The Fermi Paradox is a proposition most famously put forth by the physicist Enrico Fermi. The story goes that during an informal lunch conversation at Los Alamos in 1950 that mentioned UFOs, he suddenly shouted "Where are they?" By his estimation, Earth should have been visited by intelligent extraterrestrial life by now. And yet, there is no evidence of aliens ever having visited this planet (at least, none that they want you to know about).
If you're looking at the state of quarterbacking in the SEC, you'd be forgiven for thinking something similar.
Chad Kelly will be the preseason All-SEC first team quarterback for 2016. Joshua Dobbs is likely going to be second team, and then third team probably will be Sooner-turned-Aggie Trevor Knight. After those three, you're banking entirely on potential. Even with two of those established three, you're still banking on potential given that Dobbs and Knight each posted passing efficiencies in the 120s in their last full seasons as starters.
Furthermore, Kelly and Knight are transfers. They didn't even sign with SEC schools out of high school. Neither did Jacob Coker, the starter for last year's SEC and national champion.
We know the states in the SEC's footprint produce good high school quarterbacks, and we know the conference signs a lot of them. But when it comes to proven, quality quarterbacks in the league right now, the question remains: where are they?
I'm going to try to answer that question in a series of posts. First up today is a study of raw recruiting numbers. For this, I looked at the 247 Sports Composite from 2012-16. "Blue chip" refers to players with either a 4- or 5-star rating.
Also for classification purposes here, I'm grouping Notre Dame in with the ACC. It's a Power 5 program, and it has a five-game scheduling agreement with the ACC. It's close enough to lump the Irish in with the ACC to avoid an awkward Independent category.
Across the last five recruiting classes, there were 125 blue chip quarterbacks. The SEC signed 40 of them, good for a 32% clip. The 14 SEC schools make up just 21.5% of the 65 Power 5 conference programs, so the league signed a disproportionately high number of these players at nine percentage points above expected (if they all were distributed evenly among the P5). The Pac-12 was right on proportionately speaking, while the ACC underperformed by about two percentage points and the Big 12 and Big Ten underperformed by about five percentage points each. Group of Five programs collectively secured final commitments of four of the 125 (or about three percent).
So what about top quarterbacks inside the SEC's footprint? The league's states collectively produced 52 blue chip QB prospects, but for now I'm tossing out three of them that chose to pursue Major League Baseball rather than attend college. SEC members signed 25 of the 49 remaining blue chip signal callers, or right about half of them. Of the remaining 24, half of those players signed with programs that are also inside the SEC's footprint: Florida State, Clemson, Louisville, Miami (FL), Texas, and Baylor.
That math means that only a quarter of the blue chip players from the SEC's footprint in 2012-16 signed outside of the league's states. Five of those twelve signed with schools that share a border with SEC states: Virginia, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State. Two of those guys have even managed to make their way into the SEC since, with them being Knight and former UVA Cavalier Greyson Lambert.
Were any of the ones who got away worth worrying about? Some. Jameis Winston (from Alabama) and Deshaun Watson (Georgia) are the biggest names. Jarrett Stidham (Texas) lit up a few defenses for Baylor in 2015 before going down to injury, and, well, Jerrod Heard (Texas) played a lot of snaps for the Longhorns a year ago. Many of the rest who signed with non-SEC schools that are still in the SEC footprint haven't been in school long enough to have a real shot at competing for playing time, leaving '12 Texas home state signee Jalen Overstreet (moved to RB before getting dismissed) as the only flagrant bust among the dozen in this category.
The ones who went outside the SEC's footprint states were more mixed. Texas product J.T. Barrett started most of the way for Ohio State's 2014 national championship team, while South Carolina's Mason Rudolph looked pretty good starting for Oklahoma State last year. After those two, you're looking at Texas product Tommy Armstrong at Nebraska as the next-most notable name aside from Knight and Lambert. The best story among the rest is that of former Penn State quarterback Michael O'Connor. He's from Ottawa, but he played his final two high school years in Tennessee and Florida, respectively. O'Connor ended up transferring to the University of British Columbia where he's now playing Canadian rules football.
Long story short, the SEC is signing plenty of highly regarded high school quarterbacks. It secures disproportionately more commitments from those players compared to all other Power 5 conferences, and it does an excellent job in aggregate of keeping nearby players at home.
The dearth of proven quarterbacks in the SEC is definitely not because member schools lack the ability to sign top prospects. I'll dive deeper into the subject as this series goes on.