There is a changing of the guard when it comes to quarterbacks in the SEC in 2020.
With the exit of top-five NFL Draft picks Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa along with SEC mainstay Jake Fromm, the standard-bearer spot for quarterbacks in college football’s premier conference appears up for grabs.
Instead of the traditional method of grooming a second-string player behind your star then turning the reins over to him, many SEC programs appear ready turn to transfers or freshmen in 2020. Of the seven projected first-time starters in the SEC, five of those are transfers.
With the uncertainty surrounding fall camp and the lack of spring ball, those fresh faces are likely in for a steep learning curve. With that in mind, here are my rankings of the projected SEC starting quarterbacks.
1. K.J. Costello, Mississippi State
Going into this exercise, I really wasn’t anticipating having a transfer in the top spot, but Costello’s resume is stellar. In 2018 at Stanford, the 6-foot-5 pocket passer threw for 3,540 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Now he heads to join forces with new Bulldog coach Mike Leach and bring his Air Raid to the SEC. That will be fascinating to watch.
Is Mississippi State ready to compete with the big boys in the SEC in Year One under Leach? Probably not. But Costello is.
The team opens with New Mexico, North Carolina State, Arkansas, Tulane and Texas A&M however and it is quite possible the Bulldogs are 5-0 after that stretch. If that happens, Costello will be in that early-season Heisman talk.
Then they play at Alabama, at LSU and against Auburn.
2. Kyle Trask, Florida
Trask checks in at the second spot because of the way he ended 2019 season. Throwing for more than 300 yards in four of the final seven games for the Gators last season, including 310 against LSU, Trask chased Feleipe Franks out of Gainesville.
Trask finished the season with 2,941 yards and a 25-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Now the Gators are his team in 2020 and with the nation’s best tight end Kyle Pitts back alongside him, the Florida offense looks primed for a leap and to make at run at Georgia for the SEC East.
3. Jamie Newman, Georgia
Another transfer cracks the top three. Newman was a star at Wake Forest in the ACC, now he takes that show to the big stage at Georgia and the SEC.
Newman threw for 2,868 yards and 26 touchdowns last year while also running for 574 yards and six touchdowns.
While the competition level certainly gets elevated from the ACC to SEC, the talent he has around him makes the bigger leap going from Wake Forest to Georgia.
The biggest concern is that his biggest passing games last season came against Elon, Utah State, Rice, NC State and Duke. Against Clemson, he was 6-for-14 for 41 yards and two interceptions. Newman needs to prove he can execute against the elite teams.
4. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
The elder statesman of SEC quarterbacks, Mond is back for his senior season. The Aggie has thrown for over 6,000 yards combined the last two seasons, but most would agree that he took a step back last season.
That step back is likely why he is back in College Station and not in the NFL right now. In his last two games of the season, Mond threw for less than 100 yards in a 50-7 loss to LSU and a 24-21 win over Oklahoma State in the bowl game.
Mond is a solid SEC quarterback. It just looks like he won’t be the star many predicted after his freshman and sophomore years.
5. Bo Nix, Auburn
Nix checks in at the five spot in a bit of a tier to himself. His track record does match what the four guys above him have done to this point in his career, but having a full season in the SEC and with Gus Malzahn gives the Tiger a leg up on some of the other candidates for this spot.
Nix finished with 2,542 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. The win over Alabama showed that Nix isn’t afraid the bright lights.
In his second season, he just needs to continue to find more consistency. With so many of his top targets back including potential first-round receiver Seth Williams, Nix could easily find himself higher on this list by the end of the season.
6. Mac Jones, Alabama
Should this actually be Bryce Young? For now, we will give Jones the benefit of the doubt.
After 335 yards in a loss to Auburn and 327 in a win over Michigan to end the year, Jones goes into the offseason with plenty of momentum. The Tide have got to replace Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, but with DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle back, whoever the Alabama quarterback is will have plenty of weapons.
Jones feels like the typical Alabama game manager style of quarterback who can ride a strong running game and defense to a lot of wins. The question is if Nick Saban feels like Young is Tua 2.0 and decides that the job is his.
7. Feleipe Franks, Arkansas
This transfer is very familiar to SEC fans. The former Gator now has a new home on the other side of the conference in Fayetteville.
A three-year starter, Franks fell victim to Trask’s rise at Florida last season and was left on the outside looking in for his senior year at Florida, so Franks will instead play that final year at Arkansas for a squad desperate for respectability.
At Florida, Franks was seen as a bit of a disappointment after showing flashes early in his career with strong weapons around him. At Arkansas, he won’t have the arsenal of weapons, but he also won’t have the pressure of leading a program that thinks they should be among the elites.
8. John Rhys Plumlee, Ole Miss
I feel like most rival SEC fans have already developed a bit of a soft spot for Plumlee. The guy is fun to watch.
Plumlee ran for over 1,000 yards last season including five 100-yard games. He had 212 yards rushing against LSU. He threw for 910 yards, but showed plenty of promise in several games including throwing for 141 yards against Alabama in what was his introduction to the SEC.
With Lane Kiffin at the helm, it will be interesting to see how he utilizes Plumlee.
9. Terry Wilson, Kentucky
The Lynn Bowden era was fun at Kentucky, but the Wildcats go back to a more traditional look in 2020 with Terry Wilson returning after a season-ending knee injury last year.
Wilson threw for 1,889 yards two years ago and also brings the running threat with 547 yards in 2018.
Wilson will have the reins with Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood sitting out in 2020 before becoming eligible in 2021.
10. Ryan Hilinski, South Carolina
Hilinski is a quarterback, like Nix, who had flashes as a freshman but will be looking for more consistency as a sophomore.
As a freshman, he finished with more than 175 yards passing in less than half his games. With star receiver Bryan Edwards now in the NFL, more pressure with be on Hilinski to do more with less.
The Gamecocks don’t have Alabama or Auburn on their 2020 slate so the table is set up for them to attempt a surprise run at the SEC East title, but they will need massive strides from their quarterback to achieve that.
11. Shawn Robinson, Missouri
Following in Kelly Bryant’s footsteps as a transfer to pick Missouri, Robinson joins the Tigers after a couple seasons at TCU.
Robinson was up and down as a sophomore at TCU. He threw for 308 yards against Ohio State, but finished with just 1,334 yards for the season with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions.
He looks to stabilize a rebuilding Missouri squad. At TCU, he had more talent around him than most teams he faced. He won’t have that at Missouri.
12. Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee
The final quarterback on this list with any real playing experience is Guarantano.
The Volunteer’s numbers looked solid last season with 2,158 yards, 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He would appear to be the clubhouse leader to start again this season, but will need to play better against better teams.
Against Missouri, he threw for 415 yards last year and in a loss to Georgia State, he threw for 311. He never topped 230 yards the rest of the season.
13. Myles Brennan, LSUI thought about moving Brennan higher just because of his situation, but the the situation at LSU is actually far from ideal. The Tigers return the best receiver in the nation in Ja’Marr Chase, but must replace the entire rest of their offense. They also lose Joe Burrow whisperer Joe Brady from the coaching staff.
Is Brennan going to be the next Burrow? Unlikely. Is he going to be better than the decade of incompetence LSU had at quarterback before Burrow? Chase certainly hopes so.
14. Danny Clark, Vanderbilt
Who starts at quarterback for Vanderbilt feels like anyone’s guess. The Commodore depth chart consists of two JUCO transfers and two freshmen.
I gave the edge to former Kentucky quarterback Danny Clark, but former Hawaii quarterback Jeremy Moussa is also in the mix. True freshmen Ken Seals and Michael Wright are both three-star recruits according to 247Sports.com.
The only sure thing about Vanderbilt’s quarterback situation this preseason was that it was going to occupy the 14th spot in these ranking regardless of who gets the nod. Hopefully for the Commodores sake, that changes by the end of the season.