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Ranking the 2018 SEC Quarterbacks

Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama Crimson Tide Football

Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama Crimson Tide Football

The SEC boasts college football's deepest collection of quarterbacks for the 2018 season. Missouri's Drew Lock, Auburn's Jarrett Stidham and Mississippi State's Nick Fitzgerald headline the proven upperclassmen, while Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa and Georgia's Jake Fromm are poised to build off promising freshman seasons. South Carolina’s Jake Bentley, Ole Miss' Jordan Ta'amu and Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur round out the next tier of quarterbacks.

Missouri Tigers QB Drew Lock

To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2018. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors - pure talent, supporting cast, having a clear hold on the No. 1 position, previous production, 2018 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the SEC for 2018.

Ranking the SEC's Quarterbacks for 2018

14. Terry Wilson, Kentucky

With Stephen Johnson departing Lexington, the Wildcats have a two-man competition for the starting quarterback job in fall practice. Wilson – a former Oregon and junior college recruit – is battling sophomore Gunnar Hoak for the top spot on the depth chart. Wilson ranked as ESPN’s No. 5 junior college recruit for the 2017 signing class and joined the team prior to spring ball. Wilson completed 10 of 24 throws for 131 yards and added 14 rushing yards on five attempts in the spring game. Hoak redshirted in his first year on campus and did not play last season.

Kentucky football schedule

13. Feleipe Franks, Florida

Florida’s offense struggled mightily last season, but the entire unit is getting a fresh start under new coach Dan Mullen. The Gators averaged only 21 points in SEC contests last fall. Mullen should make better use of Florida’s talent, which includes development at the quarterback position. Franks led the offense with 1,438 yards and nine touchdowns, but he also tossed eight interceptions and completed just 54.6 percent of his throws in 2017. Franks is far from secure at the top of the depth chart. Incoming freshman Emory Jones and redshirt freshman Kyle Trask are battling with Franks for the job in fall practice. Even if he doesn't win the job, the development of Jones this fall will be a storyline to watch. With the new redshirt rule in place, Jones could play a significant role over the final contests of 2018, setting up an opportunity to start as a redshirt freshman in '19.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Florida

12. Cole Kelley, Arkansas

Kelley is listed here, but the battle with Ty Storey could extend into the season. New coach Chad Morris is known for his background on offense, but it may take a year or two for the staff to put all of the pieces into place. Kelley started four games last season and ended 2017 with 1,038 passing yards and eight touchdowns. The Louisiana native checks in at an imposing 6-foot-7 frame and has enough mobility to make plays on the ground. Storey has played in three games over the last two years and attempted four passes in that span. Kelley has more upside, but Storey might be the safer pick for Morris. The development of freshman Connor Noland is worth monitoring in fall practice. 

College football rankings: Arkansas

11. Joe Burrow, LSU

Burrow arrives in Baton Rouge after spending the last three seasons at Ohio State. After using a redshirt year in 2015, Burrow played in 10 games over the next two seasons and completed 29 of 39 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns. The Ohio native was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and has played well in limited action with the Buckeyes. Burrow hasn't played in meaningful game action, but he's showcased his arm and mobility in the limited snaps. Myles Brennan was the favorite to win the job prior to spring practice, but Justin McMillan made a push for the top spot after throwing for 216 yards in the spring game. However, McMillan and Lowell Narcisse left the team in fall practice, leaving Burrow and Brennan as the team's only scholarship quarterbacks for 2018. While both are competing for the job this fall, it's hard to envision Burrow was brought in to sit on the bench. Brennan ranked as a four-star recruit in last year’s signing class and spent 2017 working as the backup to Danny Etling. The Mississippi native completed 14 of 24 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown in six appearances last season. 

LSU Football Schedule

Related: LSU Tigers 2018 Schedule Analysis

10. Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee

Guarantano (15 of 27 for 226 yards and two scores) finished the spring on a high note, and if the early indications from fall practice are correct, he seems to be holding off a challenge from Stanford transfer Keller Chryst for the starting job. Chryst completed 160 of 289 passes for 1,926 yards and 19 touchdowns during his three years with the Cardinal. He went 6-0 as the team’s No. 1 quarterback in 2016 and started seven contests before losing the job to K.J. Costello in 2017. Guarantano completed 86 of 139 passes for 997 yards and four touchdowns to two interceptions last fall. 

Tennessee Football Schedule

9. Nick Starkel, Texas A&M

Information out of Texas A&M fall practice has been limited, but all signs point to Kellen Mond and Starkel locked once again into a tight battle for the No. 1 job. Starkel is a better fit for new coach Jimbo Fisher’s offense and his skill set is likely to win out before the opener. Starkel opened 2017 as the team’s No. 1 quarterback but suffered a leg injury against UCLA and was sidelined for the next six games. He returned for the final six contests and ended the year with 1,793 passing yards and 14 touchdowns. Starkel also completed 60 percent of his throws and tossed just six interceptions on 205 attempts. Mond played in 10 contests last season and threw for 1,375 yards and eight touchdowns to six picks. He also added 340 yards and three scores on the ground. Fisher has an excellent track record when it comes to quarterback development. Starkel might be his next star pupil.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Texas A&M

Related: Texas A&M Aggies 2018 Schedule Analysis

8. Jordan Ta’amu, Ole Miss

Ole Miss’ offense didn’t miss a beat after Shea Patterson was lost for the year due to a knee injury in late October. Ta’amu kept the Rebels’ attack firing on all cylinders, guiding the offense to 30 or more points in four out of the last five games. The Hawaii native ended the season with 1,682 yards and 11 touchdowns to just four picks. Ta’amu can also hurt defenses with his legs (165 yards last year) and should connect on plenty of big plays with receiver A.J. Brown in 2018.

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Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt

7. Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt

Shurmur quietly finished 2017 ranked second among SEC quarterbacks with 26 touchdown tosses. Over 12 contests, Shurmur threw for 2,823 yards and connected on 57.9 percent of his throws. Shurmur also eclipsed 300 or more yards in three out of Vanderbilt’s last five games in 2017. If Shurmur picks up where he left off last fall, Vanderbilt will have a good shot at six wins and a bowl for the second time under coach Derek Mason.

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6. Jake Bentley, South Carolina

New play-caller Bryan McClendon is tasked with helping Bentley elevate his play after South Carolina’s offense averaged only 24.2 points a game last fall. More up-tempo looks are in the works for McClendon, which is a good fit for an offense featuring one of the SEC’s top receiving corps. Bentley showed promise in a late stint as South Carolina’s starter in 2016 and threw for 2,794 yards and 18 scores last fall. Entering his junior year, Bentley looks poised to take the next step in his development.

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5. Jake Fromm, Georgia

Fromm ranks as the No. 5 quarterback on this list, but he could easily rank a few spots higher. The gap between the league’s top signal-callers in 2018 is small, and Fromm still has to contend with incoming freshman Justin Fields. Fromm was one of college football’s top freshmen last season, as he replaced Jacob Eason as Georgia’s No. 1 quarterback following an injury in the opener against Appalachian State. Fromm threw for 2,615 yards and 24 touchdowns, while his 62.2 completion percentage tied for second in the SEC last fall. If Fromm holds off Fields all year for the starting job, the sophomore should finish much higher on this list by December. Helping Fromm's outlook for 2018 was the arrival of Cal transfer Demetris Robertson, who was ruled immediately eligible and adds another weapon to one of the SEC's top receiving corps.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Georgia

4. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State

Fitzgerald was limited in the spring due to a leg injury suffered in the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss. However, the Georgia native is on track to return to full strength for the fall and should thrive under new coach Joe Moorhead. In his second year as the starter, Fitzgerald threw for 1,782 yards and 15 touchdowns and added 984 yards and 14 scores on the ground. The senior is still developing as a passer, but Moorhead should help him take a step forward in his final year in Starkville.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Mississippi State

Related: Ranking All 130 College Football Teams for 2018

3. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn

Running back Kerryon Johnson will be missed, but Auburn's offense is set behind Stidham and one of the league's top receiving corps for 2018. After all, Stidham’s 3,158 passing yards in his first year on campus ranked second for a single season in program history. He also tossed 18 touchdowns and added 153 yards and four scores on the ground. Stidham’s 10 passing plays of 50 yards or more ranked fifth nationally among FBS quarterbacks last season. Assuming a revamped offensive line provides protection for Stidham, Auburn's offense should easily exceed last year's per-game output through the air (233.4 ypg).

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Auburn

2. Drew Lock, Missouri

Lock earned first-team All-SEC honors after throwing for 3,964 yards and 44 touchdowns last season. The Missouri native was instrumental in the Tigers’ late-season surge, guiding the offense to an average of 51.3 points in the team’s six games prior to the Texas Bowl. Lock’s 44 touchdowns were the most of any FBS quarterback last fall, while his 521 passing yards in the opener against Missouri State set a new school record. The senior returns a strong supporting cast for 2018 but has a new play-caller in former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley. Assuming Dooley's hire and overall approach doesn't drastically change the offense, Lock should rank among the top signal-callers in the nation.

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Related: College Football Bowl Projections for 2018

1. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

Projection time. Yes, ranking Tagovailoa at No. 1 among SEC quarterbacks is a major projection and requires the sophomore holding off Jalen Hurts for the starting job. And sure, he’s got some developing to do and has to prove the second-half performance against Georgia can be counted on for a full year. However, it’s no secret Tagovailoa – a five-star prospect and the No. 32 overall player in the 2017 247Sports Composite – might be the most-talented quarterback signed by Nick Saban since arriving in Tuscaloosa in 2007. In nine games last year, Tagovailoa threw for 636 yards and 11 touchdowns on 49 completions and added 133 yards and two scores on the ground. The Hawaii native has all of the talent needed to rank among the nation’s best at quarterback by the end of 2018. How soon will he reach his potential under new coordinator Mike Locksley and quarterbacks coach Dan Enos? The guess here is Tagovailoa reaches that level soon and finishes the year with first-team All-SEC honors. 

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Alabama

Podcast: Athlon's Editors Discuss QBs for the 2018 Season