One thing over the past few decades Georgia hasn’t done particularly well is get great seasons out of true freshman quarterbacks.
Even so, starting a true freshman quarterback in the SEC is tough, given the nuances involved.
“If you look over the history of the league, it hasn’t happened very often – especially when you talk about the first game of the season,” head coach Kirby Smart said.
Only three times since 1990 has Georgia started a true freshman in 50 percent or more of its games during a football season – Eric Zeier (1991), Quincy Carter (1998) and Matthew Stafford (2006). David Greene and Aaron Murray both redshirted their first years on campus before starting four consecutive years.
Carter was the only quarterback of the three who earned the job going into his season-opener, although he was two years removed from high school and playing minor league baseball before heading to college.
Carter had success throwing the ball in his first season, totaling 2,489 yards and 12 touchdowns en route to earning SEC Freshman of the Year honors. Zeier earned six starts to total 1,984 yards and 7 touchdowns. Stafford, who made seven starts in 2006, struggled the most out of the three as he amassed 1,749 yards, 7 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
And, boy, from the best start of the three did Carter’s Georgia career end well.
None of which is to say Kirby doesn’t know what’s at stake over the next month as he evaluates his options at the most important position on the field. The quote above indicates that he’s well aware of what kind of chance he’d be taking if he decides on Jacob Eason as the starter against North Carolina.
The question Smart has to ask himself and answer, just as we all will, is whether Georgia’s staff has the chops to overcome history and justify taking that kind of risk by coaching Eason up sufficiently to, if not succeed wildly, at least avoid being a liability. Keep in mind it’s a decision he’ll have to make based purely on his own instincts and professional judgment, because throughout his time at Alabama, that’s a call he never watched Nick Saban make.
Since Nick Saban joined the Alabama football program in the spring of 2007, he has never started a true freshman quarterback. Things such as “seniority” and “earn it” have always been mantras in Saban’s process. It’s not that Saban wouldn’t ever consider starting a true freshman quarterback, but the two things he values the most in his quarterbacks (playing smart and limiting turnovers) are difficult to grasp for a guy who was playing high school football months earlier.
For all the attention we’ve paid to Georgia’s quarterbacks, especially after Eason’s G-Day performance, this is the aspect of the choice we may not have fully contemplated. It’s a big deal, perhaps as much a definer of Smart’s early career as anything he’ll take on, both for what it will say about his decision to hire Jim Chaney as well as his skill in program building through talent evaluation and development.
Keep in mind that when Richt took his leap with Matthew Stafford, it came in the wake of the program’s most successful run in a quarter century. Smart, in contrast, is making that call cold, and while, sure, he starts off in a honeymoon phase with the fan base, if the quarterback choice blows up in his face, he’ll soon find out that the fan base’s experience over the past five years has made most of us far more willing to question whether the head coach knows what he’s doing than we used to.
There’s a lot at stake, and we’ll be watching. No pressure, Coach.