With a number of first-time starters, 2016 wasn’t exactly the Year of the Quarterback in the SEC.
But with a little more experience and some additional talent, that could change in 2017.
This week we’re looking at the best position groups in the conference, and today we kick off the series with a look at the quarterbacks.
Best of the best: Say what you will about the way Jalen Hurts ended his freshman season during the College Football Playoff, but there's a reason he was the first rookie since Herschel Walker to win SEC Offensive Player of the Year. Learning on the fly, the dual-threat quarterback threw 23 touchdowns to just nine interceptions and ran for 954 yards and 13 scores. Throw in a 14-1 record, and what’s not to like? He showed progress this spring with a number of deep passes during Alabama’s spring game in which he amassed 301 yards and two scores through the air. With another top prospect behind him -- the much-hyped lefty from Hawaii, incoming freshman Tua Tagovailoa -- what Alabama lacks in experience it more than makes up for in talent.
Next in line: Jarrett Stidham didn’t do anything to slow the hype train during his first spring at Auburn. In fact, his A-day performance with a couple of impressive long completions might have given the Stidham-for-Heisman folks even more ammunition. And even if the transfer from Baylor doesn’t pan out, coach Gus Malzahn has a more than adequate safety net in veteran Sean White. With 18 games under his belt and hopefully a clean bill of health, White gives the Tigers options under center even after Woody Barrett's decision to transfer and John Franklin III's move to receiver.
Don’t sleep on: In some ways, Georgia’s quarterback situation seems a lot like Alabama’s. Like Hurts, Jacob Eason showed loads of promise as a true freshman. While he might have endured more of an up-and-down season than his SEC West counterpart, there is no denying that the big righty has a cannon for an arm. And like Alabama's situation with Tagovailoa, Georgia has its own promising young quarterback nipping at Eason’s heels. Incoming freshman Jake Fromm, the top-10 pocket passer from Georgia, drew rave reviews during his first spring on campus. It might be asking too much to expect him to challenge Eason right away, but coach Kirby Smart has to like the fact that he’ll have a healthy competition at quarterback for the next few years.
Meanwhile, Nick Fitzgerald, who amassed the most total yards in the conference, makes Mississippi State another team to watch, along with Arkansas and Austin Allen, who wound up with the most passing yards by season's end.