Keeping quarterbacks a challenge in the SEC

Georgia five-star freshman Justin Fields (1) enrolled in January and competed this spring with sophomore Jake Fromm, who guided the Bulldogs to last season's Southeastern Conference title. (Andy Harrison/Georgia Photo)

When the 2017 Southeastern Conference football season kicked off, Jacob Eason was Georgia's starting quarterback, as was Quinten Dormady at Tennessee and Shea Patterson at Ole Miss.

Now, none of those three reside in the SEC, with Eason having transferred to Washington, Dormady to Houston and Patterson to Michigan. Seeking new locales is nothing new for college quarterbacks, but the frequency at which such exits are occurring is making the math tougher and tougher for coaches.

"Obviously you can see what we're going through now and what other people are going through - it's the same thing," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said in a news conference this week at the SEC's spring meetings in Destin, Florida. "A lot of these young quarterbacks are doing the same thing in high school. They're positioning from the eighth grade to ninth grade and, 'Where can I be the quarterback in ninth grade?'

"They go shopping and searching and find a place to go, and a lot of them start for three or four years. It used not to be that way, and now it's trickling up to us."

Of the eight five-star quarterback signees in the 2015 through 2017 recruiting classes, five have transferred - Blake Barnett (2015), Kyler Murray (2015), Eason (2016), Patterson (2016) and Hunter Johnson (2017). Barnett signed with Alabama and has since transferred to Arizona State and now to South Florida.

Smart has lost not only Eason but preferred walk-on Stetson Bennett since last season's run to the SEC championship and a spot in the national title game. Bennett's transfer announcement last weekend leaves the Bulldogs with only two quarterbacks - sophomore Jake Fromm and early enrollee Justin Fields - who took snaps in last month's G-Day spring game.

Keeping Fromm and Fields happy will be paramount to extending Georgia's success, and it's a similar scenario at Alabama with Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa. There have been stories in recent weeks detailing the frustration Hurts and Tagovailoa have experienced in dueling for the job, which even has Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban uncertain about what the quarterback depth chart will look like once the upcoming season starts.

"Nobody knows what the outcome of this situation is going to bring for us," Saban said late last month.

Saban has a more crowded quarterback meeting room than Smart because of the presence of redshirt freshman Mac Jones and the recent addition of Layne Hatcher, a former Arkansas State commitment. Smart said this week he is on the hunt for more quarterbacks, adding he was on the exact same hunt this time last year.

There are 130 Football Bowl Subdivision programs this year, and Smart said the ideal situation for a coach would be having three content quarterbacks. That would result in 390 content quarterbacks in the FBS, he added, which is completely unrealistic.

"You're not going to have that in this me-now society," he said. "They want the self-gratification. They want to know that they're going to be able to play, and it's different from any other position on the team, because every other position on the team other than kicker knows that he can have another role."

From 2007 to 2016, there were more four- and five-star quarterback signees in the SEC who wound up leaving (33) than those who elected to stay (32). Remember Auburn's Kiehl Frazier, Georgia's Christian LeMay and Missouri's Maty Mauk?

Smart never coached Hutson Mason at Georgia, but he cited Mason as a rarity in this day and age. Mason spent his first four years with the Bulldogs backing up Aaron Murray, the SEC's career leader in passing yardage, before taking over in 2014 and throwing for 2,168 yards, completing 68 percent of his attempts and compiling 21 touchdowns against just four interceptions.

"He was a guy who kept getting better and better and grew as a quarterback," Smart said, "but there is not a lot of that. It's tough keeping them around, because they all want to go where they can play right away."

CBS sets dates

CBS announced its first three SEC telecasts of the 2018 college football season Wednesday, with each of the three games kicking off shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern. The network will televise Tennessee versus West Virginia in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sept. 1, Georgia at South Carolina on Sept. 8, and LSU at Auburn on Sept. 15.

Odds and ends

Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin on the skyrocketing salaries of coaches: "I think it's one of the biggest challenges we have in college athletics. They are in a market that allows them to enjoy those kinds of salaries, but I do think the optics of it are not helpful." ... SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said Wednesday evening that league basketball coaches prefer staying at 18 conference games over a bump to 20.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.