Ranking the SEC's signal-callers for 2019
The SEC might be the deepest conference for quarterbacks in 2019. Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa is one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman Trophy this season, and Georgia's Jake Fromm is expected to push for All-America honors. Texas A&M's Kellen Mond, Florida's Feleipe Franks and Missouri's Kelly Bryant round out the top five. The league's depth extends to the middle of the rankings with proven options like South Carolina's Jake Bentley and Tennessee's Jarrett Guarantano.
Ranking the quarterbacks by conference or nationally is no easy task. To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2019. 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, 2019 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the SEC for 2019.
Ranking the SEC's Quarterbacks for 2019
14. Riley Neal, Vanderbilt
Despite losing starting quarterback Kyle Shurmur, the pieces are in place for Vanderbilt to improve upon last year’s scoring average (28.5 ppg). Of course, exceeding that total largely depends on what transpires at quarterback. Neal transferred to Nashville after starting his career at Ball State. From 2015-18, Neal played in 34 games (with 32 starts) and threw for 7,393 yards and 46 scores to 25 picks. Neal connected on 60 percent of his passes and added another 1,363 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground. If Neal holds off Deuce Wallace and settles into the starting role, an offense that features Ke’Shawn Vaughn at running back, Jared Pinkney at tight end and receiver Kalija Lipscomb should have no trouble putting points on the board in 2019.
13. Ben Hicks, Arkansas
Arkansas averaged only 21.7 points a game in coach Chad Morris’ first year in Fayetteville, so it was no surprise the staff looked for immediate help under center this offseason. In addition to Hicks, Texas A&M transfer Nick Starkel will join the competition in fall practice. Starkel has an edge in talent, but Hicks has the benefit of familiarity with Morris and his scheme. Under Morris’ direction at SMU from 2016-17, Hicks threw for 52 touchdowns and 6,499 yards. The Texas native wasn’t as prolific (2,582 yards and 19 TDs) under Sonny Dykes last season but still finished his career as SMU’s all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns.
12. Terry Wilson, Kentucky
With Benny Snell off to the NFL, Kentucky’s offense needs more out of Wilson to match last year’s 10 victories. The Oklahoma native started his career at Oregon but transferred to the junior college level for the 2017 season. After a prolific year at Garden City Community College, Wilson won the starting job for the Wildcats prior to the 2018 opener. He started all 13 games for coach Mark Stoops and threw for 1,889 yards and 11 touchdowns to eight picks. Wilson’s ability to make plays with his legs added another dimension for the Wildcats, as he finished the year with 547 yards and four scores on the ground. The junior isn’t short on talent and should show progress as a passer in his second stint through the SEC. However, will that be enough to spark an offense that averaged only 18.3 points in conference games last season?
11. Joey Gatewood, Auburn
The battle to replace Jarrett Stidham is down to two players. In early May, coach Gus Malzahn indicated Gatewood and Bo Nix were ahead of Malik Willis and Cord Sandberg and would battle for the job in the fall. Both Gatewood and Nix are short on experience, but talent certainly isn’t an issue. Gatewood ranked as the No. 49 prospect in the 2018 signing class, while Nix checked in at No. 33 in the ’19 haul. Gatewood only played in one contest in his debut, attempting one pass and recording 28 rushing yards versus Purdue in the Music City Bowl. Nix accounted for over 12,000 total yards in his high school career and is regarded as the better passer. The battle between Gatewood and Nix could continue into the season.
10. Matt Corral, Ole Miss
Rich Rodriguez had a busy offseason in his first year as the offensive coordinator in Oxford. In addition to getting Corral acclimated to the starting role and new scheme, the Rebels opened spring practice needing to plug a few holes on the offensive line and restock a receiving corps that lost four out of its top five options from 2018. Rodriguez’s arrival should help Corral’s development, as the California native played in four games in his first year on campus as the backup to Jordan Ta’amu. In the limited playing time, Corral impressed by connecting on 16 of 22 throws for 239 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 83 yards and two scores. The former four-star prospect is an intriguing first-year starter to watch in 2019.
9. Keytaon Thompson, Mississippi State
Prior to becoming the head coach at Mississippi State, Joe Moorhead ranked among the best offensive coordinators in college football. Considering the production from his stint at Penn State, it was surprising to see the Bulldogs near the bottom of the SEC in scoring offense and yards per play for conference-only matchups. Nick Fitzgerald’s ability to make plays on the ground will be missed, but Moorhead’s passing attack might operate at a higher level with Thompson under center. The Louisiana native has played in 19 games (and two starts) over the last two years, connecting on 50 of 115 passes for 846 yards and eight touchdowns to three picks. Thompson is also a capable runner, recording 672 yards and 10 scores in his Mississippi State career.
8. Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee
Tennessee’s offense struggled in coach Jeremy Pruitt’s first year, but there are reasons for optimism going into 2019. Pruitt landed a standout recruiting class, (which included help on the offensive line), Jim Chaney returned to Knoxville to call the plays, and Guarantano is on track to take a step forward in his second year as the starter. The New Jersey native started all 12 games for the Volunteers last season and threw for 1,907 yards and 12 touchdowns. Guarantano also connected on 62.2 percent of his throws and set a new school record with 166 passes without an interception.
7. Jake Bentley, South Carolina
With 32 career starts under his belt, Bentley enters his senior year among the most experienced quarterbacks in college football. Can he put it all together and deliver a huge senior year? Bentley posted career highs in passing yardage (3,171) and touchdowns (27) last season but also tossed 14 interceptions. Additionally, he ranked fourth in the SEC in yards per attempt (8.2) and completed 60.7 percent of his throws in SEC games in 2018. South Carolina faces one of the nation’s toughest schedules in 2019, so Bentley’s continued development and ability to cut down on mistakes is critical. Receiver Bryan Edwards should push for All-SEC honors, but No. 1 target Deebo Samuel will be missed. The Gamecocks could also use more consistency out of the ground game to alleviate some of the pressure on Bentley.
6. Joe Burrow, LSU
Burrow was a huge pickup as a graduate transfer at the conclusion of spring practice for coach Ed Orgeron last season. The Ohio State transfer provided a steady presence under center, completing 57.8 percent of his throws for 2,894 yards and 16 touchdowns to five picks. Burrow also added 399 yards and seven rushing scores. The Ohio native saved his best performances for the end of 2018 season, scoring six times versus Texas A&M and accounting for 394 passing yards and four touchdowns against UCF in the Fiesta Bowl. LSU’s transition to more of a spread offense should be a great fit Burrow’s skill set.
5. Kelly Bryant, Missouri
Drew Lock is gone, but there’s little concern at quarterback for Missouri. Bryant faced a lot of pressure to fill the void left behind by Deshaun Watson in his first year as the Tigers’ starter in 2017. The South Carolina native guided Clemson to an ACC title and a trip to the CFB Playoff that season, throwing for 2,802 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushing for 665 yards and 11 touchdowns. Bryant was off to a solid start in 2018, as he accounted for 130 yards on the ground and completed 36 of 54 throws for 461 yards and two touchdowns through four games. However, with Trevor Lawrence named the team's starter, Bryant decided to use a redshirt and transfer, giving him a year of eligibility to utilize in 2019. Helping to ease Bryant’s transition in Columbia will be a strong supporting cast, which includes one of the SEC’s top offensive lines and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam.
4. Feleipe Franks, Florida
Under Dan Mullen’s watch, Franks emerged as one of the most improved quarterbacks in the nation last fall. As a freshman in 2017, Franks threw for only 1,438 yards and nine touchdowns and rushed for 20 yards on 58 carries. A year later, with Mullen calling the plays, Franks passed for 2,457 yards and 24 touchdowns to just six picks. He also raised his completion percentage to 58.4 and rushed for 350 yards and seven scores. Franks’ development helped Florida increase its scoring average from 22.1 points a game in 2017 to 35 in ’18.
3. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
Jimbo Fisher is one of the best quarterback gurus in college football, so it was no surprise Mond showed marked improvement last fall. After sharing the job with Nick Starkel in 2017, Mond started all 13 games for the Aggies last season and threw for 3,107 yards and 24 touchdowns. Those totals represented a significant increase from the 1,375 yards and eight passing scores in 2017. Additionally, after completing just 51.5 percent of his throws in ’17, Mond connected on 57.3 in ’18. Mond also finished second on the team by rushing for 474 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018. With one of the SEC’s top receiving corps at his disposal, along with another offseason under Fisher, Mond should earn a spot on the All-SEC team by the end of 2019.
2. Jake Fromm, Georgia
Fromm set the bar high as a freshman in 2017, as he was instrumental in guiding Georgia to a SEC Championship and a trip to the national title game against Alabama. As expected, Fromm continued his development with a standout sophomore campaign and enters 2019 as one of the top quarterbacks in college football. The Georgia native started all 14 games and threw for 2,749 yards and 30 touchdowns last season. Efficiency has been a critical part of Fromm’s career in Athens. He’s completed 65 percent of throws and has only 13 interceptions over 597 attempts.
1. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
After leading a second-half comeback against Georgia to win the 2018 national title, Tagovailoa edged Jalen Hurts to win a high-profile quarterback battle in Tuscaloosa. The Hawaii native certainly lived up to the hype and then some in his first full year as the starter. Tagovailoa started all 15 games and accounted for 3,966 passing yards and 43 scores (both single-season records at Alabama). He tossed only six picks over 355 attempts, completed 69 percent of his throws, earned Athlon Sports first-team All-America honors and added another 190 yards and five scores on the ground. Tagovailoa finished second in the Heisman race last fall and another trip to New York is likely in store as the leader for the Crimson Tide’s high-powered offense.