Playing football in the SEC is no joke - no matter your age. Starting at quarterback is even more of a burden as there are only 14 starting signal callers in this conference each season. Needless to say of the 1,190 players in the league, fewer than .012 of those players are the starting QBs of their schools.
On top of those numbers true freshmen rarely make a big impact in the SEC, and almost never at quarterback.
All of those factors add up to mean that in terms of being the starting quarterback at UGA, Jacob Eason’s challenge is significant heading into the 2016 season. Eason has never played a down of college football. Not only will Eason have to move past one player on the depth chart, but he will also have to eject a returning senior from that position in order to become the starter.
On paper that seems pretty difficult to do - actually it seems pretty well impossible in normal circumstances.
But Georgia in 2016 is not a normal circumstance. Gone is Mark Richt and his underperforming offensive coordinator from 2015. Enter Kirby Smart and Jim Chaney, who have no real loyalties to anything that happened in the past. After all, if everything was so great with the offense in 2015 Richt wouldn’t have been fired.
So Eason has a chance… an opening, if you will.
What Eason has to do is settle into the offense. He’s got to learn everything he must learn in order to properly function in the offense that UGA runs. That might be the biggest challenge for the towering freshman. The offense UGA uses in the fall will be quite different than the high-flying offense we saw on G Day that had Eason in the shotgun nearly every play.
Eason is going to have to learn how to get under center; that’s something he’s never been asked to do. He’s going to have to learn how to live in the pocket. As great as Eason’s arm is (and he throws a tremendous deep ball) he’s going to have to learn how to avoid throwing mistakes AND (this probably went unnoticed on G Day), he’s going to have to learn how to avoid unnecessary sacks. He took quite a few during the spring game - that was a troubling thing to see, but something that should be expected considering his inexperience.
Eason will have to cut down on mistakes. A spectacularly-thrown ball that results in an interception is still an interception. If we believe what Kirby Smart has said during the spring, Eason is just as likely to throw it to the other guys as he is his teammates. An exaggeration to be sure, but you get the point.
All of those problems should go away in time. Still, Eason’s learning curve will be significant - not that any of that is slowing growing expectations for the freshman. There have been quite a few comparisons between Matthew Stafford and Eason of late, and that’s dangerous territory for anyone (for the record, Eason isn’t the one making comparisons to Stafford… he’s only been made available to the media once since he arrived on campus).
Stafford was much more equipped to play in the SEC right away than Eason is currently. On top of that, Stafford was a pure train wreck when he played meaningful minutes in 2006 - 154 yards a game, 12 INTs, 6 TDs and a completion rate of 52% in those 11 games - not good.
UGA was successful in spite of Matthew that year - most folks remember it differently. They remember the Stafford from late 2007 and 2008. It took growing, time and a learning curve for Stafford to get there. Expecting, or even talking about Eason being able to be Stafford-like this fall is pure, unadulterated delusion.
Stafford comparisons aside, Eason has to mature as a football player. He has all of the tools, but he’s going to have to learn how to play football, the game. Its akin to learning how to pitch rather than throw.
As soon as Eason can do that the sky’s the limit. When that will happen is anyone’s guess.