COLLEGE STATION, Texas – The Southeastern Conference is filled with young quarterbacks this season, with many teams putting their offenses in the hands of freshmen or sophomores.
Some of these players have had immediate success, others struggled and some showed flashes of brilliance but ultimately made too many rookie mistakes to keep their jobs.
Perhaps the best example of immediate success is sophomore Jalen Hurts of top-ranked Alabama. The dual-threat quarterback is in his second season as starter after helping the Crimson Tide to the national title game last season.
Hurts has undefeated Alabama eyeing a return to the title game after throwing for 1,648 yards and 11 touchdowns and running for 656 yards and eight more scores this season. He's cut down on his mistakes in his second year and has just one interception in 10 games after being picked off nine times as a freshman.
He shined late in Saturday's game against Mississippi State with a 26-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds left to lift the Crimson Tide to the 31-24 victory. Coach Nick Saban raved about his poise after the win.
"He doesn't get affected by a whole lot in the game," he said. "Most of the time, the bigger the situation the bigger he is ... the players really believe in his leadership, and I think that's really critical in tough situations at the end of the game like we had."
No. 6 Auburn's Jarrett Stidham is another sophomore star in the SEC, but he's a bit older than some of the other players on this list after sitting out last year following a transfer from Baylor. Stidham threw for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns in 10 games for the Bears as a freshman before a season-ending ankle injury.
Healthy after his yearlong layoff, Stidham has had a great season, throwing for 2,210 yards and 14 touchdowns to help the Tigers contend for the SEC West title. He's thrown three TD passes in each of the last two games and added a scoring run on Saturday as Auburn downed then-No. 2 Georgia 40-17 to set up a showdown with Alabama next week.
He believes his decision-making has improved his performance this season.
"I feel comfortable," he said. "Obviously each week it's something I want to work on. As a quarterback, you can never be too comfortable. So just trying to get better every week and hone in on those skills and get better."
While two of the top teams in the SEC have succeeded with sophomores, No. 7 Georgia has raced out to a 9-1 record behind a backfield led by freshman QB Jake Fromm. He has thrown for 1,643 yards with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. Fromm didn't make any major mistakes in last week's loss to Auburn, but had trouble making plays while working under heavy pressure for most of the day as he was sacked four times after only being taken down seven times combined in the first nine games.
South Carolina sophomore Jake Bentley has had his ups and downs this season, his first full year as the starter after taking over with six games left last year. He's third in the SEC with 2,235 yards passing this season, but has struggled with interceptions in the past two games, where he's thrown five of his nine picks as the Gamecocks have fallen to 7-3.
A freshman who has had a tough time in a 3-6 season for Florida is Feleipe Franks. He's appeared in every game with five starts and thrown for 1,102 yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions. Most of his turnovers have come in the last few weeks and the Gators have dropped five in a row. Franks lost his starting job to graduate transfer Malik Zaire two weeks ago after the team parted ways with coach Jim McElwain.
But Franks will get another shot this week with interim coach Randy Shannon saying he'll start after Zaire injured his knee in a loss to South Carolina on Saturday. When he was benched for Zaire it was the second time he'd lost his job this season after the team started Luke Del Rio for one game, but he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in that game, making Franks the starter again.
Since the Gators had one game canceled in the wake of Hurricane Irma, if Franks can help Florida to wins this week against UAB and next week against Florida State the team could salvage this season with a bowl invitation.
At Texas A&M, the struggling Aggies have fielded not one, but two freshman quarterbacks this season. They opened the season with redshirt freshman Nick Starkel, but he broke his ankle in the third quarter of the loss to UCLA, and the Aggies moved on to true freshman Kellen Mond.
The mobile Mond showed promise at times, leading the Aggies to wins over South Carolina and Florida, and his performance helped Texas A&M stick around against Alabama before losing 27-19. But the 18-year-old's struggles in back-to-back losses to Mississippi State and Auburn prompted coach Kevin Sumlin to move Starkel back into the starting role last week.
Sumlin said he probably would have benched Mond sooner if Starkel would have been completely healthy He excelled against overmatched New Mexico last week, throwing for 416 yards and four touchdowns before sitting down at halftime of a 55-14 win and will start again this week.