Potential quarterback dilemmas could shake up SEC race
Anyone trying to get a read on the Southeastern Conference’s quarterback situation should avoid looking at the league standings.
While the only two SEC teams with losing records both have clear-cut veteran starting quarterbacks, the two programs atop the Eastern Division standings have uncertainty at that spot. How those schools sort out their quarterback situations could go a long way toward determining the eventual East champion.
No. 21 Florida named Luke Del Rio its starter this week after he replaced an ineffective Feleipe Franks and rallied the Gators to a victory at Kentucky . Georgia freshman Jake Fromm has played so well in place of the injured Jacob Eason that the seventh-ranked Bulldogs must decide what to do once Eason is healthy again.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart says Eason is “much closer to being able to play” after spraining his left knee in the season opener. Smart said practice performance would determine who starts once Eason returns.
“The focus for Jacob Eason is to get healthy and be a part of this game plan and learn what to do,” Smart said. “The focus for Fromm is to focus on improving and getting better.”
SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy says he’d lean toward sticking with Fromm even after Eason returns but added that “I don’t think that’s the direction they’re going to take.”
“Based on (what Eason did) last year, Fromm is a little more athletic, he gets the ball out a little quicker, has a better understanding of where to go with the football and has been consistent with throws down the field, all of which were things Jacob Eason struggled with last year,” said McElroy, the quarterback of Alabama’s 2009 national championship team.
Smart’s dilemma resulted from a quarterback playing better than expected. Florida’s problem is finding any consistent solution.
Just one week after Florida beat Tennessee on his 63-yard touchdown pass as time expired, Franks was benched when he struggled against Kentucky. Del Rio replaced Franks and performed well enough to move atop the pecking order entering Saturday’s game with Vanderbilt.
“Luke will take the starting reps in practice and yet the other two guys will still get their reps as well,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “We’ll see where it goes kind of from there.”
Although the likelihood of improved SEC quarterback play was a major preseason topic, the uncertainty shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
Florida didn’t name a starter until just before the season and Tennessee didn’t announce its starter until Quinten Dormady actually took the Volunteers’ first snap. While 2016 SEC offensive player of the year Jalen Hurts returned for top-ranked Alabama, some of the SEC’s more experienced quarterbacks play for weaker teams.
The SEC quarterback with the most career starts is Drew Lock at Missouri (1-3), which has allowed a league-high 40 points per game. The only other SEC team with a losing record is Arkansas (1-2), which also has a returning starter at quarterback in Austin Allen. The SEC leader in passing yards and efficiency is Shea Patterson at Mississippi.
But other schools that had high preseason hopes are still figuring out their quarterback situations.
No. 25 LSU briefly rested Danny Etling last week and played freshman Myles Brennan for three series in the second half of a victory over Syracuse . Tigers coach Ed Orgeron said he just wanted to give Brennan some reps and added that “obviously Danny is our starting quarterback.”
At Tennessee, Dormady has started Tennessee’s first four games but was pulled in favor of Jarrett Guarantano in the second half of a 17-13 victory over Massachusetts last week.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones said the team needed a spark and he wanted to give Guarantano meaningful snaps. Dormady returned after Tennessee couldn’t move the ball in Guarantano’s three series.
“I’m just here to win games,” said Dormady, who remains atop Tennessee’s depth chart. “Whatever the coaches think is best, we’ll go with that.”
Tennessee’s quarterback usage surprises McElroy.
“The fact that Jarrett Guarantano is playing at all is shocking to me,” McElroy said. “Dormady, he hasn’t been an All-America candidate, but he certainly hasn’t been bad given he hasn’t played a lot. Guarantano shouldn’t be playing, in my opinion. He’s not as good as Dormady to this point, and it’s proven itself on the field.”
Tennessee next faces Georgia, which is staring at its own quarterback dilemma.
At this point, it’s a good problem for Smart to have as the Bulldogs contend for an SEC title. It could become more of a distraction down the road.
“If in fact adversity were to arise and they were to lose a game they probably shouldn’t, that’s when it becomes an issue,” McElroy said. “Adversity and problems arise solely when you have a loss. Seldom is anybody questioning or worried or upset after a win.”
AP Sports Writers Pete Iacobelli, Brett Martel and Charles Odum contributed to this report.