Hutson Mason and Anthony Jennings were already in the future quarterback plans for Georgia and LSU, respectively.
With injuries to starters Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger, waiting for next year ceased as an option.
Instead, Georgia and LSU got a head start on their rebuilding projects. Breaking in their likely 2014 starters could pay significant dividends next August.
When Georgia and LSU met in late September, a pair of senior quarterbacks drove a back-and-forth shootout Between the Hedges.
Georgia QB Aaron Murray and the Bulldogs ended up edging out QB Zach Mettenberger and the visiting Tigers.
At the time, many college football analysts expected the outcome to have significant divisional race implications.
The projections made sense. Both teams featured talented senior quarterbacks and solid run games that could alleviate the pressure of young, but talented defenses.
Most expected the two inexperienced defenses would correct course quickly, making the teams dangerous contenders as the season progressed. Only the two units didn’t develop enough—or at least not quickly enough.
Dreams of reaching Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game died by mid-November for both.
By season’s end, Georgia and LSU finished third in their respective divisions, two games behind Missouri and Auburn, respectively.
Invitations to New Year’s Day bowl games such as the Outback Bowl and the Gator Bowl are warmly accepted from some programs. Not at LSU and Georgia.
The two programs suffered through growing pains on defense this year. They seemed primed to do the same while breaking in first-year quarterbacks in 2014.
Nobody roots for injuries—especially to players who meant as much to their programs as Murray and Mettenberger did.
In this case, the head starts Mason and Jennings get for their chances as starting quarterbacks will likely help accelerate their progress.
Both already inked thrilling first chapters by leading their teams to comebacks in the regular-season finales.
Mason made his first start during the Bulldogs’ rivalry game against Georgia Tech because Murray tore his ACL in a win over Kentucky.
It didn’t start especially well.
On the first four drives, the junior completed four of eight passes for 37 yards. The Yellow Jackets also intercepted Mason and sacked him twice while jumping out to a 20-point lead.
However, Mason came alive on the final drive of the half, completing all five passing attempts and rushing once for 16 yards in leading Georgia to a touchdown.
The Bulldogs rode that momentum swing into the second half, tying the game and forcing overtime. Mason played a big role, throwing for 299 yards and two touchdowns.
RB Todd Gurley took over in overtime, scoring a pair of rushing touchdowns in leading Georgia to victory.
Jennings didn’t get the week of preparation afforded to Mason. The true freshman entered in relief of the injured Mettenberger midway through the fourth quarter with Arkansas leading LSU 27-21.
At the time, Jennings had attempted just three passes during his college career—and none against an SEC opponent.
Mettenberger led the Tigers into field-goal range before suffering his knee injury. Jennings’ first pass—on 3rd-and-9—went incomplete, forcing LSU to settle for a field goal.
Jennings and the Tigers got their final chance when Arkansas downed a punt at the LSU 1-yard line with 3:04 to play.
The freshman showed great poise in the biggest moments of his young career, completing four of six passes for 78 yards and a 49-yard touchdown strike to a wide-open Travin Dural on 3rd-and-10. Jennings also had a 21-yard run on the drive, setting up the winning touchdown pass.
Mason and Jennings now find themselves getting most of—if not all—the first-team reps while preparing for their bowl games.
Georgia and LSU open next year with challenging opponents—Georgia at home against Clemson and LSU on a neutral field against Wisconsin.
Because of the injuries to a pair of star quarterbacks, Mason and Jennings will have starting experience before the stakes increase dramatically next August.