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Ranking the top five quarterbacks in the SEC

Jalen Hurts led Alabama to a 14-1 record as a freshman and improved as the season progressed, leaving little doubt as to why he must be considered the top returning quarterback in the SEC. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Earlier this morning, we kicked off our series looking at the best position groups in the SEC.

Now we turn our attention from the team to the individual as we try to figure out the best players at each position. We start at quarterback, a position in which the line between production and potential can be easily blurred.

1. Alabama QB Jalen Hurts: At the end of the day, a quarterback is judged on his record. And, frankly, Hurts was impeccable in that respect as a freshman, helping Alabama win the SEC and reach the College Football Playoff with a 14-1 record. The kid is pretty talented, too. The dual-threat QB amassed 3,734 total yards and 36 touchdowns while basically learning on the fly. With the maturity that comes with a year under his belt, along with the possibility of an improved deep ball, Hurts could be even more productive as a sophomore.

2. Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald: It wasn’t easy, especially early on, but Fitzgerald grew into the starting role at Mississippi State quite well by season’s end. The Georgia native even reminded some of Dak Prescott, making plays with his feet as well as his arm. No one — not Hurts, Chad Kelly, Trevor Knight or Joshua Dobbs — had more total yards in the SEC than Fitzgerald’s 3,798 last season. The rising junior accounted for 37 total touchdowns and threw 10 interceptions. While he needs to develop more touch as a passer, there’s a lot to like about Fitzgerald’s game as he transitions into being an upperclassman.

3. Arkansas QB Austin Allen: No starting quarterback threw for more yards or yards per attempt in the SEC than Allen. His 146.0 quarterback rating was the best in the West, too. So before we get too caught up on the unproven talent elsewhere, let’s give a tip of the cap to the most polished passer in the conference. What he was able to do in his first season as a starter went largely unnoticed, but what he does in Year 2 could demand our attention.

4. Ole Miss QB Shea Patterson: It was a brief sample size, but what a first impression it was. Shea Patterson, the former top recruit expected to redshirt his first season at Ole Miss, came on for an injured Chad Kelly to start and win his first game in a tough environment on the road at Texas A&M. The nimble righty showed shades of Johnny Manziel, extending plays with his feet and zipping passes downfield with no fear. Patterson was just 1-2 as a starter, but he averaged 293.3 yards and two touchdowns down the stretch. While Ole Miss won’t be going to a bowl this season, there will be plenty of eyes trained on Patterson as he steps into the role of full-time starter in Oxford.

5. Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham: If we were drafting on potential, Stidham might not be this far down on the list. But the fact remains that while there’s a lot to like about Stidham’s game, there’s a lot more that we don’t know about him than we do. Yes, he had a good spring game, but that was against the second-team defense. And, yes, he showed promise when playing at Baylor, but he only started three games, with one superb performance against Kansas State (419 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions) and one so-so one against Oklahoma (257 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions). He could turn out to be Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s next great quarterback, but he can’t be considered the best quarterback in the conference until he’s actually won a game in the conference.