The Southeastern Conference is known for their strong physical defenses that get hyped up each and every season, whether it’s deserved or not, but the offenses of the heralded conference have their own room to gloat now. Adding coaches like Gus Malzahn, Hugh Freeze, Kevin Sumlin, and Lane Kiffin within the past two to three years has escalated the SEC’s offenses and has brought improved quarterback play to the conference.
It’s no secret that a quarterback is and always has been the face of the team, especially entering the opening season, but what if the previous starter moved on? What’s next? Well, in recent memory a first year quarterback might as well be treated and graded as a senior with the type of success these rookie quarterbacks have had, especially regarding SEC play.
All-stars Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton led their teams to solid seasons in their first season under center both bringing home the Heisman Trophy to put the cherry on top of their fine rookie year. Alabama’s Greg McElroy put together a productive season in 2009 leading his loaded Crimson Tide on a title run defeating Texas in the Rose Bowl to solidify the top status for Alabama. Later, his backup, AJ McCarron, led his 2011 team to a title in his first season as the main man.
Other examples could be addressed, but you get the point. Having your team enter the season with a new face at quarterback most of the time would put them at a disadvantage, but history may state otherwise or at least for just a few. Here are a list of the new faces at quarterback for the SEC teams ranking them in order of who has the best chance to succeed immediately due to ability, opportunity, and other factors:
1. Jake Coker, Alabama, Senior
The hype was just too much for Coker last season as he was already inked in as the starter before even arriving on campus in Tuscaloosa from Florida State. Whether Jimbo Fisher’s comments of being in serious contention with Heisman Trophy winner and first overall draft pick Jameis Winston in spring camp are true, Coker should be the choice for the Tide this season. He is far more talented than his opposition David Cornwell and should pull away soon, but the same was said when battling Blake Sims a year ago at this time.
Trying to put the pieces together to figure out why Coker didn’t start last season over just an average Blake Sims or hasn’t even pulled away now is just head scratching with his athleticism, arm talent, and physical edge to succeed. Then you put your finger on it: it’s all mental. The quarterback position is known as one of the most cerebral positions in all of sports and Coker may not possess that trait because everything else seems to be going for him.
In 2015, it’s Coker’s job to lose heading into fall camp. He is number one on this list because of what Alabama has done in recent memory with first year quarterbacks (McElory in 2009 won title, McCarron in 2011 won title, and Sims in 2014 went to semifinals) and what the Alabama team is made of with more offensive firepower now with Lane Kiffin as the offensive coordinator. Coker has the tools to be an elite talent, but is still fumbling on how to use them all together as one to really take off and become a threat in a very competitive SEC West division this season.
2. Jeremy Johnson, Auburn, Junior
If you have caught onto the trend of Gus Malzahn quarterbacks you have noticed all are extremely productive and have their own style and flare to his highly respected scheme. Johnson will showcase his fun his skill set – something that has not gone unnoticed this preseason as he has received an overwhelming amount of praise, though, only starting one game in 2014 and only playing in the first half of that game.
The Johnson hype is fair because, in short, he very well could be the best pocket passer Malzahn has ever coached. Johnson is in one of the best places to succeed for a first year starter as the Tigers are loaded on both sides of the ball and also add in some key pieces to make for an even more talented roster. Duke Williams has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons, but with or without Williams, Johnson and the Tigers have a bright 2015 ahead of them if everything goes to plan.
3. Brandon Harris, LSU, Sophomore
You mean another quarterback situation on Baton Rouge? It’s crazy to see the question pop up almost every single preseason as the Tigers recruit big time players but can never seem to find that right guy at quarterback. Harris is by far more talented than his counterpart, Anthony Jennings, but having just one start in 2014 he may not get his shot week one. Though the headliner in this article states “Brandon Harris” it can also refer to LSU quarterback in general based on how talented the roster is but is inferior under center, so either Harris or Jennings could bring this team to greener pastures, but that could be too tall of an order in 2015.
4. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss, Junior
Bo Wallace helped set the foundation; now bring on the more talented prospect and go from there.
5. Brice Ramsey, Georgia, Sophomore
May not be the main man in Athens, but his time spent at Georgia already shouldn’t be wasted as there is a golden opportunity for the Bulldogs to get back in Atlanta.
6. Will Grier, Florida, Redshirt Freshman
Will Muschamp may still be coaching in Gainesville if he started Grier a year ago, but Grier could be a headliner in bringing success back to Florida Nation with a very manageable schedule.
-Grayson Lambert, Georgia, Junior
-Connor Mitch, South Carolina, Sophomore