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Ranking the SEC quarterback situations entering the 2018 college football season

Alabama quarterbacks coach Dan Enos directs passing drills as quarterbacks Jalen Hurts (2) and Tua Tagovailoa (13) listen during the NCAA college football team’s spring practice Tuesday, March 20, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)

With spring practice in the books and preseason camp still weeks away, we’re really in the doldrums of the college football offseason.

But it’s never too early to look ahead to next season, don’t you think? Quarterback is the most important position on the field, so let’s see how things are stacking up at the position across the country.

We’ll continue with the quarterback situations for each SEC team.

Previously: ACCBig TenBig 12, Pac-12

14. Kentucky – Gunnar Hoak, Terry Wilson

Four players threw a pass for Kentucky in 2017. One is a wide receiver. One is a running back. Two are quarterbacks not returning to the team in 2018. Stephen Johnson was the team’s primary quarterback in 2017, throwing for over 2,300 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Hoak was a good recruiting get for the Wildcats in the class of 2016 and redshirted in his first year on campus. Wilson is an intriguing junior college transfer who has two seasons of eligibility left. Wilson started his college career at Oregon and spent the 2017 season at Garden City Community College where he threw for 2,133 yards and 26 scores while also rushing for 518 yards and five touchdowns.

13. Arkansas – Cole Kelley, Ty Storey

Arkansas is at the bottom of these rankings because they have the dreaded combination of being the worst team in one of the most top-heavy divisions in college football with an inexperienced quarterback group.

Gone is Austin Allen, a multi-year starter for the Razorbacks, though Kelley got some significant playing time in 2017 because of Allen’s injury. Kelley was 87-151 for 1,038 yards and eight touchdowns and four interceptions. Oh, and he’s tall. You’re going to hear a lot about how Kelly is 6-7 and weighs nearly 270 pounds.

Storey saw bit parts in two games in 2017. A four-star recruit in the class of 2015, he redshirted in his first year and is a redshirt junior entering the 2018 season.

Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks runs with the ball during an NCAA spring college football intrasquad game, Saturday, April 14, 2018, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

12. Florida – Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask

Dan Mullen has gotten good production from his quarterbacks. But it’s hard to put Florida’s current quarterback crop ahead of anyone else on this list.

Franks ended up getting most of the playing time during the Gators’ tumultuous 2017 season. He was unimpressive, save for a couple of mind-bending runs. He was 125-229 passing for 1,438 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. His paltry 6.3 yards per attempt was the best on the team. Ew.

Trask was one of the star performers in Florida’s spring game and has a serious chance to usurp Franks as the starter. Trask played well all spring and has been in Florida’s system as long as Franks has. The winner of this quarterback competition may be the guy who learns Mullen’s offense the fastest.

11. Ole Miss – Jordan Ta’amu

Ta’amu took over for Shea Patterson when Patterson suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2017. With Patterson off to Michigan in 2018, the starting gig is all Ta’amu’s.

He acquitted himself well after Patterson’s injury. Ta’amu was 115-173 for 1,682 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. He had a better completion percentage and more yards per attempt than Patterson did.

Ta’amu should form a potent connection with wide receiver A.J. Brown. But the Rebels are facing another bowl ban in 2018 and have a depleted roster. And have to play a full SEC West schedule. So that’s why Ta’amu isn’t any higher.

Keller Chryst will be immediately eligible at Tennessee. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

10. Tennessee – Will McBride, Keller Chryst, Jarrett Guarantano

Chryst’s Stanford tenure spiraled at the end of the 2016 season. He was the team’s most efficient passer in 2016 as he played in parts of 12 games and threw 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions. But he suffered a torn ACL in the Sun Bowl. He played in just seven games in 2017 and K.J. Costello took over as Stanford’s primary QB. A graduate transfer, Chryst should be an upgrade over the quarterback chaos that plagued Tennessee in 2017.

Guarantano was part of that chaos in 2017. He opened the season as the backup but ended up throwing the most passes of any Tennessee QB. But he threw just four TDs in those 139 attempts and suffered an ankle injury at the end of the season. That meant Tennessee had to pull the redshirt off Will McBride, who was just 17-40 over the final two games of the season.

9. LSU – Myles Brennan, Joe Burrow

Burrow is a graduate transfer from Ohio State. A likely backup to Dwayne Haskins and possibly even Tate Martell, Burrow decided to join the Tigers and will compete with Brennan for the starting job.

Burrow may have the upper hand in the competition to replace Danny Etling as the Tigers’ starter. Whoever ends up as LSU’s starter will be playing quarterback with a bunch of new skill position players. Running backs Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams and wide receivers D.J. Chark and Russell Gage aren’t returning in 2018. There could be a learning curve for whomever ends up winning the job.

8. Texas A&M – Nick Starkel, Kellen Mond

What would A&M’s season have looked like if Starkel had been healthy for the entire 2017 season. Would Kevin Sumlin still be with the Aggies?

Starkel opened the season as the team’s starter but suffered an injury against UCLA. That injury helped spark UCLA’s epic comeback. Mind then took over as the starter as Starkel recovers. He improved as a passer as the season went on, but Starkel ended up as the far more proficient passer after he returned. Mind was 117-227 passing for 1.375 yards and eight touchdowns and six interceptions. Contrast that with Starkel’s 123-205 passing for 1,793 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Given that A&M’s offense will look a lot more conventional under new coach Jimbo Fisher, Starkel probably has the edge again.

Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur (14) made a big leap in 2017. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

7. Vanderbilt – Kyle Shurmur

The future quarterback of the New York Giants? Maybe Pat Shurmer drafted Saquon Barkley in 2018 because he knew he could draft his son in 2019?

Ok, we’re joking. We think. Shurmer enters the 2018 season as a two-year starter for the Commodores. He took a significant step forward in 2017 in all categories. He threw for 400 more yards on five more attempts, upped his completion percentage and yards per attempt. Most importantly, he threw 17 more touchdowns and no more interceptions, ending the season with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

6. South Carolina – Jake Bentley

Bentley was South Carolina’s undisputed starter in 2017 after emerging as the team’s primary QB in 2016. He finished the 2017 season 245-396 for 2,794 yards and 18 touchdowns to go along with 12 interceptions. He’ll have a new offensive coordinator in Bryan McClendon, who has been the Gamecocks’ wide receivers coach for the past two seasons. The South Carolina offense could be a little faster in 2017 and the Gamecocks hope that leads to more yards per play. South Carolina was 84th in the country in that category a year ago.

5. Mississippi State – Nick Fitzgerald, Keytaon Thompson

We’re excited to see what Joe Moorhead’s offense looks like in his first season as an FBS head coach. And he’s got two pretty good quarterbacks to run it. Mississippi State may be higher on this list if Fitzgerald hadn’t suffered a gruesome ankle injury against Ole Miss at the end of the season. He should be healthy, but we’re hedging a bit.

Fitzgerald should take another step forward as a passer and could challenge for a 2,000-yard passing season and a 1,000-yard rushing season. He would have likely gotten both a year ago had he not been injured.

Thompson’s a threat on the ground too. He averaged six yards a carry and had six rushing touchdowns and got some good experience filling in for Fitzgerald at the end of the season.

Missouri quarterback Drew Lock threw for 44 TDs in 2017. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

4. Missouri – Drew Lock

If you’re a fan of NFL mock drafts done immediately after the current year’s draft has concluded, you’ve likely seen Lock as the first quarterback projected to be selected in the 2019 NFL draft. So why the heck is Missouri at No. 4? First, it’s because the drop-off from Lock to Micah Wilson or Lindsey Scott is pretty big.

Second, we’re not sure what Missouri’s offense is going to look like in 2018. With Josh Heupel now the head coach at Central Florida, Missouri went and hired former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley to be the team’s offensive coordinator. Dooley, who was most recently with the Dallas Cowboys, has never called plays. Just what is his offense going to look like and will there be some growing pains as he learns the rhythm of being a play-caller?

We’re also not sure if Lock will throw for more than 40 touchdowns again. He set an SEC record with 44 touchdown passes in 2017 and averaged 9.5 yards per completion. Lock’s statistics may take a slight step back in 2018 even as he develops into a more well-rounded passer.

3. Auburn – Jarrett Stidham

Stidham has the edge over Lock because he’s playing for a better team and will only get better in his second season in Gus Malzahn’s offense. Stidham completed over 66 percent of his passes in 2017 though he threw for just 18 touchdown passes. If Malzahn wants to put more of the offense on Stidham’s shoulders in 2018 he could end up throwing for 30 or more scores.

It’ll help significantly if wide receivers Will Hastings and Eli Stove return from torn ACLs they suffered in spring practices. While it’s doubtful they’ll be back for the start of the season, both players could come back for the second half of the season. WR Ryan Davis also returns. He had 84 catches for 815 yards a year ago and will team with Darius Slayton (29 catches for 643 yards) to pick up the slack if Stove and Hastings are out for a while.

2. Georgia – Jake Fromm, Justin Fields

The top two teams on this list should look pretty familiar. And they’re here for the quality of their starting quarterbacks and the perceived quality of the backups behind them. Fromm looked like a seasoned veteran stepping in for Jacob Eason as the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback. His first game as Georgia’s starter was a road win at Notre Dame.

He was boosted by a great run game — which loses Sony Michel and Nick Chubb — in 2017 but averaged nine yards an attempt and threw for 24 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. If you believe Georgia’s running game will slip a little bit in 2018, improvements from Fromm should negate any drop-off on the ground.

Fields enters the season in the position Fromm was in a year ago. A five-star recruit in the class of 2018, Fields was ranked as the top dual-threat quarterback in the country. He’d be starting for a vast majority of programs around the country.

Eason, meanwhile, has transferred to Washington and is sitting out 2018 before he takes over as the heir apparent to Jake Browning.

1. Alabama – Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa

The top storyline entering college football in 2018 is our top quarterback situation in the SEC. Will Tua Tagovailoa pick up where he left off and start the season as Alabama’s quarterback? Or will Jalen Hurts be Alabama’s primary quarterback for the third-straight season.

By now, you know the story behind the competition between Hurts and Tagovailoa, so there’s no sense in repeating it here. We’re confident Nick Saban will make the right decision when it comes to his quarterback competition because he hardly ever makes bad decisions.

That decision will likely come right as the season begins. Tagovailoa’s spring hand injury adds a layer of public intrigue to the competition. And it’s worth noting that whoever starts Alabama’s season-opening game is no lock to keep the job for very long. Blake Barnett was Alabama’s starter to open the 2016 season. Hurts replaced him during that game and Barnett transferred a month later.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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