Heading into this week's season openers around the Southeastern Conference, college football's most competitive league is in show-me mode when it comes to quarterbacks after watching two of its top players manage record-setting campaigns at the position last fall. An early look at preseason Heisman lists includes a pair of SEC signal callers leading College Football Playoff-probable teams, but outside of that pairing, the league is largely unproven under center.
What goes into ranking quarterbacks, some who have never started at their respective schools, ahead of the season? Much of it is production projecting, calculating future success rates and trying to eliminate any anomalies that may have affected previous numbers in a negative light.
We're going to update our SEC quarterback rankings at the end of every month this season, taking into account overall numbers, strength of competition and consistency levels compared to others at the position.
Here's a look at the SEC's 14 starting quarterbacks this fall, what we've heard from boots on the ground during fall camp and how they rank entering the season:
14. KJ JEFFERSON, ARKANSAS
Sam Pittman says the Arkansas offense will look different with KJ Jefferson at quarterback, something he hopes translates into production and wins against the nation's most brutal schedule. Jefferson played in five games last season and threw for 298 yards and three touchdowns. Jefferson has settled into a leadership role with the Razorbacks and with offensive coordinator Kendal Briles calling the plays, early confidence could lead to big things this fall.
"Whenever KJ had some opportunities to play and then when we had scrimmages in the spring, he was very accurate,” Briles said earlier in August. “When we were in practices, he wasn't as accurate. He's really worked on this over the summer with coach (Jamil) Walker and our strength program getting him stronger and physically more capable. I really like where he's at from a practice standpoint with his accuracy. With our offense and what we do, I'd like for him to be over 65%. If we're doing that, we're hitting pretty good.”
13. KEN SEALS, VANDERBILT
As sources close to the team put it, Ken Seals "re-won" the job over Mike Wright ahead of Clark Lea's first season as coach and the Commodores are confident he can continue to build on strides he made last season as a freshman starter. Ball security is the biggest concern with Seals, who has a tendency to trust his arm a bit too much at times. Lea wants Seals to show command of the offense, but that doesn't mean Vanderbilt's production on that side of the football will be entirely on his shoulders.
12. LUKE DOTY, SOUTH CAROLINA
South Carolina starter Luke Doty is doing everything he can to return to the field since suffering a foot injury the day before the first scrimmage of the fall, leaving the Gamecocks incredibly thin at the position. Insiders say Doty could be ready for the Gamecocks' Week 2 game at East Carolina, but the likelihood of the former four-star playing in the opener is slim. Tossed into the fire as a true freshman last season for a two-win team, Doty flexed grit at times as a scrambling quarterback but was unsure of himself as a passer. This season's scheme under first-year offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield will be more Doty-friendly in terms of catering to his strengths and the sophomore signal-caller should produce.