SEC Football: Biggest Spring Quarterback Battles
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
It seems like just yesterday that Alabama was hoisting the crystal football in Miami Gardens and the SEC was celebrating its unprecedented seventh straight BCS National Championship.
But with national signing day in the rear-view mirror, spring practice is right around the corner.
With it comes several key quarterback battles in the SEC, some of which could make or break the season for big-name programs.
What are the top quarterback battles in the SEC in 2013? The top six are in this slide show.
*South Carolina's battle between Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson isn't included because Shaw is sitting out this spring due to foot surgery.
6. Vanderbilt Commodores
Vanderbilt QB Austyn Carta-Samuels
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Rising senior Austyn Carta-Samuels will get the first crack at replacing the recently departed Jordan Rodgers.
Carta-Samuels, a transfer from Wyoming who sat out the 2011 season, started one game and appeared in six last season, throwing for 208 yards and one touchdown. In 2009-10 with Wyoming, he passed for 3,655 yards, tossed 19 touchdowns, threw 13 interceptions and ran for 758 yards and six touchdowns.
But that was at Wyoming, and things are a bit different in the SEC. He will have the dynamic duo of Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd lining up outside and the underrated Brian Kimbrow lining up behind him at running back.
Redshirt freshman Patton Robinette, a former 247Sports.com 3-star prospect in the class of 2012, will challenge Carta-Samuels for the starting spot this spring. Like Carta-Samuels, the 6'4", 204-pounder has the ability to make things happen with his legs and his arm.
Post-Spring Prediction: Austyn Carta-Samuels will hold a significant lead, but the battle will be ongoing.
5. Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky QB Maxwell Smith
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First-year Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops will host quite the quarterback battle this spring, with junior Maxwell Smith and sophomores Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow all getting a shot at securing the job in the new-look offense under coordinator Neal Brown.
Smith is the front-runner. The 6'4", 224-pounder completed 68.7 percent of his passes and threw for 975 yards and eight touchdowns in four games last season before an ankle injury forced him to miss the rest of the season. When healthy, Smith has everything it takes to become a big-time weapon in the air-raid offense.
Don't count out Towles, though. After Smith got hurt, the redshirt was taken off Towles, and he showed flashes of what he's capable of. Sure, a completion percentage of 47.5 is nothing to write home about, but the 6'5", 242-pounder has a big-time arm and should benefit from the new system.
The dual-threat Whitlow is more of a long shot with the new offense, but he certainly will find his way to the field either as a situational quarterback or at another position.
Post-Spring Prediction: Smith will win the job.
4. Missouri Tigers
Missouri QB James Franklin
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New Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson has a major challenge facing him this spring: deciding on a quarterback.
Rising senior James Franklin is the incumbent, but the 6'2", 228-pounder was less than impressive in 2012, completing 59.4 percent of his passes for 1,562 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Not bad, but clearly not enough to lead the Tigers to SEC East contention.
Corbin Berkstresser filled in for an injured Franklin last season, but the rising sophomore completed only 49.7 percent of his passes, throwing five touchdowns and seven interceptions.
With inconsistency reigning supreme in Columbia last season, the door is wide open for redshirt freshman Maty Mauk to take control of the quarterback battle. Mauk was a 4-star prospect in the class of 2012 by 247Sports.com, and the 6'1", 200-pounder will press the two veterans for playing time this spring.
Post-Spring Prediction: Franklin will be the front-runner, but all eyes will be on Mauk.
3. Arkansas Razorbacks
Arkansas QB Brandon Allen
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Arkansas' spring is full of unknowns, with the battle for the top spot on the depth chart at quarterback being the biggest mystery for first-year head coach Bret Bielema.
Brandon Allen stepped in for Tyler Wilson last season when Wilson was forced out of action with a concussion. He will be in contention to take over the job on a full-time basis this spring.
Allen, a rising sophomore, completed only 42.9 percent of his passes for 186 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions last season. Not anything to write home about, but it was clear that he was not ready for action when he was tossed into the mix in Week 2.
Rising senior Brandon Mitchell may also get a look. Mitchell played at wide receiver last season, but he has completed 58.1 percent of his passes during his career. He also has the dual-threat capabilities that made current Seattle Seahawk Russell Wilson so successful in his one season with Bielema at Wisconsin.
Post-Spring Prediction: Dead heat, with newcomers Austin Allen and Damon Mitchell waiting in the wings this summer.
2. Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee QB Justin Worley
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Rising junior Justin Worley has played in nine games over the last two seasons. He has the best shot at securing the top spot on the depth chart for first-year head coach Butch Jones.
Worley was thrust into action as a true freshman in 2011, and he saw spot duty as a sophomore in 2012. For his career, he has completed 57.3 percent of his passes with one touchdown pass and five interceptions.
Certainly not statistics that will turn heads, but getting first-team snaps this spring will certainly help his development.
Redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman will also get a serious look from Jones. Peterman was recruited by Jones when the first-year head coach was at Cincinnati, and the 6'2", 226-pounder has the skills to fit into the new system.
This should be an interesting battle, because neither of the two front-runners has a ton of experience, and the door is wide open on Rocky Top.
Post-Spring Prediction: Dead heat, with Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson joining the battle this summer.
1. Auburn Tigers
Auburn QB Kiehl Frazier
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This is one of the most intriguing quarterback battles this spring in any conference, due in large part to first-year head coach Gus Malzahn's success developing quarterbacks.
Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace will go through spring practice as the primary quarterbacks for Malzahn, but neither has done enough to instill confidence within the Auburn family.
Frazier entered last season as the starter, but was flat-out awful in the pro-style offense of former offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. He completed only 53.4 percent of his passes for 753 yards, two touchdowns and eight interceptions, and he never looked comfortable in the pocket.
But he was the 2010 USA Today Offensive Player of the Year operating an offense similar to Malzahn's in high school. Considering Auburn set offensive records in 2009 with Malzahn as offensive coordinator and Chris Todd at quarterback, you'd think that Frazier would be able to be successful in Malzahn's offense as well.
Wallace started Auburn's final four games and completed 57.5 percent of his passes for 720 yards, throwing four touchdowns and four interceptions. He has similar dual-threat capabilities as Frazier, and he led Auburn to two of its three wins last season, looking good in the process.
Post-Spring Prediction: Frazier will have a slight lead, but Wallace and newcomers Jeremy Johnson, Nick Marshall and Jason Smith will all be in the mix this fall.