With spring practice in the rearview mirror for all the SEC teams now, it's worth a look at where everyone is at the most important position on the field.
Only six—so, not even half—of the SEC's programs have a named starter at this point. Some of that uncertainty is due to actual uncertainty about the starters at schools. Some of it undoubtedly is a reaction against the growing trend of quarterbacks transferring if they don't think they'll start. We're not at college basketball levels of transferring yet, but it's a growing concern. After all one of Alabama's contenders transferred to get out of Jameis Winston's shadow, and two ACC starters in 2014 had left Florida to seek more playing time.
In any event, let's run through the programs to catalog where the league stands at quarterback for now.
Entrenched Starters: Arkansas, Auburn, Mississippi State, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas A&M
Dak Prescott proved himself to be one of the SEC's best quarterbacks in 2014. He's back for more in 2015 and figures to be the preseason first team All-SEC selection at the position. He might even prove to be a Heisman candidate.
Brandon Allen is the other full-season returning starter in this category, and he had an excellent spring for Arkansas. We'll see just how far that goes this fall, but the job is definitely his.
Joshua Dobbs and Kyle Allen were capable mid-season replacements at Tennessee and Texas A&M, respectively. Allen's chief competition was Kenny Hill, but he transferred over the winter. Allen is the only scholarship quarterback on campus at the moment, and top recruit Kyler Murray may never even make it there if he's a high enough pick in the MLB draft. Murray will probably be a first round selection, and if a team throws enough money at him, he might take it. Expect Kevin Sumlin to keep Allen in bubble wrap for the foreseeable future.
Dobbs turned a lot of heads with his play in 2014 and is getting some hype of his own this offseason. He figures to be a stat stuffer from behind center, though we'll see if the change at offensive coordinator affects his growth one way or the other. The reports on him out of Knoxville throughout the spring were positive, so he's one of the key SEC players to watch in 2015.
Maty Mauk has the job down at Mizzou, though the Tigers are hoping that his 2014 play was just a sophomore slump. He did well in relief of James Franklin in 2013, but his efficiency numbers were down across the board in 2014. Some of that was probably due to losing some key receiving targets, but then again, that corps has a lot of question marks this year too.
Jeremy Johnson is the one out of these five who is taking over a starting role without having had it last year. He has looked great in relief of Nick Marshall the past two seasons, and his first half against Arkansas while Marshall was suspended in last year's opener was spectacular. Gus Malzahn's hesitance to name him the starter until after spring practice ended was probably just a motivational tactic. He's getting attention and is a major reason why AU is going to be a trendy pick to win the conference this year.
Returner and Challenger: Kentucky
There is a full season returning starter from last year who doesn't fit in the above category: Patrick Towles. While he threw for over 200 yards per game last year, he was towards the bottom of SEC starters in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and passing efficiency while just middle of the pack in interception percentage. He's getting a challenge from Drew Barker, a 4-star recruit who redshirted last year.
Neither Mark Stoops nor new OC Shannon Dawson will name a leader, but Towles might have a slight edge due to experience. Don't expect to get an official starter out of the team until late in fall camp.
Probably a Formality: South Carolina
Officially this job is a three-way race between Connor Mitch, Perry Orth, and Michael Scarnecchia, but it's basically Mitch's job to lose. He's officially the top quarterback among the three even if he's not officially the starter. We know Steve Spurrier is one to play games with his quarterback spot, and maybe this is an instance where not pegging a guy down as a starter is insurance against a transfer. Either way, it'll probably take an injury to prevent Mitch from taking the first snap in 2015.
Dead Heats: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU
Jacob Coker was supposed to have locked the job down by now, but according to some, he was supposed to have locked it down last year too. Word is that he's just not quite there with making the right decisions and reads in a timely enough manner. He might have an edge over challenger David Cornwell, but Nick Saban didn't name a starter and no one felt like dying by depth chart question this spring. Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry might make the outcome of this race less important than it otherwise would be, but there are real questions about how capable the Tide's starter will be.
Jim McElwain is dealing with a two-horse race between a pair of 2014 signees, Will Grier and Treon Harris. Harris took over the starting role from Jeff Driskel last year, but he doesn't have the size, accuracy, or arm strength that you want to see from an SEC quarterback. Grier was the more touted recruit, but he redshirted last year to deal with the speed upgrade that college is from his lower level high school and to put some weight on his rail thin frame.
Grier was slightly ahead by the end of spring, but it's only because Harris missed some practice time due to a death in his family according to McElwain. Most program observers expect Grier to win the job in the end, but it's far from settled.
Georgia is currently trying to decide between Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta. Ramsey looks like your classic Mark Richt quarterback, with pocket command and a strong arm for making downfield throws. He's not quite mastered all the fundamentals, while Bauta is a bit ahead of him on that front. Bauta's arm doesn't match up to Ramsey's though, which is why there's a not a starter named yet. The younger Jacob Park is nominally in the race, but it's really down to Ramsey and Bauta. Ramsey's higher ceiling probably puts him in a slight lead, but with the strength of the run game, don't count out the coaches going with Bauta as a potentially safer option.
As far as LSU goes, well, it's the LSU quarterbacking spot. The story now is similar to the story last year: Anthony Jennings has a bit better control of the offense mentally, but Brandon Harris has a bigger and more accurate arm. Both looked improved in the spring, and with wonderful targets to throw to like Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural, they should. I get the feeling most folks in and around the program would love for Harris to just take control, but even by the end of the practice session, it was still Jennings who got to play with the 1s to start the spring game. We don't have any answers as to who, if either, will win the job for good.
If You Have Three Quarterbacks...: Ole Miss, Vanderbilt
Heading into spring, the consensus among outside observers was that mercurial Clemson transfer Chad Kelly would win the Ole Miss job. Instead, Ryan Buchanan left the spring as a slight leader for the position. The more mobile DeVante Kincade is in the mix too, so it's actually a three-way race in Oxford. Hugh Freeze said he might have a rotating quarterback for a couple games but doesn't want it to last too long. I wouldn't be shocked if all three saw the field regularly at the start, with Buchanan and Kelly fighting over the standard role and Kincade getting a running QB package.
Meanwhile at Vanderbilt... poor, poor Vanderbilt. Patton Robinette was the leader for the job by the end of practice and even started the spring game, but he retired from football not long after in part due to injuries and in part to focus on med school. That leaves the job in the questionably capable hands of Johnny McCrary, Wade Freebeck, and Shawn Stankavage. McCrary and Freebeck got some starts as freshmen last year, and they separated themselves from Stankavage some in the spring. Even so, it wouldn't surprise anyone if 4-star 2015 signee Kyle Shurmur came right in this fall and competed for the starting position. There aren't any easy answers at quarterback in Nashville right now.