They may have lost two quarterbacks in the top five picks of the draft, but the SEC West will be the nation’s best passing conference this upcoming season. Due to Tua Taugovailoa’s injury, six of seven teams have their starting QB making a return to the field – only LSU Myles Brennan has yet to take a snap under center as a teams starting QB. Mac Jones should thrive in the Alabama system, and Bo Nix showcased his potential last year. Is this finally Kellen Mond’s breakout season, and who does LSU really have in Brennan as their signal-caller? Unlike years past, there may not be a clear star to watch, and this will be the year of the entire SEC West.
Bo Nix- Auburn
The best QB Auburn has seen since Cam Newton has the Tigers excited for this upcoming season. Bo Nix had a promising freshman year leading Auburn to a 9-4 record with an Outback Bowl loss to Minnesota. Although Nix didn’t blow up the stat sheet he proved he can show up in big games, like the Iron Bowl against Alabama, and do whatever it takes to win. Bo Nix reminds me a lot of Justin Herbert – his numbers may not dazzle, but with he’s a physical prototype at quarterback, and he’s a winner. Look for Nix to lead the Tigers to Atlanta next December.
Mac Jones- Alabama
Mac Jones had it rough in Tuscaloosa last season, as he was pretty much the ‘guy that wasn’t Tua’. Alabama fans now cannot complain about Mac Jones since their savior has up and gone to the NFL, and they will come to realize that it is a good thing. A perfectly run Nick Saban offense has defenses preparing for the ground game and still runs it down everyone’s throat. With Tua under center, the Tide got away from their ground and pound style on offense and they paid the price for it, missing the Playoff for the first time in program history last season. Putting Jones under center allows the Tide to return to their gritty style of offense and return to glory.
Kellan Mond- Texas A&M
How is Kellan Mond still in college and at what point do we all stop expecting him to be great? Kellan Mond is a good QB. He isn’t great and will never bring A&M to the playoff, but you can consistently count on A&M ending the season 9-4 ,winning every game they are favored in and losing every game they are an underdog in. Kellan Mond will have a good season and the Aggies should sit top 4 in the West and ranked in the Top 25 when the season is over.
KJ Costello- Mississippi
The Pac12 is coming to the SEC… kind of. This past offseason was big for Mississippi State, bringing in Head Coach Mike Leach from Washinton State and poaching Stanford’s starting quarterback in KJ Costello. Although Costello struggled his junior year, he threw for over 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns his sophomore year. I expect big things from Costello in Mike Leache’s air raid offense so look for another 3,000-yard season, around 35 passing TD, and a 7-5 record this upcoming season in Starkville.
John Rhys Plumlee- Ole Miss
Lane Kiffen is back in the SEC, and his starting QB is expected to be John Rhys Plumlee. Last season as a true freshman Plumlee split time under center with Matt Coral but made the most of his time when on the field. Plumlee threw for 900 yards and 4 TD’s while running for 1,000 yards and 12 TDs. With Plumlee being the guy this season in Oxford, I expect a 2,000 yard passing and rushing season from Plumlee, along with 30 all-purpose touchdowns. The man is athletic and one of the fastest QB’s in the SEC – I expect some offensive fireworks this season in Oxford. Expect a 6-6 season from the Rebels for Kiffen and Plumlee’s first season together.
Feleipe Franks- Arkansas
Feleipe Franks just screams .500. The quarterback is mediocre in everything he does. His career completion percentage is just around .500 his team was always slightly over with a career winning percentage of .642 which, for Florida,won’t cut it in the SEC East. Franks getting hurt may end up being the best thing to happen to Florida football since Tim Tebow. I expect Franks to go .500 at Arkansas and to struggle mightily in his new environment of the SEC West.
Myles Brennan- LSU
Myles Brennan is the one QB in the SEC who has yet to start a game. Freshman year Brennan backed up for Danny Etling, and sophomore and junior year, he backed up for the great Joe Burrow. After patiently waiting his turn Brennan is set to be the guy in Death Valley this fall with huge shoes to fill. I wouldn’t expect him to have a Joe Burrow-type season, but I expect him to be decent. People may read these rankings and believe I’m saying he sucks, but Brennan is 7th purely from the fact that he is in the best passing conference in the country, and he is the only one who hasn’t proven himself. I anticipate a solid if not spectacular 8-4 season for Brennan and the Tigers.
Before I start this blasphemous article, be assured I am not suggesting any of the quarterbacks on this list can match what Joe Burrow did this season. His numbers were historically great, and to predict that someone could come close to that would certainly be bold. However, by predicting the next Joe Burrow, I’m taking a look at QBs who are not necessarily a favorite right now to win the Heisman, but have the potential to experience a Burrow-esque breakout season and earn some hardware. I’ve broken up this list into three categories: Unlikely but fun to think about, Possibilities, and Favorites. Before starting that list, I just wanted to present the QBs who were too good to make the list; in other words, these QBs have odds too high (+1000 or better) to be considered for the Next Joe Burrow Award.
Without further ado, here’s my best guesses at who could be the next Joe Burrow:
Ian Book – Notre Dame
Why he could: Book looked absolutely dominant in the second half of the season. After rushing for a game winning touchdown against Virginia Tech, Book was lights out, tossing 17 touchdowns to just two interceptions and racking up 295 yards on the ground at a 6.7 yards per carry clip. The potential is there, and with a home game versus Clemson and a road game against Wisconsin, Book has the potential for some Heisman moments if he can perform and lead the Irish back to the Playoff.
Why he won’t: Because Book has not performed consistently against good teams. He threw just three touchdowns and two interceptions in their two losses, finishing 8-25 for 73 yards against Michigan. Book also loses several offensive playmakers in Tony Jones, Cole Kmet, and Chase Claypool. Adjusting to life without Claypool and Kmet especially will be tough, and there may be a learning curve that hurts Books’ stats.
Kedon Slovis – USC
Why he could: He was at his best at the end of the season. His three best games came in his last four weeks, including his bowl game that he was knocked out early. Slovis had better numbers than Ian Book overall, and he’s got a lot of talented receivers around them that can help boost his numbers. Playing in the Pac-12 won’t hurt either, as Slovis will get a few soft games to help his stats. His schedule is also chock-full of potential Heisman moments, with an early season game versus Alabama, a season finale against Notre Dame, and conference games at Oregon and Utah.
Why he won’t: Slovis is young and error-prone, and USC is ridiculously injury-prone at quarterback. So he first has to stay healthy which was extremely tough this year, and he has to cut down on the interceptions; he had two 3-interception games this season. Slovis also likely will need to be more dynamic as a runner, as dual-threat QBs have become the norm and have dominated the Heisman trophy for over a decade.
Myles Brennan – LSU
Why he could: To be honest, there’s not much reasoning here, other than he’s with the defending national champions who fully committed to an air-raid attack under Ed Orgeron and Joe Burrow. And while many LSU playmakers will depart for the NFL, Brennan is a competent signal-caller with several weapons returning, including national championship stud Ja’Marr Chase, and he will be greatly helped if Thaddeus Moss and Justin Jefferson return.
Why he won’t: He has no starting experience and 40 pass attempts to his name. Passing guru Joe Brady just departed for the Carolina Panthers, and he will certainly lose a couple of his weapons. Definitely a long shot, but so was Joe Burrow.
Sam Howell – UNC
Why he could: The Tar Heels’ signal-caller could certainly have a true breakout season, but a Heisman may be a long shot. Initial projections have the Tar Heels in the Orange Bowl next year and, if that holds steady, Howell may be in the national picture enough to generate some buzz. He’s demonstrated his ability to play at an elite level, as in his bowl game against Temple, when he threw for 294 yards and three touchdowns.
Why he won’t: Howell is inconsistent as for every Temple-like game, Howell had another disaster, like when he put up 18 points against Wake Forest’s suspect defense. The Tar Heels are not a national powerhouse, and despite their turnaround this year, being in a NY6 bowl will rely on consistency and excellence from Howell himself. I’m not convinced he can handle that pressure.
Brock Purdy – Iowa State
The Iowa State sophomore came out nowhere during his freshman year, but he took a small step back in his sophomore campaign, a middling season punctuated by a disappointing loss to Notre Dame in the Camping World Bowl. But you’ll remember that Burrow didn’t exactly light the scoreboard up in his first season at LSU. Purdy has a stable coaching staff and plays in the Big 12, which isn’t exactly known for great defense. He could put up some gaudy numbers, and if Iowa State can stay ranked, Purdy may have a shot.
Why he won’t: Iowa State has not finished a season ranked in the Top 25 sine 2000. The Cyclones have been ranked at different times over each of the last three years, but they have not established consistent success. Iowa State likely needs to be a 9-win team for Purdy to even get consideration, and I’m not sure they can do that. After improving to 5-2 with a win over Texas Tech, Iowa State finished 2-4, and Purdy put up four of his five worst performances in that stretch, leaving hope a little dismal for the future.
Spencer Sanders – Oklahoma State
Why he could: Sanders is a similar case to Purdy in that he plays in the Big 12, which has produced a finalist in four straight years – although admittedly, they were all Oklahoma quarterbacks. The Cowboys were ranked for a lot of this year, but they fell out with an ugly bowl game loss to Texas A&M. He’ll get some chances to prove himself in big moments, especially against Oklahoma, and a big season could have the Cowboys in the Top 20 with a chance at a Heisman finalist.
Why he won’t: Quite simply, Sanders might be statistically the worst QB on this list, aside from the unproven Brennan. After balling out against Oregon State in the season opener, Sanders never again matched that game, and he had three games with multiple interceptions. The other problem is that, barring a major fallout by Chuba Hubbard, the Cowboys will be led by their star running back, meaning that Sanders could be relegated to a game manager, like he was this year at times, attempting 25 or less passes in seven different contests. He’s a competent game manager for sure, but game managers don’t win Heisman trophies.
Sam Ehlinger – Texas
Why he could: I could really see this one happening. Ehlinger had an amazing sophomore season, but many people blamed him for Texas underperforming this year when, in fact, he was actually statistically better than last year on several levels. Aside from a couple duds, Ehlinger was really good, posting a quarterback rating of 89 or above in six games, including his best two performances in his final two games. Texas absolutely has the talent to be a national title contender, they just have to put it together for once. But Ehlinger, at a traditional football powerhouse? Coming off a slightly disappointing season that ended in a massive bowl win over a ranked team? Sounds a lot like Joe Burrow…
Why he won’t: The same reason for hope with Ehlinger – that he put up the numbers he did without playing his best – are also reasons for concern. Ehlinger had two total duds, against Baylor and Oklahoma, and a bad stretch of mediocrity for most of November, before he turned it around late with two great performances. Can he avoid long slumps like the one that plagued him this season; he had five games with a QBR under 73.8 – Burrow’s worst mark of the year. Also, can Texas avoid being Texas and actually perform to expectations? Those questions will be key if Ehlinger wants a chance.
Kellen Mond – Texas A&M
Why he could: Mond has loads of natural talent, and when he puts it together, like he did in a three-touchdown performance against Mississippi State, he can be lethal. Combined with the Aggies’ great recruiting and a proven coach in Jimbo Fisher, the ingredients are there for Mond to explode this year. Playing in the SEC, much like Burrow, he’ll have lots of chances to prove himself against elite competition. If he rises to the occasion, Mond could have a special season with the Aggies.
Why he won’t: He was pretty mediocre and at times downright bad this season. His performance against LSU in the regular season finale was probably the worst individual game any QB had on this list. I felt Mond was average or worse in probably eight or nine games,which isn’t exactly a recipe for Heisman votes.
Kyle Trask – Florida
Why it could happen: Trask is probably the most similar to Burrow as far as where the LSU QB was heading into this season. Trask is a long-time backup, who got a chance to start this season and performed fairly well if not great. He’s on a very good SEC team who has long played second fiddle within their own division, but has a chance to go further next year. The initial CBS Sports projection has the Gators in the Playoff next year, which could happen if the usurp Georgia in the SEC East. If that happens, and Trask is a major reason why, expect the Florida signal-caller to be near the top of the lists.
Why he won’t: Obviously he is not a favorite, but there’s no other obvious reason to not like Trask’s chances. The biggest concerns are probably Florida being able to finally take the next step, and whether Trask can level up; the long-time backup avoided any horrible games, but he also only had a couple games that you could qualify as ‘great’. His biggest difference from Burrow’s 2018 season, is that Burrow played his best four games of the season in the last four games, indicating a sign of things to come. You can’t say that about Trask, who was probably actually a little bit worse in his final four games.
My official prediction as of now is that one QB will make this list – and my guess is Ehlinger. I could definitely see Ehlinger joining Spencer Rattler and Justin Fields and Chuba Hubbard in New York next year, with Kyle Trask finishing in the Top 10 in voting. And if Ehlinger performs, he could find himself making an acceptance speech at the podium.