Editor's note: The 2013 season was an incredible year for quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference. There was a Heisman winner (Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel), the conference's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns (Georgia's Aaron Murray) and a two-time national champion (Alabama's AJ McCarron). Then there was Auburn's Nick Marshall, LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Missouri's James Franklin. Nearly all of those aforementioned signal-callers have departed, however. Still, someone will rise to the occasion to fill those spots, and that's why we're here to take stock of them as we head into the summer, counting them down from 14 to 1. Note that proven performers, even if they were not the unquestioned starter last season, figures heavily into these rankings. We continue with Day 2 of the countdown.
Who ends up starting for Kentucky in the season opener is anybody's guess at this point. Jalen Whitlow, the starter for eight games last year, transferred during the offseason. The player who started the other four games, Maxwell Smith, sat out the spring to recover from shoulder surgery.
With Whitlow and Smith out of the picture during spring practice, three other candidates fought it out: sophomore Patrick Towles, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and early enrollee Drew Barker. Exiting the spring, it appears Towles holds a slight advantage. Though the three signal-callers rotated between the Blue and White teams during the Wildcats' spring game, Towles got the starting nod. And he was the most accurate of the trio, finishing 11 of 15 for 126 yards. (Barker went 7-for-19 for 74 yards and a touchdown while Phillips threw for 74 yards and a pair of scores while completing 10 of his 17 attempts.)
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Even if one believes Towles will enter fall camp as the starter, it's a risky proposition, as coach Mark Stoops refused to lend any insight on the matter. And there are two forces working against Towles; one is Smith. Where will he begin the fall as far as the depth chart is concerned? He certainly has the most experience of any quarterback on the roster, but he hasn't shown to be the most durable of players, either. (Aside from his offseason shoulder surgery, he also suffered a season-ending ankle injury as a sophomore during the 2012 campaign.)
The other factor Towles will have to overcome is Barker.
An in-state product, Barker was considered the top high school quarterback in the state of Kentucky last season, with every major recruiting service ranking him as a four-star prospect. Enrolling early certainly helped his cause, but it would still be a surprise if Barker ends up starting in Game 1 versus Tennessee-Martin on Aug. 30.
But if things go downhill quickly — say, Kentucky starts its Southeastern Conference slate 0-3 (losing to Florida, Vanderbilt and South Carolina, respectively) — the coaching staff may decide to ease Barker into the lineup in a non-conference tilt against Louisiana-Monroe on Oct. 11.