college football world by storm in 2019. He has the talent to do so.
Bo Nix showing the wow factor pic.twitter.com/lUvUBV6iSz
— Skye Underwood (@SkyeUnderwood) January 3, 2019
12. Riley Neal, Vanderbilt
Here is the third quarterback transfer on this list. Formerly of Ball State University, Neal is projected to be the starter after the departure of Kyle Shurmur. In 32 starts with his former school, Neal passed for 7,393 yards and a 46-25 TD-INT ratio.
He is incredibly experienced, and at 6’5, 218 pounds his body can stand the wear and tear of the SEC. The Commodore offense projects to be its best in Mason’s tenure this season, so Neal will have weapons to throw too. He will be a step down from Shurmur, but Neal will be fine for Vanderbilt.
13. Matt Corral, Ole Miss
Corral was ranked as the third best quarterback in his class out of high school, but he was redshirted last season as the Rebels had a reliable quarterback in Jordan Ta’amu. Corral is widely seen as the future of the program now and the clear-cut starter for 2019. However, I’m just not sure this season will go favorably for him. The receiving core is almost entirely gone, and the offensive line will have to be rebuilt. Only three total starters return on offense.
In summary, this is a rebuilding year for Ole Miss. They don’t expect to be all that great, therefore they will be patient with Corral while he struggles as most young quarterbacks do. I believe that Corral has elite-level talent, but he is a year or two away before it fully translates.
An elite group
An elite competition
80% of NFL QBs started here@corral_matt is a name of the future
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) September 27, 2017
14. Tommy Stevens, Mississippi State
I have the very, very sneaky suspension that Mississippi State is not going to be very good this season, and its quarterback play will be a huge reason why. Gone is Nick Fitzgerald. Keytaon Thompson returns, but he was just simply terrible in 2018. Enter our final transfer on this list: Tommy Stevens.
Stevens played underneath MSU head coach Joe Moorhead at Penn State, so it seems pretty plausible that he will win this competition. Either way, I just don’t see the passing game being very good. They disappointed big time in 2018, and without Fitzgerald’s leadership, I’m willing to bet they disappoint again.