The 2018 college football season is in sight, as there will be football games played this month. As always, the SEC is going to be filling up quite a few spots in the top 25 rankings this season. But it could potentially be for a reason SEC teams are not known for: great quarterback play. SEC teams are typically known for great, hard nosed defenses and solid rushing attacks on the offensive side; some teams with an occasional above average quarterback. But in 2018, the SEC will boast one of, if not the best conference in terms of quarterback talent. This year’s crop of SEC quarterbacks features several returning starters, including a few potential future Heisman candidates. Here, I am going to rank the top five quarterbacks in the SEC heading into the 2018 season.
5. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State Bulldogs
The fifth spot was up for much debate, but Fitzgerald’s experience plus Mississippi State’s new offensive minded head coach in Joe Moorhead gave Fitzgerald the nod for number five in my list. Fitzgerald is heading into his senior year and has been the Bulldogs starter for each of the last two seasons. Fitzgerald had a fantastic sophomore campaign two seasons ago, throwing for over 2,400 yards and 21 touchdowns, with an additional 16 touchdowns and over 1,300 yards on the ground.
He followed up that season with a rather lackluster one in his junior year in 2017, throwing for under 1800 yards and just 15 touchdowns along with 11 interceptions. Fitzgerald also had 14 rushing touchdowns and less than 1,000 rushing yards. But after former Bulldog head coach Dan Mullen took the Florida head coaching job, Mississippi State brought in former Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to be the head coach. Outside of his dual-threat ability, Moorhead should help Fitzgerald develop as a prolific passer in his senior season.
4. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama Crimson Tide
Tua Tagovailoa is an interesting case. He was rated the number one dual-threat high school quarterback in the class of 2017 by multiple recruiting sites. He played backup to Jalen Hurts last season and did not start a single game. But he saw action in eight total games due to Alabama blowing out a majority of their opponents. Then came the National Championship game. Hurts was benched at halftime in favor of Tagovailoa, after going 3/8 for 21 yards in the first half. Tua stepped up to the plate, going 14/24 for 166 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. One of those touchdowns was a 41-yard strike to Devonta Smith in overtime to win the game and the National Title.
By the end of the 2018 season, assuming Tua wins the starting job over Hurts, he will most likely end up with a better ranking on this list. But his ranking here at four is solely based off of projection. Tua has the talent, is in a situation that could see him put up Heisman-esque numbers and has also already done something no other QB in the SEC has done: win a National Championship. But there is also the factor that if Tua struggles at some point, will Nick Saban go back to Hurts, who has run the offense for Bama for the last two seasons? There are just so many question marks at the quarterback position for Alabama, which is why, for now, I cannot put Tua Tagovailoa any higher on this list.
3. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn Tigers
Stidham, like Fitzgerald is headed into his third season of being a starter. Stidham previously played at Baylor, where he threw for nearly 1,300 yards and totaled 14 touchdowns in 10 games as a true freshman in 2015. But after the disastrous fiasco that happened at Baylor with the domestic violence issues and former coach Art Briles covering it up, Stidham, as many others on the team, decided to transfer.
Stidham landed at Auburn, where he sat out the 2016 season then took over the helm last season. Stidham dazzled in 2017, throwing for 3,158 yards, second most in the conference. Stidham tossed 18 touchdowns and added four on the ground. Stidham helped lead Auburn to an SEC West Division Title and an appearance in the SEC Championship game. Stidham also became just the third Auburn QB to beat Alabama in the last decade. Auburn will be without feature back Kerryon Johnson in 2018 but boasts one of the most talented pocket passers in the country in Stidham and he should once again be one of the top quarterbacks in the country this season.
2. Jake Fromm, Georgia Bulldogs
Fromm is headed into his second season at Georgia, with expectations sky high after an impressive freshman campaign. Fromm stepped into the starting role after starter Jacob Eason was injured in the Bulldogs opener last season. Fromm went on to throw for over 2.600 yards and 27 total touchdowns. He had a 62.2 completion percentage, second best in the SEC. Fromm led Georgia to an SEC Championship and National Championship game appearance before they fell to Alabama, 26-23.
Georgia will be without running back duo Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, as both are now in the NFL. Georgia’s success last season was also much ado to their stellar defense, where they have now lost a few starters from last season. Georgia’s success in the 2018 season could come down to Jake Fromm’s performance. If Fromm takes Georgia’s offense completely over, he could certainly be at the Heisman ceremony in the winter.
1. Drew Lock, Missouri Tigers
Lock is by far the best quarterback the SEC has to offer. Lock is fresh off a season which saw him lead the nation in passing touchdowns with 44, one more than last season’s Heisman winner Baker Mayfield. Lock also threw for 3,964 yards last season, 10th best in the nation and by far the most yards by an SEC quarterback. The second highest passing yards in the SEC was by Jarrett Stidham, who was still over 800 yards lower than Lock.
Mizzou is returning all their offensive line starters from last season, along with a majority of their weapons at wideout and running back. Lock is widely regarded as the top quarterback in the 2019 NFL Draft class and will most likely be a first-round draft pick come next April. Lock is leading the way of an experienced Missouri offense and could be an enormous factor for potentially one of Mizzou’s best football seasons in recent memory.