Stidham Snubbed in Preseason Awards
Jarrett Stidham's ten 50+ yard plays in 2017 ranked fifth in the nation (photo: USA TODAY Sports)
There are under 100 days left before college football returns, and the return of summer means preseason magazines. There are a handful of “respected” magazines such as Lindy’s and Street and Smith’s, but perhaps the most respected among them, and typically the first to hit the shelves, is Athlon Sports & Life. In these magazines, virtually every nook and cranny is explored and then ranked in an effort to pit each team against the others to give readers an expectation for the upcoming season.
Of course, there’s a lot that happens in the months between May and late August/early September. Injuries, graduate transfers and freshmen arrivals all take place, and perhaps most importantly, quarterback battles rage. The last only involves a single position, but it is the one that commands the most attention. That’s because it is the most important position on the field.
The magazines try their very best to project the battles, and they use their information networks to project future starters as well as team successes. So, when Athlon’s rankings came out, there were some unsurprising areas. It was no surprise whatsoever that Alabama was ranked number one. The Tide will be so ranked by virtually every rag and talking head in the land but primarily because of every position on the field other than quarterback.
While Alabama has had some fine quarterbacks in the Nick Saban era, and it would be a disservice not to say so, none have been truly dynamic. Only AJ McCarron was an elite quarterback and, while dynamic isn’t a word one might use for McCarron, he is getting his shot as a potential starter in the NFL because of his ability. Outside of McCarron, Tide QBs racked up wins and stats, but none were exceptional or game breakers.
With respect to Auburn, the Tigers as many know have had an affinity for proving the magazines wrong. The 2003 team was featured on the cover of many magazines and was considered a number-one team in the preseason. That team lost coming out of the gate and never looked like a number-one team. It took a year for them to come together, and they weren’t considered elite in the 2004 preseason. Unlike Alabama that wins in spite of its quarterbacks, Auburn usually goes only as far as the quarterback position can carry it.
Jarrett Stidham will be at the helm for Auburn this season and is the unquestioned starter. In his first year at Auburn, he threw for 3,158 yards, 18 touchdowns and had six interceptions, two being in the UCF loss and only one being in an SEC game. He added 152 yards and four scores on the ground, and his ten 50+ yard plays ranked fifth in the nation. Most importantly, he did it while playing the two national championship finalists three times plus playing Clemson, a team that was in the national championship playoff.
Stidham’s yardage total ranks second in Auburn history, just behind the legendary Dameyune Craig. Stidham accomplished it in spite of a rotating offensive line early in the season that simply wasn’t good and coaching decisions such as in the LSU game that limited his effectiveness.
Still, it wouldn’t have been a shocker for Stidham not to make the All-SEC first team. Truthfully, the first half of the season Stidham was a borderline game manager, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Missouri’s Drew Locke at the first-team spot. Locke has turned in a very good career despite coaching turnover and the direction of the Missouri program. Last season, he led the nation with 44 touchdown passes and is considered to be a first round, perhaps top, pick for the NFL draft along side Stidham.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see other SEC QB’s make the top of the list. Either Nick Fitzgerald or Jake Bentley could top the list due to their supreme game-breaking ability as both passers and runners, traits coveted in the current offensive era because a team is never out of the game with a true dual-threat playmaker. But, none of these were number one on Athlon’s list, though Locke checked in at number two.
Number 1 went to Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. The shock didn’t stop there as Athlon ranked the lefty from Hawaii as the number-two quarterback in the country. To be fair, the last play of the college football season left quite an impression as Tagovailoa launched a ball deep down the field for an overtime win in the the national championship, just one play after taking a massive sack that pushed the Tide out of field-goal range.
The surprise wasn’t lessened by the fact that Tagovailoa is possibly the number two quarterback on his own team behind Jalen Hurts, who enters his third season with a record of 26–2. After throwing an interception in his first series of the national championship game, Tua was extremely good. But it was only one half of football, and Georgia had virtually no film to prepare for Tua’s game. But, apparently Athlon saw enough to rank him where they did.
The job of those magazines is to provide projections, which sometimes means making grandiose stretches. While such rankings mean nothing in terms of how teams play and are ranked, it is interesting to see the biases of supposedly unbiased rs. Locke and Stidham have pedigrees that earned them rankings of sixth and ninth, respectively. Tagovailoa has no pedigree but ranks only behind West Virginia’s Will Grier, who has an exceptional pedigree at both WVU and Florida.
So, readers beware and don’t be surprised if Tua ends the season on the bench and players like NC State’s Ryan Finley, who sits just behind Phillip Rivers in stats, and Boise State’s Brett Rypien climb the ladder. Of course, don’t be surprised if Locke and Stidham prove to be the best QB’s in the SEC.