(Serious h/t to friend of the site, David Morrison of The Columbia (Mo.) Tribune, for asking questions related to backup QBs on the weekly SEC coaches teleconference.)
SEC teams are learning a valuable lesson: In today’s college football, the SEC is a two-quarterback league.
So far this season, 10 of the league’s 14 programs have turned to backup quarterbacks because of injuries. All 10 have started more than one quarterback this year.
“You need to have some depth at that position,” said Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, one of 10 SEC coaches forced to turn to backup quarterbacks because of injury this year.
Pinpointing why quarterback attrition seems to be racing toward an all-time high isn’t difficult.
Read-option plays and designed runs put quarterbacks in positions to take more hits than ever before. Combine that with the fact that the SEC still recruits and cultivates some of the best defensive linemen and linebackers in the country, and something has to give.
In many cases, “something” has been the quarterbacks.
“I see it happening around the country more. I think that’s obvious,” said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, whose team played the last two games without QB1 James Franklin. “I know defensive linemen and linebackers are bigger, stronger and faster than they’ve ever been.
“It’s a lot different than it was 10 years ago.”
Pinkel said, in his 20 years as a head coach, he had never lost a starting quarterback due to injury for any real length of time until last season.
Franklin suffered shoulder and head injuries, forcing him out of games in 2012. The senior suffered a separated shoulder three weeks ago when the Tigers won at Georgia.
Though Franklin is listed as questionable this week, Pinkel said QB2 Maty Mauk will likely make his third consecutive start.
The drop-off from Franklin, a senior, to Mauk, a freshman, has been noticeable.
Franklin has completed 67 percent of his passes with a 14:3 TD-to-INT ratio and a total quarterback rating of 80.4 through the first six games this season. In two plus games, Mauk is completing just 49 percent of his passes with 2 TDs and 2 INTs with a total quarterback rating of 47.5.
“As a general rule, I think there’s a huge drop-off,” Pinkel said. “It’s the one position nobody wants to lose.”
There are exceptions to that rule, though.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said he has “always been a big believer” in having two quarterbacks ready.
The Bulldogs began the year with senior QB Tyler Russell at the helm. Russell, however, suffered a concussion during the opener against Oklahoma State that left him sidelined for several weeks.
With Russell out, Mullen turned to QB2 Dak Prescott. The sophomore earned the starting job with his stellar play and retained it even when Russell gained clearance to return.
“You’re always one play away from having your most important position with the backup going in the game,” Mullen said on the teleconference. “The guys on the field have to be comfortable with him, have to believe that this guy can come in and make the plays to win the game.”
Injuries hit Tennessee especially hard. The top two quarterbacks – Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman – both suffered significant hand injuries. Worley is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery on his thumb, Volunteers coach Butch Jones revealed Tuesday.
Peterman returned to practice this week, 5½ weeks after suffering a hand injury at Florida, but his status is unknown.
If Peterman can’t go, Tennessee will be left with true freshmen QBs Josh Dobbs and Riley Ferguson as its remaining options.
Dobbs made his collegiate debut last week during a 45-10 loss at Alabama. He had previously seemed to be on track for a redshirt.
Ferguson has yet to play, perhaps so he can redshirt.
Keeping three quarterbacks game-ready has always been a priority for Jones, currently in his first season at Tennessee.
“I think the hardest job is for the backup quarterback because he gets a (few) less repetitions in practice but he has to have the mindset as if he’s the starter,” Jones said.
In today’s SEC, odds are – at some point in the season – being the starter won’t just be in the backup’s mind.