Ranking the 2009 SEC Quarterbacks: Who Will Be Hot, and Who Will Not

John StevensCorrespondent IAugust 26, 2009

MIAMI - JANUARY 08:  Quarterback Tim Tebow #15 of the Florida Gators runs to pass the ball against the Oklahoma Sooners during the FedEx BCS National Championship Game at Dolphin Stadium on January 8, 2009 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops made a comment earlier this month in regard to SEC defenses where he said that it was "easier to play better defense when you aren't playing against great quarterbacks...when the guy behind center isn't special, it's always a little easier."

Gee Bob, what was that buzz-saw you ran into last January at the BCS Championship? It looked like you and the Sooners had your hands full, or was I mistaken?

He should have gone to youbeatthespread.com to see who was going to win. They predicted OU's next BCS loss.

So the SEC doesn't have "special" quarterbacks?

As we approach the autumn ritual that is college football, I thought we might take a closer look at this particular myth.

The SEC boasts some pretty good established quarterbacks heading into the 2009 season, two of which will more than likely be a part of Heisman discussions as the season progresses.

The conference also boasts several promising up-and-coming talents at the quarterback position who may be making national headlines by mid-season.

Let's look at how the quarterbacks in the SEC stack up.

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1.  Tim Tebow (Florida)

Tebow is obviously the No. 1 quarterback coming out of the chutes this season. A former Heisman winner and a virtual Florida football God, Tebow does many things well and more than likely will lead the Gators back to the BCS Championship game.

With a quarterback rating of 172.4, he doesn't have the highest rating in the SEC. But if I were picking a guy who could do it all and be a leader, he would be my guy.

2.  Jevean Snead (Ole Miss)

Snead is my next pick. After transferring from Texas and the Big 12 to Ole Miss and the SEC, he acquitted himself well in his first year of experience in the conference.

Considering that this is a league that consumes quarterbacks with dominating defenses, Snead put up some good numbers with a completion percentage of 56.27 and a quarterback rating of 145.5 while throwing for the second-most touchdowns in the conference.

The problem is he also led the league in interceptions with 13, five more than the next-highest quarterback. 

Ole Miss hopes he will improve on those numbers this year and help them win a SEC West title and a trip to the SEC Championship Game.

Many around Oxford think they have found a quarterback worthy of the Heisman. They may be right.

3. Ryan Mallett (Arkansas)

My third pick might be a little suprising to many.

Mallett, a Michigan transfer, reportedly has a cannon for an arm, as the rumor has it that he can throw the ball 80 yards in the air.

If that is true, he certainly has a strong arm. But the question remains as to whether he can repeatedly thread the needle in coverage and under pressure at 20 yards.

Mallett's numbers at Michigan were not impressive, but he has spent the last year and a half learning coach Bobby Petrino's system and being schooled in quarterback mechanics.

His style of play and reported strong arm should fit well in Petrino's power spread offense.

If Mallett can be productive to the extent that many believe is possible, and if he gets some protection from his offensive line, Mallett may be battling Snead for the No. 2 position as one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC by the end of the season.

4.  Joe Cox (Georgia)

Cox isn't overwhelmingly experienced, having performed "mop-up duties" in many games behind Matthew Stafford. But even in this role, he has a 73.3 completion percentage and quarterback rating of 185.9.

He has big shoes to fill, there isn't any doubt about that. But Cox has all the necessary tools to be very successful at Georgia, including a great returning receiver in A.J. Green and what is perhaps the best offensive line in the SEC.

Cox doesn't need to try to put the team on his shoulders or try to match the performance of his predeccesor. He just needs to be himself and play to his strengths, and he will put up some really good numbers this fall.

Early tests on the road against Oklahoma State and Arkansas and at home against South Carolina will prove that Cox is the fourth-best quarterback in the SEC.

5. Greg McElroy (Alabama)

McElroy, with only four games of actual experience, still has a 185.3 quarterback rating and has a completion percentage of 80.0 percent.

The jury is still out on McElroy as to whether he will be a key performer or merely the custodian of the Alabama offense. But based on what few numbers there are on McElroy, he looks to me to have the projected potential to be better than John Parker Wilson, who was reliably steady but not exciting.

McElroy, who is surrounded by a great deal of talent, will have his opportunity to prove his worth to Alabama when they meet Virginia Tech in Atlanta in the opener. I expect he will be better than average.

6.  Stephen Garcia (South Carolina)

Garcia has all of the tools to be one of the very best in the SEC, provided Steve Spurrier can help him get his head on straight.

His 53.3 completion percentage and 113.68 quarterback rating don't inspire a great deal of confidence, but he has shown the ability to make some plays and throws that speak of greater talent than he has shown thus far.

If Garcia can manage to lose the label of "project" and assume a genuine leadership role at South Carolina and combine that with his potential talent and the Gamecock defense, South Carolina could achieve a nine-win season just when Spurrier needs it.

7. Tie: Tyson Lee (Mississippi State), Jordan Jefferson (LSU), and Larry Smith (Vanderbilt)

How these three shake out this year remains to be seen.

All three can throw a good ball, and they are good runners as well. Much like Tebow, they bring something extra to the table in being able to make plays in a dual role. 

Lee and Smith have just average completion percentages at 58.8 and 55.5 percent, respectively. And although Jefferson's is just 49 percent, he does have four touchdowns and only one interception.

I am predicting now that Jefferson will emerge as the best overall playmaker of the three this season, and in another year, he may join the rankings in the top six.

10. Tie: Chris Todd (Auburn), Mike Hartline (Kentucky), and Jonathon Crompton (Tennessee)

Chris Todd has a great opportunity to get much better under the tutelege of Gus Malzahn at Auburn. His current completion percentage of 55.1 percent should jump dramatically this season.

Coming to Auburn via Texas Tech and then junior college, Todd seemed to have the background to come to Auburn and make a lot of noise as the next quarterback. However, that has not been the case thus far.

If Todd can't perfrom and lead Auburn effectively during the first few games, look for Malzahn to make quick a change. If Auburn can't get to five wins prior to their trip to Arkansas, Auburn will be looking for other solutions in order to make a bowl game, because finding more than two wins in the second half is going to be tough.

What is to be said of Mike Hartline? Kentucky had hopes for him but last year, but he threw for just 1,666 yards with a 55.3 completion percentage and just one more touchdown (nine) than interceptions (eight).

Hartline's tenure at Kentucky has been marked with controversy, as he made a few not-so-choice public remarks in regard to his being replaced by Randall Cobb last year.

Do you really want your quarterback creating dissension?

Hartline was supposed to be the heir apparent to the quarterback legacy at Kentucky following the likes of Jared Lorenzen, Tim Couch, and Andre Woodson. He has not lived up to expectations.

Kentucky needs help at quarterback, and right now, the Wildcats don't have it.

Finally, there is Jonathon Crompton at Tennessee. See Hartline above minus the creating of dissension.

But with this being Crompton's senior season, and with a new offensive coordinator and head coach, things can only get better.

Crompton was supposed to have a great arm, but with a completion percentage that hovers just above 51 percent and a quarterback Rating of 98.13, it has not surfaced.

The bottom line is that the top six quarterbacks in the SEC could probably play anywhere in the country. The next three would probably start in a lot of conferences and do very well. The bottom three just need a lot of coaching, and they may run out of time before they get that coaching.

So Stoops is right about those ranked No. 10 through No. 12, but the vast majority of the SEC quarterbacks are good enough to have to be reckoned with in any conference in the country.

For those of you who are naysayers and agree with Stoops, I will just leave you with this: It is easier to look like a great quarterback when you don't have to play against SEC defenses week in and week out.


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