One of the greatest quarterback classes in Southeastern Conference history is now toiling in the NFL.
Gone are the likes of Johnny Manziel and Aaron Murray, but the big passing numbers have stayed.
A new crop of quarterbacks — led by Texas A&M’s Kenny Hill, South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson, Kentucky’s Patrick Towles, and Missouri’s Maty Mauk — are faring just fine on the football field. Their numbers look a whole lot like the stats their predecessors piled up last year.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze said. “You go back to SEC Media Days and (the inexperience at quarterback) was the buzz around there and I kept saying these coaches in this league aren’t just sitting around and not recruiting other quarterbacks. There will be many quarterbacks when given their chance in this league, who will do very well.”
So far, so good.
But the games are about to get harder for many teams.
Texas A&M’s Hill has already been tested and put on a show against South Carolina, was 44 of 60 for 511 yards and three touchdowns. The sophomore ranks third in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 794 passing yards through two games.
The seventh-ranked Aggies even have a backup who can throw. Freshman Kyle Allen, who lost the job to Hill during preseason camp, was 12 of 16 for 122 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in limited time during last weekend’s 73-3 victory against Lamar.
“They’ve both been helping each other,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “The biggest thing I see, which you can’t be fake about, is how they support each other.”
Texas A&M’s quarterback situation is settled for now. For others — like No. 3 Alabama — the competition continues.
Senior Blake Sims has started both games for the Tide this season and played well, completing 76.6 percent of his passes for 478 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He’s competing with junior Jake Coker, who has completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 202 yards and a touchdown.
Coach Nick Saban would like to have the race settled by the team’s Sept. 20 game against Florida, but he hasn’t given many clues to which quarterback has the advantage.
“To me, whichever quarterback develops and gives us the best chance to win when we play Florida, that’s the guy we’re going to play,” Saban said.
Here’s the quarterback situation at some other SEC schools:
n Missouri’s Maty Mauk started four games last season when James Franklin was injured. Now he’s the main guy for the No. 20 Tigers. He threw for a career-high 325 yards last week in against Toledo.
“I’m thinking aggressive thoughts,” Mauk said. “I’m going to take shots. And sometimes maybe it’s not going to work, but the guys that I have out there catching the football have no doubt I can put one up there and they’ll go make a play for me.”
n South Carolina’s Thompson has waited four years for his shot to be the starter after being stuck behind Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw. He’s looked pretty good so far for the No. 24 Gamecocks, throwing for 632 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions, though he’d like to see his 57.7 completion percentage rise.
“I’ve had a few sail on me,” Thompson said. “I wish I could give you the answer because then I’d fix them. I just have to be more consistent and accurate, I guess.”
n Auburn’s Nick Marshall led the Tigers to the national championship game last season, but he’ll likely have to share snaps with sophomore Jeremy Johnson in most games.
It appears to be a win-win situation for coach Gus Malzahn, who can use Marshall’s running ability or Johnson’s more polished pocket passing. Malzahn has made it clear that Marshall is the starter of the No. 5 Tigers, but he also wants to find a role for Johnson.
n Kentucky’s off to a 2-0 start under second-year coach Mark Stoops. One big reason is Towles, a sophomore who has thrown for 547 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
“In the games, you love to see the quarterback sit in that pocket, go through his progressions, distribute the football,” Stoops said. “You also like to see how he handles adversity.”
n One of the few schools having issues under center is Vanderbilt. The Commodores have been blown out in two games under first-year coach Derek Mason. Senior Stephen Rivers has received the most playing time, but struggled, and Mason has now re-opened the job and is trying to choose between four candidates.
“It’s not necessarily having the biggest strong-armed quarterback or having everybody be a world beater,” Mason said. “It’s about being able to create balance to what you do. Now in looking at where we’re at, especially in the SEC and college football it’s a quarterback-driven game.”