SEC Football: Power Ranking the Starting Quarterbacks in the SEC
Although the SEC’s recent dominance of college football can be traced to its reputation for playing a superior brand of defense, the league has produced its share of elite quarterbacks during the same span.
While Peyton and Eli Manning have been two of the NFL’s premier signal-callers over the last decade, SEC quarterbacks have enjoyed a modern renaissance—with three of the last five quarterbacks to be taken first overall in the NFL Draft coming from SEC schools.
Heading in to 2012, the league’s top three passers from last season return—plus a number players who will create intrigue around the league for various reasons, whether it be a promising star returning from injury (Tyler Bray of Tennessee), a talented dual-threat passer leading one of the league’s two newcomers (James Franklin of Missouri) or a former highly-touted recruit getting a chance to step in and lead a national title contender (Zach Mettenberger of LSU).
With a few races still to be ironed out over the course of fall practices around the league, it appears that the SEC will have its share of stars and newcomers lining up under center this fall.
Find out more about the league’s batch of signal-callers in this breakdown of SEC starting quarterbacks.
14. Maxwell Smith, Kentucky
Smith looks to be ahead of senior Morgan Newton in the duel to claim the starting nod for the Wildcats this season, with Newton missing spring practice to rehab a shoulder injury that caused him to sit out.
Both Smith and Newton played extensively in 2011, but both were a part of the Wildcats' abysmal attack that finished last in the SEC in total offense—and scored more than 20 points just once in SEC play.
Although Kentucky should get improved play out of its offensive line and skill positions this season, the going could be tough once again for the Wildcats in 2012.
The 6’4”, 220-pound Smith completed nearly 55 percent of his passes last season and accounted for 819 yards passing and four touchdowns in eight games of action a year ago.
13. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
Wallace had the benefit of learning under new Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze when they were both at Arkansas State—Wallace was a redshirt freshman while Freeze was the Red Wolves’ offensive coordinator in 2010.
Wallace left Jonesboro and enrolled at East Mississippi Community College—where he threw for more than 4,600 yards and tossed 53 touchdown passes.
With his experience in Freeze’s offense, Wallace could provide an upgrade compared to the three-headed monster the Rebels employed a year ago.
Ironically, Randall Mackey—one of the quarterbacks used last year by Ole Miss and thought to be Wallace’s main challenger—moved to wide receiver in the spring, paving the way for the 6’5”, 210-pounder to be the man from day one in Oxford.
12. Tyler Russell, Mississippi State
Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs took a step backward in 2011, finishing 7-6 on the heels of a successful nine-win season a year earlier.
Junior Tyler Russell—who split time with senior Chris Relf last year—is now the unquestioned leader for the offense heading into 2012.
Although Mississippi State will have to replace leading rusher Vick Ballard, Russell will have the luxury of throwing to the team’s top three leading receivers from 2011—and all are seniors who have been through many wars in the SEC.
The 6’4”, 220-pounder—who threw for 1,034 yards and eight touchdown passes in nine games last year—must improve his accuracy (he completed slightly less than 54 percent of his throws) if the Bulldogs' pass attack hopes to improve this fall.
11. Jacoby Brissett/Jeff Driskel, Florida
As true freshmen last season, both Brissett and Driskel were thrown into the fire when starter John Brantley was forced to miss action due to injury.
While neither player—both of whom were four-star recruits in coach Will Muschamp’s first recruiting class—had a tremendous amount of success, Brissett saw action in more games (eight, to Driskel’s five) and accounted for four touchdowns (two apiece rushing and passing).
With Brent Pease taking over for Charlie Weis as the Gators’ offensive coordinator, both players will have a clean slate—and the heavy possibility that both could see time in a dual-quarterback system.
Both players are talented prospects who should enter their sophomore seasons with a much better chance at success because of the growing pains each endured as true freshmen.
10. Jameill Showers/Johnny Manziel/Matt Davis/Matt Joeckel, Texas A&M
Trying to figure out who will take over for first-round pick Ryan Tannehill is a shell game at this point, with Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin likely to use all of fall camp to sort out who will become the trigger-man for his high-powered offense.
Showers—a 6’2”, 219-pound sophomore—appears to have the slightest of edges amongst the four underclassmen battling it out.
With running back Christine Michael and receiver Ryan Swope, plus an offensive line that could be one of the nation’s best—whoever emerges at quarterback will have a supporting cast capable of helping them along until they get comfortable.
Despite making the transition into the SEC, the Aggies offense has the talent to move the ball against SEC defenses—assuming they get their quarterback situation ironed out.
9. Kiehl Frazier, Auburn
New offensive coordinator Scot Leoffler has not declared a starting quarterback in the battle between Frazier and junior Clint Moseley, but it has been widely assumed that Frazier will eventually get the nod.
Frazier got on the field last season, mostly as a “Wildcat” option in former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s system.
With some veteran skill players returning, like tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, running back Onterio McCalebb and wideout Emory Blake, the Tigers have some talented weapons to help the offense get untracked if they can find a quarterback to get them the ball.
Frazier—one of the prized products of Gene Chizik’s 2011 recruiting class—has the talent to become a difference-maker for the Tigers if he can show improvement in his passing skills.
8. Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilit
Little brother of reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, the younger Rodgers is looking to accomplish his own milestone this fall when he will attempt to lead the Commodores to back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time in school history (h/t Brad Zimanek, Montgomery Advertiser).
The 6’2”, 210-pound senior took over as the starter for James Franklin’s ballclub after Larry Smith went down with an injury in midseason, and the Commodores lost four of the last seven games by seven points or less.
However, the offense picked up considerably—bumping their scoring average from just under 22 points per game in the first six games, to 31 points per contest in the last seven games under Rodgers.
If Rodgers can improve on his accuracy (completed just 50 percent of his passes) and cut down on his turnovers (threw 10 picks), the Commodores could end up on the right side of close games more often in 2012.
7. Zach Mettenberger, LSU
Given that LSU was pegged as the nation’s No. 1 team entering the 2012 season, it’s safe to say that there is a load of expectation on the shoulders of the 6’5”, 225-pound Mettenberger.
The former Georgia recruit and JUCO transfer has thrown just 11 passes since arriving in Baton Rouge, but that has not stopped fans and media around the country from expecting him to perhaps strengthen an LSU offense that averaged nearly 36 points per game in 2011.
Some experts are already mention Mettenberger as a candidate to jump to the NFL after the season, but he has some unfinished business—for his own journey and for a team that reigned as college football’s top-ranked team for most of last season, until their 21-0 defeat at the hands of Alabama in the BCS national title game.
Considering the talent surrounding him will be as good as any in the SEC, a quarterback with Mettenberger’s glaring physical talents could be exactly what the Tigers need to get over the hump in 2012.
6. James Franklin, Missouri
After accounting for 3,884 yards of total offense last season in the Big 12, Franklin will lead Missouri into a new era in their maiden voyage into the SEC.
His ability to hurt defenses with his arm (completed more than 63-percent of his passes, threw for 2,872 yards and 21 touchdowns) and his legs (981 yards rushing, 15 touchdowns) will pose a significant threat to defenses in the SEC.
However, the junior—who is coming off offseason shoulder surgery—will now find out what it’s like to compete in a league that saw five teams finish in the top 10 nationally in total defense (Texas was the highest team in the Big 12 in that category, finishing 11th).
If he is able to lead the Tigers to a successful debut season in the nation’s toughest conference, Franklin’s star will rise considerably.
5. Connor Shaw, South Carolina
After the Stephen Garcia experiment finally came to an end with his dismissal in the middle of last season, Shaw went on to start the last eight games for the Gamecocks—going 7-1 and helping the program to its first 11-win season in school history.
Also, take into account that Shaw did not have the services of star tailback Marcus Lattimore—who was lost for the season with a torn ACL against Mississippi State—for the last six games of the season and it becomes clear to how well Shaw was playing at season’s end.
This year, the junior is clearly the man in charge for a team that may be the best club that Steve Spurrier has fielded since arriving in Columbia.
With Lattimore back and a solid group of receivers, Shaw has a chance to have a breakout season in 2012.
4. Tyler Bray, Tennessee
Bray was one of several Volunteer offensive starters to fall victim to the injury bug in 2011—with a broken thumb causing him to miss five games in the middle of the season.
The 6’6”, 215-pound junior has thrown for 3,832 yards and 33 touchdowns in 16 games, which has his name on the radar as a potential candidate to enter the NFL draft next season.
With a wide receiver group that could be the best in the SEC, Bray could be in line to have a monster season, assuming everyone can stay healthy.
3. A.J. McCarron, Alabama
McCarron’s masterful performance against LSU in the BCS national title game may have raised some eyebrows around the nation, but when you look at his overall body of work in 2011, it shows that he was more consistent than most gave him credit for.
Largely overshadowed by the brilliance of Doak Walker Award winner Trent Richardson, McCarron enters 2012 as the Tide’s unquestioned leader on offense.
McCarron completed just under 67 percent of his passes and threw for 2,634 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first year as a starter.
With a host of new talent at the skill positions surrounding him, the spotlight will fall on the 6’4”, 205-pound junior to try and lead Alabama’s quest to repeat as national champions.
2. Aaron Murray, Georgia
Murray put together a solid sophomore season by finishing second in the SEC in passing, throwing for 3,149 yards and 35 touchdowns—although 16 of his scoring tosses came in non-conference play.
With that said, he was the catalyst in helping the Bulldogs rebound from a 0-2 start to reel off 10 consecutive wins en route to claiming the SEC Eastern Division crown.
With the loss of stud running back and SEC freshman of the year Isaiah Crowell, Murray may have to shoulder more of the offensive load this season for the Bulldogs.
Luckily for Bulldogs fans, the 6’1”, 211-pounder is capable of doing just that, and perhaps even more considering that Mark Richt’s club is loaded for a run at the school’s first SEC title since 2005.
1. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
Despite the messy offseason for Arkansas, the main cause for optimism among Razorback nation is the return of the SEC’s leading passer from last season.
Even though the Hogs’ receiver unit has been depleted due to graduation and the dismissals of Marquel Wade and Maudrecus Humphrey, Wilson should benefit from the return of running back Knile Davis.
Davis, wide receiver Cobi Hamilton and tight end Chris Gragg give Wilson a trio of experienced and talented weapons to attack defenses with.
Wilson is an NFL-caliber talent who has the ability to put this team on his back, and with the nation’s top two teams paying visits to Fayetteville, he has a chance to finally help Arkansas breakthrough in the notoriously tough SEC West.