Jameis Winston became the first freshman starting quarterback to win a BCS national championship (he was a redshirt). The Heisman winner was the first quarterback to lead a team to a national title within two years of finishing high school since Oklahoma true freshman Jamelle Holieway in the 1985 season.
That said, guys like Alabama's A.J. McCarron and Auburn's Cam Newton won national titles in their first year as the starter, just not when they were freshmen. There are three SEC powerhouses and 2014 national title contenders who will have a new starter under center this season. Let's look at each situation heading into spring practice and the teams' Bovada college football football odds to win the first College Football Playoff next January at AT&T Stadium.
That the Crimson Tide are the second-favorites at sportsbooks behind Florida State to win a fourth national championship in six years is testament to how much pure talent that Nick Saban has recruited to Tuscaloosa. Certainly the next quarterback has big shoes to fill as A.J. McCarron will go down as one of the biggest winners at the position in NCAA history.
The irony is that Florida State will be potentially helping the Tide to dethrone the Seminoles this year. That's because Jacob Coker is transferring from FSU to Alabama. Coker lost a pretty close race to Winston for the starting job last year. Because Coker will graduate from FSU this spring, he will be eligible right away. Coker knows what it's like to replace McCarron as he also did it at St. Paul's Episcopal School in Mobile, Ala. At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Coker has prototype size. He will battle Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell and Blake Sims for the job and those guys will have the advantage of playing spring ball with the Tide. Sims was 18-for-29 for 167 yards and two TDs as McCarron's backup last year.
The Tide open the season in Atlanta against West Virginia but shouldn't really be tested until Sept. 20 at home against Florida.
The Tigers lose senior Zach Mettenberger, but LSU had gotten used to life without Mettenberger when he tore up his knee in LSU's regular-season finale against Arkansas. Freshman backup Anthony Jennings rallied LSU for the win in that game, throwing a 49-yard touchdown pass with 1:15 left to complete a 99-yard drive, only LSU's third 99-yard scoring drive in the past decade.
Jennings then started the Outback Bowl against Iowa and struggled, going 7-for-19 for 82 yards with an interception and four sacks. He was just the second QB in LSU history to get his first start in a bowl game. Jennings will battle with freshman star recruit Brandon Harris for the job through spring and fall camp. Harris is a dual-threat QB and enrolled early in school. The Tigers need to be settled at the position right away because they open Aug. 30 in Houston against what should be a very good Wisconsin team. Think that Nov. 8 LSU-Alabama game in Baton Rouge might mean something?
Texas A&M (50/1)
Clearly the sportsbooks don't have a lot of faith in the Aggies this season to contend for a national title now that a certain Johnny Football is off in the NFL. His replacement also won't have Mike Evans, one of the best receivers in nation in 2013, to throw to.
This figures to be a three-man battle between Matt Joeckel, Kenny Hill and incoming freshman Kyle Allen, considered by some the best pure passing recruit in the nation. Joeckel is a senior and brings experience. He was 22-for-37 for 293 yards and two scores last year in mop-up duty. Hill is a dual-threat type who was 16 of 22 for 183 yards and a score last year as a freshman. Allen is a pure passer and enrolled in January. Don't expect a decision to be made until a few weeks before the season. That's what happened in 2012 when Manziel beat out Jameill Showers. Many thought Showers had the lead after spring camp.
The Aggies have a very tough season opener, Aug. 28 at South Carolina, which has an experienced QB in Dylan Thompson but no Jadeveon Clowney to harass opposing QBs.