In a word, Vanderbilt’s quarterback play in 2019 was disastrous.
Ball State transfer Riley Neal was somewhat accurate, completing 57.8% of his passes on the season, but he wasn’t terribly effective — he averaged just 6.1 yards per attempt on the season. For comparison, Kyle Shurmur, who was Vanderbilt’s starter from midway through 2015 on, averaged 7.0 yards per attempt for his Vanderbilt career and 7.7 yards per attempt as a senior. Neal was arguably worse than Shurmur was as a sophomore.
Neal played in 11 games and started 10 mostly because Vanderbilt’s other quarterbacks were even less effective. Deuce Wallace completed just 42.6 percent of his passes and threw four interceptions to zero touchdowns on the season; Allan Walters went 2-for-9 passing with an interception in limited duty. The team’s most effective quarterback, somehow, was walk-on Mo Hasan, who completed 7-of-11 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown before being lost for the season with a concussion.
And now, all four are gone. Four new quarterbacks are in, and for the first time since probably 2014, Vanderbilt will enter fall camp having no idea who its quarterback will be. At least in 2019, there was a pretty clear favorite even if nobody was 100 percent sure that Neal would start.
Here’s my best attempt at handicapping the race.
The Leader in the Clubhouse
Ken Seals, freshman: Seals, the #21 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2020 per the 247 Sports composite, has a leg up on the competition simply by virtue of being the only quarterback to take part in Vanderbilt’s (extremely limited) spring practice. And by all accounts, Seals impressed in spring — which, again, was about four days before everything was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s probably not the greatest thing in the world to go into the fall with a true freshman as your starting quarterback, but Seals at least looks impressive on film and played against a pretty high level of competition in high school (playing 6A high school football in Texas.) He threw for 3,060 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior at Weatherford High School. It’s still a big jump to the SEC, but this might be the best option available.
Mike Wright, freshman: The other freshman in the 2020 class, Wright might actually be a better option than Seals — Rivals had him rated as a four-star, and the 247 Sports composite ranks him as the #19 dual-threat quarterback in the 2020 class. He’s an athlete — he ran a 10.87 100-meter dash in high school, though his 247 Sports page lists his 40-yard dash time as “only” 4.69 — who would give Vanderbilt a running threat it hasn’t had at the quarterback position since Johnny McCrary, and you might have to go all the way back to Eric Jones in the 1980s to find this level of an athlete at quarterback for Vanderbilt. And at least at the high school level, Wright was an accurate thrower as well — he completed 187 of 291 passes for 2,653 yards and 37 touchdowns as a senior at Woodward Academy in metro Atlanta.
That said, Wright wasn’t in for spring practice and will probably have a bit of ground to make up in the fall, but he’s an athlete on the level that Vanderbilt rarely sees.
Jeremy Moussa, redshirt sophomore: Moussa is the one quarterback on Vanderbilt’s 2020 roster who has attempted a pass at the FBS level, which is worth something. He appeared in two games for Hawaii in 2018 and completed 4-of-9 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. Last season, he played at San Bernardino Valley College and completed 199 of 375 passes for 3179 yards, with 37 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. That got him rated as the #3 juco pro-style quarterback per the 247 Sports composite.
I suspect that Moussa’s Division I experience makes him a bit more likely to be the starting quarterback when the season opens, though he may have lost a bit of ground by being limited in spring practice due to injury. But long-term I would bet on Seals or Wright overtaking him by the end of the season.
Danny Clark, redshirt junior: Clark is the late addition to the signing class, a February signee after completing 158-of-306 passes for 2186 yards, with 18 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, at Copiah-Lincoln CC in Mississippi. Prior to that, Clark spent two years at Kentucky (one a redshirt year) in which he didn’t play. In light of his late addition to the roster and his less-impressive resume, I am guessing Clark is the emergency option here, available if the freshmen aren’t ready and Moussa falters.