King: All-SEC QBs tough to figure

By: Harry King
Published: Wednesday, February 12, 2020

LITTLE ROCK — Racetrack lingo is useful when attempting to identify the 1-2 finishers in preseason voting for All-SEC quarterback.

Pursuing that football exacta includes handicapping via past performances, unearthing a viable longshot and employing tepid to describe a lukewarm favorite.

Unlike 2019, when Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Georgia’s Jake Fromm were justifiably 1-2 on the preseason all-conference team, none of the candidates have a resume that begets confidence. Both Tagovailoa and Fromm were upstaged by LSU’S Joe Burrow during the season, but No. 1 this December could be more surprising — maybe even an athlete who has never taken a snap in the SEC.

With the exit of the aforementioned trio, plus Missouri’s Kelly Bryant and Vanderbilt’s Riley Neal, returning quarterback starters at SEC schools include Auburn’s Bo Nix, South Carolina’s Ryan Hilinski, Tennessee’s Jarrett Guarantano, Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond and Florida’s Kyle Trask.

Among their 2019 lowlights:

—Nix completed 51.4 percent or less in five games and only topped 45 yards rushing in one game despite 97 carries.

—Hilinski was 15-of-20 in the upset of Georgia, but the Gamecocks lost seven and his other impressive numbers were accumulated vs. Charleston Southern and Vanderbilt.

—Guarantano was in and out of coach Jeremy Pruitt’s doghouse and was even benched briefly during the Gator Bowl.

—Texas A&M did not beat a quality opponent during the regular season. Mond completed less than 60 percent in four of the five losses and rushed for one yard or less in three.

—Although Trask was 8-2 as a starter in relief of Feleipe Franks, the redshirt senior will be pushed during the spring by redshirt freshman Emory Jones.

Considering those question marks, the guess is many of the 250-plus who plan to vote at Media Days in mid-July would check “undecided” if asked to identify their two choices at this time.

Arkansas is among many schools with legitimate competition. In Fayetteville, the Florida transfer Franks is favored vs. returning quarterbacks KJ Jefferson - who is still recovering from a shoulder injury - Jack Lindsey and John Stephen Jones.

If not a fan of any of the returning starters cited, the easy out is to back the Alabama quarterback, whether Mac Jones or Taulia Tagovailoa. Jones was effective in relief of Tua Tagovailoa late in the season and exudes confidence.

For example, as the scout team quarterback in 2017, Jones reportedly completed several deep passes against a secondary that was supposed to be one of Alabama’s best. Reportedly, a frustrated Nick Saban screamed at Jones: “Throw it to somebody else” and the freshman yelled back: “Play better defense, coach.”

As always, the Alabama quarterback will have a talented supporting cast and the Crimson Tide will win 10 or more.

Maybe a 10-1 shot winning the first important 3-year-old race at Oaklawn Park influenced the decision, but the personal pick is somebody who threw only 52 passes last season and is unavailable for spring practice.

A torn patellar tendon in the second game of 2019 kept Kentucky’s Terry Wilson from having the opportunity to meet the high expectations that resulted after he started 13 games in the Wildcats’ 10-win 2018. Factoring in the support of Wilson is the conviction that Mark Stoops has turned the Wildcats into a consistent winner and that returning quarterback Lynn Bowden is an excellent receiver whose passing skills are limited.

Stoops said he believes the 6-foot-3 Wilson will be ready to go in the fall and that he will gain needed weight during rehab. Wilson barely topped 200 pounds the year he completed more than 67 percent of his passes and ran for 547 yards.

A snapshot of the quarterback outlook at remaining SEC schools:

—Ole Miss: Grant Tisdale withdrew from the transfer portal after head coach Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby arrived and is among five candidates.

—Vanderbilt: The only returning quarterback left the program one day after the Commodores signed three quarterbacks.

—Missouri: Former TCU quarterback Shawn Robinson will be reunited with his former co-offensive coordinator, but Robinson’s eight interceptions in 204 attempts in 2018 is alarming. Fayetteville’s Taylor Powell backed up Bryant last year and true freshman Connor Bazelak tore his ACL after starting the season finale vs. Arkansas.

—LSU: Unfairly some will measure LSU heir apparent Myles Brennan against Burrow. Also in play is how the departure of assistant coach Joe Brady to the NFL will affect the offense.

—Georgia: Jamie Newman, who completed almost 61 percent as the Wake Forest starter in 2019, is one of many candidates.

—Mississippi State: Anybody capable of throwing 48 times or more in 10 straight games as Washington State’s Anthony Gordon did last year under Mike Leach.

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