For the first time in seven years, college football fans witnessed something remarkable. Despite Auburn’s appearance in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game, it was Florida State that sealed the deal and stole a crystal ball away from the Southeastern Conference.
Regarded as the best division in college football, the SEC West will be prime and ready to prove its dominance next season. Though it’s said defense wins championships, only half the battle is won if your offense can’t produce points. In recent seasons, the SEC was known for its dominant defenses; however, we witnessed a changing of guard in 2013.
Next season will present a new challenge for the SEC West. With AJ McCarron, Johnny Manziel and Zach Mettengberger pursuing National Football League careers, the division returns Bo Wallace, Dak Prescott, Nick Marshall, and Brandon Allen while welcoming others to the fold.
After entering 2013 with a lot of hype, Mississippi limped to an 8-5 season. Ole Miss desires to be an elite SEC program, but the team will only go as far as Bo Wallace takes it. Weighing in at 6’4” 209 pounds, Wallace is a big dual-threat quarterback. He finished last season with 3,346 passing yards and 18 touchdowns. On the ground, Wallace totaled 355 yards and six touchdowns.
Wallace does a good job of displaying footwork in the pocket and keeping his vision downfield. He has exceptional arm strength and can either thread the needle or guide passes to receivers. When he is on, Wallace is as good as advertised. However, he needs to work on ball placement and decision making.
In a few games last season, Wallace began to force the issue; he threw into double coverage and telegraphed a lot of passes. It doesn’t matter how accurate you are, if you can’t place the ball in the right spots it’s no good.
Outside of cowbells, Mississippi State fans don’t have much to cheer about. This aspect will change next season as Dak Prescott becomes the signal caller. Like Wallace, Prescott is a dual threat quarterback. At 6’2” 230 pounds, Prescott was 80 percent of the Bulldogs offense last season. He totaled 1,940 passing yards and 10 touchdowns.
While his passing stats were decent, Prescott did most of his damage on the ground. He recorded 829 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns. Prescott split time with Tyler Russell, but came on late to rescue the season with close wins against Kentucky and Mississippi.
He capped off 2013 with a phenomenal Liberty Bowl performance against Rice. Prescott totaled 361 yards of offense and five total touchdowns. Prescott is an emotional leader who brings a lot of toughness to the table. He will have to work on becoming an efficient passer, but he displays leadership qualities.
It will be interesting to see how Texas A&M looks next season. 2014 will unveil Matt Joeckel as the new quarterback. Though his upside looks promising, everyone’s favorite folktale character left Joeckel some huge shoes to fill. Joeckel is not a dual threat guy, but he possesses a talented arm. If anything, Joeckel has chance to be a better passer than Manziel was.
Joeckel totaled 293 passing and two touchdowns in mop up duty last season. Under Kevin Sumlin, it will be up to Joeckel to become a leader and get his teammates to believe that he can lead the program. Five star recruit Kyle Allen will get a chance if Joeckel can’t produce.
Hailing from Scottdale, Ariz., Allen was the No. 1 ranked quarterback in the country coming out of high school. At 6’3” 205 pounds, Allen possesses a strong arm. Unlike Joeckel, Allen is a mobile quarterback. Though he’s not Manziel, Allen has the ability to extend plays and keep drives alive with his legs.
2013 was a dismal year for Arkansas, but having Running Backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams return next season makes it better. Brandon Allen must take a step forward in 2014. Last season, he completed just 49.6 percent of his passes. Despite tossing 13 touchdowns, Allen struggled with accuracy and ball placement. This led to seven interceptions and a 109.0 quarterback rating.
Now a junior, Allen has the potential to be successful; however, he has to start making better decisions with the football. Collins and Williams will take some pressure of him, but will be up to Allen to step up and guide this team to a successful season.
Under Les Miles, LSU is a physical football team. The Tigers excel on the ground and perform well defensively. LSU isn’t a program that attracts flashy quarterbacks, but 2014 will reveal a new wrinkle for them.
2013 was a productive year for the Tigers. LSU finished at 10-3 and witnessed the maturation of Zach Mettenberger. He had 3,082 passing yards and 22 touchdowns. Next season, Anthony Jennings will open as the quarterback.
As a native of Marietta, Ga., Jennings was a four star prospect coming out of high school. At 6’2” 202 pounds, he’s a dual threat quarterback with a strong arm. He has a quick release, but struggles with accuracy. Though he displays good touch on the ball, Jennings tends to overthrow receivers. His upside and potential is there, but he must continue to work on his mechanics in spring ball and summer camp.
It’s something about junior college quarterbacks that drive Auburn fans wild. The Tigers landed Cameron Newton in 2010 and won a national title. After a dismal season in 2012, another JUCO specimen sat at the doorstep. Despite off-the-field issues at Georgia, Nick Marshall became a hot commodity at Garden City Community College. He totaled 37 touchdowns (19 rushing, 18 passing) and 3,142 yards passing.
In a four-man battle for the job, Marshall took over as quarterback of Gus Malzahn’s offense. He had some decent performances early, but came of age against Mississippi, Mississippi State and Texas A&M. To succeed in college football, one has to be lucky at times. For Marshall, it was the matchup against Georgia on the plains of Jordan-Hare Stadium.
He had 89 yards rushing and two scores in the game, but Marshall’s most memorable play came through the air. He had one touchdown pass in the game, but it was a 73-yard miracle to Ricardo Louis with 0:25 remaining in regulation. Marshall finished 2013 with 1,976 passing yards and 14 touchdowns. On the ground, he had 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Regardless of the criticism, Marshall did have five games in which he completed over 50 percent of his passes. He developed into an effective passer as the season went on, but in a Malzahn system that is based on running the ball; it’s hard to develop a rhythm passing. Marshall will return in 2014 as an early Heisman candidate. Next season, the question will turn from Marshall’s ability to run Malzahn’s system to his ability to improve as a passer.
As he enters his senior season, NFL scouts will start to look at Marshall. It’s great to be a mobile quarterback, but the number one thing you are getting paid to do is throw touchdowns.
Alabama has had some great quarterbacks in its history. Greg McElroy got the dynasty started under Nick Saban in 2009, but it was AJ McCarron who kept it going. Now, the time has come for the Crimson Tide to find a new signal caller. Alabama fans have the joy of witnessing a six-man battle for the job in spring ball and summer camp.
Many fans have hopped on the Florida State transfer Jacob Coker bandwagon. He has the size and tools to bring to the table; however, he doesn’t set foot in Tuscaloosa until May. As spring practice continues, it’s David Cornwell, Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman, Blake Sims and Parker McLeod in the battle.
Thus far, David Cornwell and Alec Morris have distanced themselves from the pack. Cornwell is a physical specimen at 6’5” 241 pounds. He has the potential to be a future first round pick. Along with having a great arm, Cornwell possesses a lot of mobility. As a member of North Norman High School (Oklahoma), Cornwell rushed for 755 yards and six touchdowns in his junior season.
Alabama fans were impressed with Alec Morris in the 2013 A-Day Game. He looked confident in the pocket and at times appeared to be in sync with the offense. He has a strong arm and displays good footwork in the pocket. In situations last season, Morris was always around the coaching staff and McCarron gleaming knowledge of the system.
Cooper Bateman is in the middle of the pack. He has a good arm and shows mobility, but struggles with his accuracy at times. As a senior, Blake Sims is finally starting to understand how to be an effective passer. However, his newly found revelation might have come a little too late.
Alabama fans have known Sims as a runner, but they have only seen small flashes of what he could be as a passer. His footwork, arm strength and ball placement has improved in practice. He even went as far as to go to a quarterback camp during spring break. Only time will tell if Sims has done enough to get the job.
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