Unwittingly, Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts is positioned to provide unique perspective concerning the disparity between all-conference selections in July and meaningful accolades in December.
Missing from All-SEC speculation a year ago, Hurts was the obvious choice for the first team after the regular season. Now, the sophomore is in jeopardy of failing to justify his preseason status as the all-league quarterback.
A year ago, Chad Kelly, Josh Dobbs, and Brandon Harris were the quarterbacks on the three All-SEC teams announced at the conclusion of Media Days and Alabama’s Blake Barnett was weeks from starting at quarterback against USC.
Postseason, Kelly and Dobbs were second team all-conference, Harris was a couple of months from transferring to North Carolina, and Hurts was the SEC Offensive Player of the Year. Kelly was done in by an early-November injury, Dobbs played for a team that lost to Vanderbilt plus three games in October, and Harris was only in the top three because of the dearth of proven talent at quarterback.
This year, several starting quarterbacks with skimpy resumes are eligible to depose Hurts as first-team All-SEC.
Although Hurts completed almost 63 percent of his passes and ran for more than 100 yards four times for a team that reached 14-0, he was criticized by some after connecting on only 13-of-31 in the 35-31 loss to Clemson in the national title game.
Because of that performance and the presence of five-star freshman Tua Tagovailoa, ESPN recently went so far as to offer a segment on Alabama’s quarterback competition.
As unlikely as it seems that Hurts would lose his job immediately, he only completed 55 percent or less against the better defensive teams — LSU, Florida, Washington, and Clemson — prompting head coach Nick Saban to say, “… when people played us in a way that we needed to be able to throw the ball, we may not have been as efficient as we would liked to have been.”
Addressing that shortcoming in a radio interview, Saban said: “We want a dual-threat quarterback who can make plays with his feet, but maybe not necessarily have a bunch of quarterback runs to enhance the offense.” In other words, a pocket passer.
Not only does Hurts have Saban and countless demanding fans looking over his shoulder, other quarterbacks could put up lesser numbers and still supplant Hurts as all-conference.
That group includes Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzpatrick and Arkansas’ Austin Allen, recently named second and third team by the media. A Matt Jones type with a better arm, Fitzpatrick is the most dangerous dual threat in the league and eight Ws by the Bulldogs might earn him a spot on the first team. For Allen, the bar is a tick higher, but for Arkansas to win nine, Allen’s protection must be better than last year when he threw 13 interceptions in the final eight games. Plus, several receivers must develop quickly to replace Drew Morgan, Keon Hatcher and Cody Hollister who totaled 119 catches.
At least three other quarterbacks on the Arkansas schedule are eligible to produce a season worthy of All-SEC consideration:
* Jarrett Stidham, Auburn. Although Gus Malzahn talks about the competition between Stidham and returning starter Sean White, the transfer from Baylor gives the Tigers the best chance to compete for the West title. As a true freshman, he completed almost 69 percent of his passes with 12 TD passes vs. two interceptions.
* Danny Etling, LSU. Like Malzahn, LSU coach Ed Orgeron has been coy about his starting quarterback, but Etling is the logical choice. He is included in this group not so much for what he has done, but for the likelihood of dramatic improvement under new coordinator Matt Canada.
* Jake Bentley, South Carolina. The son of a South Carolina assistant started the last seven games of 2016 and the bowl game against South Florida and was impressive against all but Florida and Clemson. Like Allen, Bentley will be in the all-conference conversation if the Gamecocks win nine.
Sports Columnist Harry King can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org