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Sport: Who's the best returning QB in SEC?

Five conference realignment scenarios we'll never stop talking about

  Five conference realignment scenarios we'll never stop talking about The first weekend of September is a long way off, so it's time for the two most popular topics explored every offseason in college football. Video by USATODAY Sports

  Who's the best returning QB in SEC? © John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports / Action Images The rest of the country has taken great joy in slamming the SEC for poor quarterback play as of late, but that sentiment appears to be changing heading into the 2017 campaign.

While the conference may not boast the same talent pool that the Pac-12 does heading into next season, it does contain a number of incredibly skilled young quarterbacks with the potential to dominate the national landscape.

In no particular order, here are the SEC's top six signal-callers headed into the upcoming season.

Jalen Hurts, Alabama

The last two games of the season were ugly, but there's still no question that Jalen Hurts was an absolute beast for Alabama in 2016. The freshman started the season on the bench, but finished with 3,734 total yards, 23 passing touchdowns, and 13 scores on the ground. The 6-foot-2, 209-pounder didn't just look good for a first-year player - he captured the Offensive Player of the Year award for the entire SEC. With Lane Kiffin gone to Florida Atlantic, it will be interesting to see how Hurts adapts to the new offensive system in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide faithful hope his performance looks more like it did in the first 12 games of the season than in the final three contests.

5 SEC questions: Can anyone take down Alabama?

  5 SEC questions: Can anyone take down Alabama? With less than 100 days to go before the schedule begins, it's officially appropriate to start asking questions about the upcoming college football season. Since the SEC likes to pride itself as the No. 1 conference in the country, let's begin with five questions from the South.

StatisticFirst 12 games Last 3 games
Completion %7248
Yards/game204.5108.6
Touchdowns212
Interceptions90
Rushing Yards/game7038
Defense Rank57th8th
  Who's the best returning QB in SEC? © Provided by theScore

Austin Allen, Arkansas

Apparently being an Arkansas quarterback runs in the family. Austin Allen took over for older brother Brandon last season and ended with a conference-leading 3,430 passing yards. While the 6-foot-1, 209-pounder's 25 touchdowns are an impressive figure, his decision-making was suspect at times and he finished with 15 interceptions. The best thing for his further development would be the reappearance of Bret Bielema's vaunted rushing attack. The Razorbacks ranked 10th in the conference in rushing last season, shockingly low for the veteran head coach, who traditionally has a prolific running game.

Pivot Point Games: The matchups that will shape the 2017 college football season

  Pivot Point Games: The matchups that will shape the 2017 college football season With the NCAA’s cases against Louisville, North Carolina and Ole Miss likely to yield news in the next few months, this space could get a little wonky. So let’s cleanse the palate today with a discussion of actual football. We still have to wait three months before we can see one team play another, but it’s never too early to try to dissect the matchups. So for the fourth consecutive year, we’ll examine the Pivot Point games for teams across America.

Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham during the first half against Kansas State on Nov. 5, 2015.© AP Photo/Orlin Wagner Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham during the first half against Kansas State on Nov. 5, 2015.

Jarrett Stidham, Auburn

Jarrett Stidham showed during his freshman season at Baylor that he's certainly capable of being a prolific quarterback at the college level, and the move to Gus Malzahn's offense at Auburn should be a perfect fit for both parties. Statistically speaking, the Tigers were the worst passing team in the country last season, throwing for only 170 yards per contest. Stidham threw for a whopping 1,265 yards on just 109 passing attempts in his one season at Baylor, a gaudy 11.6 yards per attempt. Adding that type of deep threat to one of the best rushing offenses in the country should make Stidham and Auburn a tough opponent next season.

  Who's the best returning QB in SEC? © Provided by theScore

Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State

He's not Dak Prescott, but Nick Fitzgerald proved a capable replacement for the Mississippi State legend in his first season as starter. The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder cuts an intimidating figure, and used that size to become a dominant threat in the running game. Fitzgerald finished second in the entire conference in rushing during his sophomore campaign, piling up an astonishing 1,375 yards. In order to take the next step, Fitzgerald must improve his passing accuracy - his 54 percent completion rate ranked second-worst among SEC starters.

SEC Quarterbacks On The Upswing

  SEC Quarterbacks On The Upswing Lackluster quarterback play has closed the gap between the SEC and the rest of college football's Power Five conferences, and it has made Alabama's dominance look even easier.Video by CBS Sports

Nov 12, 2016; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Jacob Eason (10) passes against the Auburn Tigers during the second quarter at Sanford Stadium. Georgia defeated Auburn 13-7.© Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports Nov 12, 2016; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Jacob Eason (10) passes against the Auburn Tigers during the second quarter at Sanford Stadium. Georgia defeated Auburn 13-7.

Jacob Eason, Georgia

Jacob Eason hit the Georgia campus with as much hype as anybody in recent memory, and the five-star recruit did enough to show the Bulldogs are in good shape at the quarterback position. Eason finished with 2,340 yards and 16 touchdowns on the season, and should be aided greatly by the return of running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Kirby Smart does need more production at the receiver spot, though, since no Bulldog ranked as a top-15 pass-catcher in the conference. If the rest of the passing game can catch up to Eason's talent, the sky is the limit for the youngster.

  Who's the best returning QB in SEC? © Provided by theScore

Shea Patterson, Ole Miss

We only have three games to go off here, but Shea Patterson looked pretty solid for a depleted Ole Miss team last season. The highly touted freshman threw for 293 yards per game in his three starts and totaled six touchdowns against three interceptions. Chad Kelly showed that quarterbacks in Hugh Freeze's system can put up monster numbers, and Patterson looks to be the next in line to thrive. Patterson should help in the Rebels' running game, as the dual-threat pivot has potential game-breaking ability as a rusher. Ole Miss ranked 12th in the conference in that area of offense, and needs improvement to get back into contention for the SEC West title.

Here’s the SEC rule that could prevent Malik Zaire from playing for Florida

  Here’s the SEC rule that could prevent Malik Zaire from playing for Florida It sure seems like former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire wants to spend the 2017 season at Florida. It sure seems like former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire wants to spend the 2017 season at Florida. But it’s far from assured that he’ll be able to because of an SEC rule that restricts the Gators from adding players in exactly Zaire’s situation.

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Get used to it, coaches. The new early signing period helps level the playing field for recruits .
The wine list at Seagar’s Steakhouse paled in comparison to the whine list a few yards away in a theater meeting room at the Hilton Sandestin. Last week, one SEC coach after another stepped into that room and complained about the new early signing period that will allow high school players to sign letters of intent six weeks earlier if they’d like. "I think it’s kind of reckless, really," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said of the package of recruiting rules changes passed in April.

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