If you care to, you could watch quarterbacks with Georgia ties play all day Saturday. There will be one for every segment of your college football day.
- At noon, Ohio State kicks off at home against Florida Atlantic. Justin Fields will be under center for the Buckeyes.
- Three hours later, across the country in Seattle, Jacob Eason will make his debut as the starting quarterback for Washington.
- Then at 7:30 p.m., Jake Fromm will lead No. 3-ranked Georgia onto the field at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tenn.
It’s mind-boggling to think that all three quarterbacks could still be donning the red and black of Georgia.
“I think it says a lot about Georgia’s recruiting, No. 1,” said David Greene, who played quarterback for the Bulldogs from 2001-04. “Obviously, Georgia can identify quarterback talent. I mean, that’s one thing nobody could argue. If you look at the quarterbacks we’ve had the last 10 or 15 years, Georgia has for the most part always had a pretty solid play-caller under center.”
While at Georgia, Greene famously shared time at the quarterback position with D.J. Shockley, a former 5-star prospect. Shockley backed up Greene from 2002-04, then took over as the starter in 2005 and led the Bulldogs to an SEC championship.
Today, quarterbacks – especially those who were 5-star prospects – don’t sit around waiting for their chances any more. Increasingly, that’s becoming the case for players at other positions as well.
As it is, things seem to have worked out quite well for all three of these guys. Each was named the starter at his respective school in the past week. Each is on a team that’s expected to be a major player in the race for the College Football Playoff. And each individual still has a football destiny to be fulfilled.
One would think that Georgia’s Kirby Smart would be more curious than anybody to see how it all turns out. The Bulldogs’ fourth-year coach sat in the living rooms of all three players as recruiting prospects and persuaded them that UGA was the best place to be over all others. He managed to convince them that, despite the quarterbacks that already were on campus, they would be given every opportunity to compete for the starting job. And, finally, Smart was the one who was unable to sway them to stick around.
But if he is curious, Smart wasn’t in a sharing mood this week.
“I’m really focused on us,” Smart said after the Bulldogs’ practice Tuesday. “I don’t think any coach in the country would tell you any different. There’s just so much that we’ve got to prepare for. There’s so many unknowns in our game. … That’s consuming my thoughts.”
Not unrelated, however, is the reality that the presence of Eason and Fields in those other stadiums Saturday does have an impact on what the Bulldogs do in Nashville this weekend -- and all season, for that matter. With either or both still on the roster, Georgia would be unconcerned about depth at the quarterback position.
As it is, Fromm’s replacement would be either a junior college transfer or a freshman or a walk-on. But between Fromm’s own credentials – which includes a 24-5 record as Georgia’s quarterback – and the comfort of an all-star offensive line providing protection, the Bulldogs head into the season feeling secure in their quarterback situation.
“Man, I’ve just seen him reach another level of understanding the offense,” senior tight end Charlie Woerner said. “I feel like he could go out there and call his own plays. Jake’s really prepared himself well for this season.”
As for the former Bulldogs, each landed their respective starting jobs through competition in preseason camp.
Fields, who transferred from Georgia in February, beat out Gunnar Hoak, a transfer from Kentucky, and was named Buckeyes’ starter last week.
“Honestly, there was not a whole lot of competition,” said Bill Robinowitz, who covers Ohio State for the Columbus Dispatch. “The closest thing to competition he had was a graduate transfer from Kentucky, and he got there even later. So it was matter of timing for the announcement as opposed to being a real decision. But we didn’t get to see (Fields) him in practice. But basically everyone seems happy with him, and he’s handled himself well.”
Eason, of course, started as a freshman at Georgia in 2016. He passed for 2,430 yards with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions during the 8-5 season. But after being named the Bulldogs’ starter over Fromm for the 2017 season, Eason injured his knee in the first quarter of the first game. By the time he returned, Fromm had established himself as a Georgia’s quarterback on the way to an SEC championship in 2017.
After sitting out as a redshirt last year, Eason was embroiled in a very real competition with Jake Haener, a little-used sophomore who backed up Jake Browning last season. Eason finally was named the starter Aug. 23.
“I would say the expectation now is a little different than it was a few months ago when everybody was seeing Jacob as the potential first-round NFL draft pick,” said Matt Calkins, a columnist for the Seattle Times. “People are still excited because of his physical gifts. He’s got the arm, he’s got the build, he’s got everything from a physical standpoint that makes scouts and fans drools. But after the competition played out as long as it did, I think people are wondering if maybe they should temper the expectations a little bit.”
There is the possibility that Georgia could face one or both of their former quarterbacks in the postseason. In the meantime, everyone will get to see how they do between now and then.
“I am excited to see both of them play,” said Aaron Murray, a former Georgia quarterback who now calls games for CBS. “I think both of them will have tremendous years. Both quarterbacks are probably two of the most talented Georgia has ever had. But that shows you that the position is more than just throwing and running. Fromm has shown those other elements.”
“It goes to show how good of a player Jake Fromm is,” he said. “For him to come in as a true freshman and be able to take over a starting role like he did in 2017, that’s really beating somebody out. It shows how good and how mature of a quarterback Jake Fromm truly is.”
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