Hype for the “year of the quarterback” is rapidly approaching critical mass—returning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, prospective top NFL draft pick Sam Darnold plus Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and Washington’s Jake Browning are among many vying for national prominence. The SEC will feature its fair share of talented quarterbacks and Missouri will be facing several due to the East’s returning starters and the Tigers’ cross-division matchup.
We’ve attempted an in-depth projection of Drew Lock’s junior campaign to determine whether he can become a top-flight quarterback. Now it’s time to take a look at the competition. Who will be the top quarterbacks Mizzou faces in 2017?
Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
Last time: (2015 Baylor stats total: 75/109, 1265 yards, 12 TDs, 2 INT)
Jarrett Stidham lit up the Big 12 as a true freshman before fracturing his ankle and seeing the coach he committed to get fired amid a massive sexual assault scandal.
He detoured through a Texas community college and landed in the SEC at a school that runs an RPO system similar to the one he ran at Baylor and that Josh Heupel is attempting to install at Mizzou. As David Morrison put it on the season preview podcast, Missouri in 2016 was a lot like Auburn in 2011, right down to the up-tempo spread offense’s unbalancing effects on both team’s defenses.
This spring, Stidham won the starting QB position for Auburn over incumbent Sean White who led the SEC in completion percentage last year, highlighting how high the dual-threat sophomore’s ceiling might really be. Stidham is by far the most highly-touted passer among the people I’ve talked to; he’s been described as possessing both the athletic tools and mental acuity to restart Guz Malzahn’s stalled offensive machine —luckily just in time for a rematch with Mizzou.
September 23rd’s showdown will feature two blue-chip QBs dueling for the title of Best Tiger in the SEC. The winner could end up with more attempted passes than the game’s over/under.
Jacob Eason, Georgia
Last time: 29/55 for 308 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT in 28-27 win over Mizzou
Jacob Eason is like a howitzer —mobile enough to get around the field and capable of striking from long distance and at a variety of trajectories. Both Eason and Lock demonstrate excellent arm strength, both are able to throw from different release points and both like to attempt passes into narrow windows. But Georgia’s young signal-caller possess better “arm-talent” because of his ability to put a softer touch on passes.
A strong defense and a dynamic backfield will mean less pressure for Eason, but if teams can apply rattle his cage by getting hits on the QB, his footwork will suffer, affecting his accuracy, resulting in more turnovers. That’s pretty universal analysis but unfortunately it appears to be the biggest current weakness in his game.
Eason may have some motivation questions dogging him but the sheer amount of complimentary talent should provide cover as he matriculates through his sophomore year. Otherwise, Bulldog fans may end not feeling Smart.
Austin Allen, Arkansas
Last time: 24/39 for 348 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT in 28-24 loss to Mizzou
Austin Allen followed in his brother Brandon’s footsteps by quarterbacking Arkansas for three years but playing in the shadow of SEC West powerhouses, in a run-heavy scheme, for a coach who is a game below .500 after five years tends to dull the shine off one the the SEC’s most polished QBs.
Allen returns as the senior leader of the Razorback offense that lost its best running back in Rawleigh Williams and tallest lineman in Dan Skipper from a team that was doomed by epic second half collapses in 2016. The critique many have made is Allen doesn’t have great arm strength and needs a dominant rushing attack to highlight his biggest strength: throwing off play-action.
A bit of controversy arose at the end of 2016 about who was the SEC’s passing leader since Allen had the benefit of 278 yards in Arkansas’ bowl game to edge him past Drew Lock’s 3,399 yards. The fact remains Austin Allen led the SEC in pass completions (245), passing yards (3430) and yards per attempt (8.6). He was second in pass attempts (401) and passing touchdowns (25) even if he was first in interceptions (15).
Jake Bentley, South Carolina
22/28, 254 yards, 2 TDs in 31-21 win over Mizzou
Bentley was a true freshman thrust into a starting role and had his coming out party in the Columbia Mayor’s Cup. If that sounds familiar it’s because he stole Drew Lock’s moves. This town’s not big enough for both of them.
Stephen Johnson, Kentucky
14/23, 208 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT in 35-21 win over Mizzou
The senior Johnson stepped in for Drew Barker last year and provided a wildcat dimension to the Wildcat’s offense. A threat to run over defenders, Johnson is especially dangerous with talented running back Benny Snell as an option in the backfield.
Malik Zaire, Florida
2016 Notre Dame stats total: 11/23, 122 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Zaire is an undersized dual-threat lefty who ran an option offense with Brian Kelly at Notre Dame but lacked consistency throwing the ball. If he’s healthy and Florida can surround him with enough weapons maybe the Gators can lose a third straight SEC Championship game by double digits.