Spring practice has wrapped up across the SEC, and the top storyline for most teams coming out of it is still the quarterback position. Some teams named a starter in the spring. Others left it open until fall camp arrives in August.
This week, we’ll examine five of these open competitions in the conference and debate who we think each team should choose as its starting quarterback.
Today, we begin with the series with the Georgia Bulldogs.
Edward Aschoff: I don’t care what Kirby Smart says. Jacob Eason is the guy in Athens. He was the guy when he committed to Georgia more than a year ago, he was the guy when he reaffirmed his decision in December, he was the guy when he stepped on campus, he was the guy after the spring game and he’ll be the guy for the majority of the season.
Smart is being, well, smart about this, though. Eason is easily the most talented quarterback on the roster with his arm ability and technique, but he’s young. He should be gearing up for prom right now, but he has a higher ceiling than both Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey. Is he ready to play right now and beat UNC inside the Georgia Dome? Eh, maybe not, because he’s going to deal with all sorts of butterflies when he steps on the field, and the speed of practice isn’t close to the speed of the game at the college level.
Ease him in. That’s been the plan all along, and it’s a good one. When you’re a big-time recruit like Eason is, you need to be pushed from Day 1. So much is expected of him that he needs to earn it and he needs to be humbled. Smart has done all of that with his words and by starting him with the third-team offense. But you can only keep the tiger caged for so long. The spring game (244 yards and a touchdown) was just the beginning. He’s going to get even better during offseason workouts and fall practice. He’ll play here and there to start the game, and once he really starts to click in practice, Smart will plug the future into the present.
Smart doesn’t have to win a title in Year 1, so he doesn’t need to rush Eason’s development. Let this be organic, and it’ll be special. By the halfway point -- if not earlier -- Eason will be the guy under center for the Dawgs.
Greg Ostendorf: This competition reminds me of what we saw a year ago at Alabama. Blake Barnett came in as the No. 1 quarterback, ranked No. 14 overall in the ESPN 300, and he was all anybody was talking about in the offseason. Meanwhile, junior college transfer Jake Coker failed to win the job his first year in Tuscaloosa. What made people think he could do it in Year 2?
As we know, Coker led the Crimson Tide to a national championship.
Why is all this important to Georgia’s current predicament? Well, Smart was on that Alabama staff. He saw Nick Saban go with the veteran (Coker) over the freshman (Barnett). The offense went through running back Derrick Henry, and it was up to Coker to not turn the ball over. Georgia’s offense this fall will go through Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, and it will be up to the quarterback to not turn the ball over. Can Smart trust Eason to protect the football?
Recent history says no. Outside of Kyle Allen, who has since left Texas A&M, true freshman quarterbacks in the SEC have struggled over the past five years. Joshua Dobbs threw two touchdowns and six interceptions his first year at Tennessee. LSU’s Brandon Harris went 3-of-14 for 58 yards in his lone SEC start as a true freshman. Last year, the trio of Drew Lock, Kyle Shurmur and Lorenzo Nunez completed 49 percent of their passes, threw 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, and finished with a combined record of 5-10.
Meanwhile, Lambert threw 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions last year. Don’t get me wrong. I watched the spring game, too. I think Eason is the future at Georgia. I just think Lambert will be (and should be) the guy for 2016.