I tried to watch as many of the spring football games as I could to get an early feel about the 2016 season and something that really stands out to me is that there will be a lot of unproven quarterbacks on the field for SEC teams this season.
I know that solid quarterback play has always been vital to a team’s success, but I am coming to the belief that with the way most offenses these days have become so dependent on outstanding play at the position that quarterbacks have become more important than ever.
Looking ahead to Auburn’s season I don’t have any doubt in saying how well the Tigers perform at quarterback is going to have a major impact on what kind of team Auburn has. I think that is probably the case with Auburn’s two closest rivals, Alabama and Georgia, which also have questions at the position.
Looking around the SEC, last year Florida had major quarterback problems and I am not sure how close the Gators are to getting that solved in 2016. LSU had the same problem, but has a transfer from Purdue who looked pretty good in the spring game. The quarterback who played last year for LSU, Brandon Harris, looked the same.
If the kid from Purdue (Danny Etling) gives LSU a lot of production that team is going to be a factor in the SEC race. Last year LSU had the talent to be that type of team, but couldn’t win the big games it needed to get to the championship because of the inconsistent quarterback play.
Over in Mississippi it looks like Ole Miss is certainly set at quarterback, but I am not sure that is the case with Mississippi State, a team that got great mileage out of 2015 senior Dak Prescott. Several of the kids who could be taking his place look like they have got talent. Chad Kelly at Ole Miss looks like he can do the same type of things that Cam Newton and Nick Marshall did at Auburn. If Ole Miss can just be good at the other positions that quarterback is going to make enough great plays to give them a chance to win a lot of games.The kid at Arkansas, Austin Allen, has been around a long time, but it remains to be seen if the Razorbacks can put everything together around him and if they do is he good enough to lead them to a championship season? If Arkansas is improved at other positions the Razorbacks will need really strong play from their quarterback to make it to Atlanta.
The two recent Auburn teams that won the SEC and advanced to the national championship game had differences, but a major thing they had in common was they got great play from their quarterbacks, Cam Newton in 2010, and Nick Marshall in 2013. Those teams had tons of good, solid, winning football players, but what pushed them up to the championship level was great play at quarterback.
If you don’t have a quarterback who plays at a very high level you better be exceptional elsewhere on your roster and that was the case for Alabama in its run to the SEC and national championships last season. Alabama developed into a great team with a dominating defense leading the way, but still needed solid play at quarterback win the SEC and national titles. As the season went on their senior quarterback went from being a little bit of a liability to a player who kept mistakes to a minimum while contributing with some big plays with his arm and legs. That was enough to push Alabama to the top of the league.
From what I saw in Alabama’s spring game the true freshman quarterback (Jalen Hurts), without a doubt, is the most talented one. However, until he does it I am not sure a true freshman is ready to take a team all the way in this conference with the competition level he will face week in and week out. For a true freshman to handle that he would have to be an unusually mature, strong, talented and mentally tough individual to make that happen.
Trevor Knight, a transfer from Oklahoma and a promising player, had an impressive spring at Texas A&M and has won the starting quarterback role. It will be interesting to watch how the Aggies do this year. They certainly have great talent in some areas, but overall as a team there is a question about do they have enough players to be a championship team?
Talent-wise I think Alabama looks to be at the top of the SEC West ahead of LSU and Auburn. Ole Miss may fall in there somewhere, too. LSU has a lot of quality on both sides of the line of scrimmage with a great tailback, promising wide receivers and should be good on both the defensive and offensive fronts.
Tennessee is a team that has been close in the SEC East, real close, and the Vols return Joshua Dobbs, an experienced quarterback with talent. They haven’t been able to win the big game when they have needed to do it to be a champion. With him being a senior maybe this is the year the Vols can do it.
Elsewhere in the SEC East, Georgia always has a talented football team. The Bulldogs will have outstanding running backs and good receivers. Their play at quarterback will be critical in determining how good they will be this year. The quarterback play was a problem last year and, of course, losing Nick Chubb to an injury hurt the Bulldogs, but Georgia would have been a much more successful team in 2015 if the quarterback play had been up to par.
In Georgia’s spring game the freshman (Jacob Eason) looked to be the best one, but based on what I saw on the other side of the line of scrimmage I am not sure if the numbers he put up in the spring game were realistic or not because the competition was not very good.
The same thing is true of what I saw from watching the South Carolina spring game where a freshman (Brandon McIlwain) is the quarterback who stood out from the rest. He is a big kid who is athletic and dangerous when he runs.
Vanderbilt’s quarterback play looks improved, but I don’t know if they have enough talent to measure up to the better teams in the conference. I think that is the case with Kentucky, too, and South Carolina is in the same boat talent-wise.
I think what I am getting around to saying is Auburn’s season depends on whether or not its quarterback is good enough to go out and win games and at the same time being steady enough not to get his team beat by avoiding turnovers. That is the question that won’t be answered until the fall.