Questioned about their starting quarterback, Chad Morris was understandably non-committal, Ed Orgeron teased a newcomer, Nick Saban encouraged reading between the lines, and Jimbo Fisher outdid politicians with extended rhetoric sans specifics.
Elsewhere in the SEC West, quarterback competition is for a backup to Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham, Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald, and Ole Miss’s Jordan Ta’amu.
When hundreds of media gathered in Atlanta last week, beginning fall practice without a No. 1 quarterback was an obvious topic for coaches at Arkansas, LSU, Alabama, and Texas A&M.
Compounding the confusion in Fayetteville and Baton Rouge, viable competitors — Arkansas freshman Connor Noland and LSU graduate transfer Joe Burrow — were not on campus for spring practice.
When fall practice begins, Noland will compete against sophomore Cole Kelley, who started four games last year, and junior Ty Storey whose stat from 2017 was one carry for minus five yards.
“ … If I knew the answer to the quarterback scenario that we have working right now, believe me, we would put it out there and let you all run with it, but we don’t,” Morris said last week, emphasizing post-spring workouts by saying great quarterbacks he had known grew into a leadership role during the summer.
At LSU, Myles Brennan, Justin McMillan and Lowell Narcisse competed during the spring and Burrow announced in mid-May he would transfer from Ohio State. Orgeron said safeties coach Bill Busch, a former Buckeye assistant, gave the pro-style quarterback an outstanding recommendation“ … and as we researched, Joe was exactly the type of quarterback that we felt that could come in and compete at LSU.”
Brennan attempted 24 passes as a freshman, redshirt junior McMillan has thrown one pass in college, redshirt freshman Narcisse is a four-star recruit, and Burrow completed 29-of-39 in two years in Columbus. Orgeron even raised the possibility of playing more than one quarterback “if it’s not settled or if it’s even close” — a questionable approach considering LSU opens against Miami, second favorite in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and plays Auburn in game three.
In his opening remarks, Saban mentioned a quarterback controversy “that you’d love to create, that you’ve already created, that you will continue to create” and said he would offer the same response to any quarterback question: “We’ll see. So don’t get mad at me.”
His options are unique — Jalen Hurts, who has lost two starts in two years, and Tua Tagovailoa, who relieved Hurts in the national championship game, and orchestrated an overtime victory over Georgia.
Responding to a question, Saban said he expects Hurts to be on the roster when the season opens, adding that Hurts has an excellent opportunity to graduate in December “So, we are hopeful that he will stay there and be a graduate regardless of what his circumstance is as a player.”
That’s not to minimize Hurts’ chances of being a starter, Saban said, “And making a great contribution to our team in some way even if he isn’t a starter.
For what it’s worth, Tagovailoa is the Heisman Trophy favorite of online sportsbook Bovada and Hurts is not among the five other SEC players mentioned.
Fisher must choose between Kellen Mond and Nick Starkel, the 2017 starter who suffered a broken ankle in the season opener and was out for two months. Replacing Starkel, Mond barely completed 50 percent in an overtime victory over Arkansas and was 21-of-61 with a 1-2 record vs. Florida, Mississippi State, and Auburn.
Starkel threw 30 or more times in each of the last four games, including 42-of-63 for 499 yards in a bowl loss to Wake Forest.
Asked specifically about the two candidates, Fisher offered 20something sentences about the quarterback being the toughest player on the team and about the arm talent of all good quarterbacks and did not mention Mond or Starkel.
Arkansas’s competition appears more unsettled than the others and the guess is Storey will start vs. Eastern Illinois with the possibility of change before Ole Miss on Oct. 13.
Sports Columnist Harry King can be reached at: email@example.com