Tag Archives: Blake Barnett

The Fate of SEC Football is in the Hands of These Six Quarterbacks

The SEC, as always, looks strong heading into the season. In fact, there are six SEC football teams ranked in the AP preseason Top 25 poll that was released August 21. These six teams, in order of rank, are the Alabama Crimson Tide, the LSU Tigers, the Tennessee Volunteers, the Ole Miss Rebels, the Georgia Bulldogs, and the Florida Gators.

These six teams are expected to lead the two divisions of the conference, with at least one team eventually going to the College Football Playoff. The fate of all these teams, and SEC football as a whole this season, is in the hands of six starting quarterbacks, two of which have yet to be named.

[Insert name here], Alabama

Yep, that’s right. The top-ranked team heading into the season has yet to choose its starting quarterback. In all fairness to Alabama, I do understand their dilemma. The Crimson Tide could start Cooper Bateman, the only quarterback with experience. Though he’s fast, his arm is not impressive. He’s their safest bet, but he also has the lowest potential to put up big numbers. There’s always redshirt freshman Blake Barnett, who came in as a five-star prospect. He put on weight and gained strength during the past year but he hasn’t been impressive in practice. The last option, with the most risk, also has the highest possible reward for Alabama. They could start true freshman early enrollee Jalen Hurts. Because of his dynamic play, he was key in helping the Tide prepare for Deshaun Watson. He has a strong arm and has been impressive in practice. The biggest problem with having Hurts start immediately is the possibility of that decision causing his competition to transfer to another program. If Hurts doesn’t start immediately, I still expect him to claim the starting position within a few games.

Brandon Harris, LSU

Brandon Harris was a question mark for LSU heading into last season. They knew they would have a solid running game behind Leonard Fournette, but what about their passing game? He didn’t have a fantastic completion percentage (53.8%) and he didn’t have a solid touchdown-to-interception ratio (13:6). What Brandon Harris did get was experience. That experience gave him confidence that will be very valuable heading into another season with high expectations for the Tigers. With Harris being a big piece of the puzzle, I’m not too sure my expectations for the Tigers are quite as high as everyone else’s. Don’t get me wrong, Leonard Fournette is amazing, but Brandon Harris is only a little less of a question mark than he was at this time last year. Brandon Harris is simply not an asset to their offense.

Josh Dobbs, Tennessee

Seth Merenbloom isn’t a fan of Josh Dobbs, but my dad is. And I’d actually have to side with my dad on this one. From Seth’s point-of-view, Dobbs has cost the Vols in late game situations. In mine, Butch Jones and his play calling have cost the Vols in these situations. His play calling was conservative, as he was trying to keep a lead instead of trying to win the game. Dobbs does have some things going for him, though. He may not have the arm of Chad Kelly, but he has much better legs. He finished last season with a completion percentage of 59.6% and had 15 touchdowns with five interceptions. Josh Dobbs has also shown leadership for the Volunteers both on and off the field. What he needs to improve on in order to lead Tennessee to Atlanta is his decision-making. He needs to be better at protecting the ball in critical moments of the game, even if the Vols wouldn’t be in said critical moments if it weren’t for the play calling of Butch Jones. So here it is: Butch Jones is the key to Josh Dobbs being a successful quarterback for the Vols this year.

Chad Kelly, Ole Miss

The only question I have about Chad Kelly is, “Can he put his money where his mouth is?” He may easily be the best SEC quarterback heading into the season, but that doesn’t say much this year. Kelly has gone one step further and confidently said he is the best quarterback in the entire nation. Is his confidence a veil or is he really going to perform at that high of a level? Last season he had a great cast of offensive players around him. This season, he doesn’t have the same cast. Can Chad Kelly elevate a somewhat inexperienced offense and prove he is the best quarterback in the nation? I don’t know. What I do know is that this season the Ole Miss offense lives or dies by Kelly, and that means so does its season.

[Insert name here], Georgia

Oh look, another highly-ranked team without a definite starting quarterback! While Georgia’s practice makes it seem that true freshman Jacob Eason is the front-runner, the Bulldogs do have experience in Greyson Lambert. In 2015, Lambert completed 162 out of 256 pass attempts, giving him a completion percentage of 63.3% (which is better than both Harris and Dobbs). He had 1959 yards, 12 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. His stats in 2014 were very similar, with the only major difference being his eleven interceptions in 2014. Jacob Eason has none of this experience that Lambert has, but his talent makes him a clear favorite to eventually start at quarterback for the Dawgs. Like Alabama, starting Eason from the beginning could lead to another quarterback option, namely Brice Ramsey, transferring out of the program. It seems as if it is not a question of if Eason will start but instead just a matter of when he will start.

Luke Del Rio, Florida

It took Luke Del Rio quite the journey to get to Florida, but after being a walk-on at Alabama and playing backup at Oregon State, he is finally here. Del Rio did have some competition for the starting position this season, but as of right now he will be their man. There really isn’t too much to judge Luke Del Rio by except for his play in camp as well as in the Orange and Blue Debut. In the spring game in the Swamp he led the first team to victory with four touchdown drives and two touchdown passes. He completed 10 of 11 pass attempts for 176 yards. These stats should be taken lightly considering they were against the second team defense, but they’re all we have. If the Gator receiving corps steps up, I expect Del Rio to have a successful season starting at quarterback. If not, I expect Florida’s offense to make me want to cry the same way it did the second half of last season. Here’s to hoping Del Rio can solve all of Florida’s offensive problems!

Email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Featured Image courtesy of Srgragg on wikimedia.

I Don’t Like Alabama, But I Sure As Heck Respect It

This is one of those rare moments when I swallow my Gator and Vol pride to give credit where credit is due. The Alabama Crimson Tide is getting all the credit I can get myself to give to it today. I will make this clear: I loathe Alabama football and I obviously cannot stand Lane Kiffin. But that does not mean I will not show them some respect when it comes to what they manage to do season after season. The Tide is consistently excelling in the hardest division of the strongest conference in all of college football. That alone is absolutely incredible.

I will be the first to admit that I tend to underestimate Alabama every single year. I always think they lost too much talent so they may need to rebuild. What I seem to forget is that they are pulling in phenomenal recruits year after year. Last year, I even went so far as to say that Nick Saban was about to be in Urban Meyer’s shadow. I am eating those words at the moment. I take it back. I take it all back. As my penance for that terrible thing I said, this year I will not underestimate Alabama football. This year I am finally ready to put aside my pride and give them the credit they clearly deserve.

Their spring game was admittedly a bit underwhelming, with a whopping ten points scored overall. When you are an Alabama fan though, I doubt you really care about what happens in the spring game. You just know deep down that your team will perform when it counts. That feeling must be nice.

Last year Alabama had a quarterback battle that lasted into the season. This year it still has quite the quarterback competition going on in Tuscaloosa. This one might last into the season as well. If last year is any indication of who will be the starting quarterback, then you can bet Cooper Bateman will get his chance to go from second-string to first-string. With other athletic contenders in the mix, namely Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts, I would definitely not give Bateman the starting job quite yet. Replacing last year’s quarterback may not be their biggest concern heading into next season though.

The Tide lost key starters on both sides of the ball. Perhaps the biggest concern for Alabama right now is the offensive line. I know we have to take spring games with a grain of salt, but let it be known that the offensive line allowed eleven sacks in that game. Now, it is definitely worth nothing that a sack in a spring game is not as physically involved as one during a real game. It is also worth noting that Alabama probably has a top ten defense again so, of course, the defense is going to get some sacks. That kind of smothering defense is just something we have come to expect from them. Still, the number stands, and eleven sacks are just too many to completely overlook. Knowing Alabama football, though, I am sure the Tide will have it figured out in time for the College Football Playoff next year. Just maybe not in time for the Ole Miss game.

So what else is there to think about? Worried about them replacing Derrick Henry? No need to be. Bo Scarbrough seems to be more than ready to pick up right where Henry left off and there is some pretty good depth at running back behind him. So what about the defensive talent they lost? I said it once and I will say it again: Alabama probably has a top ten defense again. Okay, they lost Kirby Smart as their defensive coordinator. Never fear. We all know Nick Saban is the one who really calls the shots in Tuscaloosa anyway. Here’s the thing: every single potential problem I propose already has a clear solution. And that is their secret. That right there is how Alabama does it, folks.

Nick Saban at the helm and good recruits from years passed make almost every personnel (and coaching) loss a non-issue for the Crimson Tide. That is exactly the thing I failed to understand when I was quick to say Alabama could not win a title last year. I mean is there ever really a year when Alabama does not have the potential to win a National Championship? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is a strong “no.” Love them, hate them, envy them, doubt them…do whatever you want. At the end of the day the haters will continue hating while the Crimson Tide keeps dominating. As Birdman might say, put some “respek” on their name!

Now please excuse me while I go thoroughly wash out my mouth with soap for saying all this. I am truly sorry to all my other SEC friends for writing this article. And to my dear father who taught me everything I know about football, I hope you are not too disappointed in your little girl right now. But, if you guys want to see how much I really do dislike Alabama then make sure to follow me (@OGKristenB) on Twitter. I assure you that I definitely do not usually sing their praises.

Photo of Bryant-Denny Stadium courtesy of Latics.

Alabama’s 2015 Quarterback and Wide Receiver Quagmire

Ryan Fowler (@RyanCFowlerrecently appeared on the SEC 411 (@_SEC411) to comment on the Alabama quarterback and wide receiver situation for next season. Nothing he brought up was particularly surprising, but for the upcoming season, there really isn’t a lot of mystery with either situation.

We all know who will start at quarterback next year. This job is undoubtedly Jake Coker’s to lose, and honestly I’d feel pretty awful for him if he didn’t start after transferring schools for an opportunity to play. He would without a doubt be starting for Jimbo Fisher this year, and would probably be the fourth FSU QB in a row to go in the first round.

We know wide receiver Amari Cooper cannot be replaced with just one guy. You just can’t replace that kind of player. Players as precise and athletic as Cooper don’t come around very often. But the Tide are not lacking in talent at wide receiver, and on paper they should be able to produce a committee that can help ease the loss.

This is essentially the formula that has built the Alabama Machine over Nick Saban’s reign: Bring in the veteran QB who knows the offense, and use depth to replace the stars that will inevitably leave. The only wrinkle in that formula, however, are the big guys up front…oh and Lane Kiffin. Let’s not forget about Lane.

In the past, during rebuilding years, the strategy has always been to rely on the ground game and the defense. As long as the QB doesn’t give the ball away the Tide will be in every game. Next season, the defense will be fine as always (although the spread will allow other teams to score more points. It’s just how football is in today’s game), but the ground and pound strategy of Alabama’s past might not work this time around. The main reason being, Lane Kiffin runs essentially the same offense I run on Madden: let the QB sling it, and run the ball occasionally when you remember you have a running back. Kiffin is not going to play football the old way. It’s not in his DNA. Coker is going to throw the ball, and he will do it often.

Offensive Line

This is where the other wrinkle comes into play. The offensive line will be replacing three starters. Now this could be good or bad, considering last year’s line was a tad underwhelming, but for arguments sake, let’s say the new line performs just as well as last year. The Tide may be in trouble.

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In the podcast Ryan Fowler mentions that if Coker starts to slip up that the other quarterbacks might get a shot. If that slip up occurs, it won’t be because Coker isn’t talented. The kid has a cannon, and with a year under Kiffin, will most likely be adequate in the accuracy department. And, as Fowler mentioned, Jimbo Fischer was quoted as saying Coker would be the most talented QB Saban has had at Alabama. So if Coker falters, the offensive line will be a big factor in that. The sack numbers looked good last year, but what those numbers do not show is that Blake Sims bailed the line out many, many times with his terrific pocket presence, quick release, and elite scrambling ability. Coker isn’t slow, but he won’t be escaping like Blake did, and he has a very slow release, which means the pass rush will have that much longer to get to him. I’ve spent a decent amount of time watching Coker highlights and feel comfortable with him at the helm, but he is going to need some help.

Wide Receivers

This is where that wide receiver situation comes to play. We know Alabama has a considerable amount of talent at wide out, and could easily spread the ball around and terrify opposing defenses, but that’s not really Kiffin’s style. He loves to throw, but what he loves more than that is to throw to his best receiver… like all the time. He did it with Amari, he did it with Marquise Lee, and he did it with Robert Woods. You can’t blame him, but he has always been criticized over this. If you can shut down his number one, you have a good shot at beating his offense. So what this means, is one of these blue chip receivers will need to become THE guy.

In the podcast, Fowler mentioned incoming freshman Calvin Ridley as the potential guy to take the reigns. It makes sense, as everyone loves the elite freshmen and he is like 20 years old, so he is a little ahead of the typical freshman. Also he is really, really good. But my money is on ArDarius Stewart. In the little time we saw him last season he looked explosive, and from comments from the coaches he has terrific hands and route running skills. When Cooper went down against Western Kentucky last season (Western Carolina? some directional school that Alabama has no business playing), Stewart looked to be the guy that Kiffin wanted to feature. Maybe Kiffin will surprise us all and really spread the ball around, but I’d be willing to bet we see one player stand out by design.

I agree with Mr. Fowler on most things, but these situations are worth diving into a little more instead of floating at the surface. Oh and Blake Barnett is not going to start this year… he is awesome, and I hope he pans out, but Tide fans shouldn’t expect to see him until at least 2016, so don’t get your hopes up.