All eyes are on Tuscaloosa this August, as the Alabama Crimson Tide—winners of three of the last five national titles—are looking for a starting quarterback for the first time since AJ McCarron beat out Phillip Sims early in the 2011 season.
Whoever wins that battle—either senior Blake Sims or Florida State transfer Jacob Coker—will take a backseat to a bigger breakout star in the SEC in 2014—Georgia's Hutson Mason.
After spending four years behind Aaron Murray, Mason stepped in for Murray after the Georgia legend tore his ACL versus Kentucky last season, throwing for 189 yards and a touchdown while finishing off the Wildcats. He then led his team to a thrilling double-overtime win over Georgia Tech in his first career start and threw for 320 yards, one touchdown and one pick in the Gator Bowl loss to Nebraska.
Sure, he lost to the Cornhuskers. But four key drops on the final two drives of the game deep in Nebraska territory negated what could have been game-winning drives.
He completed 68.9 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and no picks in three spring scrimmages, according to Marc Weiszer of the Athens (Georgia) Banner-Herald. He then completed 10 of 13 passes for 104 yards and zero interceptions in the first spring scrimmage of the fall, according to Chip Towers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
In quotes released by the university, Mason said:
It felt good to be back playing in Sanford Stadium. You get a different excitement, different atmosphere as opposed to the practice fields and the Butts-Mehre building in the background. I thought the scrimmage was kind of a draw. The offense did good things, and the defense did some good things.
Four scrimmages. No interceptions. That'll work.
Yes, they're scrimmage statistics and, yes, they could reflect more on Georgia's maligned defense than Mason and the offense. That's not the case, though.
He's making smart decisions with the football, and that's what's important.
It really doesn't matter who the quarterback is, Georgia's offense is going to stay the same. Head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo use the run to set up the pass, and they have a stable of running backs behind Mason to accomplish that. Todd Gurley returns as one of the top players in all of college football, Keith Marshall is back from an ACL injury, and incoming freshmen Nick Chubb and Sony Michel have been all the rage during fall camp.
That's similar to Alabama's backfield, sure.
In fact, Georgia's and Alabama's offenses are nearly mirror images of each other. Each has a deep running backs corps, veteran wide receivers and some questions along the offensive line.
What sets the teams apart is the defenses.
Whoever wins the quarterback job in Tuscaloosa will have the pressure cut down a bit by the Crimson Tide defense, which really only has one hole—cornerback. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, have a new coordinator—Jeremy Pruitt—and were as lost as the characters of the famed television series at times.
Will Hutson Mason eclipse the 3,000-yard mark through the air this season?
Pruitt is the right guy for the job, and the defense should turn around in a hurry in 2014. But if I'm wrong, that means more responsibilities for Mason through the air. If I'm right, it's unrealistic to expect it to be up to par with Bama's defense, which means Mason will still have to do more than Coker or Sims.
Mason is making decisions like a veteran, has weapons all around him and is more likely to be forced into being a difference-maker rather than a caretaker.
When you look at passing stats at the end of the year, don't be surprised if Mason's name is at or near the top in most categories.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.