ATLANTA—The American way of life has undergone countless changes since 1952.
Back then ... the average cost of a new home barely exceeded $9,000, the average rent for housing was $80 per month and unleaded gasoline had a price rate of 20 cents per gallon.
Why bring up 1952 at SEC Media Days? Simple. It marks the only year in history when the first two quarterbacks selected in the NFL draft both hailed from SEC schools—Vanderbilt's Billy Wade and Kentucky legend Vito "Babe" Parilli.
Well, some 66 years later, the SEC might be on the brink of another golden age with quarterbacks, relative to the draft. A lot can happen between now and next spring, of course, but don't be shocked if the SEC boasts the two most prominent passers of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Namely, Missouri's Drew Lock and South Carolina's Jake Bentley. (Or maybe even Auburn's Jarrett Stidham.)
Lock has accounted for 7,363 yards passing and 69 touchdowns (two rushing) over the previous two seasons, highlighted by the 44 passing TDs from last year, coinciding with Mizzou's turnaround campaign of 7-6.
What makes a 7-6 record so special? Check this out: Of the Tigers' final six regular-season outings (6-0 during that span), they had an average victory margin of 30 points.
That's typically Alabama/Nick Saban territory—not some Midwest-based program which struggled mightily in 2015-16 (12-16 overall), and then incurred a 35-3 thrashing to Purdue last September.
Back to the NFL draft ... Wyoming's Josh Allen, the No. 7 overall pick in April (Buffalo Bills), had the strongest cannon arm of anyone in the 2018 class. However, this might not have been the case, if Lock (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) had opted to throw his hat into the ring.
Obviously, Missouri fans are happy that Lock delayed his pro gratification for another year; but think about the above pro speculation ... while watching these college-era highlights of Allen and former Vandy quarterback Jay Cutler.
Lock certainly has a begrudging admirer in South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp, while also crediting Missouri for possessing the SEC's best vertical offense.
"Drew Lock's strengths ... that's throwing the football down the field. He's a very effective deep ball thrower," said Muschamp at Day 4 of SEC Media Days.
Depending on the various Web sites, Lock has a rock-solid chance of being a top-10 pick and the QB1 of next year's draft.
Another glorious season of 3,600 yards passing and 40 touchdowns would likely seal the deal, given how Lock already has the requisite size, arm strength and playing experience of a Round 1 quarterback (35 college starts under his belt).
As a junior-eligible quarterback, Bentley (6-foot-4, 224 pounds) has the option to play another full season with the Gamecocks (beyond 2018).
However, NFL scouts are already wise to the kid's prodigious talents (size, quickness, experience, accuracy, deep-ball touch); and things really took off when Bentley engineered South Carolina's comeback win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl (rallying back from a 19-3 deficit).
For that signature victory, played on a wet, soggy field, Bentley's numbers (19 of 32 for 239 yards, two TDs) were slightly better than average.
However, two particular tosses, otherwise known as Pro Throws, stand out in the upset:
a) Bryan Edwards' leaping touchdown catch in the third quarter. Standing on Michigan's 29-yard line, Bentley zipped a frozen-rope high pass that only Edwards could possibly touch. Touchdown!
b) For South Carolina's game-winning TD, a 53-yard scoring reception, Bentley lofted a picture-perfect rainbow toss (roughly 36 yards in the air) to Shi Smith, who subsequently outran the Wolverines defenders to the end zone.
(Michigan's defense could have as many as four Day 1 or 2 picks in next year's draft.)
From a local angle, the Bentley-to-Smith pass bore a strong resemblance to anything from Matt Ryan's passing archives, citing the last 10 years.
Back in 2016, I was covering the South Carolina spring game at Williams-Brice Stadium—a on sunny, but incredibly windy afternoon.
While conversing with a national college football writer before kickoff, he kept projecting tall tales of how Brandon McIlwain—then a freshman with the team—would be the Gamecocks' next savior ... that is, unless he ended up devoting his athletic career to baseball, full-time.
At some point during this one-way conversation, I interrupted my friend to say, 'Brandon McIlwain? I thought Jake Bentley represented the future at quarterback.'
He smiled awkwardly for a second, perhaps taken aback by the question, before saying, 'Oh him? He's just the running backs coach's son. (Bentley) doesn't have the upside of McIlwain.'
Well, here we are, two years later:
McIlwain's now a two-sport athlete for the University of California-Berkeley. Bentley's on his way to achieving Connor Shaw-like cult status on South Carolina's campus; and if Will Muschamp (formerly of UGA, Auburn, LSU, Florida) plays his career cards right, he won't become the first man in history to play or coach at every SEC school (HA!)
There are wildly varied NFL rankings on the 2019 quarterbacks, so much that it's hard to nail down a consensus top seven. But here goes:
1. Drew Lock, Missouri
2. Justin Herbert, Oregon
3. Ryan Finley, NC State
4. Shea Patterson, Michigan
5. Jake Bentley, South Carolina
6. Will Grier, West Virginia
7. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
Notice how the SEC boasts three players here, with the list rounded out by Auburn's Stidham (3,158 yards passing, 22 total TDs)?
Technically, it's five players with SEC ties, when counting former Ole Miss passer Shea Patterson and onetime Florida star Will Grier.
And the list would have almost certainly included six SEC-related quarterbacks, if Jacob Eason hadn't injured his knee at the start of last season, setting off a chain reaction of events that included freshman Jake Fromm leading UGA to the brink of a national championship (before falling to Alabama in overtime) ... and Eason subsequently transferring to the University of Washington (sitting out the 2018 campaign).
Technically, Eason has the option to declare for next April's draft; but this seems like a long-shot occurrence, for many reasons, including no recent film of live action. Of course, if the NFL scouts need some affirmation of the kid's passing skills ... look no further than this amazing pass against Tennessee (2016).
But alas, Eason's prohibitive detour to NFL stardom (2020 draft seems realistic) has now cleared a direct path for Lock, Bentley and even Stidham to become next's year purported saviors in the pros.
The precocious QBs just need to overcome the dark, haunting reality of encountering top-shelf SEC defenses five or six times per year; and if they're truly leading a team of destiny (warning: sarcasm alert), maybe they'll draw Alabama twice this season.