Today I'm wrapping up the series on the SEC's uncertain 2016 quarterbacking position. So far, I've broken down how the SEC gets its quarterbacks, the 2012-13 classes of southeastern blue chip quarterbacks, and the 2014-15 classes of southeastern blue chip quarterbacks.
Today, I'm going to focus on the question of why the SEC doesn't have more proven quarterbacks for this fall. I've briefly gotten into this past installments, but it's the main focus for today.
Because the 2015 class only had one year, I'm only looking at 2012-14 blue chip quarterbacks now. "Blue chip" means at least a 4-star rating in the 247 Sports Composite. Specifically, I'm looking at the 40 of them who came from high schools inside the SEC's footprint or who signed with SEC schools if they didn't. I did my best to classify the quarterbacks into clear categories, even if there were some that could have fallen into two or three of them. And, 22 of these quarterbacks signed with SEC schools while 18 of them went elsewhere.
Three of the 40 became stars on the field: FSU's Jameis Winston, Clemson's Deshaun Watson, and Ohio State's J.T. Barrett. Unfortunately, none of those stars went to SEC schools.
Six of the 40 became starters for at least six games and who haven't (yet, officially) lost their jobs at any point. Three of them are from in the SEC: Joshua Dobbs at Tennessee, Brandon Harris at LSU, and Sean White at Auburn. Three of them went to other leagues: Tommy Armstrong at Nebraska, Mason Rudolph at Oklahoma State, and Jerrod Heard at Texas. The hit rate on regular starters for the SEC is 13.6% of those who signed, while it's 16.7% for the non-SEC group.
Two of the 40 became starters but later got benched—and are still at the schools where they got benched. Both of them are at SEC schools: Anthony Jennings at LSU and Jeremy Johnson at Auburn.
A whopping 15 quarterbacks transferred to other schools before exhausting their eligibility. Eight left the SEC: Texas A&M's Kyle Allen, A&M's Matt Davis, Florida's Will Grier, A&M's Kenny Hill, Georgia's Jacob Park, Auburn's Zeke Pike, LSU's Hayden Rettig, and Kentucky's Patrick Towles. Yikes, Aggies. The other seven left non-SEC schools: West Virginia's Ford Childress, Wisconsin's D.J. Gillins, Oklahoma's Trevor Knight, Virginia's Greyson Lambert, Penn State's Michael O'Connor, Pitt's Chad Voytik, and UCLA's Asiantii Woulard. The transfer rate was 36.4% for SEC schools and 38.9% for non-SEC.
Seven of the quarterbacks have so far been primarily backups. They may have started a game or two—or may be an announced starter for 2016—but they're not proven. Just two of these so-far backups are from non-SEC schools: Kyle Bolin at Louisville and Cody Thomas at Oklahoma. That means five of them are at SEC schools: Arkansas's Austin Allen, Kentucky's Drew Barker, Alabama's Cooper Bateman, Alabama's David Cornwell, and Georgia's Brice Ramsey. These so-far backups are 11.1% of the non-SEC signings but 22.7% of the SEC signings.
Two of these quarterbacks moved to a new position at the schools they signed with: Texas's Jalen Overstreet and Baylor's Chris Johnson.
Three of these quarterbacks went to Major League Baseball: Athony Alford (committed to Southern Miss), Cord Sandberg (Mississippi State), and Kohl Stewart (Texas A&M).
Finally, that leaves two that are "gone" somehow. One is Ole Miss's Ryan Buchanan, who decided to end his football career. The other is Missouri's Maty Mauk, who was dismissed from school before transferring.
So what did we learn?
To whatever extent that stars are born or made, the SEC missed out on all of them. Attribute it to the kids who signed with SEC schools not being that great or on their coaches for not developing them into stars, but there's not a quarterbacking star to be found among the SEC's haul over these three years.
Another area of big discrepancy is in the backups category. The distribution of blue chip quarterback recruits wasn't even, so we had things like Barker waiting his turn behind fellow 4-star Towles, Allen waiting out his brother at Arkansas, and Bateman and Cornwall waiting out their turns at Bama.
The transfer rate was high for the SEC, but it was even higher for the non-SEC schools in the sample. This is still an area of big discrepancy, however, because the quarterbacks who left the SEC looked more promising. All of the non-SEC quarterbacks who transferred either didn't play at their original schools or got passed up by someone else before they left. Had either of Hill or Allen remained in College Station, he'd likely be starting this fall. Same for Grier at UF had he not been popped for PEDs and left. And, it's the same for A&M's Kyler Murray, who is too young for the sample. A&M burning through QBs at a tremendous rate has hurt that program.
For all of the churn and attrition, though, 11 of the 14 SEC programs either definitely will or likely will start a player in Game 1 who rated at least a 4-star. Florida and Mississippi State each have a pair of 3-stars leading their races—Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby for UF; Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley for MSU. South Carolina's race does have some 4-stars like 2016 signee Brandon McIlwain in it, but it also has former walk-on Perry Orth as the guy with the most experience.
As I covered in the first post in this series, the SEC signs a proportionately larger share of blue chip quarterback prospects than any other Power 5 conference. The conference keeps about half of the blue chip quarterbacks that come up in its footprint, and a plurality of the ones who got away (ten of the 25) came from a state that hasn't been an SEC state for long (Texas).
The SEC had a high point of quarterbacking in 2013 when Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger, Nick Marshall, and Connor Shaw were leading quarterbacks for the conference and a solid second tier with guys like James Franklin, Bo Wallace, and Austin Carta-Samuels was around as well. It even was a year when 2015's top SEC quarterbacks, Dak Prescott and Brandon Allen, were taking their lumps as young guys.
There perhaps is no better illustration of the cycle of bad luck the conference has had of late than Georgia of last year. Mark Richt got caught without a quarterback once from 2001-14—remember the Joe Cox year between Matthew Stafford and Murray?—but somehow ended up without one last fall as well. Well, despite the coaching change, UGA signed one of the premier quarterbacks of the '16 class in Jacob Eason. If he lives up to billing, the Bulldogs will be set at QB no later than 2017.
The SEC may be in a down period at the position, but it's been better in the recent past and keeps bringing in plenty of talented players. Too many programs got stuck without a good signal caller the past couple of years, but the situation will turn around one of these years. Maybe even in 2016, because for the last time: unproven doesn't necessarily mean low quality.