HOOVER, ALA. | Mississippi State safety Jay Hughes won’t have to worry about going up against the now departed Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M or AJ McCarron of Alabama this season.
That doesn’t mean he’s necessarily licking his chops at what’s left among Southeastern Conference quarterbacks.
“Sometimes it really doesn’t matter; these young cats coming up they’re smoking hot, too,” Hughes said. “You’ve really got to be on your toes when it comes to anybody. … A lot of these teams won’t even miss a beat.”
The SEC was star-studded at quarterback last year and sent four into the NFL draft in May: Manziel, McCarron, SEC career passing leader Aaron Murray from Georgia and Zach Mettenberger of LSU. Also gone is Connor Shaw, who went 27-5 as a starting quarterback for South Carolina.
“The quarterbacks may change but I still think the caliber of the league will stay the same,” Dylan Thompson, a fifth-year senior who steps in for Shaw with the Gamecocks, said Tuesday on the second day of SEC Media Days.
So who’s the best of the bunch still remaining?
Most think it’s Auburn’s Nick Marshall, the point man in Gus Malzahn’s high-scoring offense.
Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and Florida’s Jeff Driskel come in the conversation next. Wallace has the most career starts of any returning quarterback with 26. No other quarterback has more than 14 and nearly all have something to prove.
“I just think I haven’t lived up to expectations of fans and myself,” Driskel said.
The best quarterback might just turn out to be Jacob Coker, who transferred to Alabama from Florida State as a graduate transfer. Former Alabama offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, now Seminoles head coach, told TideSports.com Coker is “much more talented than anything they’ve had,” in coach Nick Saban’s time at Alabama. “Arm and mind.”
SEC quarterbacks have won the Heisman Trophy in three of the last seven seasons, with Manziel winning in 2012, Auburn’s Cam Newton in 2010 and Florida’s Tim Tebow in 2007.
Marshall could make a run for another if he can stay out of trouble (he was cited for possession of marijuana last week and was previously dismissed from Georgia.)
There are seven quarterbacks on the ballot for SEC media members to consider for preseason All-SEC voting including Arkansas’ Brandon Allen.
Georgia’s Hutson Mason isn’t one of them, but he inherits an offense loaded with talented playmakers returning from injury.
His situation of waiting in the wings is similar to Thompson.
The two have spoken over the last few years and chatted last week at the Manning passing camp in Louisiana about waiting for their time.
Mason was behind Murray and Thompson behind Shaw.
Thompson said he won’t go off on an 80-yard run like Shaw did in 2012 against Missouri (it was called back).
“Don’t expect to be seeing that from me,” he said. “I don’t think you’re going to see me running speed options to win us the games too much.”
Prescott has more career rushing touchdowns (17) than passing (14). He has seven career starts and was part of a two quarterback system with Tyler Russell last year.
“I think he’s a much better passer than he was last year working on that skill of being able to throw in the pocket,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.
“Yeah, we’ve gotten a lot better,” Prescott said. “We’re perfecting the passing game. The timing has gotten better. Those deep routes just come with timing.”
Tennessee coach Butch Jones said there’s “no timetable” for naming a starter between Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman and Joshua Dobbs.
“I want them to compete as much as possible because competing is healthy,” Jones said.
Without Manziel, Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said his offense may change but he didn’t offer clues Tuesday who would replace Manziel, the dynamic playmaker. Freshman Kyle Allen and sophomore Kenny Hill, the more mobile of the two, are the leading candidates.
“I didn’t come here today to tell you who the quarterback will be,” he said. “That will play itself out.”
Texas A&M will open in a hostile environment at South Carolina on the SEC Network.
“Probably whoever’s going to be the quarterback,” Sumlin said, “I’ll be his only friend probably before that game.”