The focus at SEC Media Days, the football extravaganza that begins Monday in Hoover, will be on the coaches, but the more one considers that nine quarterbacks (out of 14 schools) will be on the podium at one time or another is a remarkable reflection on how college football has evolved in the past few years.
The quarterbacks who will be in attendance range from the nationally known — Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama, Jake Fromm of Georgia, both College Football Playoff veterans — to some who are familiar faces to SEC fans even if they haven’t broken out nationwide. That group includes Jake Bentley of South Carolina and Jarrett Guarantano of Tennessee as well as Feliepe Franks of Florida, Joe Burrow of LSU and Kellen Mond of Texas A&M. There is one quarterback who has never played a down of SEC football (Kelly Bryant, a transfer from Clemson who will start at Missouri) and another, Matt Corrall of Ole Miss, who is technically a redshirt freshman thanks to the new (2018) NCAA rule that allowed him to play four games as Jordan Ta’amu’s backup last year without losing a season’s eligibility.
For the most part, therein lies the story of the season. The teams who aren’t bringing a quarterback, and there are various reasons, don’t seem to be contenders, with the exception of Auburn. It’s understandable that AU coach Gus Malzahn would not want to bring two quarterbacks and the position battle was still ongoing at the end of spring with Joey Gatewood battling true freshman Bo Nix. If one emerges, AU should be able to contend, allowing for the Tigers’ daunting schedule (including the Daily Double of SEC East Division crossover games, Georgia and Florida.) But that matter hasn’t been settled. Neither has the situation at Arkansas, and while Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kentucky have candidates, none of those teams are going to get the nomination.
Most of the attention will be on Tagovailoa and Fromm. The following question may not be asked in quite this way, but is probably the most important theme of the week: which one will be successful? The correct answer, given the expectations at Alabama and Georgia, cannot be “both.” It’s possible that one will win the SEC — it’s possible that both could even make the College Football Playoff. But only one (or perhaps neither) can finish the season with a national title. A long season is ahead for the two juniors, but it will be good to hear from both as the journey begins.
The one thing that won’t come up, hopefully, will be the question of whether Alabama will bring a quarterback to Hoover (or, if the whispers about next year’s Media Days are correct, Dallas) in 2020. There should be enough on the plate for 2019. Perhaps someone will be bold enough to ask Nick Saban about the future, although the reaction may not be a pleasant one.
Quarterbacks of NFL caliber are not the sole way to pick a winner in college football. On the other hand, all of last year’s playoff participants (and the near-misses) had one. This week won’t answer the questions, the season will. But chances are that someone out of those nine quarterbacks, maybe Tua, maybe someone else, will be the season’s biggest story.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt