The SEC underwent massive turnover at quarterback in 2015, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly announced this week that he would stay for his senior season, giving the Rebels one of the league’s only top returning passers.
Here is a glance at where the position stands for each SEC program entering the offseason:
Alabama: The Crimson Tide must replace their quarterback for a third consecutive season after Jake Coker's departure, but there is talent on hand. The candidates just will not have much experience. Cooper Bateman battled Coker for playing time early last season and Alec Morris also played briefly. Freshman Blake Barnett might be the source of the most intrigue entering spring practice after redshirting in 2015.
Arkansas: Brandon Allen was outstanding as a senior, leading the nation with an 87.9 Total Quarterback Rating and ranking fifth with 9.3 yards per pass attempt. There is essentially no experience behind him. Allen’s brother, Austin, has played a bit in mop-up duty, while redshirt freshman Rafe Peavey did not appear in a game this season. Redshirts Ricky Town and Ty Storey enter the mix this spring, which could make the competition interesting. Town quickly left USC and transferred to sit out a season at Arkansas last fall. He was ESPN’s No. 10 quarterback prospect when he signed with the Trojans a year ago.
Auburn: There is no obvious answer here, which was a big part of Auburn’s problem in 2015. Jeremy Johnson (1,042 passing yards, 9 TDs, 7 INTs) and Sean White (1,064, 1 TD, 2 INTs) will apparently both stick around to compete this spring, and they will get some company from junior college transfer John Franklin III and Woody Barrett, both dual-threat quarterbacks.
Florida: Another mess. Sensing a trend yet? With Will Grier transferring and Treon Harris (1,676, 9 TD, 6 INT) playing poorly, Florida does not have an obvious answer. Purdue transfer Austin Appleby and Oregon State transfer Luke Del Rio represents Harris’ veteran competition, but early enrollees Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask could also be names to watch. Franks is ESPN’s No. 4 pocket passer and No. 59 overall prospect.
Georgia: Although last year’s underwhelming duo -- Greyson Lambert (1,959, 12 TD, 2 INT) and Brice Ramsey (249, 1 TD, 2 INT) -- is still around, Georgia fans’ eyes are all on Jacob Eason. ESPN’s No. 2 pocket passer and No. 16 overall prospect for 2016, the early enrollee will make this competition awfully interesting over the next several months.
Kentucky: Starter Patrick Towles (2,148, 9 TD, 14 INT) is transferring to Boston College and Reese Phillips to Montana, leaving Kentucky with no proven options. Drew Barker (364, 1 TD, 2 INT) -- a four-star prospect in 2014 -- competed with Towles for the starting job deep into camp last year and started the last two games. The Wildcats also have a commitment from four-star prospect Gunnar Hoak.
LSU: Brandon Harris (2,165, 13 TD, 6 INT) appears to be the favorite to start next season, but that is no certainty. Purdue transfer Danny Etling will become eligible in the spring, while 2014 starter Anthony Jennings and Justin McMillan remain on the roster. The Tigers are still looking to add a quarterback in this class after losing Franks to Florida.
Mississippi State: When you lose arguably the best player in school history, it is not easy to avoid some drop-off at his position the following season. That is what Mississippi State hopes to avoid in Dak Prescott’s absence next year. The Bulldogs will have some promising options competing to take over, but very little experience in place. Nick Fitzgerald (235, 3 TD, 0 INT) might be the front-runner, although Elijah Staley (51, 1 TD, 0 INT), Damian Williams and Nick Tiano are all in the mix to varying degrees.
Missouri: Last season’s battle for playing time between Maty Mauk (654, 6-4) and Drew Lock (1,332, 4 TD, 8 INT) turned into a disaster, particularly with veteran starter Mauk getting suspended twice. New offensive coordinator Josh Heupel will have his hands full getting more production from his offense, and that starts with getting more consistent play at QB. Mauk has been a productive player at times, however, and Lock was just a freshman in 2015. The issue here is not talent.
Ole Miss: Kelly’s return is unquestionably a coup for coach Hugh Freeze since the Rebels lose some of their top offensive talent, starting with wideout Laquon Treadwell. DeVante Kincade opted to transfer to Grambling, leaving Kelly (4,042, 31 TD, 13 INT) and backup Ryan Buchanan (96, 2 TD, 1 INT) on the roster. The Rebels also have high hopes for 2016 commit Shea Patterson, ESPN’s No. 1 dual-threat QB prospect.
South Carolina: At least last season’s unappealing quarterback carousel gave new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper several QBs with game experience. Original 2015 starter Connor Mitch (165, 1 TD, 0 INT) is still around, as are Perry Orth (1,929, 12 TD, 9 INT), Lorenzo Nunez (376, 3 TD, 3 INT) and Michael Scarnecchia (9, 0 TD, 0 INT). Dual-threat freshman Brandon McIlwain, a four-star prospect, is an early enrollee and will also participate in spring practice.
Tennessee: Few SEC teams are as solid at starting quarterback as Tennessee, which will benefit from the return of Josh Dobbs (2,291, 15 TD, 5 INT, plus 671 rushing and 11 TDs). However, Dobbs and Quinten Dormady (209, 1 TD, 0 INT) sit atop an inexperienced depth chart. The Volunteers also picked up a commitment from No. 5 dual-threat quarterback Jarrett Guarantano for 2016.
Texas A&M: Somehow a position of strength became a massive question in a matter of weeks when starter Kyle Allen (2,210, 17 TD, 7 INT) and freshman stud Kyler Murray (686, 5 TD, 7 INT) both opted to transfer. Jake Hubenak (399, 3 TD, 1 INT) started the Aggies’ bowl game, but it’s anybody’s guess where things will go from here. Oklahoma graduate transfer Trevor Knight (305, 2 TD, 2 INT) will be eligible to play immediately and seems to have a good chance to grab the starting nod.
Vanderbilt: Freshman Kyle Shurmur (503, 5 TD, 3 INT) took over the starting job from Johnny McCrary (1,533, 6 TD, 12 INT) after midseason and did OK considering the circumstances. It was not the total disaster that was Vanderbilt’s quarterback situation in 2014, but it was still far from a strength. Shurmur seems ready to start in 2016, especially after McCrary’s decision to become a graduate transfer, but there are a couple of other quarterbacks already on the roster: Wade Freebeck (26, 0 TD, 1 INT) and Shawn Stankavage. Three-star, dual-threat prospect Deuce Wallace will join the competition this spring as an early enrollee.