|ESPN.com: College Football||[Print without images]|
Last year was possibly the best in recent memory for SEC quarterbacks. From Johnny Manziel and A.J. McCarron to Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger, the conference was loaded with a Heisman Trophy winner, a two-time national champ, school record-holders and NFL draft picks. Things are a little different this year. Outside of Auburn, most schools are dealing with major questions under center. Where do things stand as the season gets ready to kick off? Here's a look at how things went last year, what to watch for this year and a projected grade for how each team's quarterbacks will do in 2014.
Bo Wallace, Ole Miss Rebels
2013 in review: The old man among quarterbacks in the league, Wallace (283-437, 3,346 yards, 18 TDs, 10 INTs, 355 rushing yards, 6 TDs) is far and away the SEC's most experienced starter with 26 starts (Florida's Jeff Driskel is second with 15). This will be Wallace's third season as the Rebels' starter after taking nearly every important snap last season and leading Ole Miss to its second straight bowl win.
What to watch: The Rebels will face Boise State in one of the marquee games of college football season's opening weekend, Aug. 28. The Broncos finished 88th nationally in pass defense last season (249.2 yards per game) and 75th in total defense (413.4 ypg), so this might be Wallace's night to shine. Ole Miss can use September as a warm-up, but the schedule gets brutal starting in October. The Rebels need Wallace and the offense to be in full gear by then. If things are clicking when Alabama arrives in Oxford on Oct. 4, Ole Miss might actually turn out to be the SEC West contender some believe it can be.
Projected 2014 grade: B+
Hutson Mason, Georgia Bulldogs
2013 in review: Mason (67-110, 968 yards, 5 TDs, 3 INTs) went 1-1 as a starter at the end of last season after replacing the injured Aaron Murray. He rallied the Bulldogs from 20 points down to beat rival Georgia Tech before falling against Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.
What to watch: The first two games will probably tell the tale on Mason. The Bulldogs open at home against Clemson and then visit South Carolina two weeks later. That's as tough a two-game stretch to open the season as any quarterback in the country will face. He'll benefit from the experience he gained at the end of last season, but it wasn't all good. Mason must play much more consistently than he did in those two games in order for the Bulldogs to start 2-0.
Projected 2014 grade: B+
Dylan Thompson, South Carolina Gamecocks
2013 in review: Thompson (52-89, 783 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs) played in 10 games last season and started once. Among the highlights were his performances off the bench against Central Florida (15-32, 261 yards, INT, TD run) and Vanderbilt (7-9, 75 yards, INT, TD run).
What to watch: Thompson is 3-0 as a starter at South Carolina, including 1-0 last season -- but that's a slightly deceptive stat. The win last season came against Missouri, and it was an enormous victory, but it was 2013 senior Connor Shaw who led the Gamecocks' rally to an overtime win. Thompson was 15-for-27 for 222 yards and an interception, but he made a couple of bad decisions that caused Steve Spurrier to turn to Shaw in the third quarter. South Carolina has plenty of talent on offense, so it can't afford to have Thompson playing like a gunslinger very often. If he plays with composure, the Gamecocks should contend for the Eastern Division title.
Projected 2014 grade: B
Jeff Driskel, Florida Gators
2013 in review: Florida was already off to a rocky start on offense last season when Driskel (42-61, 477 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs) broke his leg while throwing a pick-six in Game 3 against Tennessee. Driskel had a decent first season as the Gators' starter in 2012, passing for 1,646 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions while also rushing for 408 yards and four scores on a team that played in the Sugar Bowl.
What to watch: After ranking 107th nationally with 170.9 passing yards per game last season, Florida coach Will Muschamp hired Kurt Roper as his new offensive coordinator to call plays that suit Driskel's spread-centric skill set. His up-tempo attack will be on full display in a manageable opener against Idaho. In fact, the Gators start with three home games (Idaho, Eastern Michigan, Kentucky) that should be a nice warm-up for Roper's offense before a Sept. 20 date at Alabama. If the Gators are clicking by then, this could be a much more interesting season than last fall's 4-8 record would indicate.
Projected 2014 grade: C+
Patton Robinette, Vanderbilt Commodores
2013 in review: Robinette, a sophomore, completed 46 of 88 passes for 642 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions in 2013. He was named starting quarterback by new coach Derek Mason on Thursday, beating out a list of competitors including LSU transfer Stephen Rivers, the younger brother of San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, and redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary. Mason said on Monday that he wants to make a decision on the starter soon.
What to watch: Robinette will need to catch up quickly. The Commodores host Temple in their Aug. 28 opener, but then Ole Miss will visit Nashville the following week. Because Mason is a brand-new coach at Vandy, and because the Commodores will break in a brand-new quarterback and numerous new players at the skill positions, it's nearly impossible to know what to expect from this team. But if the Commodores start with a bang against Temple, that Sept. 6 Ole Miss game instantly becomes more intriguing.
Projected 2014 grade: C
Patrick Towles, Kentucky Wildcats
2013 in review: Towles redshirted last season as a sophomore and used the time since then to smooth out the rough edges offensive coordinator Neal Brown and coach Mark Stoops identified in his game after he lost a preseason quarterback competition. He played in five games as a freshman in 2012 and completed 19 of 40 passes for 233 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
What to watch: Kentucky hasn't had a quarterback go a full season as the starter since Andre Woodson in 2007. Not a great sign for Mr. Towles. So if the offensive line fails to keep the current starter upright, the ongoing competition for the backup job will be worth watching. Not that competition is particularly new for Kentucky's quarterbacks. This was the third quarterback competition in which Towles had participated, and he was finally the victor.
Projected 2014 grade: C-
Justin Worley, Tennessee Volunteers
2013 in review: Worley (109-196, 1,239 yards, 10 TDs, 8 INTs) started seven of the first eight games before suffering a season-ending thumb injury in the first half of the Alabama game. After an unimpressive start to the season, Worley had started to come on by nearly leading the Volunteers to an upset of Georgia and then beating South Carolina in the very next game. With 10 career starts, Worley won out in a preseason quarterback competition over a host of less experienced candidates.
What to watch: Worley acknowledged this summer that building some early continuity will be the key to whether Tennessee experiences any offensive success this season. The Vols had better get cracking early against Utah State and Arkansas State because there are a couple of tough stretches on the schedule after that -- namely the Oklahoma-Georgia-Florida run with a stretch of Ole Miss-Alabama-South Carolina not long after that. If the line comes together and the Vols' young playmakers build some early confidence, perhaps they'll have a chance against those conference heavyweights. Otherwise, it might be a "wait-till-next-year" kind of season in Knoxville.
Projected 2014 grade: C-