Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Replacing great players moving on via graduation or the NFL Draft is just the nature of the business in college football.
However, it's rare that so many elite quarterbacks from a single conference depart in the same offseason.
The SEC has asserted its dominance as far and away the nation's best conference over the past decade, and the same will likely be said about the league during the 2014 campaign, but heading into spring workouts several highly established programs will need to start looking forward to their future at the quarterback position.
Texas A&M - Johnny Manziel followed up his Heisman Trophy-winning freshman campaign with arguably an even better sophomore season, as he completed just shy of 70 percent of his passes for 4,114 yards, 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions to go with an extra 759 yards and nine scores rushing. He's off to pursue his NFL dreams and expects to be one of the first quarterbacks chosen. The Aggies' success in recent years was almost solely on the shoulders of Johnny Football, and his departure leaves a gaping hole under center in College Station.
It's still a three-way race for who will get to handle the reins during the 2014 season. Matt Joeckel earned the start in last season's opener against Rice when Manziel was suspended for the first half, completing 14-of-19 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown, and as a senior he has a leg up on his competition in regards to experience and understanding the offense.
Kenny Hill, a sophomore, was solid in very limited action in 2013 (16-of-22, 183 yards, TD), and top recruit Kyle Allen will try to become the rare true freshman to start under center from Day 1. Considering head coach Kevin Sumlin's past success with signal callers -- with Manziel as well as with Case Keenum at Houston and Sam Bradford as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma -- expect whoever wins this battle to have every chance to succeed.
Alabama - If there's one thing Nick Saban needs out of his quarterback, it's the ability to take care of the football, and A.J. McCarron excelled in that regard during his three seasons as a starter with a mere 15 interceptions over the course of 1,026 pass attempts. McCarron was a lot more than just a game manager, however, and the Tide will be hard-pressed to replace his elite 2013 production (67.3 completion percentage, 3,063 yards, 28 TDs).
Alabama's search for a new signal caller isn't a foregone conclusion, but the early advantage goes to Florida State transfer Jake Coker, who won't arrive in Tuscaloosa until graduating from FSU later this spring. Saban and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin also will give last year's backup, Blake Sims (18-of-29, 167 yards, two TDs), and freshman David Cornwell a fair shot at winning the job.
Georgia - Aaron Murray had an unfortunate end to his college career when he suffered a season-ending knee injury against Kentucky on Nov. 23 -- an injury that has caused his NFL Draft stock to sink -- but his on-field production was some of the best the conference has ever seen. Murray finished his four-year career with the Bulldogs ranking as the SEC's all-time leader in completions (921), passing yards (13,166), touchdown passes (121) and total offense (13,562) while starting a school-record 52 games.
Filling in admirably for Murray at the end of last season was Hutson Mason, who completed 67-of-110 passes (60.9 percent) for 968 yards with six touchdowns (one rushing) and three interceptions. As a senior on a squad that expects to compete for an SEC East crown, Mason is pretty much a lock to win the job in 2014, but the Bulldogs have a slew of underclassmen (Christian LeMay, Faton Bauta, Jacob Park and Brice Ramsey) who they'll want to examine closely this spring as their backup and their leader for 2015 and beyond.
LSU - Zach Mettenberger took incredible strides during his senior season in Baton Rouge, setting career highs in passing yards (3,082), completion percentage (64.9) and touchdowns (22). The gun-slinger was starting to creep up NFL Draft boards before he, just like Murray, suffered a season-ending knee injury in late November.
Mettenberger's departure at the end of the 2013 season was inevitable, but at least his unfortunate injury opened up an opportunity for Anthony Jennings late in the year. Despite the Tigers' 21-14 victory over Iowa in the Outback Bowl, Jennings failed to impress, completing just 7-of-19 passes for 82 yards with an interception, although he did lead the team on the game-winning touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter.
With another year of seasoning under his belt, Jennings hopes to put his dual- threat abilities to task in 2014 as the full-time starter, although incoming freshman Brandon Harris will have his say in the quarterback competition as well.
South Carolina - Connor Shaw may not have the name recognition as the other quarterbacks on this list, nor does he have as a high-ceiling future in the NFL as Manziel or McCarron (or even Murray or Mettenberger providing recovery), but he was nonetheless outstanding for the 11-win Gamecocks. He was responsible for more than 3,000 total yards and 30 touchdowns while throwing just a single interception over 284 pass attempts, and he showed great toughness by playing through several injuries to appear in every game.
Luckily for South Carolina, it often worked in backup Dylan Thompson last season, and he threw for 783 yards and scored seven total touchdowns (1,027 passing yards, 11 TDs in 2012). Possessing a similar dual-threat skill set as Shaw, Thompson appears poised to step right in as the full-time starter as a senior in 2014, but not without a little spring competition from Brendan Nosovitch (sophomore) and Connor Mitch (freshman).