It’s almost game week, y’all! Auburn football is eight days away, and FBS football starts tomorrow. Don’t you just love this time of year? Come Monday, we will begin our transition into game week, but for one more day, we get to stay in pre-season mode.
As everyone knows, quarterbacks get all the glory when things go right, and all the blame when they don’t. They should be the heart and soul of the team, the leaders of the men on the field. The quality of your quarterback alone won’t exactly determine your fate as a football team, but it is usually the most important piece of the puzzle. That being said, let’s take a look at each of the twelve (or more, maybe?) quarterbacks Auburn will play against this season.
#1 Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State (Jr), Week 5
When a team loses a quarterback with 49 career starts, and that quarterback is widely considered the best in program history, AND that quarterback leads his new NFL team to the #1 seed and wins Rookie of the Year… You should take a pretty big step back in quarterback play once he leaves. And although I’m not exactly here to argue that Fitz is as good as Dak Prescott, he still posted some crazy numbers last season as a true sophomore in his first starting experience. The 6’5”, 235 lb Fitzgerald used his size both to help him throw for over 2400 yards and rush for nearly another 1400 yards, with a 21:10 TD:INT ratio and another 16 scores on the ground. Those numbers are big, and watching him play last season backed up his numbers. He may not have elite touch on the ball, but he has a big arm and can make throws from inside or out of the pocket. He creates chances throwing the ball, though, because of his rushing ability. He’s just as comfortable looking for open field as he is bowling over defenders at the goal line, and he’s got just enough speed to boot. He still has some work to do, but he could quickly garner some national hype if Mississippi State rattles off some upsets this year.
#2 Jalen Hurts, Alabama (So), Week 13
It’s hard, trust me. Just like all of you, I have images of Greg McElroy, A.J. McCarron, and other boring but safe quarterbacks as the hallmark of an Alabama offense. It’s not fair, anyone could look like a second place Heisman contender when they’re throwing to Julio Jones or Amari Cooper, or handing off to Mark Ingram or Eddie Lacy or Derrick Henry. It’s easy to assume that Jalen Hurts is just another one of these guys, but he might be a little more than that. His numbers may be the best of any returning quarterback in the conference (2780 yards passing, 23:9 TD:INT, 954 yards rushing and 13 TDs), and he did take Alabama to the brink of a national championship as a true freshman. Sure, he had plenty of weapons around him, and an elite defense, and possibly the most successful head coach in NCAA history, but the kid is still really good, and only getting better. Honestly, I could put him this high on the list simply for playing quarterback for Nick Saban at 18 years old. Props.
#3 Austin Allen, Arkansas (RSr), Week 8
On the other end of the spectrum from Hurts is Austin Allen, a redshirt senior who’s been in around for what feels like a decade, partially because he took over for his brother Brandon last season. As a redshirt junior last season, Allen played pretty well, throwing for 3,430 yards and 25 touchdowns, although he did have 15 interceptions. The Hogs’ quarterback doesn’t run much either, totaling -126 yards rushing, mostly from sacks. He can certainly pick apart defenses from the pocket given the chance, though. Hopefully when the Tigers go to Fayetteville in October, the pass rush is in full swing.
#4 Jacob Eason, UGA (So), Week 11
The former five-star was supposed to be a generational talent last season, but things didn’t quite go the Dawgs way in 2016. Believe it or not, a first time head coach with a freshman quarterback isn’t always the recipe for a national championship. It wasn’t all Eason’s fault, though, and for a freshman he didn’t play all that bad, throwing for 2430 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions with no running threat. For every time he flashed his big-play ability, though, there were just as many times he looked lost out on the field. Nothing stands out more than his 5-17 for 29 yards against South Carolina, though. Obviously, UGA fans will be looking for more out Eason than that, and my only hope is that we have a quarterback that is ready to take the field against UGA this year after consecutive Sean White debacles against UGA the last two years.
#5 Drew Lock, Missouri (Jr), Week 4
When I first started putting together this list, I had Lock a bit lower than this. I had viewed his stats from both of his 2015 and 2016 seasons as a whole, and they were less than impressive (the 4:8 TD:INT ratio in 2015 was especially rough). However, when I looked at just 2016, Lock looked solid. He threw for 3400 yards with a 23:10 TD:INT ratio, and had five different games over 300 yards. He had two BAD games in the middle of the year against LSU and Florida where he went a combined 21-55 for 206 yards, no touchdowns, and three interceptions, but he did show a bit of promise in several of his other games. I’m not quite sure how I view Lock yet, but he does have two seasons under his belt, which is more than can be said for most of the quarterbacks on Auburn’s schedule. I do believe the Auburn defense should be able to keep him under wraps come September 23 in Columbia, but we shall see.
#6 Shea Patterson, Ole Miss (So), Week 6
The 2016 recruiting class has some phenomenal quarterbacks in it if I do say so myself. Patterson didn’t get to play until late last season when Chad Kelly went down, but he showed flashes of brilliance (as well as inexperience) in his limited play last year. In his first start, Patterson lit up the Texas A&M defense for 338 yards and two touchdowns (with an interception) to steal a 29-28 win, but he struggled against Vandy and Mississippi State after that. Still, though, he was an exciting player to watch last season, and with nothing to lose being on probation this season, I’d love to see Ole Miss let him run wild this season. That being said, he does only have three games experience (like someone else we all know), so expectations can be tempered a bit.
#7 Danny Etling, LSU (RSr), Week 7
When I think of LSU’s quarterback situation over the last ten years, all I can think of is Jamarcus Russell being a bust and a bunch of other guys just being bad at playing quarterback. Enter Danny Etling in 2016, a transfer from Purdue. He was mainly just… more of the same. The bar is set pretty low at LSU for quarterback play, and the main job there is to just hand it off to whoever their elite running backs are at the time. Last year, it was Fournette and Guice, and with Guice coming back and seemingly ready to run over through every defense in the conference, the expectations are still pretty low for the quarterback. Just don’t screw it up, and they won’t run you out of town. I’m pretty sure Etling isn’t the guy to get them to win the West, though.
#8 Kelly Bryant, Clemson (Jr), Week 2
Here is where things start to get sticky. From here on out, these quarterbacks are all either first-time starters or the quarterback competition is still undecided. Remember everything I said about Fitzgerald at the top of this list? The same *might* apply to Bryant, a (so far) career backup to the best quarterback the program has ever had. Bryant can also run. In his limited action, he does have 178 yards rushing for 3 touchdowns, and he’s gotten those yards at over 5 yards per carry. Reports are divided about his arm, although in his limited playing time, he’s only thrown 18 career passes. Bryant hasn’t really played in his two years, so Clemson is effectively going with an unknown, whether Bryant keeps the job through the year or whether blue-chip freshman Hunter Johnson takes the job. It’s a pretty safe bet, though, that we will be seeing Bryant come week 2 in Clemson.
#9 Texas A&M, Week 10
As of today, the Texas A&M quarterback race is still undecided. The contenders are:
· Jake Hubenak, a senior who has played sparingly the last two seasons
· Nick Starkel, a redshirt freshman
· Kellen Mond, a 5-star true freshman
From everything I’ve seen, I don’t think there will be a quarterback named before next weekend against UCLA. I’m not sure if the race is still too close and Sumlin wants to take the battle into the season, or if he just doesn’t want to publicly name a starter. It doesn’t appear that Mond will win the position outright, at least not yet, and while Hubenak is the tried-and-true, know what you are getting safe bet, Starkel may be the best of the bunch right now. Reporters have been raving about his arm, but for some reason or another, I just get the sense that none of these guys have really been great enough to distance themselves from the others. We’ll see soon enough, and I imagine a starter will be set in stone come November 4th.
#10 Shai Werts, Georgia Southern (RFr), Week 1
As much of a wild card as Texas A&M’s position is, Georgia Southern is even more of an unknown. This week, the Eagles decided on redshirt freshman Shai Werts as the starting quarterback. Between not having seen him play at all and the re-dedication to the triple option Southern fans love so much, it’s hard to draw any conclusions right now about the quality of Werts. I give him some credit, though, for winning the job outright, which is why I place him ahead of the next two teams on the list.
#11 ULM, Week 12
Another open quarterback job, though of much lower quality than Texas A&M’s. This time it is between:
· Garrett Smith, a junior, with experience starting in some games the last two years
· Caleb Evans, a sophomore, also started a few games last season
Injuries derailed both Smith and Evans at points in 2016. Smith started most of the year with awful results, but Evans came on near the end of the season. Although Evans was not much better than Smith, he did lead the WarHawks to two conference wins over South Alabama and Georgia State. Honestly, neither quarterback is going to pose much of a threat when ULM comes to town between the UGA and Alabama games.
#12 Mercer, Week 3
It should tell you enough that Google tried to auto-finish my search of “Mercer quarterback” with the addition of “camp”, because apparently an offseason quarterback camp is more searched for than the actual starting quarterback at Mercer. The Bears are looking to start someone other than John Russ at quarterback for the first time since the program was brought back in 2013, but the competition is still open…
Funnily enough, as I did a Google search to check on the names of the potential quarterbacks, Mercer named a quarterback. I’m not joking when I say it happened within five minutes of me starting the Mercer section. Anyways, redshirt freshman Kaelan Riley has won the job in Macon for the Bears. That’s about as much as I can tell you about that.