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SEC Media Days: East rivals Kentucky, Tennessee ahead of other league foes in QB arms race

By Keith Taylor
KyForward senior sports writer

SEC Media Day logo 2016BIRMINGHAM — Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has never had the luxury of having a starting quarterback in place before the start of fall workouts in first three seasons as coach of the Wildcats.

Not a problem this year. It all changed last spring when the fourth-year coach named Drew Barker the starter following spring workouts. The sophomore signal caller and Conner High School product started the final two games last season, giving Barker the confidence he needed to win the job permanently.

Stoops is only one of a few coaches in the Southeastern Conference who won’t have to oversee a quarterback battle during fall workouts. Along with Kentucky, SEC East rival Tennessee returns Josh Dobbs, a double-threat in the pocket and in the open field. Mainly because of Dobbs, the expectations are high on Rocky Top and the senior isn’t worried about the hype.

“It is no challenge at all,” Dobbs said during SEC Media Days Tuesday. “We have the highest expectations for ourselves. We hold ourselves to a high standard when we perform on the field, when we practice and when we work out. We look at little details and the things you might not want to do and we do those things in order to become great.”

With Dobbs at the helm, the Volunteers are 13-5 in their past 18 games, signifying Tennessee, nearly two decades removed from its last national championship, is on the brink of a return to prominence not only in the conference but nationally.

 Josh Dobbs has Tennessee on the brink of returning to national prominence

Josh Dobbs has Tennessee on the brink of returning to national prominence

“I can’t say enough about Joshua Dobbs,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “When you look at the definition of a student-athlete, it starts with Josh Dobbs. When you look at engineering, you look at his curriculum. You look at the time demands that’s placed on him from an academic workload and then being the starting quarterback at the University of Tennessee, we always talk about the quarterback at the University of Tennessee, that’s a global position and he’s done a great job.”

Although Kentucky and Tennessee have settled on its starters for next season, Georgia and first-year coach Kirby Smart are far from making a decision on who will take the snaps under center in Smart’s debut as coach of the Bulldogs in six weeks.

Smart does have some options, starting with highly-touted five-star freshman Jacob Eason. Smart said getting the right player in place will be the key for the Bulldogs to succeed in his first season at the helm in Athens. Returnee Greyson Lambert also is in the mix.

“The options we’re going to have to weigh are going to be (who) gives us the best chance to win,” Smart said Tuesday. “We’re going to play the best player that gives us the best opportunity to win football games. I don’t know who that is.”

Like Georgia, Mississippi State doesn’t have its starter tabbed just yet, but the heir apparent will follow all-conference performer Dak Prescott, who has led the Bulldogs to nine victories in the past two seasons. Mississippi State Dan Mullen admitted it’s “going to be an interesting year” following the team’s success during the past three seasons with Prescott at the helm.

“(We’re) going to have an interesting quarterback battle,” Mullen said. “There’s no secret to it. I’m not going to try to hold back or play it close to the vest with our quarterback. We had four guys competing for the job in spring ball. All of them were still in contention for the job. No one really separated themselves (enough) to pull away from one of the other four at that position.”

Although Dobbs is the league’s most experienced quarterback, Texas A&M transfer Trevor Knight stands on the same stage occupied by Dobbs. Knight, a graduate student, played his first four collegiate seasons at Oklahoma, where he started for two seasons for the Sooners.

Knight, who was beaten out of his starting job to Baker Mayfield last fall, is anxious for a fresh start with the Aggies.

“It’s been a leap of faith in a lot of ways, but looking back on it, it has been perfect,” he said. “I did get to step in and the culture at A&M, specifically the team, wrapped their arms around me and let me know that I was a part of the family. I got to become a leader of the team pretty quickly, which was very unique. Going through 15 team practices, I feel that we got better and better each day and we have solidified a few things.”

Although teams like Texas A&M and Mississippi State are starting over at quarterback, Kentucky has one less thing to worry about when practice begins next month. That’s been a rarity under Stoops’ reign as coach of the Wildcats.

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter

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