SEC QB Watch: How This Affects Betting in 2015
The quarterback situation in the SEC isn’t very intimidating at first glance. With very little star power at the position, the thinking is that the country’s most powerful conference will take a step back at the position that matters most.
How will that affect betting this season? Will these offenses take a big hit because of the drop-off at quarterback?
These are questions that I considered while doing research on the projected starters in the SEC, and this is what I found.
Does it Matter to Return a Starter at the QB Position?
The first thing we must ask ourselves is does it even matter? It seems that every year younger players are excelling at the position, so how much does experience factor into winning? Dave Bartoo of CFBMatrix, who studies college football stats, ran some numbers that shows us that it doesn’t make a huge difference. In 2012 he ran some numbers using AQ schools in the four previous years and this is what he found.
Teams that return their starter at quarterback had a 60.8 percent chance of winning as many or more games in the next season. The odds for teams that didn’t return a starter at quarterback were 53.7 percent. Bringing back someone who has started can be important, but it isn’t significant enough to make a splash.
There are some key factors to consider when looking at the new quarterback crop within the SEC conference.
Quarterbacks in Good Systems
A handful of the quarterbacks in the SEC will operate in quarterback-friendly systems this season. Mississippi State—who has the best situation at the position—returns Heisman contender Dak Prescott into a Dan Mullen system that worked well last year.
Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital has shown that his system can work well for quarterbacks, so rising sophomore Kyle Allen will have that to his advantage this fall. Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson may have the best situation, though, with Gus Malzahn as his head coach.
Johnson is a rising junior, so he is familiar with the offense already. He has only two starts to his credit, but Malzahn’s system will play to his strengths. Auburn is going to be a run-first offense, so the quarterback has less pressure to perform through the air right out of the gate. Johnson will be tested and will have to make big-time throws at times for Auburn to be successful, but he doesn’t have the same type of pressure that other first-year starters have.
As bad as the quarterback situation may look at South Carolina, don’t doubt Steve Spurrier. He has a knack for developing great quarterback talent, and he has a nice piece to work with. Projected starter Connor Mitch has very little experience, but he has the potential. He was rated as a 4-star recruit, so the Gamecocks’ quarterback situation looks better in reality than it does on paper.
A coaching change can be a good thing or a bad thing. For the Florida Gators it is a very good thing (at least from a quarterback perspective). New head coach Jim McElwain is the answer that the Gators offense needed after a dreadful performance last season on that side of the ball. Will Grier and Treon Harris have to learn the system, but the coaching change works in their favor in this case.
It also bodes well for the Georgia Bulldogs. Mike Bobo did an excellent job serving as offensive coordinator, but the system won’t look much different with Brian Schottenheimer running things. We should expect a heavy (possibly very heavy) dose of running back Nick Chubb this year. Whether the starter is Brice Ramsey or Jacob Park, the amount of pressure will be decreased with Schottenheimer’s system.
The coaching change at Tennessee is a tricky one. Mike DeBord, who replaces Mike Bajakian, has plenty of experience, but he hasn’t been in coaching in two years. He has familiarity with Butch Jones, and has past success, but this situation is worth watching.
Another important thing to take into account is the amount of experience the quarterback has. Although the SEC doesn’t feature many stars at quarterback, it has young talent that could break out this season after more time on the field. Guys like Joshua Dobbs, Jake Coker, Kyle Allen and Jeremy Johnson could all churn out big numbers this season, but none of those guys are very experienced.
Also, when you look at Prescott, Mauk, and Allen you see how their experience could impact their respective teams. Mauk has been pretty solid as the starter, and both Prescott and Allen’s experience will be very important to their teams’ success this fall.
|School||Projected Starter||# of starts|
|South Carolina||Connor Mitch||0|
|LSU||Anthony Jennings/Brandon Harris||13/1|
|Texas A&M||Kyle Allen||5|
|Ole Miss||Ryan Buchanan/DeVante Kincade/Chad Kelly||0/0/0|
|Mississippi State||Dak Prescott||20|
Breaking Down Each Team’s QB Situation and How it Affects your Betting Decision
Arkansas– I really like Arkansas this season. Bret Bielema has the type of team he wants, and I think the Razorbacks will pull off some good wins in 2015. They return Brandon Allen, the most experienced quarterback in the SEC, and they pair him with probably the best running back duo in the country.
Allen didn’t look good at times last year, but he is efficient. He isn’t going to win the Heisman, but the rising senior threw 20 touchdowns in 2014, with only five interceptions. With the offense featuring a heavy dose of the running game, Arkansas’s quarterback situation should be viewed as a positive in terms of handicapping this team this season. If Allen can improve with his accuracy, the offensive line and running game will take care of the rest offensively.
Alabama– The situation in Tuscaloosa is very interesting. The Tide are one of four teams within the conference that don’t have any combined starts at quarterback, but not many people are panicking. In fact, Nick Saban’s squad is still considered to be a playoff contender this season.
OC Lane Kiffin, QB Jake Coker, RB Derrick Henry, and DC Kirby Smart are all reasons why no one really cares about zero experience at the QB position. Kiffin worked with Blake Sims last season—who was a first-year starter in 2014—and helped him have a pretty good season. Alabama will likely feature another great defense under Kirby Smart, and Derrick Henry will get the majority of touches offensively, so the quarterback’s job is to be the game manager.
Some people hate that term and criticized A.J. McCarron for it, but the reality is that it works. Saban doesn’t need his quarterback to shine; he just needs him to play smart and manage things efficiently. Coker will battle with Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell for the job, but the feeling early on is that he will be the starter. Despite the new QB situation, this shouldn’t affect the way you bet on Alabama this season, because Coker has experience. The rising senior played in five games last season and was the backup for Jameis Winston before that, so he’s not your average first-year man.
Auburn– The quarterback situation at Auburn may not see a drop-off at all this season. Johnson isn’t the athletic, running back style signal-caller that we saw last year in Nick Marshall, but he’s a more polished passer. And that could be scary in Gus Malzahn’s system.
We should still expect Auburn to run the heck out of the ball with a loaded stable of running backs, but the fact that they can throw it around will make it tougher on opposing defenses. Johnson has made two starts in his time at Auburn, and his numbers were solid last season. He threw nine touchdowns to only two interceptions, and he boasted a 198.58 passer rating.
From a handicapping perspective, I do not see the change from Marshall to Johnson as having any affect on how I would bet on or against Auburn this season. The Tigers will improve defensively and the system will allow the quarterback position to simply reload.
Florida– The smart thing to do here is to keep an eye on Florida’s quarterback developments over the next few months. New head man Jim McElwain has a good offensive reputation, but he takes over a Gators offense that lacks experience under center. The notion is that Grier is the better fit in McElwain’s system, but he hasn’t attempted a pass at Florida yet.
Treon Harris was thrown into a bad situation last season as a true freshman, so it’s hard to judge his body of work. He threw nine touchdowns and four interceptions—with a completion percentage of only 49.5 percent—but Joe Montana would have struggled in that environment.
If the starter is Grier, we have nothing to judge him off of. He is a former 4-star recruit (for whatever stock you put into that), but he’s not going to be put into a great position. The offensive line has serious question marks and the offense will be in the transition of changing offenses, so Florida could be in for another rebuilding year.
Georgia– The quarterback situation heading into last season was in doubt, but the Bulldogs still put up huge offensive numbers. They return arguably the best running back in college football in Nick Chubb, so one would think the offense will revolve around him and the running game.
The only difference between this year and last year is experience. Last year Hutson Mason was a senior that had paid his dues, serving as the backup for Aaron Murray. This year, the top two options for Mark Richt’s crew are both young. Rising sophomore and projected starter Brice Ramsey has just 39 pass attempts, and Jacob Park is coming off a redshirt season.
The run-first offensive philosophy will help whichever guy wins the job. The amount of weapons around them also works in their favor. Georgia is loaded at running back, and there are reliable weapons at receiver and tight end.
Georgia’s situation at QB should not cause much of a drop-off offensively because of the pro-style philosophy and strong running game, but the schedule does have its challenges. The Bulldogs will face Alabama and Auburn from the SEC West, and they also have to travel to Georgia Tech at the end of the season.
Kentucky– The Wildcats return Patrick Towles at quarterback, but they also bring in a new offensive coordinator. Shannon Dawson, who held the same position at West Virginia, is entering his first season in Lexington. Towles looked good at times last year, but his inconsistency is the issue.
The offense and defense will both make positive strides, but as a whole it will be tough for the Wildcats to do better than six or seven wins.
LSU– Les Miles is in desperate need of a good quarterback. His team was loaded at virtually every other position last season, but the quarterback play was awful. Rising junior Anthony Jennings started 12 games but completed only 48.9 percent of his passes. True freshman Brandon Harris was a highly-touted recruit but struggled in his lone start of the season.
This is a team that I would be careful with. With a loaded defense and a stable of talented running backs, the Tigers managed only an 8-5 campaign in 2014. The returning talent at the skill positions is outstanding, so LSU has the potential to be dangerous, but will it look similar to last season? Before you consider betting on LSU, the question marks around the quarterback have to be somewhat answered.
Missouri– Mauk has been far from great in his two years at Missouri, but the Tigers find a way to win games. He is 14-4 as the starter (12-6 ATS), so you should consider betting on this squad as long as he is under center.
Being in the SEC East, Missouri could have another good season. Their two crossover games come against Arkansas and Mississippi State, but the Tigers are a good bet in 2015 because of the experience Mauk brings at the quarterback position.
Mississippi– The QB situation at Ole Miss is either boom or bust. There are three quarterbacks in the hunt for the job—Ryan Buchanan, DeVante Kincade, and Chad Kelly—but the Rebels will be without experience whichever choice they make.
Kelly, who can’t seem to stay out of trouble, has the skillset to be very talented. The nephew of NFL great Jim Kelly, he threw for 47 touchdowns and eight interceptions last season at East Mississippi Community College. He has the potential to be a breakout star but also the immaturity to be the third-stringer.
Kincade could also be dangerous because of his running ability, but it’s tough to tell without a huge body of work. It will be interesting to see how this position battle plays out, and it’s one that you should definitely keep an eye on if you are thinking about betting on Ole Miss this season. A lot of pundits have them ranked high early on, but with bad quarterback play this team could also lose five or six games.
Mississippi State– Whether you should bet on the Bulldogs or not in 2015 should rest solely on whether or not Prescott is at quarterback. Barring some major injury, Prescott will be among the best dual-threat options in the nation this fall.
It’s going to be tough for the Bulldogs to compete in the SEC West, but I like their chances to win some big games because of their offense. Dan Mullen has an excellent system in place and Prescott will receive another offseason to improve.
Tennessee– On paper, the Volunteers look scary, with a talented young crop of running backs and receivers. And oh yeah, not to mention one of the best young quarterbacks in the country in Joshua Dobbs.
If the coaching transition goes well on offense, this team has a chance at winning the SEC East. Dobbs should definitely be a factor in the way you bet on Tennessee, because he is a big-play machine. After recruiting well since getting to Knoxville, Butch Jones could finally see things pay off in 2015.
Texas A&M– Kyle Allen was a highly-touted 5-star coming out of high school, and he played well in his true freshman season. He went 3-2 as the starter a year ago (2-3 ATS) and threw for 12 touchdowns in his first season.
Allen has a great arm, but the thing that works most in his favor is the system at A&M. Spavital likes to go fast and throw it around, and Allen has plenty of weapons to utilize in this offense. With John Chavis taking over as defensive coordinator, the defense should no longer be the Achilles heel for the Aggies.
For whatever Allen lacks in experience, he makes up for it plus some with his raw potential that will be showcased in Spatival’s system this fall.
South Carolina– A lot of people are writing South Carolina off already, but don’t let Spurrier fool you. He can turn an inexperienced quarterback into a winner and it all has to do with the system. His offense is very quarterback-friendly, which makes having a first-year starter less of an issue.
The defense should be the main concern for people who are thinking of betting on the Gamecocks early on. Mitch is a raw talent that just needs to be developed, and I think Spurrier will get the production he needs from the position in 2015.
Vanderbilt– Where do we start with Vanderbilt? The Commodores started four different quarterbacks last year, and the direction of the offense is still unclear. Johnny McCrary started five games in 2014 and is the projected starter early on.
The quarterback dilemma is among many concerns the Commodores should have entering 2015, but it isn’t any worse than it was last year, so that needs to be considered in your betting decision.
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