Yesterday, a shoe dropped that no one would have ever guessed in the offseason: at Auburn, Gus Malzahn benched Jeremy Johnson and will start redshirt freshman Sean White against Mississippi State this weekend.
White was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and supposedly gave Johnson a decent run for his money in the quarterback race back in the spring. White has yet to see the field, as Malzahn didn't sub him in last weekend even after the game got out of hand. It's possible that Malzahn simply hadn't decided to yank Johnson yet, or maybe he didn't want White to get his first action in the middle of a Tiger Stadium party. Auburn hosts Mississippi State on Saturday, so it'll be a more friendly environment than last week presented.
In a season that was never supposed to be a classic one for SEC signal callers, Auburn isn't the first team to shuffle quarterbacks.
Alabama appears to be trying to get Cooper Bateman to pass up Jake Coker, but Bateman can't get there yet. Florida allegedly still hasn't settled on a starter between Will Grier and Treon Harris, despite Harris not seeing the field in Lexington last week. Steve Spurrier swapped Perry Orth in a little before Connor Mitch went down, and now Orth is sharing the spot behind center with Saturday's new starter Lorenzo Nunez. Kyler Murray got plenty of action throughout A&M's game against Arizona State, although he's only gotten garbage time snaps since. Plus, Drew Lock has been getting a couple of series per game alongside Maty Mauk, but remember that a backup getting regularly scheduled spot work is nothing new for Gary Pinkel.
Taking a peek at the current passing efficiency rankings for SEC starters, it doesn't appear that Johnson could be alone in being a starter finding the bench. Johnson was only tenth out of 13—South Carolina doesn't have one quarterback with enough team snaps to qualify—meaning there are three other guys who are by one measure faring worse than the guy who's just been relegated to the sideline bleacher.
Eleventh place is Brandon Harris, but I think he's relatively safe. He doesn't seem to have trouble handing off to Leonard Fournette, so he's well above the primary bar an LSU QB has to clear. And while his passing efficiency is basically even with Anthony Jennings's mark from a year ago, his completion percentage is way higher (67.7% vs. 48.9% for Jennings) and he hasn't thrown a pick. He's also been a pleasant surprise carrying the ball. Knowing what the alternative is, there's no compelling reason to sub him out.
In twelfth is Mauk despite the fact he's faced SEMO, Arkansas State, and UConn so far. With him getting booed at home last Saturday, there is already an element of the Mizzou fan base that would like to see Lock take over. Lock has been fine in limited duty, which is better than Mauk's decidedly not-fine play so far. At the same time, it's a small sample size from him so far. With Russell Hansbrough touch-and-go with injury and the run game absent him a disaster, the Tigers need plays from the passing game to win. If Mauk keeps underwhelming, it wouldn't shock anyone to see Lock get some more snaps.
Bringing up the rear is Patrick Towles. Granted he just played Florida's excellent pass defense, but even in the win over South Carolina, he put up just 6.6 yards per attempt with an interception and no touchdowns on a pass defense that just made Greyson Lambert a new NCAA record holder. It's been enough to make our friends at A Sea of Blue broach the topic of having Drew Barker see the field some.
I never understood the people who cited Towles as a big reason why UK might have a breakout season this year. He's never been consistently good against good defenses. Maybe it's because he's clearly a step up from other recent UK signal callers like Morgan Newton and Jalen Whitlow, but by the efficiency measures he's no better than Maxwell Smith and hasn't gotten all that close to Mike Hartline's senior campaign. He's not a disaster, but he shouldn't be able to hold off Barker if Barker lives up to his recruiting rankings.
It's been a weird year for quarterbacking so far. The guy who lost the competition at Virginia is second in the league in passing efficiency. A redshirt freshman who technically hasn't won his job yet is sitting ahead of the preseason first team selection. Alabama's representative is neck-and-neck with Vanderbilt's.
Early season strangeness is to be expected, and the cream will rise as the schedule strengths even out over time. Still though, it's looking already like this might be the most unsettled quarterbacking year the conference has had in a while.