It is no secret that the SEC's lead as best football conference in the country has been shrinking of late, and sketchy quarterback play is a major reason why.
The conference had a high water mark in 2013 with eight quarterbacks having a season passing efficiency of at least 140, headlined by the likes of Johnny Manziel, Zach Mettenberger, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Nick Marshall, and Connor Shaw. Not included in those eight were Bo Wallace, who'd top the 140 mark in Ole Miss's breakout 2014 season, and young versions of Brandon Allen and Dak Prescott, who were two of the best signal callers this past year.
In 2015, only five SEC quarterbacks hit 140: Allen, Chad Kelly, Prescott, Jake Coker, and Greyson Lambert. Lambert's splits show that he only squeaked out a 141.5 because he torched bad teams to make up for mediocre-at-best performances against good teams. Florida's Will Grier had a shot at beating 140, but then he got busted for PEDs and has since transferred.
The most recent quarterback classes haven't shown much potential, and it's in part because many of the best rated guys just aren't sticking around. Texas A&M's Kyler Murray is already gone from 2015's class, though Tennessee did get back Sheriron Jones after he transferred to Colorado for a week and reconsidered. A&M's Kyle Allen, Grier, and Georgia's Jacob Park were three of the top five rated pro-style recruits in the 247Sports Composite in 2014, and all of them have transferred. From 2013, A&M's Kenny Hill and LSU's Hayden Rettig have transferred, and Mississippi State signee and No. 9 rated dual threat QB Cord Sandberg signed with the Philadelphia Phillies rather than go to school.
This year, though, the SEC is bringing in one of its best quarterback bunches in recent memory. It should be a cause for excitement. Here are the headlining quarterbacks of the 2016 class. The stars and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite, and "EE" means early enrollee.
|Shea Patterson||Ole Miss||Pro||Yes||5||0.9979|
|Brandon McIlwain||South Carolina||Dual||Yes||4||0.9254|
Only seven quarterbacks achieved a rating of at least .9600, and SEC schools have secured at least a firm commitment from four of them. Patterson and Eason are the only 5-star quarterbacks, and they've already enrolled. Looking at the last half dozen years, this shapes up as an excellent haul. Here is the SEC's track record of signing 247Sports Composite top ten rated quarterbacks:
|Season||Top 10 Pro QBs||Avg. Score||Top 10 Dual QBs||Avg. Score||Total|
I included Missouri and Texas A&M signings from before 2012 to make things consistent and because those prospects' expected careers covered time in the SEC. One note on 2015: technically the SEC signed four dual threat quarterbacks, but one of them was Tennessee getting Jauan Jennings. UT turned him into a receiver once he got to campus, so I didn't include him here.
The quality level of the pro-style guys is simply unprecedented. In years with more than one signing, only 2011 beats this year's bunch in the dual threat category as well.
Of course, the 2011 dual threat category is an excellent reminder of the caveat that must always go with these rankings. It was a good year on the dual threat side, with players like Braxton Miller, Brett Hundley, Teddy Bridgewater, J.W. Walsh, and Marquise Williams in the top ten. The SEC ended up with Jeff Driskel going to Florida, Kiehl Frazier going to Auburn, and Jerrard Randall going to LSU. Driskel won 11 games his sophomore year and showed at LA Tech last year that his disappointing UF career was probably due to coaching deficiencies, but Frazier's career exploded in the hangar and Randall transferred to a JUCO after not playing for two years and ended up at Arizona. Cue the sad trombone.
With the way things go these days, at least one of these guys is likely to finish his career somewhere else. Injuries or poor coaching may doom others. Maybe the evaluation is off and one just won't pan out. Sometimes a Manziel will emerge from the ranks of the 3-stars to become a top QB. These things happen.
But the SEC is unlikely to get significantly better at the quarterback position without signing more top guys. The recruiting rankings can be way off in individual cases, but in aggregate, they're as reliable as can be expected. Bringing in more top rated guys increases the likelihood that the conference will end up with better quarterback play than we've seen over the past two years.
If the level of quality from the quarterback position increases over the next three or four years, we probably will be pointing at several of the 2016 signees as the reason why.
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