Head of the Monster
There's a quote by William Shakespeare that sums up college football: we know what we are, but know not what we may be. Sometimes, you can replace All-Americans. Sometimes, you can't. After losing a host of great QBs in 2013 - Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron, Zach Mettenberger, Connor Shaw, James Franklin, and Austyn Carta-Samuels - the SEC had its work cut out to produce the next great slew of game winners and world destroyers. And replacing that talent has proved just a little tricky.
The SEC didn't do poorly this year, by any means. In fact, there was a very solid group of replacements. Dylan Thompson grew from a two-star recruit into a Spurrier protege, rifling off 3,564 yards at almost 8.0 a clip. Dak Prescott became a Heisman contender, finishing with 4,470 total yards and 42 scores. Sophomore Kenny Hill took the nation by storm, putting up at least 265 yards in each of his first seven games before falling out of the rotation. Nick Marshall put up improved numbers from the year before, getting 2,500 passing yards and more touchdowns but also fewer rushing yards. And in Blake Sims' lone season as the starter, he led his team to the SEC crown.
Most of these quarterbacks had their limitations, but they were very functional team leaders. Unfortunately for the SEC, every name mentioned - except for Dak Prescott - has now graduated or transferred. Mississippi's Bo Wallace and UGA's Hutson Mason are gone, too. So what now?
If there is one position that the SEC hasn't dominated in recruiting, it is at quarterback. Big 12 and Pac-12 teams have taken their share of top prospects, and blue bloods up north have grabbed quite a few as well. Attrition has also hurt: Hayden Rettig, Matt Davis, and Kenny Hill transferred after just one combined season of play between them, and Kohl Stewart and Cord Sandberg ended up in baseball. All had been four-star prospects in the last few years. (Meanwhile, teams as diverse as Eastern Michigan, Southern Miss, Illinois, Purdue, Pitt, and Washington State have competed with the SEC and landed blue chips.) After two successive years of heavy losses, depth becomes an interesting issue for a conference still lauded as the nation's best.
There is talent, though. Tennessee coaches are confident in Joshua Dobbs, who burned his redshirt when Justin Worley went down with a shoulder injury against Ole Miss. Dobbs won four of his six starts, but Butch Jones never asked too much of him, instead relying on jet sweeps and the ground game to move the ball. There's also Kentucky's Patrick Towles and Florida's Treon Harris, who are shades of Dobbs in their youth and the running ability they bring, and Brice Ramsey, who's the front-runner in Georgia's pro-style attack.
But for a superstar-in-waiting, look no further than Jeremy Johnson. Auburn's offense will look different with a 6'5", 230 lb. pocket passer in the cockpit, but Johnson has built up experience operating with tempo. In his two years relieving Nick Marshall, he's put up 9 touchdowns to 2 interceptions, eleven yards a throw and 73% completions. This is what co-OC Dameyune Craig had to say:
"We're definitely going to emphasize the pass game more. That means the ball will be spread out a little bit more than it has in the past. I think the receivers will prosper from Jeremy Johnson's emergence as quarterback next year. I'm excited about it, the receivers are excited about it and I think the fans are excited about this new era in Auburn football."
That's gushing praise for a quarterback who hasn't officially won his job yet.
Kyle Allen is also likely to put up good numbers at Texas A&M. The freshman didn't produce quite the same as Hill had, but the focus and talent was evident. He's also in a prolific system with some elite talent around him. Arkansas' Brandon Allen has the tools to be successful - reflected in his 20-to-5 touchdown ratio - but he also tended to make some bad decisions that could use some cleaning up. Jake Coker leads a deep crop of prospects at Alabama, and Maty Mauk will have a chance to redeem some erratic numbers in his first season leading Missouri: 53.4%, 25-13 TD ratio, and the third-lowest rating in the conference (above Jeff Driskel and Anthony Jennings).
As much as the quarterback talent doesn't blow you away, don't be surprised if some reasonably able quarterbacks put up some very good numbers. The wide receiver talent, first of all, is shocking: Speedy Noil, Laquon Treadwell, Evan Engram, Demarcus Robinson, Pharoh Cooper, Duke Williams, Josh Reynolds, Malachi Dupre, Travin Dural, and the top three recruits in the country for 2015.... just an incredible amount of talent. Running back is also in great shape, with five thousand-yard rushers returning and plenty of depth. Some of the best offensive coaches also live in the SEC. So, the conference will still be a bit of a monster, and quarterback will benefit from that. But it won't be a hydra.
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Footage of Kirk Ferentz Tweeting
This made me laugh.
As Daishon Neal discovered this week, social media is a powerful platform - more powerful than we sometimes realize. YouTube has a lot of untapped potential, as well: for example, I've seen the skyline of Dhaka, but never been to Bangladesh. Here is a couple minutes of walking around the Hofburg Palace, in Vienna, Austria. One part of the artwork (1:09) visible in the video depicts Heracles trying to kill the Hydra. Parts of this building are over 1,000 years old.