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After years of punchlines, the SEC might have the nation’s best QB group

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The SEC’s recent weakness now looks like a strength.

CFP National Championship presented by AT&T - Alabama v Georgia Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Quick, which conference has the best quarterback situation right now?

For most of the decade, the answer was decidedly not the SEC.

It was typically the ACC, with its CFB-best seven first-round QBs since 2010. Or the Pac-12 or Big 12, with their pass-happy offenses.

But it was rarely the SEC.

The SEC had Cam Newton for a year at Auburn, Johnny Manziel for two at Texas A&M, and Dak Prescott‘s two excellent years at Mississippi State. But for the most part, the league seemed to prefer winning with a combination of defense and a physical running attack.

Whenever there’s an argument for the SEC having a weakness, fans and media have quickly reached for the “poor QB play” card. Even at best, some of the QBs who posted decent numbers were seen largely as caretakers for great running offenses, not as players who would carry a team.

The argument was bolstered when SEC teams stepped outside of conference play and gave up more points than expected to offenses that could actually throw the football, such as Oklahoma’s bowl games against Alabama and Georgia.

The failed 2014 QB recruiting class set the SEC back.

It’s odd that QB would be the position of weakness, considering how well the SEC recruits every other position.

Much of the recent lull can be tied to a major recruiting failure following the 2013 season, which featured the SEC’s best group of QBs in a while, including Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger, A.J. McCarron, and Connor Shaw, all of whom ranked in the top 15 in passer rating.

In 2014, the SEC signed seven of the 11 top-rated QBs in the country, with some of them expected to eventually replace 2013’s stars. None panned out in the SEC.

Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen transferred to Houston. Florida’s Will Grier transferred to West Virginia following a suspension. LSU’s Brandon Harris transferred to North Carolina. Alabama’s David Cornwell transferred to Nevada. Kentucky’s Drew Barker hasn’t found success. Georgia’s Jacob Park transferred to Iowa State. And Auburn’s Sean White was dismissed.

Heading into 2018, other conferences have lost a lot at the position.

Think about it. Five first-round QBs are gone. None were from the SEC. None of the next five off the board were, either.

  • In 2018, the ACC has Ryan Finley and ... ? Trevor Lawrence might be the most talented QB in the nation, but he’s a true freshman who hasn’t even secured the starting job.
  • The Big Ten has Trace McSorley and a lot of potential in guys like Dwayne Haskins and Shea Patterson, but not much in the way of proven depth.
  • The Big 12 does have Will Grier, but lost its two best passers of 2017 in Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph.
  • The Pac-12 has Khalil Tate, Justin Herbert, and Jake Browning. But gone are Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen, plus Luke Falk, and both Los Angeles schools might be starting true freshmen.

The SEC, though, seems loaded.

Want proven talents? The SEC has them. Want upside? The league has that too. Want depth? Check.

  • Let’s start with the National Championship, which pitted Georgia true freshman Jake Fromm against Alabama true freshman Tua Tagovailoa. They were elite recruits who flashed in Year 1. Now in their second years, both could be even better.
  • Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham started slowly after transferring from Baylor, but found his footing and posted a ridiculous 159 QB rating in league play, completing 65 percent of his throws with a 13/1 TD/INT ratio.
  • Missouri’s Drew Lock is looked at as a major draft prospect. Lock posted a 154 QB rating in SEC play, with a 25/8 ratio and over 2,000 yards in those eight games.
  • And South Carolina’s Jake Bentley had a promising year despite losing No. 1 weapon Deebo Samuel to injury after only three games.
  • Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald can’t throw it very well (109 QB rating in conference), but he did have over 1,000 rushing yards (sacks removed). And backup Keytaon Thompson rushed for 481 yards on just 69 carries in 2017 (sacks removed).
  • Ditto that for Alabama’s Jalen Hurts, who has been terrible in two straight postseasons (107 QB rating in SEC Championship and playoff games, including just 4.9 yards/attempt), but a strong runner with 2,000 career rushing yards. He might be the best backup QB in the nation.
  • Oh, and Georgia just signed Justin Fields, who some thought was the top overall prospect in 2018’s class. If the ACC gets credit for Lawrence, and I think it should, then UGA should get credit for Fields.

Recent recruiting classes have been better for the league. In additional to Bentley and Hurts, the 2016 SEC QB recruit crop seemed to hit on Jacob Eason (Georgia signee, transferring to Washington because of Fromm and Fields) and Shea Patterson (Ole Miss signee, transferring to Michigan because of NCAA sanctions). And the 2017 group featured Fromm, Tagovailoa, and Thompson.

It’s been a while since the SEC could lay claim to having the nation’s best quarterbacks. But 2018 might be its turn.