When considering the sheer amount of defensive talent stockpiled throughout the SEC, the importance of solid quarterback play can’t be overstated.
This offseason brings perhaps the largest quarterback turnover the conference has ever seen, especially in terms of quality passers.
Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger all lit up SEC defenses in 2013. In addition, Connor Shaw of South Carolina, James Franklin of Missouri, and Austyn Carta-Samuels of Vanderbilt had highly successful seasons. None of these celebrated signal callers will return in 2014, and their departures open the door for a surplus of fresh faces throughout the conference.
A number of teams will hold open quarterback competitions this spring, and some of these battles may not be decided until fall camp. Other squads, meanwhile, already have inexperienced starters penciled in.
Following is an early ranking of the SEC’s top 10 quarterbacks for 2014.
Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas A&M will all be holding open competitions this spring, and their signal callers for 2014 have yet to be determined, therefore they have been omitted from the list.
10. Brandon Allen, Arkansas
As a sophomore in 2013, Allen started all but one game for the Razorbacks. He wasn’t able to lead Arkansas to a single conference victory, but the Hogs’ troubles last season extended well beyond the quarterback position. Allen will look to use last season’s woes as a learning experience, and he’s likely to turn in a better performance in 2014.
9. Patton Robinette, Vanderbilt
Robinette, a rising sophomore, played in 10 games last season and made three starts. He passed for over 600 yards and four touchdowns, and also proved his worth as a rusher with seven touchdowns on the ground. 2014 will be Robinette’s first year as a full-time starter in Nashville, and he’ll have the pressure of three consecutive eight-win seasons to live up to.
8. Hutson Mason, Georgia
Mason tallied two starts last season after Aaron Murray went down with a season-ending knee injury. He went 1-1, leading the Dawgs to a rivalry-game victory over Georgia Tech, but struggling in their Gator Bowl loss to Nebraska. Mason will lean on running back Todd Gurley and the Georgia ground game as he settles into his role as full-time starter in 2014.
7. Anthony Jennings, LSU
Zach Mettenberger suffered a knee injury of his own in LSU’s regular season finale against Arkansas, and Jennings was thrust into action as a true freshman. He responded with a 99-yard game-winning touchdown drive. Jennings subsequently made his first career start in the Tigers’ Outback Bowl victory over Iowa, though his performance was mediocre.
6. Jeff Driskel, Florida
Driskel received heavy criticism in Gator country following his first two games in 2013, and much of it was deserved. An injury against Tennessee in Week Three resulted in an early end to his season. While he certainly had a subpar showing last year, it can’t be forgotten that Driskel led the Gators to 10 wins (he sat out against Jacksonville St.) in 2012. He has a considerable well of athletic talent, and new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper may be just the man who can draw it out.
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5. Dylan Thompson, South Carolina
After splitting time with Shaw for the past two seasons, Thompson will assume full control of the Carolina offense in 2014. As a sophomore, he led the Gamecocks to several key wins in 2012. Most notable among them was a thrilling Outback Bowl victory over Michigan. He was clearly outperformed by Shaw last season, but Thompson is nicely positioned for a solid senior campaign next fall.
4. Maty Mauk, Missouri
In just their second season in the SEC, coach Gary Pinkel’s Tigers won the East. Mauk played a major role in Missouri’s march to Atlanta, as he filled in for James Franklin for a four-game stretch. He went 3-1 as a starter, and tossed a school-record five touchdown passes against Kentucky. His efforts earned him a spot on the SEC’s All-freshman team. Mauk will have sole control of the Missouri offense in 2014, and Tiger fans have lofty expectations for him in the coming season.
3. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
The rising senior will command the Rebel offense for a third consecutive season in 2014, and he already has over 6,300 passing yards and 40 touchdowns to his credit. Expectations were high for Wallace entering 2013, but he got off to a slow start. He found his footing in a mid-season upset of LSU, however, and accounted for nine touchdowns in the Rebels’ next three games. Wallace then finished the season with a stellar performance in Ole Miss’ Music City Bowl victory over Georgia Tech.
2. Nick Marshall, Auburn
A true dual threat, Marshall guided the ship in Auburn’s 2013 SEC Championship run. While his ability to beat defenses with his feet has never been questioned, he steadily improved as a passer under coach Gus Malzahn’s tutelage. With star running back Tre Mason departing for the NFL, Marshall will be the star driver of the “Gus Bus” in 2014.
1. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Simply put, Prescott has it all. The strong-armed junior-to-be received the bulk of the snaps for the Bulldogs in 2013, despite the fact that senior Tyler Russell had much more experience. Prescott made the most of his opportunities, as he passed for nearly 2,000 yards and ran for over 800 while accounting for 25 touchdowns. The Heisman rumblings from State fans may be a bit premature, but Prescott will likely make lots of noise in 2014.