Sizing up the SEC quarterback battles

May, 1, 2012
5/01/12
7:09
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With spring practice over for all 14 SEC schools, there’s still some question about who the starting quarterback will be in the fall at six of those schools.

In some cases, it’s wide open. And then there are a couple of situations where the prohibitive favorite simply needs to finish nailing it down come preseason practice.

Here’s my take on how it will all shake out around the league at the most important position on the field.

FLORIDA

The matchup: The only thing Florida coach Will Muschamp was giving up exiting spring was that the Gators had two quarterbacks he felt like they could win with. Sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel were both forced into action as true freshmen last season. Both took their lumps, but both improved this spring under first-year coordinator Brent Pease.

The winner is: The guess here is that it comes down to who shows the best leadership qualities this summer and then carries those qualities over to preseason practice. Like the Auburn race, this one is neck-and-neck. We’ll go with Brissett as the starter to open the season, but both quarterbacks will end up playing meaningful snaps this season.

AUBURN

The matchup: Even though sophomore Kiehl Frazier seemed to make a move this spring, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler wasn’t ready to make a decision. Junior Clint Moseley has the edge in experience after starting toward the end of last season, but was hampered by shoulder problems this spring. This is an extremely close race, and it sounds like Loeffler wants to see what a healthy Moseley can do before making the call.

The winner is: Frazier’s ability to extend the play gives Loeffler the kind of versatility he’s looking for on offense. Still, Frazier has to go win the job in the fall and prove he’s ready to be the every-down starter. It’s really too close to call, but we’ll go with Frazier because of his overall athleticism.

KENTUCKY

The matchup: Senior Morgan Newton was recovering from shoulder surgery and didn’t go through the spring, meaning it was wide open for sophomore Maxwell Smith to make his move. Even though he threw a pair of interceptions in the spring game, Smith had a good spring and was able to build on the playing time he received last season as a true freshman.

The winner is: Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said Smith would be the starter if the season started right now. We’ll see where Newton is physically come August, but it’s obvious that the plan now is to go with Smith. It’s hard to imagine anything at this point keeping him from being the starter in the opener, although Newton has played a lot of football for the Wildcats.

OLE MISS

The matchup: This battle was whittled to two early on this spring, and junior college newcomer Bo Wallace took the early lead thanks to his knowledge of first-year coach Hugh Freeze’s offense. But junior Barry Brunetti, who’s very comfortable in the spread, fought back to make this a close race, close enough that Freeze said coming out of the spring that he could see both Wallace and Brunetti playing in the opener.

The winner is: The good thing for the Rebels is that Wallace and Brunetti are different kinds of quarterbacks, so playing both of them makes sense. The guess here is that Wallace is the first one to see the field, but the competition in preseason practice will be intense.

TEXAS A&M

The matchup: Kevin Sumlin took over a Texas A&M program that had virtually no experience at the quarterback position. Sophomore Jameill Showers threw all of five passes last season while backing up Ryan Tannehill. Johnny Manziel redshirted last season. It’s down to those two players, although true freshman Matt Davis could be a factor down the road.

The winner is: Showers seemed to separate himself to close the spring and played well in the spring game. Sumlin still wants to see the quarterbacks protect the ball better and repeated that the Aggies don't have a starter yet. That said, it would be an upset at this point if Showers weren’t the starter to open the season.

VANDERBILT

The matchup: Jordan Rodgers helped to energize the Vanderbilt offense when he replaced Larry Smith as the Commodores’ starter last season. He’s a dual-purpose threat with the ability to make big plays down the field. Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels is equally capable of making plays with his arm and legs and makes this a lot closer race than anybody might have imagined heading into November a year ago.

The winner is: Vanderbilt coach James Franklin emphasized that the starting job would remain open through the summer. It’s still Rodgers’ job to lose, but the Commodores would like to see him cut down on his interceptions. It’s likely that Rodgers will hold onto the job, but Carta-Samuels is good enough and has enough experience to make it a legitimate battle.

Chris Low | email

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