Who is going to win the SEC this year? The usual answer is the team with the best returning quarterback. But let’s look deeper. Another way of looking at the SEC quarterback situation is what team is in the best shape of having a returning quarterback and also a dependable backup.
In no particular order, here is a look at the SEC quarterback situations:
SOUTH CAROLINA: The argument could be made that the Gamecocks might be in the best shape of any SEC team. First of all Connor Shaw is an impressive 16-3 as the starting quarterback. Shaw can make big plays. Since Shaw is a dual-threat quarterback, he has proven already that he has a propensity to get hurt. Fortunately for coach Steve Spurrier he can depend on Dylan Thompson when Shaw is out. Remember Thompson came off the bench in the Capital One bowl to throw the winning pass to beat Michigan.
TEXAS A&M: Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel would be among the elite quarterbacks in any league. He is using his offseason time to fine tune his passing game. Manziel’s biggest challenge is going to be dealing with SEC coordinators who will spend the summer trying to pick up his tendencies and limit his big plays. What is coach Kevin Sumlin’s contingency plan if Manziel gets hurt since backup quarterback Jameill Showers is transferring? Sumlin, who is one of the better offensive minds in the game, will likely have a strong plan B.
ALABAMA: AJ McCarron is on the verge of possibly winning three BSC national titles in a row. He is the unquestioned leader on the team. McCarron proved his toughness by playing with injured ribs in his last six games. His 49- to- 8 touchdown to interception ratio is simply incredible. Yet, if McCarron goes down would the Tide’s season end? Blake Sims could carry the team for a game or maybe two, but would he be able to take the team on his shoulders for a month or so? Finding a backup for McCarron is an important part of the Tide’s spring.
GEORGIA: Aaron Murray has already established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in Bulldog history. His legacy would be ensured if he could win his share of big SEC games this season, which has been a constant criticism of fans. Murray is one of the quarterbacks in the league who has most of his offensive teammates returning. Junior Hutson Mason would be the likely candidate as backup quarterback. Whoever wins the backup job will need to get a little playing time considering Murray is a senior.
LSU: Starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger seemed to settle down in November, but it did not carry over in the bowl loss to Clemson. He and the LSU offense were too inconsistent. One of the major spring storylines in the league will be what new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron can do to improve the passing game. Stephen Rivers, Anthony Jennings and Hayden Rettig are competing for the backup job. Coach Les Miles hinted that there may be a special package of plays to take advantage of Jennings’ mobility. Rob Bolden, another possible backup, is still recovering from knee surgery.
OLE MISS: Coach Hugh Freeze has one of the better quarterback situations in the league. Bo Wallace is a solid dual-threat quarterback who needs to stay healthy and cut down on his interceptions, but he is out for the spring recovering from injuries so Barry Brunetti, who needs a lot more consistency, or Maikhail Miller, who has a strong arm, will battle for the position. Freeze has to know that any team that runs the spread must have a capable backup.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: More was expected from Tyler Russell last season. He showed flashes against inferior competition before struggling when the schedule got tougher. Russell, who had decent numbers after throwing for nearly 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns, was awful during the bowl game. He threw four picks. Backup Dak Prescott scored eight touchdowns during his freshman season while appearing in 12 games last season.
FLORIDA: Jeff Driskel showed some potential last year. He came through in the clutch to beat Tennessee. Yet, the Gator passing attack was ranked No. 118 nationally, which is unacceptable. His poor pass blocking offensive line did him little favors. Driskel threw for fewer than 100 yards four times in the last eight games and did not reach 200 yards after the Kentucky game in September. Jacoby Brissett, who transferred, is no longer his backup. Tyler Murphy and Skyler Mornhinweg are in an important battle for the backup role, especially with Driskel being a threat for injury due to his running style.
MISSOURI: Missouri has three quarterbacks competing this spring-James Franklin, Corbin Berkstresser and Maty Mauk. Franklin is an accomplished quarterback, but he is rarely healthy. Coach Gary Pinkel’s loyalty to Franklin has also been questioned this offseason. Berkstresser did a credible job as the backup last season. The youngster Mauk will have a chance to show what he can do. Quarterbacks aside, the real issue at Missouri is dealing with an offensive line that was not up to SEC standards last year.
The remaining schools have no established quarterback or backup:
ARKANSAS: Former receiver Brandon Mitchell and Brandon Allen, who served as Tyler Wilson’ primary backup a year ago, are vying for the starting position. The Hogs are also switching primarily from a passing attack to a run dominated offense, which might take some pressure off the quarterbacks.
AUBURN: Coach Gus Malzahn has two capable quarterbacks, but he needs to improve the skills of Jonathan Wallace, who had some bright moments last year, and rebuild the confidence of Kiehl Frazier. Whoever wins the job will play behind an experienced offensive line.
KENTUCKY: Patrick Towles, Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow are the trio to watch this spring. New coach Mark Stoops has to get more out of the Wildcats’ passing game.
TENNESSEE: New coach Butch Jones will work with Justin Worley, who saw some action last year, and redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman. Newbies Josh Dobbs and Riley Ferguson will get a chance in fall practice.
VANDERBILT: Coach James Franklin, who has done a great job in changing the culture in Nashville, is deciding between Austyn Carta-Samuels, a Wyoming transfer, and Patton Robinette. This is a crucial decision because Franklin doesn’t need to lose some of the momentum he has already gained.