In 2017, the SEC will have its best quarterback group in years

SEC source of hope: Jacob Eason (10) Georgia Bulldogs quarterback dropping back to pass during the AutoZone Liberty Bowl between the Georgia Bulldogs and the TCU Horned Frogs on December, 30, 2016, at the Liberty Bowl Stadium in Memphis, TN. (Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire)
Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire

The SEC has struggled at quarterback for the last three years. There was no better example of that fact than the options for the 2016 preseason All-SEC teams.

Chad Kelly and Joshua Dobbs were clearly the top two signal callers, but the picture got hazy after them.

At SEC Media Days, both the coaches and media chose LSU’s Brandon Harris as their third-team guy. Harris lost his job in Week 2.

Athlon Sports also chose Harris for third team. It chooses four teams, though, and it picked Georgia’s Jacob Eason as its fourth-team selection. At the time I would’ve put Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight ahead of Eason—and Harris, for that matter—but picking the UGA freshman as fourth-teamer was a defensible move. He was a consensus five-star talent, had a pair of fantastic running backs giving him cover, and seemed likely to win the starting job quickly. Looking at all of the other options at the time, selecting Eason fourth wasn’t ridiculous.

Eason’s freshman campaign wasn’t as good as expected for a Georgia team that wasn’t as good as expected. Still, he showed flashes of promise and got a ton of practice and game reps. His true freshman year was better in nearly every way than Matthew Stafford’s was a decade prior, and he should progress well into his sophomore year.

I went this far into Eason’s situation to illustrate the point: Last year, the SEC was in such upheaval at the quarterback position that it was defensible to include Eason in the preseason All-SEC teams. In 2017, it’s at least equally defensible to leave him off of those teams.

Alabama’s Jalen Hurts and arguably South Carolina’s Jake Bentley had better true freshman campaigns than Eason did. Arkansas’s Austin Allen and Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald are older players who also had better 2016 seasons than Eason. There are four options right there.

Depending on how you project them, others could reasonably be ahead of Eason, too. Auburn’s shiny new quarterback Jarrett Stidham looked better in limited work as a true freshman at Baylor than Eason did this year. He will be in position to be one of the country’s best quarterbacks. Ole Miss’s Shea Patterson has some work to do, but he actually was rated slightly higher as a recruit than Eason and will have a better fleet of receivers to throw to. I also could probably convince you that Missouri’s Drew Lock deserves to be ahead of Eason if I wanted to spend a few paragraphs on it.

Only five SEC teams don’t know who their Week 1 starters will be, which is a low number by recent standards. Even then, the situation is better than that sounds.

At Kentucky and LSU, it’ll be a choice between guys who each have started some games. Both Florida and Texas A&M will see if one of their young guys can beat out an older player with limited upside who has starts to his name. Barring unexpected injuries or transfers, only Tennessee will be without quarterback options who have started a game before.

The last season the SEC was at least this stocked at quarterback was 2013. That was a season with Johnny Manziel, Zach Mettenberger, AJ McCarron, Connor Shaw, Aaron Murray, Nick Marshall, James Franklin, Bo Wallace, and a young Dak Prescott.

I don’t think next year’s bunch will be that good, but it should be better than 2014 through 2016. The conference had a blowout National Signing Day at quarterback last year that has already paid off for Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, and it might for Florida and Tennessee too next fall. Four more teams have entrenched starters who either already are or will be upperclassmen.

A perception of malaise pervaded coverage of the SEC in 2016, and problems at quarterback were a big part of that feeling. In 2017, the conference should be able to put those concerns to rest.

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