Predicting the Winner of Every SEC Quarterback Battle
Pads are already popping around the SEC now that Vanderbilt and Texas A&M have kicked off spring practice, and the rest of the programs will be joining them very soon.
With camps here, nine quarterback battles are officially on in the SEC, including major battles at big-time programs like Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Georgia and Florida. The only teams that have their depth charts set are Kentucky (Patrick Towles), Missouri (Maty Mauk), Tennessee (Joshua Dobbs), Arkansas (Brandon Allen) and Mississippi State (Dak Prescott).
Will Jake Coker be the guy in Tuscaloosa? Will a surprise contender push Auburn's Jeremy Johnson? Will Kyle Allen solidify his job prior to Kyler Murray's arrival at Texas A&M?
Our picks for every SEC offseason quarterback battle based on talent and opportunity are in this slideshow.
Florida Gators: Will Grier
Treon Harris is technically the returning starter for new head coach Jim McElwain, but don't expect that to last for long.
Harris is more of a dual-threat option, and McElwain and new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier are far more familiar with pro-style passers.
Enter: redshirt freshman Will Grier.
The second-ranked pro-style passer in the class of 2014 has a big arm, can buy time behind the line of scrimmage (which is important considering Florida's offensive line woes) and make the tough passes from sideline to sideline.
He has put on some weight during his redshirt season, which will help him take the punishment that comes along with getting hit in the SEC. He won't win the job until fall camp, but expect Grier to draw even with Harris this spring and set himself up to close things out by mid-August.
Georgia Bulldogs: Brice Ramsey
How big is Georgia's offseason quarterback battle involving junior Faton Bauta, sophomore Brice Ramsey and freshman Jacob Park? It's already dominating headlines.
"It’s just a lot of work to be done between now and that first game and a lot of competition to happen," head coach Mark Richt told Ryan Black of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (via Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). "You know, the quarterback position is as wide-open as it’s ever been since I’ve been at Georgia probably. It’s going to be an interesting battle I would say."
Of the contenders, Ramsey is the most experienced, Bauta is the most dynamic and Park might have the most upside. Considering the circumstances, experience should win out and earn Ramsey the job.
The Kingsland, Georgia, native appeared in eight games last year, completing 24 of 39 passes for 333 yards, three touchdowns and two picks. Blessed with a big arm and precise accuracy, Ramsey had to adjust from the Wing-T offense he ran at Camden County (Ga.) High School to the pro-style one run by Richt, and more first-team snaps in the offseason will only accelerate that process.
Ramsey's primary job will be to play smart, and he certainly can do that. If he becomes a passing threat, that'd be a bonus for Richt and first-year offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
South Carolina Gamecocks: Connor Mitch
Even if you never attempted a single pass in college football, you're close to being the most experienced quarterback on the South Carolina football roster.
Connor Mitch attempted six passes in 2014, which makes him the front-runner in a race that includes Perry Orth, Michael Scarnecchia, Brendan Nosovitch and eventually Lorenzo Nunez this summer.
We'll give Mitch the nod, for now.
The 6'3", 220-pounder is accurate, can stretch the field when asked and isn't exactly a statue in the pocket. With so much uncertainty along the offensive line, the absence of Mike Davis and Pharoh Cooper really being the only star of the offense at this point, head coach Steve Spurrier needs Mitch to build off of his experience and become, at worst, a caretaker.
He will do that this spring and earn first-team snaps heading into fall camp. With Nunez coming in, and possibly providing the dual-threat capabilities similar to South Carolina legend Connor Shaw, Mitch will fend off the newcomer during fall camp and earn the starting nod for the season opener vs. North Carolina.
Vanderbilt Commodores: Johnny McCrary
Johnny McCrary, Patton Robinette and Wade Freebeck are battling it out this spring for the top spot on the depth chart at Vanderbilt, and the smart money is on rising sophomore Johnny McCrary.
McCrary saw his playing time increase during the second half of last season, tossing for a team-high 985 yards and nine touchdowns, but was benched in place of Robinette in the season finale against Tennessee. New offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig is searching for the most consistent passer in camp this spring, and it should be McCrary.
He adjusted pretty well on the fly last year while first-year head coach Derek Mason played musical quarterbacks, and more first-team snaps—and stability—this offseason will help McCrary become more consistent.
He isn't the most mobile quarterback in the world, but he does have the elusiveness to buy time behind the line of scrimmage and make at least a few plays happen on the ground when needed.
Alabama Crimson Tide: Jake Coker
Jake Coker hopes that his second attempt to win the Alabama quarterback job will go a bit differently than his first, when he lost to redshirt senior Blake Sims after transferring from Florida State prior to the 2014 season.
The 6'5", 230-pounder from Mobile, Alabama, has a rocket arm and can stretch the field as well as anybody in college football, but he didn't pick up offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin's offense in time last year. The good news is, with eight other new starters on offense, many of the players Coker practiced with all year are expected to slide in and become starters in 2015.
His familiarity with the offense and its pieces will be what puts him over the top in the battle that also includes Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell and true freshman early enrollee Blake Barnett.
Barnett, though, is the wild card. It's hard to imagine head coach Nick Saban trotting out a true freshman early enrollee—especially with so much uncertainty across the board on offense. But he did hire Kiffin when it didn't seem to make sense, and that worked out well.
Auburn Tigers: Jeremy Johnson
If you're looking for the quarterback battle in the SEC that will be the college football equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals, look no further than Auburn.
Jeremy Johnson has been magnificent as a backup and spot starter for head coach Gus Malzahn over the last two seasons, and now is his time to shine. The 6'5", 230-pounder from Montgomery, Alabama, completed 12 of 16 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns as the starter in the season opener vs. Arkansas, and he gets star wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams, Ricardo Louis and a laundry list of established wide receivers back in 2015.
"We're definitely going to emphasize the pass game more," co-offensive coordinator Dameyune Craig told AL.com's Brandon Marcello in January. "That means the ball will be spread out a little bit more than it has in the past. I think the receivers will prosper from Jeremy Johnson's emergence as quarterback next year."
He has a big arm, is accurate when he takes off velocity on short and intermediate routes and still provides the power portion of the duality that Malzahn has been successful with during his college coaching career.
LSU Tigers: Brandon Harris
Brandon Harris has only been on LSU's campus for a year and some change, but it already feels like this is his last chance to win the starting quarterback job. He drew even with Anthony Jennings last spring, but save for one ill-fated start at Auburn, he was unable to unseat Jennings despite his meager 48.9 completion percentage.
That will change this offseason and, more specifically, following the spring game.
While quarterback futility has been a common theme in Baton Rouge since 2008 (save for Zach Mettenberger's last season in 2013), the biggest current issue is offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's ability to adjust to the dual-threat quarterbacks.
When (if) he does, that will swing the door wide open for Harris, who's much more of a weapon on the ground than Jennings. Harris has a big arm, can create behind the line and has the breakaway speed to take it to the house from just about anywhere.
Now that he's had a full year to get acquainted to college life, he should not only win the job but become a star—as long as Cameron adjusts to his best attributes.
Ole Miss Rebels: Chad Kelly
DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan served as Bo Wallace's backups last year, but a fresh face joined the duo in January in the battle to replace "Dr. Bo."
Former Clemson and East Mississippi Community College signal-caller Chad Kelly has made too many headlines off the field during his brief college career. However, he will look to change that in the high-powered offense led by head coach Hugh Freeze.
He led EMCC to a junior college national title last year, throwing for 3,906 yards, 47 touchdowns, eight picks and adding 446 and four touchdowns on the ground, according to his Ole Miss bio. While he is the newcomer, he's also the most experienced quarterback Ole Miss has and is familiar with the offense Freeze wants to run from his time at Clemson and EMCC.
As long as he stays out of trouble, he will not only win the job but become a star in Oxford.
Texas A&M Aggies: Kyle Allen
Texas A&M's quarterback battle won't heat up until this summer, but even then it will be Kyle Allen's show for Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin.
While dual-threat super-recruit Kyler Murray was one of the brightest stars of the recruiting season, it was Allen who starred down the stretch for Texas A&M in 2014, leading his team to an upset of Auburn in November and accounting for five touchdowns (four passing, one rushing) in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl win over West Virginia.
Murray is more of a dual threat, which is clearly something that works for A&M after Johnny Manziel set the college football world on fire from 2012-2013, but he's also a top-tier Major League Baseball prospect. If he gets drafted high in this year's baseball draft, the guaranteed money and prolonged career that comes with baseball will be hard to pass up.
Even if he does pass on baseball to throw passes in College Station, he's going to have to wait a while. Allen is the present, Murray might be the future.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.