After taking last season off, the ATVS unit rankings make their return. Last year, I took off because, well, I didn’t feel like it was a real season and didn’t care. Sorry. But I wasn’t going to put effort into the Zombie season and it appears LSU football followed my lead.
This year presents its own challenge. I heavily weight statistical production and returning talent in my ratings and well, last year’s stats are basically garbage and almost every team is returning nearly everyone. So we’re gonna throw in some more eyeball test than I’m comfortable with, because you can’t rely on your lyin’ eyes. So take this year’s ratings with an enormous grain of salt. The real answer is this: no one knows.
Last year, teams were playing out the string with rosters at strength reduced by a quarter. They were also missing key practice time to install any sort of packages and due to COVID and the piling injury tolls, weekly practice during the season was at the most rudimentary everywhere except Tuscaloosa.
Caveats out of the way, let’s start with the quarterbacks. This is a position where I basically ignore depth and we rely on our old friend, ATVSQBPI. Essentially, I value efficiency: how many yards are you worth each time you call your own number?
1 OLE MISS: Matt Corral
Quarterback is the one position in the SEC which had significant roster turnover. Only six full-time starters return (seven, if you count LSU) and of those, only one was even in the top half of the league in production: Matt Corral. His raw numbers are great. He completed over 70% of his passes for an average yards/attempt of over 10. He also added over 500 yards of rushing. He’s the complete package, and Ole Miss is certainly going to turn him loose. He’s the unquestioned top QB in the SEC going into the year.
2 GEORGIA: JT Daniels
Of course, prospect hounds will quibble. JT Daniels is a former five-star recruit who can leap buildings in a single bound and all that. Daniels lit it up in his last four games, which is encouraging, but it also means he dodged Florida and Alabama, so take his numbers with an even bigger grain of salt than everyone else. However, he did go 26/38 for 392 yards in the bowl win over Cincinnati. The time is now, and Georgia has their QB.
3 BAMA: Bryce Young
Bryce Young threw 22 passes, all in garbage time, so his stat line is worthless (good thing too, his ATVSQBPI was a dismal 4.94). According to 247sports, he is the third highest rated recruit in Bama history and… well, they’ve had some pretty good recruits. This one is basically all on hype, but let’s face it, Saban has the track record of which you can trust the hype. Bryce Young is an elite quarterback until proven otherwise.
4 LSU: Myles Brennan/Max Johnson
Like most people, I’m not a huge fan of the two-quarterback situation, as we’ve seen it blow up on too many teams in the past. Max Johnson won the last two games, making him a fan favorite, but Brennan’s numbers are better in almost every way: Brennan had a higher completion percentage, yards/attempt, total yards, and QB rating. Johnson’s the better runner and he only threw one pick, but adding it all together, Brennan had the ATVSQBPI edge, 7.85 to 6.58. Johnson is an average SEC QB, and can keep the lights on as we’ve seen, but Brennan has elite skill. He’s the better quarterback, and the proof is in the production. Had Brennan played enough to qualify for the SEC leaderboard, he would have ranked as the fourth best QB behind Trask and Corral but ahead of Mond and Franks.
5 TEXAS A&M: Haynes King
The excitement is through the roof in College Station for King and I do get it, we all love our own recruits. But more globally, while the potential is certainly there, he doesn’t feel like a complete sure thing. He threw only four passes last season, so he’s essentially a rookie this year, and SEC defenses have a way of exploiting youthful mistakes. Aggie fans want to compete for the SEC title this year, which seems like a tall order for a fresh face under center, and I view him more as a guy who will flesh out in a few years. He might need this season to grow. And that requires some growing pains. However, I don’t want to minimize his potential: he was a big recruiting win and these days, quarterbacks do show up ready to play. It’s possible he could be great, but I wouldn’t rely on it. The problem is, A&M is betting on it.
6 TENNESSEE: Hendon Hooker
The Vols have a hotshot recruit in Harrison Bailey, but they brought in an insurance policy from the portal, Virginia Tech QB Hendon Hooker. Hooker completed 65.3% of his passes at an 8.9 yards average, but most intriguingly, added 620 yards rushing. He’s the poor man’s Matt Corral, and could be this years surprise star. Bringing in a vet in a year in which it seems everyone is breaking in a new QB was a savvy move, and Hooker has flashed the skills to carry a team. The big question is whether they trust him or start planning for the future with Bailey. That depends on how the season plays out.
7 FLORIDA: Emory Jones
Emory Jones got some action last year as a running option under center, but he only threw 32 passes and didn’t impress that much with his arm. I like his ability to run, but he has not flashed any of the throwing skills that Trask flashed last season. It could be the limited sample, but unlike Bama, Florida doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt. Spurrier was a long time ago.
8 MIZZOU: Connor Bazelak
Well, he lit up LSU like a Christmas tree. However, he never really lived up to that performance, and his 400+ yard game stands more of a testament of how terrible LSU’s defense was. Though Bazelak did throw for 380 against both Vandy and Arkansas. That’s not a bad freshman year, and he flashed talent, even if he looked lost against the top teams. But even if he never develops further, he’s reached a level of Good Enough for Missouri. If he can bully the bad teams and lose to the top programs, that’s still a 7-8 win team and a nice bowl. Bazelak is on a nice Drew Lock career path.
9 AUBURN: Bo Nix
Oh, Bo Nix. Bo Nix is the worst kind of bad quarterback because he does enough things well and flashes enough promise that you can never quite cut bait on him, and he can hold off the challenge of inexperienced players without a complete game. He’s not terrible, but he lacks the high end that Auburn needs to compete for the division title. He can run a little bit, which is nice. He can throw a little bit, too. But he does neither at an elite level, and it takes an elite quarterback to win titles these days. Nix lowers your ceiling, and feels like a throwback to the days in which Auburn could go undefeated with Sean White or LSU could win a national title with Matt Mauck. I’m not sure you can do that anymore.
10 ARKANSAS: KJ Jefferson
Jefferson threw 41 passes in 2020, still not a reliable sample, but enough that we’re starting to get a picture of who he is. He completed just 20 of them. That’s… horrendous. He did flash a good deep ball and he can run a little bit, so I’m willing to say it’s the small sample, but there is a real boom or bust potential here. He has a full offseason to figure things out, and he was just a freshman, so it’s way too early to write him off, but the early returns were not terribly good. Still, I like his potential a little bit.
11 VANDERBILT: Ken Seals
We are about to enter the territory of Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter. The question here is would you rather have an established bad quarterback or a young and inexperienced quarterback who may be even worse? Vanderbilt is going with what they got, and turning down the mystery behind Door #2. Ken Seals is basically where a lot of the other freshman are going to be at this point next year: he’s got a full season of starting under his belt and… well, he’s a year older. Vanderbilt was a terrible team last year, and it wasn’t all on Seals… heck, it mostly wasn’t on Seals. His numbers weren’t that bad, nor were they good enough to turn all of those losses into a win here and there. He did top 300 yards three times last year, so that’s not nothing.
12 MISSISSIPPI ST: Will Rogers
In the history of my tracking the ATVSQBPI, Omarr Connor stands out as one of the worst performers I’ve ever tracked. He’s always been my mental representation of how bad State was in the mid-aughts before they turned that ship around. Well, Will Rogers just posted a season number almost as bad as Connor. Rogers’ ATVSQBPI was a dismal 4.95. Anything under 6 is bad, but once you are under 5 yards per snap, you are almost helping the other team more than helping your own. Don’t let the 69.1% completion percentage fool you, he only threw for 5.7 yards/attempt, and had an 11/7 TD/INT ratio. These are awful numbers, but, like I said at the top, I don’t want to read too much into them. The year of starting probably helped his development, and he does at least have something to build on: accuracy. It’s not hopeless, but he cannot have a season resembling 2020 if State is going to have a winning record.
13 KENTUCKY: Joey Gatewood
Gatewood, like every other freshman quarterback a fanbase is pinning its hopes to, is a four-star recruit. That means nothing in the SEC. Beau Allen is also a hotshot recruit without a track record. Look, if Gatewood was any good, he would have unseated Terry Wilson last season, as Wilson sat near the bottom of the SEC in nearly every passing category. Kentucky doesn’t know what they have here, and neither do we, but I’m not encouraged.
14 SOUTH CAROLINA: Luke Doty
Collin Hill was bad last season, so Doty took over the reins in the last three games and, if anything, he was worse. A 3.58 ATVSQBPI would be a record of futility over a full season. Now, he did give was the Will Rogers Special against Georgia, completing over 80% of his passes to little offensive benefit and under 200 yards in a 45-16 loss. It’s a small sample in a weird year, but there is almost nothing encouraging about his performance. If he was any good, Collin Hill’s reign of terror would have ended even earlier, as he duked it out with Rogers, but beat him to the tape for the SEC basement of 4.94. A mere .01 yards was the difference.