by Zack Lambert
September 15th, 2020
With just 10 games on the SEC schedule this season I’ll continue the creative trend with the conference power rankings by reviewing different aspects of the team instead of recapping their weeks. This will give a bit of a deeper analysis of the team over the course of the season, keep the rankings more interesting, and keep my will to live at a comfortable level. This week we’ll start with the most important position on the field: Quarterback. Enjoy!
(Most SEC teams will not play until the week of Saturday the 26th so the records are from 2019)
14. Arkansas (2-10)
Arkansas have upgraded big time at quarterback with Felipe Franks coming in to take the reins. In a very disappointing 2019 campaign there was very little continuity or success at the position, so someone like Franks who is a proven commodity is a godsend for the Hogs. In two seasons and a few games at Florida, Franks passed for about 4,600 yards, 38 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. His first two seasons saw inaccurate passing, questionable decision making, and a slight emergence as a rusher.
Though the third season was cut very short, Franks completed 76% of his passes for a 9.8 average yards per pass and five touchdowns. His passer rating rose 30 points in those games and he ran in a touchdown. The fact that Arkansas is getting an established player at the position, despite the chances they go winless, will raise morale and possibly help with recruiting.
13. Vanderbilt (3-9)
Well… *sigh*. Vanderbilt’s quarterback situation is… complicated at best. Riley Neal is done after leading the team most of the season and the two players behind him, Deuce Wallace and Mo Hasan are transferring. So the options are one of four people. Two are JuCo transfers, Danny Clark and Jeremy Moussa, and the others are true freshmen, Ken Seals and Mike Wright. Obviously none of them have any experience as a starting quarterback in D-1, but when has that ever stopped Vanderbilt in the past?
There was a really dependable release valve and go to option for the quarterbacks last season in Ke’Shawn Vaughn, but now even he’s gone. The offensive line is a mess and there isn’t an NFL prospect as a pass catcher. So either one of these JuCo guys has to show out or the freshmen have to be ready right now. There’s obviously a ton of precedent for freshmen to be great in their first year, but this is Vanderbilt. They’re the worst off in the conference at the position by far.
12. Missouri (6-6)
So things aren’t exactly set in stone for Mizzou either, but at least things are a bit more narrowed down. The Tigers have two options. The first has played in college before but was shaky and sat out last season. Shawn Robinson passed for 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns for the Horned Frogs of TCU in 2018 over the course of seven games, but he also threw eight interceptions and completed under 61% of his passes.
The other option is Connor Bazelak, a redshirt freshman who threw 21 passes in three games for 144 yards. He hit his passes at a good percentage but was also in garbage time wins. He didn’t show much rushing ability in that limited action while Robinson did rush for a couple hundred yards and a few scores. Robinson probably has the slight edge thanks to his experience but head coach Eli Drinkwitz has told the media he doesn’t plan to name a starter until gameday.
11. Ole Miss (4-8)
There was a real competition in the quarterback room for Ole Miss once Lane Kiffin took over between Matt Corral and John Rhys Plumlee. Reporters described an atmosphere that suggested Corral was the lead man for the job but since Plumlee tweaked his hamstring, the job is Corral’s to lose. The question is less of if Corral can win it, though, and more of if Corral can keep it.
The redshirt sophomore was seen as the better passing option which spoke volumes of Plumlee’s passing game considering Corral completed just 59% of his passes for 1,362 yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions. If Corral can improve as a passer Kiffin will almost certainly roll with him, but if not, Plumlee is waiting. Plumlee is a worse passer (yikes) but made up for those shortcomings by being the best rusher on the team, running for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. Neither player is a great option for the position but the upside of Plumlee’s rushing ability has to keep Corral on his toes.
10. South Carolina (4-8)
The starting quarterback position was sprung upon Ryan Hilinski after an injury to Jake Bentley knocked the slated starter out for the season. As a true freshman he wasn’t ready for the position but still handled the job well. As he adjusted over the course of the season it was easy to understand that he was likely the quarterback of the future and had a lot of space to improve. South Carolina’s 2019 plans were ruined, but their future was unfolding a bit.
Hilinski wasn’t able to complete even 59% of his passes, tipping the scales at just 58.1, but he showed moments of poise, control, and skill that usually come beyond his years. Some good mentorship paired with a drive to improve will do a lot for the Gamecocks and even more for Hilinski. As he begins to air the ball out more he should improve his touchdown to interception ratio, which was eleven to six in 2019. At the very least South Carolina has a plan.
9. Mississippi State (6-7)
So Garrett Shrader is back after a decent season in 2019 and sharing time with Tommy Stevens, but expectations are that Mike Leach’s offense will be run by Stanford transfer K.J. Costello. Apart from the trauma induced by moving from the Bay Area to northern Mississippi, Costello should be a perfect fit. His last full season at Stanford saw him sling for over 3,500 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 11 picks. Now, those numbers will probably all rise by at least 50%, and even if they don’t the ball is going to be in the air constantly.
Whether or not Leach’s system will be a fit in the SEC is still up for debate; the defenses are so much better and the Mississippi State talent elsewhere on offense isn’t that great. The possibility for a ton of yards and a ratio of close to one is very possible, but getting a quarterback with real Power 5 experience is the biggest victory State will probably have this season.
8. Kentucky (8-5)
Did y’all see what happened to the Kentucky quarterback situation last season? Nuh uh. Not the way it’s supposed to go down. Lynn Bowden Jr. gave the best Denzel Washington in “Flight” performance that anyone could have given and salvaged the season, but having a real quarterback in the SEC is generally a decent idea. Luckily, Terry Wilson is back and should be able to be a difference maker.
The weapons that Kentucky will be fielding this year aren’t 2019 Bama like, but they’re pretty good. Wilson was playing pretty well before his gruesome injury and it’s fair to expect him to have grown as a player during his rehab. His additional running talent will help keep linebackers honest so the opportunities should be there for him. I can’t imagine him being worse than last season’s finish, but we still have to see if he’s right after such a serious injury.
7. Tennessee (8-5)
Jarrett Guarantano. What do we really have with Jarrett Guarantano? In 2018 he played in all 12 games and finished the season with a 62.2% completion rate, but less than 2,000 yards and only 12 touchdowns to three picks. 2019? Same number of games, a lower completion rate, more yards, 33% more touchdowns and 166% more picks. What do we have? How can we tell?
If I had to make a prediction it would be that he moves back towards the 2018 numbers. He’ll be a lot less dangerous with his passing now that Juaun Jennings is gone and there isn’t a go-up-and-get-it type of dude on the outside. His touchdowns and picks will probably both drop a bit, but he’ll be more consistent. He’s not much of a runner so he’ll have to be really solid to outpass those heavy coverages.
6. Texas A&M (8-5)
Kellen Mond is a really nice product who’s been refined by some really tumultuous seasons, but if his trajectory is true then he’s got a seriously impressive season coming up. If things keep up the way they are he’s in store for a completion rate around 66%, close to 2,700 yards, 20 touchdowns, and about six interceptions. I’m accounting for better receivers and some natural progression in those numbers, but that’s a nice season in the SEC that’s only ten games long.
The big question for A&M isn’t at quarterback, it’s around the defense, but Mond is very capable of doing his job and keeping the opposing team’s offense off the field. The thought of A&M completely wasting the career of Mond is something that should make you shudder, but it’s a real possibility. Mond can only control his play, though, and it should be very good.
5. LSU (15-0)
No more Joe Burrow, no problem, right? Wrong. Well, it runs deeper than Burrow, but there’s going to be issues. The biggest issue now is that Joe Brady, the team’s passing coordinator, has left for the NFL and that’s going to create a big disconnect. Luckily, the disconnect can be fixed up pretty easily because just about the entire offense is new. Even Ja’Marr Chase who would be a junior this season is skipping and heading for the NFL, so everyone on the outside and the skill positions are going to be new.
This isn’t an opinion that LSU are going to be a bad team because their recruiting and talent pool are top of the line, but I don’t think that there’s a chance the offense can lead the team to a great season. Oh yeah, Myles Brennan is the new quarterback and he only has a toe dip of experience. He threw 40 passes last season for a score and pick, but there’s nothing that we can really learn from that. It’s going to be a toss up because there’s so many new and shifting factors that are in play here.
4. Auburn (9-4)
Auburn fans received a shot of nostalgia every Saturday last season when Bo Nix suited up for the Tigers, but this season they’ll be getting some new memories because Nix has a season under his belt and is ready to become really, really good. Starting as a true freshman is super difficult. Doing it in the SEC is a horrifying prospect for most. For an Auburn team that was desperate to taste victory? The team that your father was a hero of? Is that pressure quantifiable? Maybe not, but his demeanor and results are, and they were pretty good considering the scenario.
Nix passed a decent amount last season, but as you might expect for a team in the SEC West who started the season off against Oregon, he struggled to complete passes at a standard rate. Granted that he was not in a standard situation, his 2,542 yards, 16 touchdowns, and six picks look really good. Tack on 313 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground? Even better. If Nix takes a serious step forward in terms of his completion rate then he’s going to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country.
3. Georgia (12-2)
Ohhh this is a sore subject right now. Georgia thought they had hit the jackpot again when Jamie Newman transferred in from Wake Forest. He was really talented in the ACC with nice arm talent and some serious legs. However, he recently pulled out of the season for health reasons and left the Bulldogs scrambling. JT Daniels and D’Wan Mathis are the two candidates for the job right now and of course Kirby Smart is just calling the decision a game time decision.
The argument for Daniels is that he’s started Power 5 games in his career and should be able to handle the speed of the game. He’s recovering from a torn ACL but he did put up some nice yardage in his only full season at USC. Mathis seems to be the real deal, like good enough for Georgia to ditch him for someone like Daniels, that good. The issue is that his life was threatened when he had a cyst on his brain. He’s better and ready to role, but it’s still a scary situation. Mathis is the right choice but if there’s anything that we know it’s that Kirby Smart is absolutely atrocious at choosing who should be playing the most important position in literally all of sports.
2. Florida (11-2)
Florida has probably the best option at quarterback this season. While Bama, LSU, and Georgia are all turning over at the position, Florida is moving into the new season with a proven commodity. When Arkansas’s new leader, Felipe Franks, went down with an injury, Kyle Trask was thrust into the fray and asked to at least keep things legible. Not only did he do that, but he rewrote the book in cursive. Trask passed at a nearly 67% clip, 2,941 yards, 25 touchdowns, and seven picks. Those are the numbers of a conservative senior quarterback. Trask did it on short notice as a junior with three collegiate games under his belt. That’s serious stuff.
Trask isn’t just the only proven commodity with nice experience, but he’s also the best quarterback in the conference right now. Dan Mullen is great with quarterbacks and it’s not a stretch to assume Trask gets better. If he’s completing close to 70% of his passes this season he might go for 30 scores and 3,000 yards in ten games. It certainly wouldn’t be the wildest thing we’ve ever seen and it’s within the realm of possibility for the best passer in the SEC right now.
1. Alabama (11-2)
Trask is the best passer in the SEC, but Mac Jones isn’t far behind him. Jones was behind either Jalen Hurts or Tua for most of his college career, not the best situation to be in, but got a good amount of run last season with the injury issues Tagovailoa struggled with. In 11 games he was able to launch 141 passes and what he did with them was impressive. 97 completions, 1,503 yards at a 68.8 completion rate, 10.7 yards per attempt, 14 touchdowns, and three picks. Now, he had one of the best college receiving corps ever assembled and that plays a big part in things. He also wasn’t able to beat Auburn and threw a pair of crippling picks, but those numbers don’t just materialize if you’re anyone.
Jones might not be the best passer in the SEC yet but he might have the best arm potential of anyone in the country. Some of the throws he made were unbelievable, throwing players open and dropping in perfect lobs over shoulders. Jones isn’t a rushing threat which will let teams cheat a bit when defending him, but he’s got such a good arm it’s not going to matter. He’s seriously talented and no one should be surprised when Bama is in the thick of things again at the end of the season.