Will SEC Quarterbacks Return to Prominence in 2015?

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterJanuary 30, 2015

USA Today

Ah, the good ol' days. When Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger, AJ McCarron, James Franklin, Tyler Bray and Connor Shaw were just a few of the hot-shot quarterbacks lighting up SEC scoreboards and stat sheets on a weekly basis.

Where have all the SEC quarterbacks gone?

The 2014 season was a down year for signal-callers in the conference.

Not one quarterback had a QB rating over 160.00, after four topped that mark in 2013 and two—McCarron and Murray—topped 170.00 in 2012. Alabama quarterback Blake Sims threw 28 touchdown passes in 2014, marking the first season since 2005 that no quarterback in the conference threw 30 or more touchdown passes in a single season.

Was the 2014 season a minor glitch in the system or the start of a trend?

Without a doubt, it was a glitch.

Former Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace
Former Ole Miss QB Bo WallaceStreeter Lecka/Getty Images
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The combination of gunslinging quarterbacks making too many mistakes (Bo Wallace and Maty Mauk), dual-threat quarterbacks who were more runners than passers (Nick Marshall), programs staying ultraconservative (Arkansas) and midseason quarterback changes (Texas A&M and Florida) made 2014 the perfect storm of quarterback futility.

The experience gained in 2014, combined with fresh faces to provide a boost, will lead to the return of the quarterback in the SEC in 2015.

Texas A&M quarterback Kyle Allen has everything it takes to become a superstar.

A pro-style quarterback by name only, Allen has the arm strength and accuracy to be a star, with the legs to at least pose a threat on the ground. He took over for Kenny Hill midseason, and after getting first-string snaps in a camp-like setting for the first time in his career during bowl practice, he lit up West Virginia in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl with four passing touchdowns.

And spare me the Kyler Murray hype. He's the quarterback of the future at Texas A&M, but Allen is the quarterback of the "present."

As John Hayes of the SEC Network and The Paul Finebaum Show points out, Allen is a big reason why A&M could be vastly improved in 2015.

Much like Allen, Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs stepped into a starting role in the middle of the season. Dobbs established himself as a true dual threat, throwing for 1,206 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 469 yards and eight more scores on the ground.

He has a full offseason as the unquestioned starter to take the next step with an offensive line that returns four starters and a list of offensive skill players that reads more like Homer's Odyssey than a standard depth chart.

Auburn will undoubtedly become more pass-happy with Jeremy Johnson taking the snaps. He showed what he is capable of when he threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns in the first half of Auburn's 2014 season-opener against Arkansas and will get star wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams back, along with several other veterans such as Ricardo Louis, Melvin Ray and Marcus Davis.

Is head coach Gus Malzahn married to the zone-read scheme he was successful with over the last two seasons? It's always going to be part of his offense, but he also produced a 5,000-yard passer (Paul Smith, 2007) and a 4,000-yard passer (David Johnson, 2008) when he was the offensive coordinator at Tulsa. 

Auburn QB Jeremy Johnson
Auburn QB Jeremy JohnsonMike Zarrilli/Getty Images

The sequel to Alabama's quarterback battle includes many of the same players Sims beat out last year, but offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin proved that he could produce a dynamic quarterback on the fly last year. He certainly has the ability and weapons on that roster to repeat the feat.

Even Arkansas could get into a passing mood.

Brandon Allen threw 20 touchdowns last season in an ultraconservative offense, and that offense will remain conservative with four offensive linemen and running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins returning.

But new offensive coordinator Dan Enos produced four 3,000-yard passers in five seasons as Central Michigan's head coach, and the Hogs return top receiver Keon Hatcher and tight end Hunter Henry. The Hogs aren't going to air it out, but Enos will swing the pendulum ever so slightly toward a more balanced attack, which should make a huge difference.

Arkansas QB Brandon Allen
Arkansas QB Brandon AllenScott Halleran/Getty Images

Will there still be quarterback struggles? In places, of course.

It's hard to trust LSU's quarterbacks and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's ability to adjust to them, Florida is rebuilding and looking for a spark, and I have six fewer passing attempts than South Carolina's most experienced passer (Connor Mitch has six career pass attempts).

From a conference perspective, though, 2014 was the exception, not the rule.

There are plenty of talented quarterbacks in the SEC, led by Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott., Whether 2014 was the learning year for everybody else or one in which quarterbacks were still biding their time, 2015 should be one in which many explode onto the college football scene.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.