Power Ranking SEC QBs Pre-2014 Spring Practice
That season's gain is the 2014 season's loss, because all of those stars have moved on to greener pastures, leaving a gaping hole at the quarterback position in the SEC.
Auburn's Nick Marshall led the Tigers to the BCS National Championship Game last season as a raw junior college transfer who was one year removed from playing defensive back, Mississippi State's Dak Prescott looked like a dual-threat stud once he ascended to the starting role in Starkville and several backup quarterbacks looked solid in place of injured stars.
Where does the top quarterback for each team rank heading into spring practice? Our pre-spring power rankings are in this slide show.
14. Alabama QB Blake Sims
AJ McCarron held down the starting quarterback role at Alabama for three seasons, but one thing head coach Nick Saban failed to do during McCarron's magical run was groom a backup.
Blake Sims is the most experienced signal-caller for the Crimson Tide heading into spring practice, having completed 23-of-39 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns during his first three seasons in Tuscaloosa.
Behind him, there's nothing. Alec Morris, Parker McLeod, former 4-star prospect Cooper Bateman and 4-star early enrollee David Cornwell are already on campus and will push for playing time this spring. But among that group, there's a combined total of zero attempted passes as college players.
Bateman has potential but is unknown, Cornwell is the in the same boat on top of the fact that he's recovering from an ACL injury suffered last fall and Florida State transfer Jacob Coker is still finishing up his degree at Florida State before transferring to Alabama this summer.
As a result, Sims is Alabama's most known commodity heading into spring. But he'll likely get passed by a couple of hot shot prospects quickly this spring and be out of the battle during fall camp.
13. Texas A&M QB Kenny Hill
The new Texas A&M quarterback has big shoes to fill after former Aggie Johnny Manziel jumped to the NFL two years early, and one of the guys trying to fill those shoes is rising sophomore Kenny Hill.
The 6'1", 215-pounder from Southlake, Texas served in a backup role to Manziel and Matt Joeckel last season, completing 16-of-22 passes for 183 yards and one touchdown. The dual-threat signal-caller is one of three potential heirs to Manziel's throne, including Joeckel and true freshman early enrollee Kyle Allen.
Hill is the only member of the trio who is a legit dual threat, although Allen can certainly move behind the line of scrimmage to extend plays. Hill's dual-threat ability makes him the most attractive option of the three right now, because his ability to create on the ground is most similar to what Manziel did with the Aggies' offense last season.
But head coach Kevin Sumlin is flexible and proved that he will adapt his offense to his quarterback's skills when he handed the keys to Manziel prior to the 2012 season. If Joeckel proves more reliable or Allen—the top pro-style passer in last year's class—adjusts to college football in a hurry, don't be surprised to see this quarterback battle last well into fall camp.
12. Arkansas QB Brandon Allen
Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen was the Razorbacks' primary starter last season, but the rising junior quarterback couldn't find the consistency needed to get the Hogs' offense out of a one-dimensional rut.
Allen completed 128-of-258 passes (49.6 percent) for 1,552 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season, as head coach Bret Bielema's crew sputtered to a 3-9 record and closed the season on a nine-game losing streak.
He's not much of a threat to stretch the field and never really established himself as a threat to be efficient either. Of quarterbacks who attempted a minimum of 15 passes per game played, Allen finished last in the SEC in passer rating (109.02) and yards per attempt (6.0), according to CFBStats.com.
Allen will be pressed this spring, including by true freshman early enrollee Rafe Peavey. Allen better improve in a hurry, otherwise he won't be on the pre-fall camp version of this list.
11. Kentucky QB Jalen Whitlow
Kentucky quarterback Jalen Whitlow was solid last year, completing 61.6 percent of his passes (98-of-159) for 1,035 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions; adding 457 yards and six touchdowns on the ground in both the starting and reserve roles.
Not bad, but certainly not great either.
He'll be the most experienced signal-caller on the roster after Maxwell Smith—who has looked solid as a starter when he's had the chance—underwent offseason shoulder surgery and will miss spring according to Jennifer Smith of Kentucky.com.
Whitlow's experience as a starter and familiarity with the scheme brings some stability to the position, but Drew Barker—a 4-star early enrollee—may push Whitlow for playing time this spring.
10. LSU QB Anthony Jennings
Former LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger was one of the surprises of the 2013 season, becoming the third Tiger to top the 3,000-yard mark in a single season. But his season was cut short late in the game against Arkansas, and Anthony Jennings stepped in to lead the Tigers on a 99-yard game-winning drive that culminated with a 49-yard touchdown pass to Travin Dural.
But in his first career start—a 21-14 win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl—Jennings struggled. He completed seven-of-19 passes for 82 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception against the Hawkeyes, opening the door ever so slightly for true freshman early enrollee Brandon Harris, veteran Rob Bolden and redshirt freshman Hayden Rettig.
How will Jennings handle the responsibility? How will offensive coordinator Cam Cameron adjust his offense to the dual-threat capabilities of Jennings and Harris?
Those questions remain unanswered and will have to be answered this spring before considering Jennings a star.
9. Vanderbilt QB Patton Robinette
Patton Robinette filled in for Austyn Carta-Samuels last season and provided one of college football's top highlights of the season, running in a fake jump pass from five yards out in the closing seconds to top Tennessee.
For the season, though, he was inconsistent, completing 52.3 percent of his passes (46-of-88) for 642 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions; adding 214 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.
He'll have to adjust to new coach Derek Mason and life without star wide receiver Jordan Matthews, but he certainly has the talent to build upon his freshman season—especially with a dynamic running game led by Jerron Seymour to fall back on.
Robinette has an arm that's better than people give him credit for and obviously is a threat with his legs. If he can establish a connection with one of his wide receivers this spring, it'll go a long way toward his development as the starter. He'll be pushed by redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary for the job.
8. Tennessee QB Justin Worley
Rising senior Justin Worley has had a turbulent career on Rocky Top but played pretty well last season as the starter for the Vols—completing 55.6 percent of his passes (109-of-196) for 1,239 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight picks in eight games a year ago.
He played particularly well in the overtime loss to Georgia and win over South Carolina before a thumb injury suffered against Alabama one week later on Oct. 26 ended his season early. Nathan Peterman and Josh Dobbs also took snaps for the Vols last season, while Riley Ferguson redshirted while nursing an injury of his own.
Dobbs has the dual-threat ability, Peterman already unseated Worley for the starting job once (at Florida last year) and Ferguson is the unknown headed into spring.
The trust Worley gained after re-gaining the starting job last year has to count for something, and while he may not have the same upside as some of the other competitors in the four-man battle, he is the most reliable heading into spring.
7. Georgia QB Hutson Mason
Rising senior quarterback Hutson Mason bided his time for four seasons behind former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray before stepping in for Murray after Murray's torn ACL versus Kentucky.
All he did as the full-time starter was polish off the blowout of Kentucky with a touchdown pass of his own, throw for 299 yards and two touchdowns in the double-overtime win over Georgia Tech and throw for 320 yards and a touchdown in the 24-19 loss to Nebraska in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl. In that bowl game, he overcame a sluggish start to lead his team down the field twice in the fourth quarter before key drops derailed what would have been two go-ahead touchdown drives.
Now he's the unquestioned starter between the hedges and has had plenty of time to work with the offense both as a reserve and starter. With Michael Bennett, Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Conley, Justin Scott-Wesley and several other friendly faces at receiver coming back, he should be able to step into his one and only full season as a starter with minimal transition.
He has a big arm, is accurate and has a grasp of the offense. That's a recipe for success.
6. Florida QB Jeff Driskel
Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel received a disproportionate level of criticism in Gainesville after three rather pedestrian seasons with the Gators.
An ankle injury ended his 2013 season in September, but now he's back and ready to contend with true freshman early enrollee Will Grier for the top spot on the depth chart.
He got the best news of his Gator career this offseason when head coach Will Muschamp scrapped the pro-style offense in favor of new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's no-huddle scheme that spreads out opposing defenses. That gives Driskel—the nation's top dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2011—a chance to bounce back from injury in an offense that's actually suited for his skills.
It's Driskel's show in Gainesville. He's thrown for 2,271 yards, 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions during his career as a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Now he's in a better scheme, and if Florida can develop some downfield weapons in the passing game, he could finally reach his potential.
5. South Carolina QB Dylan Thompson
Thompson didn't look great in his one start in 2013, completing 15-of-27 passes and tossing a pick versus Missouri before an injured Shaw came in to save the day. But he threw for 261 yards in a win over UCF after Shaw went down with an injury, and threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns against Clemson in place of Shaw in 2012.
With Thompson at the helm, the Gamecocks will look more like a old-school, fun-and-gun, "Spurrier-style" offense—especially if wide receiver Shaq Roland can take the next step. Thompson is accurate downfield, has significant experience—including big-game experience—and is better with his legs than he gets credit for.
It will be an old-school approach for the Old Ball Coach, and Thompson is the perfect man for the job in 2014.
4. Missouri QB Maty Mauk
When Missouri starting quarterback James Franklin went down late in the Tigers' 41-26 win at Georgia, all Maty Mauk did was polish off that win, go 3-1 as the starter for the Tigers and establish himself as "the next big thing" for head coach Gary Pinkel's crew.
He only completed 51.1 percent of his passes (68-of-133) but threw for 1,071 yards, 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions, finishing with as many passes of 50 or more yards (three) as LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Georgia's Aaron Murray. On top of that, he added 229 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Now that he'll have a full offseason to progress as the unquestioned starter, he should hit the ground running in 2014 and keep the reigning SEC East champs in the division-title discussion. A seasoned Mauk, when combined with rising junior wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, is a frightening thought for the rest of the SEC.
3. Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace
Bo Wallace isn't a superstar for the Ole Miss Rebels, but all he's done in his two seasons as starter is provide some stability to a program that was lacking stability before he and head coach Hugh Freeze arrived on campus.
He completed 63.3 percent of his passes last season (283-of-437) for 3,346 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and added 355 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. He struggled down the stretch in losses to Missouri and Mississippi State, including his game-ending fumble in overtime against the Bulldogs.
If Ole Miss can get him some between-the-tackles help at running back and take some running game pressure off of Wallace, it will help him stay healthy in 2014. If he can stay healthy, his ability, Freeze's scheme and a talented wide receiving corps led by Laquon Treadwell should allow Wallace to post a fine season in his final year in Oxford.
2. Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott
Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott emerged as a star in 2013 after starter Tyler Russell went down in the opener. He threw for 1,940 yards and 10 touchdowns, and added 829 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns as the Bulldogs won back state bragging rights with an 17-10 Egg Bowl win over Ole Miss.
He capped off his season with a sizzling 361-total yard, five-touchdown performance versus Rice in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
The best is yet to come.
Prescott emerged as a legitimate dual threat and will now get an entire offseason to work with head coach Dan Mullen as the unquestioned starter. Mullen was brought to Starkville to run the system that made him a hot-shot coordinator at Florida, and Prescott's arm, size and speed allows him to do just that.
Is he Tim Tebow? No. But he can look like him at times, and that's a good thing for Prescott, Mullen and all Mississippi State fans.
Expect big things from the 6'2", 230-pound rising junior in 2014.
1. Auburn QB Nick Marshall
He's not the most polished quarterback in the SEC, but he's certainly the most decorated.
Auburn's Nick Marshall burst on the scene last season, passing for 1,976 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushing for 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns, leading the Tigers to a 12-2 record, the SEC title and within 13 seconds of their second BCS National Championship in four seasons.
This after only getting five weeks in the offense and two-and-a-half as the starter before taking his first snap.
The former Georgia defensive back was clearly raw as a passer but is an elite dual threat in an offense led by head coach Gus Malzahn that's built to accentuate his positives. Now that his ability on the ground within the offense is known, the coaching staff has all offseason—with essentially the same pieces at wide receiver—to develop him into an elite passer.
There's no questioning his arm strength. Marshal can sling it downfield with relative ease and showed touch at times in big spots, including clutch passes to Marcus Davis in both the Texas A&M game and BCS National Championship Game against Florida State. But his consistency isn't quite there yet.
Despite that, he proved that he can lead a championship team with his legs and win a few games with his arm in 2013, including a come-from-behind win over Mississippi State in Week 3. A full offseason of work will make him a force to be reckoned with in 2014.