Will the SEC Dominate Again in 2013? 11 of 14 Starting QBs Are Back
You can't coach experience, but that won't be an issue at quarterback in the SEC this season, as 11 of the 14 teams return a quarterback or quarterbacks who started the majority of the 2012 season.
That group is headlined by reigning Heisman Trophy-winner Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, Aaron Murray at Georgia and two-time BCS National Champion AJ McCarron at Alabama.
Manziel has the sizzle. He was a permanent fixture on highlight reels last season thanks to his 1,410 rushing yards; but he was also marvelously efficient, completing 68 percent of his passes for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Murray set the single-season Georgia record with 35 touchdowns passes in 2011, and then broke his own record with 36 last season. Not only has he performed like an All-SEC player in each of the last two seasons, he has virtually his entire supporting cast back in 2013. Not only can he draw on his own experience, but he can draw on it with the same pieces in place.
That familiarity is invaluable.
McCarron is the most decorated but quite possibly the least appreciated of the trio of SEC superstar quarterbacks. The offensive MVP of the 2012 BCS National Championship Game following the 2011 season, he led the nation with a 175.28 passer rating a year ago, completing 67.2 percent of his passes for 2,933 yards, 30 touchdowns and only three picks.
All three have proven that they have what it takes to be successful as individual players and leaders.
But the depth of talent at quarterback in the SEC extends well beyond those three.
Bo Wallace was solid for Ole Miss as first-year head coach Hugh Freeze resurrected the program last season. Connor Shaw is in a battle for his starting position at South Carolina, but he is a stud when healthy. And Tyler Russell set Mississippi State single-season school records for passing yards (2,897) and touchdown passes (24) last season.
Even some teams with major quarterback questions this offseason, such as Auburn, Kentucky and Missouri, have players who have started multiple games in the mix to win starting jobs.
That experience—even if it's largely negative—is important.
Sure, there have been exceptions to the rule.
First-year starting quarterbacks won four of the SEC's five BCS National Championships between 2007-11. But having a quarterback who knows what to do, and—perhaps more importantly—what not to do, allows the rest of the pieces of the offense to fall into place.
In 2006, former Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford was wildly inconsistent, completing 52.7 percent of his passes (135-for-256) for 1,749 yards, seven touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The next season—his first as the unquestioned starter—his completion percentage improved slightly (55.7 percent), but he was more reliable, throwing for 2,523 yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
That Georgia team was perhaps the hottest team in America when the season ended, but it was on the outside looking in as LSU won the BCS National Championship, beating Ohio State.
Another somewhat recent example of a player succeeding after being written off is Jason Campbell at Auburn. He was remarkably average for the Tigers between 2001-03, but flourished in his first season under then-offensive coordinator Al Borges, completing 69.6 percent of his passes (188-of-270) for 2,700 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions en route to being named SEC Player of the Year by the Associated Press.
Sometimes, quarterbacks get written off quicker than players at other positions. Just because players such as Florida's Jeff Driskel and Auburn's Kiehl Frazier haven't lived up to the hype yet doesn't mean they will stay down forever. In fact, since they weren't successful right off the bat, it likely means the valleys won't be as deep if and when they do succeed.
The SEC is absolutely loaded with talent at quarterback this season.
How many SEC players will throw for more than 3,000 yards in 2013?
When Missouri's James Franklin—a guy who two seasons ago was on the brink of a 3,000-yard passing/1,000-yard rushing season—is ranked eighth in our conference quarterback rankings and quite possibly could be ranked too HIGH, it speaks to the depth of talent in the conference (as well as the fickle nature of player evaluation).
Positional strength goes in waves.
The SEC was top-heavy with running backs in 2010 and 2012, with eight topping the 1,000-yard mark a year ago. With four of those players gone and so many talented quarterbacks returning, 2013 looks to be a year driven by veteran quarterbacks.
If you're looking for a reason why the SEC will continue to dominate in 2013, look no further than the quarterbacks. There's a solid group of signal-callers coming through this season with many potential stars still flying under the radar.
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