GREENVILLE, S.C.–In part one of our rankings, we detailed the top two signal-callers in the SoCon heading into the 2014, and in this article, I will rank the remaining six, which will be a little bit harder than you might think, considering three of the signal-callers I will be ranking, I have never seen play a down of football in person. However, I will say that I am well aware of the attributes that someone like John Russ, who will lead the Mercer offense this season and had an outstanding freshman season under center for the Bears as dual threat.
It was a remarkable season for Russ, who completed the season as a member of the Walter Payton Award list for much of the season, and the good news for Mercer fans and the potential bad news for the rest of the league is that Russ has three more years left, in which SoCon defenses will have to deal with his dual-threat abilities next fall, and he will be very reminiscent of the type of quarterback.
Here’s the rest of our rankings for the quarterbacks in the Southern Conference heading into 2014 season.
3. John Russ (Mercer)–A dual-threat quarterback of the highest order. In his first season as the signal-caller for the Bears, Russ took his position as the first signal-caller in Macon in 72 years in stride, as he 2,819 yards of total offense, ranking 41st overall in FCS football.
The rising sophomore signal-caller proved to be a threat as both a runner and a thrower last season, and he will head into the 2014 season as the starter for the Bears. Russ enjoyed several strong performances for the Bears last season, and as a running threat last season, Russ ended the season just 97 yards short of 1,000 yards and 12 TDs to lead the team.
Russ averaged an impressive average-per-rush, posting a 5.6 per tote clip in 2013. In many ways, Russ reminds me of Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who was the Walter Payton Award winner back in 2012 when Old Dominion was still an FCS program.
Russ will have a big challenge facing Southern Conference defenses this fall, but he is elusive and is a quarterback that shows great pocket awareness when facing a heavy pass rush, which is something his head coach, Bobby Lamb, did extremely well during in his career as the starting quarterback for Furman.
In fact, an even better comparison than Henicke might be his own head coach, who was the Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year after leading the Paladins to their first national title appearance in 1985. Under the leadership of Lamb, who came to be known as one of the best quarterback coaches in the nation while at Furman, mentoring talents such as Frankie DeBusk, Billy Napier, Justin Hill and Ingle Martin, Russ will only improve his career progresses.
Russ finished the campaign by completing 121-of-233 passes for 1,916 yds, with 21 TDs and just 7 INTs in his freshman campaign playing for the Orange and Black. He also led the Bears’ vaunted ground attack, rushing for 903 yards and 12 scores last fall.
4. Michael Eubank (Samford)–Eubank has not played a down in the Southern Conference as a signal-caller as of yet, but the 6-6, 246-pound signal-caller from Corona, CA, played his first two seasons while playing in the PAC 12 for the Arizona State Sun Devils. Assuming he wins the starting job in fall camp, which he should, Eubank will have some big shoes to fill having to replace former Bulldog quarterback Andy Summerlin, who claimed the Southern Conference Player of the Year honor after he completed 38-of-59 passes for 400 yards and seven scores, while rushing for 243 yards and seven scores. Eubank has a big arm, and once he gets used to his receivers, Samford could once again have one of the nation’s most passing attacks. He’ll have two years remaining at Samford.
5. Eddie Sullivan/Troy Mitchell (Western Carolina)–While all indications are that Eddie Sullivan will start the season as the primary starter coming off a strong spring, it should be noted the Troy Mitchell is also an extremely talented signal-caller. Both are solid performers, but Sullivan has more experience and showed good decision-making skills because of that maturity last season. It is important to note that both players enter the season as dual-threat quarterbacks. In 2013, Sullivan completed the season by connecting on 80-of-165 passes for. He also finished the campaign rushing for 185 yards and one score. Mitchell was impressive, posting the season’s second-best rushing total, completing the campaign with 560 yards and two scores. He also connected on 131-of-227 passes for 1,614 yards and 12 TDs, with 10 INTs
6. Aaron Miller (The Citadel)–A veteran of 28-career games for The Citadel, the Bulldogs won’t have to worry too much about replacing graduated starter Ben Dupree under center, however, they will certainly miss his production as a ground threat in The Citadel’s offense. Still, Miller will give the Bulldogs’ triple-option offense under first-year head coach Mike Houston that element of being a dual threat. For his career as a Bulldog, which has been mostly as a backup, Miller has 1,038 passing yards and 772 rushing yards. Twelve of his 14-career TDs for the Bulldogs have come via the ground. As the backup last season, Miller connected on 37-of-71 passes for 407 yards and two touchdowns and a couple of INTs.
7. Michael Weimer/Evan Jacks (Wofford)–Wofford hasn’t been known for producing extremely outstanding talents under center since the Shawn Graves era during the Terriers’ non-Division I days. But when you look through the history books in the Division I era, you find extremely proficient leaders, such as Jeff Zollman, Ben Widmyer, and Josh Collier. That’s something that neither Michael Weimer, who has battled injuries last fall, or Evan Jacks had seemed to develop last season, and with the graduation of Eric Breitenstein, that’s something veteran head coach Mike Ayers’ Terriers were in desperate need of. Weimer has a big arm, but great speed as well. An ACL injury against Western Carolina in 2012 set him back a bit, however, he could be ready to come into his own this fall. He finished the 2013 season completing 16-of-40 passes for 313 yards, with four TDs and three INTs. Jacks, who completed 28-of-59 throws for 252 yards and three INTs last season, was more of the ground threat for Wofford, finishing the campaign with 241 rushing yards and a pair of ground scores.
8. Ryan Swingle/Alex Cobb (VMI)–The lone team without a returning starter under center coming into the 2014 season is VMI, which lost last year’s primary signal-callers–Eric Kordonbrook and A.J, Augustine to graduation. Swingle and Cobb looked strong during the spring game, with the two signal-callers combining to throw three TDs.