QB questions abound in SEC after departure of stars
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) Quarterback battles and signal-caller questions abound in the Southeastern Conference going into preseason camps around the league. Big names, not so much. Division favorites Alabama and South Carolina will be banking on new starters. Ditto for Texas A&M, Georgia and defending East Division champion Missouri. So long, Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray and AJ McCarron et al. Hello, little-known new guys. The biggest name returning at quarterback is Auburn's Nick Marshall, himself an unproven commodity this time last year. The biggest stars are gone, but Georgia coach Mark Richt says that doesn't necessarily signal a big drop-off. "Some guys are going to have a chance to make a name for themselves," Richt said. "How many seasons start out where you must don't know what a guy's going to do? Even (Florida State's) Jameis Winston, Johnny Football, their first year of starting, all of a sudden they win the Heisman. So anything can happen with a guy who gets his opportunity. I wouldn't count out the quarterbacks in this league to play great." First, some of those candidates for greatness must win the starting job. Others have already risen to No. 1 after biding their time. South Carolina and Georgia have fifth-year seniors finally getting their shots. The Gamecocks' Dylan Thompson supplied a few big highlights during his time as Connor Shaw's backup. Georgia's Hutson Mason started a win over Georgia Tech and then put up big numbers in a loss to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl after Murray's season-ending knee injury. Missouri sophomore Maty Mauk started four games in place of an injured James Franklin last season, throwing 11 touchdown passes against two interceptions. "When you're playing in the SEC, you have to be ready," he said. "You've got to have two or three quarterbacks ready, and I was ready. Maybe I wasn't mentally fully up with it. I knew this was my opportunity and I took it. They put me in great situations." Now, he's in another good one as Franklin's heir. The most experienced returning quarterback is Mississippi's Bo Wallace, whose 6,340 career passing yards trails only Eli Manning at the school. Mississippi State's Dak Prescott, Arkansas' Brandon Allen and Florida's Jeff Driskel are also back. Driskel, who's 12-3 as a starter, missed most of last season with a broken leg. Other teams' quarterback competitions are carrying into August, and several could include freshman contenders: Alabama appears to have a two-man race to replace McCarron, the 2013 Heisman Trophy runner-up. Blake Sims was shaky in the spring game and Florida State transfer Jacob Coker is the presumed front-runner. But Coker, Winston's former backup, will have to play catch-up since he didn't report to Tuscaloosa until the summer after graduating. "Those two are just two different type of quarterback," Crimson Tide receiver Christion Jones said. "Alabama's probably never seen those two, no matter who's the starting quarterback between them. There's no comparison to any other quarterback." Texas A&M also should have no shortage of playmakers but scant experience at quarterback. Sophomore Kenny Hill and freshman Kyle Allen, who went through spring practice, are vying to replace Manziel, the 2012 Heisman winner. Kyle Allen was one of the Aggies' prized recruits, but few matched the razzle-dazzle of Manziel as a scrambler and runner. Left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi insists the basic formula doesn't change. "Same offense. Same plays," Ogbuehi said. "Pass the ball. Run the ball. It's all the same." LSU freshman Brandon Harris, also a January enrollee, and sophomore Anthony Jennings are competing to replace Zach Mettenberger. Harris accounted for three passing touchdowns and one rushing score in the spring game. "It will be a very competitive event from the start to the finish," LSU coach Les Miles said. New Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason will likely choose between Patton Robinette, redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary and LSU transfer Stephen Rivers. Mason said he's not ruling out three other potential candidates. Patrick Towles and Maxwell Smith are vying to claim the job at Kentucky, where last year's primary starter Jalen Whitlow transferred. Plus, highly recruited freshman Drew Barker and Reese Phillips are waiting in the wings. Tennessee's Justin Worley, Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman are vying to lead an offense that ranked 13th in the league in passing. All three started at least one game in 2013.