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 10 of the countdown.
It's startling how many similarities there are between Georgia's Hutson Mason and South Carolina's Dylan Thompson.
Both enter the 2014 season as fifth-year seniors, meaning this fall is the only chance they'll have to lead their respective teams. Both also are in-state products ... at the only Southeastern Conference schools in their state. And both made the most of their opportunities when they've been needed in past seasons. (If you want to read in more detail on Thompson, click here for Wednesday's story.)
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So what put Mason over Thompson in these rankings?
It's simple: The Georgia signal-caller has more proven talent around him. In Todd Gurley, the Bulldogs have not only the top running back in college football, but possibly the best player, period. Add in a healthy Keith Marshall and newcomers Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and the Bulldogs have the deepest stable of running backs this side of Tuscaloosa.
What's more, Georgia brings back its top two pass-catchers from last season in Chris Conley and Michael Bennett. The Bulldogs should get another boost from the return of Malcolm Mitchell, their most explosive receiver who tore his ACL in the first quarter in the opener against Clemson last season and missed the rest of the year. Speedsters Justin Scott-Wesley and Reggie Davis give Mason two other targets that can stretch the field.
Yes, Georgia lost three starters up front, but senior center David Andrews leads the way and the coaching staff believes the offensive line has its strongest two-deep in recent memory.
Here's a prediction: The Bulldogs will be much more balanced this fall than they were in 2013. Just look at the numbers: Georgia threw for 314.2 yards per game last season, second-most in the SEC. Meanwhile, they averaged just 169.9 yards per game on the ground, ahead of only Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt.
That was mostly due, of course, to the nagging injuries Gurley fought with last season and the season-ending loss of Marshall in the Tennessee game.
But here's another prediction: If new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt doesn't come in and work wonders with a unit that gave up 29 points and 375.5 yards per game, Georgia's record won't change much from its 8-5 showing last year.
So we'll see if Mason's lone season at the helm is a memorable or forgettable one.