Derek Mason heard the music coming from the team room down the hallway.
Vanderbilt’s coach expected to see several players when he entered the room a couple weeks ago, but he saw only Kyle Shurmur. Vandy’s junior quarterback was dissecting film of Middle Tennessee State, its season-opening opponent, while bopping to some music.
Shurmur asked Mason a few questions about what he was seeing from MTSU’s defense.
“That’s what I want from my quarterback,” Mason said. “He’s got to be that guy – not some of the time, but all of the time. What I’ve seen from Kyle in the last six months leads me to believe he is that guy. I have been waiting for him to grow up. He has grown up.”
Barring something majorly unforeseen during preseason camp, Mason knows who his starting quarterback will be when his Commodores open the season Sept. 2. It’ll be Shurmur, who has 18 career starts under his belt.
Several SEC programs are in the same boat, with their starting quarterback job settled.
Six teams brought their starting quarterback as one of their three player representatives at SEC media days last week in Hoover, Ala. Not included that contingent were other established starters like Alabama’s Jalen Hurts, Georgia’s Jacob Eason and Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald.
This time last year, the quarterback job was unsettled at several SEC schools. Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina each gave multiple starts to true freshmen. Now, Hurts and Eason – who each started all but one game – join Mississippi’s Shea Patterson and South Carolina’s Jake Bentley as sophomores with seasoning.
“There’s a lot of talent in the SEC this year in the quarterback room – a lot of young guys who got thrown in the fire last year and handled it really well,” said Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen, a fifth-year senior who led the league with 3,430 passing yards last season. “I think it’s exciting.”
Overall, 11 of the league’s 14 teams return their starting quarterback – although a couple returning starters might be hard-pressed to keep their job. Auburn’s Sean White will have to hold off Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham, while Florida’s incumbent Luke Del Rio will have competition from redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire.
This much is certain. There’s no lack for talent at the game’s most important position.
“The league’s going to have some guys that probably nationally will get some attention, and I think that’s very well deserved,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said. “There’s some guys in the league that you look, not just because they’ve got good physical skills, but now another year in their system with their coordinator and the experience factor, there will be some good quarterback play.”
Missouri welcomes back junior Drew Lock, who has 20 career starts. The only QB in the conference with more starts is LSU’s Danny Etling, who has 22 under his belt, 12 of which came while he was at Purdue.
While SEC coaches still insist they hail from the country’s best conference, the pudding was missing the proof last year. Alabama was the only SEC school ranked in the top 12 of the final AP poll. The expectation is that the depth of talent at quarterback should help the overall quality of the league.
“All of my years in doing this, even before I became a coach, when I was a player, I think I always look back and I reflect on the teams that we had that were successful,” and they were “teams that had great quarterbacks or quarterbacks that could lead,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said.
Historically, the SEC has been known more for its defense, speed and battles in the trenches than as a league full of gunslingers tossing the ball all over the yard.
Last year, three SEC quarterbacks – Mississippi’s Chad Kelly, Lock and Allen – averaged at least 245 passing yards per game. By comparison, the ACC, which also has 14 teams, had seven quarterbacks who averaged 245 or more yards passing. The Big 12 had six such quarterbacks, while the Big Ten and Pac-12 each matched the SEC with three.
Since increasing to 14 teams in 2012, the SEC has never had more than four quarterbacks average at least 245 yards passing in a game in any season. The passing output has seen an uptick in recent years, though. From 2008-11, there was never more than two SEC QBs in any one season who averaged at least 245 yards in a game.
“I think we’ve got a lot of good quarterbacks in the league now. I think it has been kind of a lull. You had Tebow and Murray and all those guys that played a couple years ago, Stafford,” Lock said, referring to Florida’s Tim Tebow and Georgia’ Aaron Murray and Matthew Stafford. “And I think the guys in the league this year will kind of bring that back to the SEC.”