Defining on-field performance is a prerequisite to identifying the All-SEC quarterback.
The quarterback with attention-getting statistics is on a 5-7 team and the qb with the gaudy W-L record attempted fewer passes than seven other SEC quarterbacks, creating a dilemma for those voting on The AP’s all-conference team. Sans specific instructions, assume those media members adhere to the same guidelines as those who participate in The AP’s college football poll: “Base your vote on performance, not reputation or preseason speculation.”
In the preseason, Mississippi’s Chad Kelly — the top-rated senior quarterback in the 2017 NFL draft —was the obvious choice for First Team All-SEC and he was leading the league in passing until a knee injury in early November ended his college career. But, the season-long accomplishments of Alabama’s Jalen Hurts, Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald, and a few others should trump Kelly’s nine-game stats.
Injuries and inferior numbers eliminated more than a half-dozen quarterbacks from all-conference consideration.
Among the others, Missouri’s Drew Lock’s led the league with 3,399 passing yards, but completed less than 55 percent and his Tigers only won their fourth game when Arkansas fell apart in the second half last Friday. Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs had the highest quarterback rating in the league and Arkansas’ Austin Allen was fourth, just behind Hurts and Kelly. Dobbs was done in when his team completed a disappointing regular season by losing to Vanderbilt and consideration of Allen ended when he was 9-of-18 with two interceptions in the end zone during the second half at Missouri.
Only Hurts and Fitzgerald remain and the Alabama freshman is the choice.
Hurts completed almost 66 percent for the No 1 team in the country, made the key runs that finally subdued LSU in one of his four 100-yard rushing performances, and shrugged off two early interceptions to throw for 286 yards against Auburn on Saturday.
Naysayers contend he was protected by a superb offensive line, surrounded by playmakers, and that the defense kept the pressure off him. All true and his numbers are vastly inferior to those of the last two all-conference quarterbacks — one a Heisman Trophy winner and the other a rookie who has guided the Dallas Cowboys to a franchise-record 10 straight victories — but he did not shrink from the weekly test.
Lightly recruited because he was an option quarterback, Fitzgerald was the third leading rusher in the league with 1,243 yards. Plus, he threw for 2,287 yards, accounted for 35 touchdowns, and the Bulldogs somehow won five.
As for rewarding performance, Arkansas’ Rawleigh Williams had more carries than anybody in the league and produced a conference-best 1,326 yards. He should be joined in first team backfield by LSU’s Derrius Guice, who averaged a phenomenal 8.0 yards per carry while finishing second to Williams with 1,249 yards.
At SEC Media Days, Leonard Fournette of LSU and Nick Chubb of Georgia were first team running backs, but both were hurt much of the year. Likely to be taken early in the first round of the NFL draft, Fournette carried 129 times vs. 300 last year.
Arkansas wide receiver Drew Morgan probably won’t get the all-conference attention he deserves and linebacker Brooks Ellis is the only UA defender worthy of recognition. Other Razorback candidates are Frank Ragnow, Dan Skipper, and Jeremy Sprinkle, but a team 3-5 in league play will have few representatives on the first two all-conference units.
Ballot number and password in hand for days, Heisman Trophy voters have until Monday afternoon to submit their ballot.
Voters who did not immediately embrace Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson might sit tight, check out some conference championship action, and ponder Jackson’s three interceptions and a fumble at the Kentucky 10 in the final minutes when the Cardinals were upset Saturday.
At least one voter altered his 2015 ballot after watching Stanford’s versatile Christian McCaffrey in the Pac-12 championship game. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Washington’s Jake Browning are leading Heisman candidates in league championship games.
Harry King is sports columnist for GateHouse Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org