The SEC lost a lot of good quarterbacks last season. While college football careers are short by design, and every year at least a few teams are bound to be looking for a new signal caller, rarely has the conference had the kind of mass exodus at the position that took place in 2013.
Gone are former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, two time national champion A.J. McCarron, and all time SEC passing leader Aaron Murray. Joining them in completing their college careers were Zack Mettenberger, Connor Shaw, James Franklin, and Austin Carta-Samuels. Throw in Tyler Murphy, who transferred from Florida to Boston College, and you have eight SEC teams breaking in a new quarterback in 2014.
To be sure, the guys who left weren’t just any quarterbacks. The SEC will have to replace starters who ranked 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8 in the conference in passing efficiency. No matter who you have waiting in the wings, this will be a difficult task.
For some teams, the new quarterback won’t be a surprise. Georgia’s Hutson Mason, Murray’s longtime back up , steps into a huddle he knows well. Mason even got his feet wet with a couple of late season starts after Murray was injured against Kentucky.
Other new starters who saw action include South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson, Missouri’s Maty Mauck, and Vanderbilt’s Patton Robinette. All three had their moments, though whether or not they can duplicate the success of their predecessors remains to be seen.
Then there are the new guys who haven’t seen much meaningful action. Alabama’s Blake Sims replaces one of the winningest quarterbacks in SEC history in McCarron. Also attempting to fill big shoes is LSU’s Anthony Jennings, who replaces Mettenberger. Jeff Driskel, the on again off again starter at Florida who missed much of last season due to injury, is the favorite to replace Murphy for the Gators.
Among the returning starters, the only sure bets to maintain their positions seem to be Auburn’s Nick Marshall, who nearly won a national championship in 2013, Mississippi’s 4,000 yard passer Bo Wallace, and Mississippi State dual threat Dak Prescott. The other three spots are up for grabs.
The most vulnerable starer has to be Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen, who completed just 49.6% of his passes in 2013. True freshman Rafe Peavy will compete with Allen for the starting job. Tennessee’s Justin Worley will face challenges from Josh Dobbs, Riley Ferguson and Nathan Peterman, though Worley played well before sustaining a thumb injury and missing the final four games.
Then you have the Kentucky Wildcats, who started both Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow in 2013. Smith underwent shoulder surgery during the off season and will miss spring practice, giving Whitlow an edge heading into 2014. Four star freshman Drew Barker could also push for playing time.
All in all, 2014 begins with a lot of question marks. How will the new starters do in replacing SEC legends? Can last season’s returning starters hang onto their jobs against the challenges of incoming freshmen? Who will win the undecided spots in spring practice? While we won’t know the answers to these questions until much later in the year, speculation is part of the fun.
How many days left until football season?