Why the SEC's Lack of Star QBs Doesn't Matter

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterJuly 12, 2016

Alabama QB Blake Barnett
Alabama QB Blake BarnettRonald Martinez/Getty Images

HOOVER, Ala. — If you're looking for quarterback star power at SEC media days, you'll probably be wandering around the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel for a while.

There's not much of it. 

Tennessee's Joshua Dobbs and Texas A&M's Trevor Knight made the rounds Tuesday, and Ole Miss' Chad Kelly will Thursday.

Other than them...crickets. Now compare that to Big 12 media days, where eight of the 10 teams will bring quarterbacks.

The SEC quarterback "crisis" (and we use that word loosely) began after the 2013 season when stars like Johnny Manziel, Zach Mettenberger, AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray left, and it has left a hole in the college football universe that seems to be getting bigger, not smaller.

I struggled when selecting my third-team All-SEC quarterback behind Kelly and Dobbs. A case could be made for Knight despite the fact that all his snaps came with Oklahoma. The only other option is LSU's Brandon Harris, who received my vote despite a rather lackluster 2015 season in which he completed just 53.6 percent of his passes.

But if you think that lack of quality play from the QB position means the SEC is bereft of contenders for the national title in 2016, think again.

Having a solidified star QB hasn't been a prerequisite to BCS and Playoff success recently.

Starting QBs in the National Championship Game Since 2009
2009Greg McElroy*Colt McCoy
2010Cam Newton*Darron Thomas*
2011AJ McCarron*Jordan Jefferson
2012AJ McCarronEverett Golson*
2013Jameis Winston*Nick Marshall*
2014Cardale Jones*Marcus Mariota
2015Jake Coker*Deshaun Watson*
CFBStats.com / * denotes first-year starter

Alabama is immersed in a quarterback battle that includes Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell, Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts. It's par for the course for the Crimson Tide, which have won back-to-back SEC titles with first-year starting quarterbacks thanks to offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin's ability to adjust to his signal-callers on the fly.

What's more, six of the last seven national titles were won by first-year starting quarterbacks, and 10 of the last 14 starting quarterbacks in the national championship game were first-year guys if you count Deshaun Watson as a first-year starter on a full-time basis as a sophomore in 2015 for Clemson.

"It has more to do, rather than the quarterback position, the positions around the quarterback that give [the quarterback] an opportunity to get a little bit better," Florida head coach Jim McElwain said. "Then, in turn, that quarterback has to elevate his play."

For some coaches, first-year starting quarterbacks have been the norm.

Auburn's Gus Malzahn broke in a new quarterback to his system every year from 2006 to 2013 during stops as either a coordinator or head coach at Arkansas, Tulsa, Auburn and Arkansas State. It wasn't until Nick Marshall returned in 2014 after winning the SEC title that Malzahn got to build on a full season with one starter.

"We've been here and done this before," Malzahn said. "In 2013, we were in a similar situation when we were wide open at the quarterback position, and of course Nick Marshall won it with about two weeks to go in fall camp."

Former Auburn QB Nick Marshall (left) and head coach Gus Malzahn (right)
Former Auburn QB Nick Marshall (left) and head coach Gus Malzahn (right)Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

Mississippi State's Dan Mullen is charged this year with replacing one of the best players in program history, quarterback Dak Prescott. While recognizing that veteran signal-callers understand a deep shot called doesn't always mean to take the shot deep and checkdowns can be a quarterback's best friend, he also confirmed that proper coaching can go a long way toward overcoming inexperience.

"You have to be flexible to build around the strengths of your quarterback," Mullen said. "I think when you have that dual threat, it makes the defense have to account for all 11 players on offense on every single snap. And so we've been able to get more of those guys into the program that keep defenses on edge."

The space between the ears and ensuring that inexperienced players are prepared for hostile atmospheres is far more important to determining a successful quarterback than live game reps.

"The biggest challenge, I've found, is the young man coming on the field and being in that stadium for the first time," Mullen said. "Even a guy who hasn't taken a lot of reps and didn't start or play, they've been in a [road] stadium, seen the crowd and been there live and in-person."

Former Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott (left) and head coach Dan Mullen (right)
Former Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott (left) and head coach Dan Mullen (right)Stacy Revere/Getty Images

While many of the quarterbacks are unproven entering 2016, those who can stress defenses with their arms and legs, while also providing the element of the unknown, can trip up even veteran defenders.

"That position, starting with guys like Cam Newton who could do it all, are very athletic," said senior Mississippi State linebacker Richie Brown. "They're not just pocket passers, but they can be pocket passers. It's a huge threat when you have these guys who can run 4.4s or 4.5s who are athletic and big. It really stresses you as a defense."

The roster turnover in college football, nomadic nature of the coaching profession and influx of ultra-athletic quarterbacks have rendered quarterback experience to a secondary role in predicting a team's eventual success.

Don't write off teams like Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Auburn and others in the SEC who lack star power at the quarterback position in July.

The cast around Alabama has proven that it can help lead a quarterback to success, regardless of the style of that particular player. Texas A&M lured Oklahoma graduate transfer Trevor Knight to College Station after he threw for more than 300 yards in each of his two starts against SEC competition while with the Sooners (vs. Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl and vs. Tennessee during the 2014 regular season).

Auburn has found success with mobile junior college transfer quarterbacks in the past (Newton in 2010 and Marshall in 2013). Georgia's Jacob Eason, a true freshman from Lake Stevens, Washington, has as much upside as any incoming freshman in the country.

The floor for Harris' Tigers is incredibly high thanks to a stout defense and the ability of running back Leonard Fournette to control the game. Even a small step forward from his 2015 production (Harris ranked seventh in passing yards, 11th in completion percentage and sixth in QBR last year in the SEC) could go a long way toward impacting the ceiling.

Though some of the players who will line up under center in Week 1 aren't household names, a lot can change throughout the course of the season as players improve and break out.

"It's kind of fun to see [quarterbacks] grow up," McElwain said. "It's kinda cool."

College football has a funny way of creating star power during the season, and the SEC's track record suggests history will repeat itself by the time we get to the Georgia Dome for the SEC Championship Game in December.

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.


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