The race to be named first-team All-SEC quarterback this year is about as exciting as a mud run.
It's slow, lacks rhythm and you never know what's going to happen from one moment to the next.
Ole Miss' Chad Kelly and Texas A&M's Trevor Knight looked great earlier this year, but injuries knocked both of them out of action in early November. Missouri's Drew Lock and Tennessee's Joshua Dobbs are tied for the conference lead with 21 touchdown passes each but are completing less than 60 percent of their passes. Arkansas' Austin Allen is next with 20, but has tossed 10 picks and isn't getting any help from his offensive line.
The quarterback play is subpar, but that will turn around in a hurry.
Jalen Hurts has emerged as a star for Alabama as a true freshman. With 2,032 passing yards, 735 rushing yards and 27 total touchdowns (16 passing, 11 rushing), he has helped transform Alabama's offense from an old-school dinosaur into a new-school monster that thrives with tempo, run-pass options and the zone-read.
He established himself as a threat on the ground early, specifically when he led Alabama out of a three-score hole and racked up 146 rushing yards in a 48-43 win over Ole Miss in Week 3. As the season has progressed, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has given Hurts more in the passing game—culminating with last week's 347-yard, four-touchdown performance against Mississippi State.
At this point, Hurts is one of the freshmen on the Tide whom head coach Nick Saban considers veterans.
"Once we decide that they're ready to play, they're really not freshmen anymore," he said. "Even though you don't want to overburden them with things that they might not be ready to do from a confidence standpoint, you certainly say, 'This guy has proven that he's ready to play.' So he's going to play regardless of what his age or class is."
Hurts is solid right now. Imagine what a full year as the unquestioned starter will do for him.
Georgia's Jacob Eason has come along nicely, as well. A true freshman like Hurts, Eason had to wait until Week 2 to get his first college start.
Almost immediately, he shined. Eason tossed a game-winning touchdown pass on 4th-and-10 at Missouri in Week 3, connected with fellow freshman Riley Ridley on a 47-yard touchdown strike across the field with 10 seconds ago to give the Bulldogs a brief lead over Tennessee and hasn't thrown an interception since October 9 at South Carolina.
Like Hurts, Eason has progressed nicely and will benefit from more continuity within the Georgia system.
South Carolina burned true freshman Jake Bentley's redshirt in Game 7 vs. UMass, and he has added even more fuel to the South Carolina offensive youth movement. Along with freshman receiver Bryan Edwards and running back Rico Dowdle, Bentley led the Gamecocks to three straight wins to open his career—which, not coincidentally, were the only three times this year that the offense scored more than 20 points.
They fell to Florida on Saturday, but that should help Bentley in the long run.
"Any time you can get reps in an environment like that, it’s going to help you," head coach Will Muschamp said in emailed quotes. "Jake did some really good things Saturday. When you get that experience under the belt, the game continues to slow down for you, and you will continue to play well."
Lastly, there's Shea Patterson, the true freshman for Ole Miss who had his redshirt burned at Texas A&M and promptly led a two-score, fourth-quarter comeback thanks to 338 passing yards and 64 rushing yards.
"I saw a young man who possess tremendous arm talent, instincts, awareness and a high football IQ," said Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason, who will face Patterson's Rebels this weekend.
"What you see from Shea is the ability to be Johnny Manziel-like. Can he play from the pocket? Yes. But his ability to extend plays and keep plays alive with his assortment of receivers can definitely cause stress on any defense that they play."
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze felt like he owed it to his players to give them the best chance to win, regardless of the long-term consequences.
"I don't know how any coach can preach 'team first, team first, team first,' and then look at the seniors and say, 'I'm not going to give you the best chance to win,'" Freeze said. "I'm not big on planning for three years ahead. I may not be here then, and he may not be here then. Who knows what's going to happen in three years? I know right now we have a chance to win three football games."
With these four quarterbacks already in the mix, the possibility to Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham landing at Texas A&M, Auburn or LSU, Nick Fitzgerald's emergence as a true dual-threat in the potent Mississippi State offense under Dan Mullen, and the return of Allen and Lock at Arkansas and Missouri, respectively, the SEC will transform itself into a quarterback-driven conference over the course of one offseason.
It's hard to name a first-team All SEC quarterback right now due to lack of options. This time next year, it'll be hard to name one because there will be too many.
Nothing But Respect
The status of LSU running back Leonard Fournette this week against Florida is still up in the air after the star junior exited last week's win over Arkansas with a nagging ankle injury.
Don't bother Gator head coach Jim McElwain with Fournette questions, though, because the LSU running game as a whole—which includes sophomore and reigning SEC Co-Offensive Player of the Week Derrius Guice—is what truly terrifies him.
"Thunder and lightning," McElwain said. "These guys are really great SEC players and SEC backs who will play this game well beyond this conference. They're fun to watch. I enjoy watching football and good players play. That can be said about this whole team."
In what could be Fournette's last game in the purple and gold, interim head coach Ed Orgeron wants to make sure his superstar's legacy lasts forever.
"He’s a team player," Orgeron said. "Puts the team first. [He] loves Louisiana. He’s a great example of 'one team, one heartbeat.'"
Essentially, LSU is the same team it was prior to the dismissal of Les Miles in late September. New quarterback Danny Etling is more of a game manager than a difference-maker, and only great defenses can slow down LSU's rushing attack enough to force Etling to win a game with his arm.
A Florida team at full strength could do that. But with safety Marcus Maye, linebackers Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone and defensive lineman Bryan Cox, Jr. all out this week versus the Tigers and end Cece Jefferson coming back from injury, that's a little easier written than done, based on the current status of the Florida defense.
Kamryn Pettway, the SEC's leading rusher with 1,106 yards in just seven games in which he notched carries, will sit out Auburn's tuneup for the Iron Bowl this week against Alabama A&M with a leg injury. It will be the second straight game the sophomore from Montgomery will miss.
He'll have company on the sideline, though.
Fellow running back Stanton Truitt and fullback Chandler Cox will also rest, which has left head coach Gus Malzahn searching for answers.
That answer could be in his defensive backfield.
Johnathan "Rudy" Ford has led the Tigers in tackles in each of the last two seasons and is second this year with 54. But Ford, who was moved to defensive back from running back prior to the 2013 season thanks to a loaded backfield, could return home as his career at Auburn comes to a close.
"He took a few reps [at running back], and we have done that throughout the season from time to time," Malzahn said. "He's got a background if needed."
If Ford plays, consider it a panic move for an offense that desperately needs a spark.
The offense didn't gain a single first down in the second half of last week's loss to Georgia, due in part to Pettway's absence and the injured shoulder of Sean White, who remained in the game. Kerryon Johnson was fine against Georgia with 99 yards and a touchdown, but it's clear that the staff doesn't trust dual-threat quarterback John Franklin to hold on to the ball after a critical fumble against Vanderbilt or some youngsters to take on more prominent roles in the backfield this late in the season.
A veteran who's a critical piece of the defensive puzzle who has been back and forth in this system for four years might be more trustworthy at this point, which tells you all you need to know about the status of Auburn's offense.
A Lasting Legacy
Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs will take the field at Neyland Stadium for the last time on Saturday afternoon and should be remembered as one of the program's all-time greats.
No, he doesn't have an SEC title, national title, Heisman Trophy votes or All-American accolades that will litter the media guide for generations to come.
He was the bridge. The fallback. The heartbeat of the Vols as head coach Butch Jones dug the program out of the Derek Dooley abyss.
Jones burned Dobbs' redshirt in Game 8 of his true freshman season in 2013 after Justin Worley got hurt. He didn't get a tuneup. His first snap came at top-ranked Alabama in a 45-10 loss. Three more losses followed for the Vols, but he finished on a high note with three total touchdowns in a win over Kentucky.
He was going to redshirt again in 2014, but he was thrust into action against Alabama in Game 8 after another Worley injury. He tossed nine touchdowns and ran for eight more in six games, leading the program to its first bowl game since 2010.
Off the field, Dobbs has been a role model for his work in the community and his work in the classroom, where he's majoring in aerospace engineering.
"Joshua Dobbs has meant so much to this football program and so much to the wins, as well," Jones said. "Character all the way. It starts with his family and his upbringing. You talk about a model student-athlete, you look at the curriculum he's involved in and what he's done for this community and this state. He's very willing of his time, and has invested his time in the University of Tennessee."
He won't be mentioned in the same discussion with Peyton Manning or Tee Martin, but Dobbs should be remembered as one of the best Vols to ever suit up for the program.
Back In Black
Georgia hasn't worn black jerseys since getting smoked by Alabama 41-30 in 2008 in a game that wasn't as close as the final score indicated.
That will change on Saturday, when the black tops will be broken out against Louisiana-Lafayette.
"We are going to wear the black jerseys this weekend," head coach Kirby Smart said.
That was the end of the quote, but it wasn't the end of the question. Smart was asked if they are wearing the jerseys and if he liked them, but wouldn't answer the second part of the question.
Fair to say that he is being dragged kicking and screaming into using them again? Absolutely. Whether that's a decision above his pay grade within the institution or a "nudge" from Nike remains to be seen.
Either way, Georgia doesn't need the black jerseys.
It's never going to go full-Oregon or Maryland and bust out 12 different uniform combinations in one season, so why mess with what works?
Georgia's uniform looks great the way it is, and Smart knows that winning at a high level consistently carries way more weight than slight uniform tweaks. After all, that's what he did at Alabama from 2007-2015.
Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information is courtesy of Scout. Odds provided by Odds Shark.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.