NGSC Sports

SEC 5 To Watch: All eyes on the QBs

TODAY HERE AT the National Gridiron Network, we kick off our “5 Players to Watch in 2014” series with the SEC.

When it comes to college football’s standard-bearing conference, there are any number of definitions that could apply to such a list. If you’re seeking the next big thing in offensive production, names like Nick Marshall (Auburn), Todd Gurley (Georgia), Mike Davis (South Carolina) and Derrick Henry (Alabama) comes to mind.

On defense, how about finding the next Jadeveon Clowney? Look no further than Ole Miss rising sophomore Robert Nkimdiche. Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III also has that unique breakout potential after making the all-SEC first team as a freshman.

But for today’s purposes, we’re going to focus on football’s most important position. There are five schools whose offenses rely heavily on strong quarterback play who are losing their heralded signal-callers. Those who step into their shoes will play a vital role in their respective programs’ immediate future.

Let’s get started:

[airesizeimg src=”$-300×168$.jpg” alt=”Texas A&M commitment Kyle Allen” class=”alignleft size-medium wp-image-3461″ ]TEXAS A&M
Out: Johnny Manziel
In: Kyle Allen

Allen committed to Texas A&M at the conclusion of his junior season and didn’t rest on his laurels during a senior campaign that saw him pass for more than 3,000 yards and 36 touchdowns. He is cocky, publicly stating that he expects to pick up where Johnny Football left off and he is considered the consensus No. 1 quarterback in the Class of 2014.

He will vie for the QB spot with sophomore Kenny Hill and likely spring football incumbent Matt Joeckel, who will be a redshirt senior. Joeckel’s familiarity with the position and steady play in mop-up time make him the early leader, but neither he or Hill have a ceiling anywhere close to as exciting as Allen.

Allen excelled at the Army All-American Game earlier this month, raising sky-high expectations even further.

[airesizeimg src=”$-300×199$.jpeg” alt=”Georgia QB Hutson Mason” class=”alignleft size-medium wp-image-3462″ ]GEORGIA
Aaron Murray
In: Hutson Mason

Mason’s ascension has been in place for some time at Georgia. Mark Richt slapped a redshirt on what would have been Mason’s junior season, sensing the possibility of a recruiting gap at the position.

When Murray was lost for the season in November, Mason stepped in ably, if in unspectacular fashion. That has led Richt to compare Mason not to Murray, but former Georgia QB David Greene.

That is a solid comparison since the 2014 Bulldogs won’t necessarily be seeking big plays from the position as much as they will be hoping for a steady game manager. With a potent running attack firmly established, Mason’s primary goals will be to make good use of play-action and not turn the ball over.

[airesizeimg src=”$-300×226$.jpg” alt=”Alabama QB Blake Sims” class=”alignleft size-medium wp-image-3463″ ]ALABAMA
AJ McCarron
In: Unknown


Of the teams you will see on this list, none face as much turmoil at the quarterback position as the Crimson Tide.

Would it surprise you to know that McCarron – perhaps the most successful quarterback in ‘Bama history, if not the most talented by any means – is the only quarterback to play for Saban that Saban actually recruited?

There is a long list of potential replacements for McCarron, but none really ring the bell for excitement like Allen does at A&M or even inspire cautious trust like Mason at Georgia.

Blake Sims was the backup in 2013, but Saban has all but pooh-poohed the notion of Sims being the frontrunner simply because he has experience. Sims hurdled Alec Morris, who was considered McCarron’s heir-apparent prior to the start of this season before ending up on the side of a milk carton.

Jacob Coker will transfer to Alabama and play immediately under the NCAA’s graduated senior rule. Coker is an interesting case, since he succeeded McCarron at their shared high school. Because he didn’t rate much playing time until McCarron’s departure, Coker was lightly recruited. Upon the emergence of Jameis Winston this past season, Coker became extraneous. While he shares McCarron’s background, the jury is out on whether he shares his talent.

Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod were part of the 2013 signing class, but preferred walk-on Luke Del Rio – son of Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio – is considered the best of the three.

There is a four-star QB commitment (David Cornwell) in the 2014 class, but he’s a walking redshirt with the Tide’s overall depth. Expect a spirited spring battle with no decision coming from Saban until fall.

[airesizeimg src=”$-300×199$.jpg” alt=”LSU QB Anthony Jennings” class=”alignleft size-medium wp-image-3464″ ]LSU
Zach Mettenberger
In: Anthony Jennings

When LSU’s love-hate relationship with Mettenberger ended in December with a torn ACL, all eyes were on the freshman Jennings, who didn’t disappoint. Jennings’ impact was immediate when he tossed a game-winning touchdown against Arkansas to cap a gutsy, 99-yard drive.

Coming into that game, LSU coach Les Miles knew Jennings had the physical tools necessary to be the next big thing. The question was whether Jennings would have the necessary poise. That Arkansas game answered those questions.

That said, Jennings fell on his face a month later at the Outback Bowl. Should LSU be concerned?

Well, considering Jennings had played a grand total of 12 minutes prior to facing one the top defenses in the country (Iowa) in a New Year’s Day bowl game, perhaps some slack should be cut.

One other factor in Jennings’ development entering the 2014 season: the continued presence of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. He is a proven evaluator of quarterbacks and his decision to stay put in Baton Rouge this offseason was huge.

[airesizeimg src=”$-300×194$.jpg” alt=”South Carolina QB Dylan Thompson” class=”alignleft size-medium wp-image-3465″ ]SOUTH CAROLINA
Connor Shaw
In: Dylan Thompson

Of the five programs on this list, none is in better hands than the Gamecocks. That’s saying something, considering Shaw departs South Carolina as perhaps the most successful quarterback in school history.

Where Shaw could improvise and was at his best with the pocket either moving or breaking down, Thompson is a classic pocket passer with vertical capabilities. That’s not to say Thompson cannot scramble, because he can.

Thompson saw a lot of playing time when battling for the position during the 2012 season. His best performance came in the 2012 regular season finale with a record-setting performance against Clemson. He also threw the game-winning pass in relief of Shaw in that year’s Outback Bowl victory against Michigan.

Steve Spurrier caught lightning in a bottle when Shaw blossomed in 2013, but Thompson is very much in the mold of some of Spurrier’s better QBs during his time at Florida. Expect Thompson – who also is a proven leader on the Gamecocks – to ably slide into the role.

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Ralph Garcia


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