The SEC has long produced some great quarterbacks.
During the past decade, Heisman Trophy winners Tim Tebow (Florida), Cam Newton (Auburn) and Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) have come through the conference.
Throw in recent standouts such as Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, and you’re talking about a great group of quarterbacks this league has produced. That doesn’t even begin to delve into the rich history of quarterback play in the SEC, considering Archie Manning and his two sons — Peyton and Eli — all became household names as SEC stars.
The SEC looks to be gearing up for another run of exceptional quarterback play with the 2017 season soon to be underway.
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The 2016 recruiting class brought some high-profile quarterbacks to the conference, including five-star passers Jacob Eason (Georgia) and Shea Patterson (Mississippi).
Alabama picked up highly touted quarterback Jalen Hurts. South Carolina landed Jake Bentley, who reclassified to bypass his senior year of high school.
Florida brought in four-star quarterback Feleipe Franks, who spent his freshman season redshirting. Franks is competing with Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire for the starting job this preseason.
Eason and Hurts picked up the most experience of the rising sophomore quarterbacks as they played in every game for their respective teams. Hurts turned in a great season as he earned a spot on the All-SEC first team after throwing for 2,780 yards and 23 touchdowns, while adding 954 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.
Eason played mostly mistake-free football while throwing for 2,430 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Bentley became South Carolina’s starter midway through the year and completed 65.8 percent of his passes. Patterson impressed with 880 passing yards in three starts to end the 2016 season after Chad Kelly went down with a knee injury.
“I learned a lot, getting out there in front of the crowds, getting the chemistry down with my teammates in a game situation,” Patterson said. “I think that will really benefit me going into this season.”
Having gone through recruiting at the same time, a few of the quarterbacks became friends with one another. Eason and Patterson grew close and have stayed in touch.
Those two, along with Hurts and Bentley, attended the Manning Passing Academy this summer to help improve their games.
“I’ve gotten close to Jacob, over at Georgia, just throughout the process, throughout high school,” Patterson said. “That’s the cool thing about it, I get to see them grow and have success.”
At the Manning camp, Bentley and Hurts bonded and furthered their friendship. The two spoke with one another about the ups and downs of their freshman seasons.
“We talked about everything, our experiences of being two young quarterbacks leading the team, and different things we’ve picked up and learned,” Bentley said.
While the SEC will feature a slew of second-year quarterbacks, there are some accomplished veterans who figure to light up the stat sheet.
Auburn received a big boost by bringing in former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham by way of junior college. In his lone season at Baylor in 2015, Stidham threw for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns, with the bulk of it coming during a three-game stretch in relief of Seth Russell, who sustained an injured neck. Stidham broke his ankle in that third game against Oklahoma State, however, and missed the remainder of the 2015 season.
Mississippi State junior Nick Fitzgerald should be one of the SEC’s best dual-threat quarterbacks after passing for 2,423 yards and running for 1,375 yards a year ago.
Arkansas will have senior Austin Allen back after a year in which he accounted for 3,430 passing yards and 25 touchdowns.
Missouri quarterback Drew Lock threw for 3,399 yards and 23 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2016, which included going for 376 yards and three scores in a close loss to Georgia.
Vanderbilt brings back junior Kyle Shurmur, who averaged 264 passing yards in his final five games of the 2016 season.
In short, there won’t be many off weeks — if any — for SEC secondaries.
“It’s always going to be a league of the quarterback,” Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said. “That’s why those guys get a lot of money at the next level.”