Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer 442d

Oft maligned, SEC QBs poised for renaissance

If you want to know how high the confidence is at quarterback in the SEC this season, look no further than the list of players attending media days this week.

A total of six quarterbacks will be featured in Hoover, Alabama, for the preseason spectacle, which is twice as many as were present last year. And that's not to mention that, of those half-dozen names, three of the league's most talked-about passers aren't included: Alabama's Jalen Hurts, who became the first true freshman since Herschel Walker to win SEC Offensive Player of the Year; Georgia's Jacob Eason, who flashed all the tools of a future first-round draft pick; and Mississippi State's Nick Fitzgerald, who led the league in total offense during his first season as a starter.

Make no mistake, this is shaping up to be the Year of the Quarterback in the SEC. With so much talent at the position, this season represents the best opportunity in quite some time to change the perception that the conference has a problem producing stars at the position.

The only question now is whether they'll live up to their promise. If not, the reputation of the league's offenses will be further damaged, not to mention the stability of a few coaches currently sitting on the hot seat.

Take Auburn for instance, where Gus Malzahn is walking a tightrope only a few years after appearing in a national championship game and being hailed as an offensive mastermind. After the Tigers limped to bowl eligibility last season, Malzahn's future seems to be tied to that of the quarterback many expect to be his next star, Jarrett Stidham. Like Hurts and Eason, the former Baylor transfer won't be at media days, but he already is being touted as a 20-to-1 bet to win the Heisman Trophy by Las Vegas sportsbook Westgate. Never mind that he hasn't started a game since 2015.

In the East, another hyped transfer, former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire, is giving Florida fans a reason to be optimistic that its days of mediocre passing could be over. Meanwhile, a former Gators coach, Will Muschamp, appears to have finally found his cornerstone quarterback at South Carolina in Jake Bentley, who started the final seven games as a true freshman last season.

Even Ole Miss, which is likely to answer countless questions about an ongoing NCAA investigation when it visits Hoover on Thursday, has a solid distraction in Shea Patterson, the former blue-chip quarterback who came off the bench for an injured Chad Kelly late last season and looked like a young Johnny Manziel, creating explosive plays out of thin air. With a fantastic trio of receivers at his disposal (D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown and Van Jefferson), Patterson could put up monster numbers in the passing game.

Missouri, which is coming off a last-place finish in the East, has a dazzling young QB in Drew Lock, and perennially overlooked Arkansas has an under-the-radar star in veteran Austin Allen, who might be the best pure passer in the league coming off last season, when he threw for just shy of 3,500 yards in his first time as a starter.

Who knows? Maybe new LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada can work the same magic on Danny Etling that he did with Nathan Peterman at Pitt, transforming a once-forgotten transfer into a productive quarterback and bona fide NFL prospect. If that happens and the Tigers' long-stagnant offense lurches into the 21st century, the SEC might become totally unrecognizable.

Whether that comes to fruition is anyone's guess, of course. But one thing is certain: The pieces for success are there for a league-wide renaissance at quarterback.

Manziel, Tim Tebow and Cam Newton are long gone. It's beginning to feel like now or never for the SEC's next crop of stars to emerge.

^ Back to Top ^