John David Mercer, USA Today Sports Media

The ACC-SEC debate and quarterbacks

In 2016, there was no comparison with the two leagues at QB

JC Shurburtt
July 12, 2017 - 10:25 am
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Frankly, in 2016 the Atlantic Coast Conference was flat-out a better college football conference top to bottom than the Southeastern Conference.

Clemson defeated Alabama for the national title. The Thanksgiving weekend rivalry games were titled toward the ACC as the Tigers beat South Carolina, Florida State beat Florida and Georgia Tech topped Georgia (only Kentucky sprung an upset with Louisville)

Let’s examine that debate as it relates to the single most important position on the field, quarterback.

First, let’s look at last season. It a transitional season for most teams in the SEC, particularly at the all-important quarterback position. Here’s how the starting quarterback situations stacked up for each program.

Alabama- started a true freshman, Jalen Hurts
Arkansas- started a veteran, Austin Allen
Auburn- started several different players, but Sean White for the most part. They have Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham this season
Florida- started a first-year transfer in Luke Del Rio and a graduate transfer in Austin Appleby.
Georgia- started a true freshman, Jacob Eason
Kentucky- started a first-year junior college transfer in Stephen Johnson
LSU- started a graduate transfer in Danny Etling
Missouri- started a veteran, Drew Lock
Mississippi State- first-year starter, Nick Fitzgerald
Ole Miss- had Chad Kelly, but when he got hurt went with true freshman Shea Patterson
South Carolina- started a true freshman, Jake Bentley, who took over for another true freshman Brandon McIlwain
Tennessee- started a veteran, Josh Dobbs
Texas A&M- started a grad transfer, Trevor Knight
Vanderbilt- started a veteran, Kyle Shurmur 

Dobbs and Knight are both gone, but he the rest are back.

Now compare that to the ACC last season, which had a national title-winning quarterback in DeShaun Watson (Clemson), Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson (Louisville),  the first quarterback taken in the NFL Draft, Mitch Trubisky (North Carolina), Nathan Peterman (Pittsburgh) and Brad Kaaya (Miami), among other talented signal callers that were scheme-specific like Justin Thomas at Georgia Tech. It wasn’t even close when you compare the two leagues in terms of experience and talent at that position. 

Fast-forward to this season, Watson, Trubisky and Kaaya are gone. League runner-up Virginia Tech lost Jared Evans who was a one-and-done junior college transfer. Georgia Tech is searching for a replacement for Thomas. Likewise, Pitt will look to replace Peterman. That’s a much more unknown situation than what existed in the ACC last season, where Jackson and Florida State’s Deondre Francois are the top returning signal callers. Both are among the best, but after that it gets iffy.

Compare that to the SEC where very few schools have question marks by comparison. Yes, there are battles at Texas A&M and Tennessee and maybe Florida. That’s a gigantic change from last season and really many of the more recent seasons in the conference. On paper, the league has more depth and talent at quarterback than it has in the last two or three seasons, where it seemed there were recurring question marks at most programs. 

So with all of that, the expectation here is that the ACC’s banner season in 2016, one in which you could legitimately say it was better than the SEC top-to-bottom, may be short-lived unless there are a ton of quarterback busts in the SEC and multiple surprises at the position in the ACC.

Quarterback is that important these days in college football and the best conference in the land for the last 20-plus seasons is set to make a comeback at the position at the same time it's primary geographic conference rival is going through a transition.

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