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.