SEC Football: 3 Starters on the Hot Seat in 2014 Spring Practice
If 2013 was the year of the quarterback in the Southeastern Conference, 2014 is the year of turmoil at the position. The conference lost half of its signal-callers either to the NFL or graduation, and the starters that remain are—with two notable exceptions in the state of Mississippi—generally at the lower end of the performance spectrum.
At the pinnacle of the sport at the collegiate level, the SEC schools will always have their influx of talent. Their starters will feel the heat, both literally and figuratively, in the spring and there will always be someone the coach is excited about behind each starter.
We'll now turn our focus to three battles at the quarterback position where the starters will have to prove themselves before the fall to retain their statuses.
Justin Worley, Tennessee
Passing in 2013: 109-196 (55.6%)
TD-Int Ratio in 2013: 10:8
Passing Efficiency: 117.4
Rushing in 2013: 56 yards, 19 att, 0 TD
The battle for the quarterback position was a contentious one throughout the entire 2013 season for the Volunteers. The veteran, Worley, heading into 2014 as a senior, settled into the starting role and was decent at best. The 6'4", 224-pound athlete from Rock Hill, S.C. struggled with his control as the offense began to focus around running back Rajion Neal.
Backups Peterman and Dobbs haven't proven that they're ready for the reigns quite yet, but some pressure will be brought from redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson. Ferguson ranked in the top 25 at his position out of high school and his pro-style background should be a nice fit under head coach Butch Jones.
With three guys having another year, including spring training, under their belt, Worley will have work to do to prove he's still the man for the starting spot in Knoxville.
Jalen Whitlow, Kentucky
Passing in 2013: 98-159 (61.6%)
TD-Int Ratio in 2013: 5:5
Passing Efficiency: 120.3
Rushing in 2013: 457 yards, 107 att, 6 TD
Whitlow, a 6'2", 220-pound bowling ball of a man, is much more known for his legs than his arm. Leading the Wildcats to a 2-10 season in 2013, Whitlow struggled to prove much of a threat through the air and left his team uni-dimensional as a result. Though his passing efficiency improved slightly from his freshman outing, this was predominantly due to a conscious decision by head coach Mark Stoops to take it easy on his sophomore signal-caller.
If he finds, though, that he doesn't have to be so conservative with incoming freshman Drew Barker, all bets are off. Barker is a four-star recruit ranked tops in Kentucky at the position, and fifth nationally, who brings a powerful arm and a pro-style frame of mind. Most will be shocked if Barker doesn't start from Day 1 in Lexington, and Whitlow will have a lot of ground to retain this spring.
Jeff Driskel, Florida
Passing in 2013: 42-61 (68.9%)
TD-Int Ratio in 2013: 2:3
Passing Efficiency: 135.5
Rushing in 2013: 38 yards, 17 att, 1 TD
Most forget that the Gators had performed at least near expectations before Jeff Driskel was taken out for the year with a broken leg against Tennessee in their third game of the season. Though he is unforgivably careless with the football, Driskel has the sheer ability to keep Florida competitive.
He'll have to prove that, though, as one of the most celebrated quarterbacks to step onto campus as a Gator is stepping forward. Freshman Will Grier, a four-star talent ranked second nationally out of high school has the ability in both facets of the game to turn the quarterback battle on its head in Gainesville. Powerful, smart and athletic, Grier will be pushing for the starting position from the moment he enrolls.
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