HOOVER, Ala. — Two Southeastern Conference Western Division programs hope transfer quarterbacks can give them a boost in the standings.
Mississippi State brought in Penn State graduate transfer Tommy Stevens to compete for the starting job with Keytaon Thompson. Arkansas added two graduate transfers — SMU’s Ben Hicks and Texas A&M’s Nick Starkel — who will battle to lead the program’s offense.
Both schools expect the competition to be settled during preseason camp.
“The sooner, the better because I want our team to rally around that guy,” Arkansas coach Chad Morris said on Wednesday at SEC media days.
Arkansas is trying to improve on last year’s 2-10 season, which included a 0-8 mark in the SEC. Hicks threw for more than 9,000 yards over three seasons at SMU and played the first two seasons under Morris, who then took the Arkansas job.
Starkel, who is a junior, was Kellen Mond’s backup at Texas A&M last year but threw for 1,793 yards as a freshman.
Mississippi State is looking for a new quarterback after the departure of three-year starter Nick Fitzgerald. The Bulldogs were 8-5 last season, but struggled at times on offense, especially through the air.
Thompson was Fitzgerald’s backup last year, throwing for 458 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. The 6-foot-5 Stevens backed up star Trace McSorley at Penn State.
Moorhead coached Stevens early in his Penn State career when he was the school’s offensive coordinator.
“I think Tommy is a kid with a lot of physical tools,” Moorhead said. “Strong arm. He can really run. He’s accustomed to the system so he’s going to understand it for the most part coming in.
TOUGH ALABAMA BOSS
Alabama coach Nick Saban’s coaching staff has undergone makeovers each of the past two years.
The turnover could mean Saban has talented coaches on his staff, or that he is difficult to work for.
“Well, I don’t know,” Saban said when asked Wednesday if he was a difficult supervisor. “You have to ask some of the people that work for me. Always interesting that, they may say that, but then when they get a job and they go do it, they do it exactly like we did it. So, I don’t know.
“But we have a difficult job.”
Alabama has seven new coaches, including offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and recently promoted defensive boss Pete Golding. Saban hired six assistants before last season, meaning none of his on-the-field coaches have been around more than two years, though some left for bigger jobs.
There’s little doubt that Saban can be a demanding taskmaster. TV cameras have often caught the scowling 67-year-old giving assistants tongue lashings on the sidelines.
“I think when you’re in a position of leadership and you’re trying to make people be accountable and responsible to a standard that’s going to help you continue to have success, that sometimes you have to make people do things that they really don’t want to do that may be in the best interest of the overall organization,” Saban said. “So am I willing to do that? Absolutely. So you have to make a choice and decision: You want to do it right, or you want to make everybody happy?”
SOUTH CAROLINA-STEPPING UP
South Carolina is out to reverse a trend of futility against ranked teams.
Coach Will Muschamp is 1-10 against Top 25 opponents with the Gamecocks over the past three seasons. Quarterback Jake Bentley, a 32-game starter, knows how important those kind of games are in how a season is viewed.
“We’ve got to find a way to win those games,” Bentley said.
The quarterback added: “I think people get it twisted and think you have to do some magical thing and have a magical mind-set going into a game against Alabama or something. You should have that same mind-set when you’re lifting, when you’re in the film room, when you’re at practice. If we can have that, it would be good for us.”
The Gamecocks will get some chances with a schedule that includes defending Southeastern Conference champion Alabama and Texas A&M from the Western Division, along with division or in-state rivals like Georgia, Florida and national champion Clemson.