Quarterbacks will be under spotlight

sports@macon.comJuly 5, 2014 

Georgia Practice Football

Georgia backup quarterback Hutson Mason throws a pass on the first day of the NCAA college football team's practice of the season, in Athens, Ga., on Monday, Aug. 2, 2010.

CURTIS COMPTON — AP

We can now actually say six words that will make most of us feel pretty good deep down inside. It’s the equivalent of talking about how close we are to the day pitchers and catchers report to spring training when we’re in the dead of winter desperately wanting warmer weather.

We can now say, “College football season starts next month!”

Every team will have questions to answer before the start of the season. Every team will have holes that will need to be filled. But in the SEC there is one position that will be under the spotlight more than any -- quarterback.

A year ago, it was the most experienced position in the conference, with guys like Aaron Murray, Connor Shaw, James Franklin and A.J. McCarron prepared for their final season. This year, it’s the position most teams just aren’t quite sure about, at least not yet.

The numbers are startling. Nine of the top 14 quarterbacks who led the SEC in average passing yards per game last year are no longer with their team. Only five SEC quarterbacks who started the majority of his team’s games will be back this season as the projected starter. Only one SEC quarterback -- Mississippi’s Bo Wallace -- who started every game for his team last season will be back this year. And again, for teams replacing veteran quarterbacks, four programs will replace players who had 40 or more games played in their career.

The SEC East has been hit the most with the turnover at quarterback. Only one quarterback in the East returns after leading his team in starts last season -- Tennessee’s Justin Worley (and he only had seven starts). And even Worley’s position is not locked down, as Josh Dobbs and Nathan Peterman are expected to push him for the starting job in August.

Florida’s Jeff Driskel is actually the most experienced quarterback returning in the East. He has 20 games played in his career with 14 starts. But Driskel started only three games last season before breaking his leg. He’s expected back, and with new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper bringing in a pro-style passing attack, Driskel could break out if he’s healthy.

Georgia’s Hudson Mason has perhaps the most pressure of any new quarterback in the East. Mason takes over for Murray, who played in 52 games with the Bulldogs. Mason has played in only 13 games in his career, with starts last season against Georgia Tech and Nebraska in the Gator Bowl. Georgia fans are asking if Mason will be Joe Cox (who was not very good as a one-year starter in 2009) or D.J. Shockley (who led Georgia to a SEC title in 2005 in his one year as a starter). Expect something in between.

South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson has played in 25 games but has made only three starts. Steve Spurrier has done a good job of getting Thompson in for snaps behind Shaw the past few years.

Both Mason and Thompson will have the luxury of handing the ball off to great running backs. If they struggle, expect Georgia’s Todd Gurley and South Carolina’s Mike Davis to become even more important to their success.

In the West, Dak Prescott takes over the full-time job at Mississippi State after making seven starts late last season. Arkansas’ Brandon Allen is a returning starter for Arkansas after starting 11 games last season.

Nick Marshall will be back for Auburn, and there’s no doubt the experience the former Wilcox County star got last year was invaluable. Alabama’s Jacob Coker has big shoes to fill after all the success of McCarron. Coker played 12 games as a backup at Florida State the past two years.

Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Texas A&M and LSU will have open competitions in August to find out who will be their starter at quarterback.

Believe it or not, the ACC is even worse. Ten teams in the ACC will break in new quarterbacks this season, so that means only four teams will have starters coming back.

Some of these new quarterbacks will break out. They’ll just about have to. Just think, two years ago we had no idea who Johnny Manziel was at Texas A&M. He turned out pretty good.

The programs in the SEC and ACC can only hope they’ll have a similar situation with their new quarterback. The ability for these new guys to have success might determine who will be good this season in college football.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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