SEC Football Power Rankings: How Do Quarterbacks Stand Heading into Week 3?

Joe MorganSenior Analyst ISeptember 16, 2010

SEC Football Power Rankings: How Do Quarterbacks Stand Heading into Week 3?

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    TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 11:  Quarterback Greg McElroy #12 of the Alabama Crimson Tide against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 11, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    In football, the quarterback is both the most important and most scrutinized player on the field, which leads to intense pressure from coaches, teammates, fans, and the media.

    And in an elite college football conference like the SEC, facing top-notch defenses every Saturday raises the stakes even higher for quarterbacks.

    However, SEC quarterbacks have risen to the occasion and thrived under pressure.

    After the first two games of the 2010 season, five of them rank among the nation's top 15 in passing efficiency and all SEC quarterbacks have a combined 64.3 percent completion percentage.

    With no further ado, here's a power ranking of the SEC quarterbacks.

12. Matt Simms, Tennessee

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    Completion Percentage: 29-53 (54.7 percent)

    Touchdown Passes-Interceptions: 1-1

    Passing Yards: 332

    Passing Efficiency: 109.8

    In his first season at Tennessee, Volunteers head coach Derek Dooley has Matt Simms, the son of Super Bowl XXI MVP Phil Simms, as his starting quarterback.

    Simms, who comes to Knoxville from El Camino College, began his college career as a Louisville Cardinal, but transferred after backing up Hunter Cantwell his freshman season.

    While quarterbacking El Camino, Simms completed 159 of 269 passes for 2,204 yards and 17 touchdowns before breaking his hand late in the season.

    The 2010 season has been a shaky one for Simms, who has been thrown into the fire as the inexperienced quarterback of a young Tennessee football team and was a non-factor in the Vols' 48-13 loss to the No. 5 Oregon Ducks.

    However, as the season progresses, Simms will mature as a quarterback, step up as a leader for Dooley's football team, and position himself to be one of the SEC's top quarterbacks in 2011.

11. Larry Smith, Vanderbilt

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    Completion Percentage: 27-48 (56.3 percent)

    Touchdown Passes-Interceptions: 1-1

    Passing Yards: 310

    Passing Efficiency: 113.2

    Being a quarterback in the SEC is tough enough, but when you are the signal-caller at Vanderbilt, the SEC program with the conference's worst resources and smallest fanbase, you really have it bad.

    Meet returning starting quarterback Larry Smith, who led Vandy to a 16-14 victory over Boston College in the 2008 Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl.

    After a tough 2-10 season in 2009 and the abrupt resignation of head coach Bobby Johnson, Smith has stepped up his game so far this season, racking up 288 all-purpose yards in a close loss to Northwestern in the season opener.

    While a 27-3 loss to LSU in the second game of the season was a setback for Smith and his teammates, the junior quarterback relishes Vandy's underdog role and is eager to face the best opposing defenses have to offer.

10. Stephen Garcia, South Carolina

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    COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 28:  Stephen Garcia #5 of the South Carolina Gamecocks celebrates a second half touchdown against the Clemson Tigers at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 28, 2009 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images
    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Completion Percentage: 28-40 (70.0 percent)

    Touchdown Passes-Interceptions: 0-0

    Passing Yards: 358

    Passing Efficiency: 145.2

    Throughout his coaching career, Steve Spurrier has become famous for his "Fun 'n Gun" offense and high-scoring passing attacks.

    And while Spurrier had success with the likes of Danny Wuerffel and Rex Grossman at Florida, he has yet to find the right quarterback for his offense at South Carolina.

    Stephen Garcia was believed to be the answer for Spurrier, committing to South Carolina as a four-star prospect and one of the best prep quarterbacks in Florida.

    Garcia has been good during his time in Columbia, but the Gamecock offense has not been truly dynamic until the emergence of freshman running back Marcus Lattimore this season.

    Garcia certainly has the ability to be a top-notch passer and now that South Carolina has a legitimate threat in the running game in Lattimore, the passing game should open up more for the Gamecocks' starting quarterback.

9. Tyler Russell and Chris Relf, Mississippi State

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    Completion Percentage: 36-60 (60.0 percent)

    Touchdown Passes-Interceptions: 5-2

    Passing Yards: 501

    Passing Efficiency: 151.0

    While the quarterback situation at Mississippi State is somewhat up in the air, you can't complain about the numbers competing quarterbacks Tyler Russell and Chris Relf are putting up.

    Granted, the offense gained less than 250 total yards in their 17-14 loss to Auburn last week, but with a playbook like Dan Mullen's, the yards and points will come eventually.

    Relf (left), who rushed for 500 yards and two touchdowns last season, is a dual-threat quarterback whereas Russell is more of a pocket passer.

    However, in terms of which quarterback is the starter, Mullen goes with the experienced junior Relf, who led the final drive against Auburn last Thursday.

    However, don't be surprised if both quarterbacks see significant time for the rest of the season.

8. Mike Hartline, Kentucky

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    LEXINGTON, KY - SEPTEMBER 19:  Mike Hartline #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats throws a pass during the game against the Louisville Cardinals at Commonwealth Stadium on September 19, 2009 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Completion Percentage: 33-46 (71.7 percent)

    Touchdown Passes-Interceptions: 3-0

    Passing Yards: 430

    Passing Efficiency: 171.8

    The man under center for the Kentucky and head coach Joker Phillips is senior Mike Hartline, who led the Wildcats to a 25-19 victory over the East Carolina Pirates in the 2009 Liberty Bowl.

    Hartline got the starting nod over speedster Randall Cobb and has performed very well in Kentucky's first two games, leading the 'Cats to a 23-16 victory over Louisville and a 63-28 pounding of Western Kentucky.

    In a season where perennial SEC East powers Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee are all dealing with inexperienced first-time starting quarterbacks, Kentucky could make a big move up in the standings with their veteran signal-caller.

    His experience and composure will really be put to the test when the Wildcats play at No. 10 Florida and Ole Miss and host No. 16 Auburn and No. 13 South Carolina in consecutive weeks.

7. Jordan Jefferson, LSU

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    ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 04:  Quarterback Jordan Jefferson #9 of the LSU Tigers against Gene Robinson #1 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Georgia Dome on September 4, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Completion Percentage: 23-41 (56.1 percent)

    Touchdown Passes-Interceptions: 2-2

    Passing Yards: 247

    Passing Efficiency: 113.0

    As a high school senior, LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson was one of the top prep passers in the nation, winning the Gatorade Player of the Year in Louisiana and earning a spot on the All-State first team.

    And while he has had success as the Tigers' starting quarterback, many believe he has underachieved in Baton Rouge.

    Jefferson won the Chick-fil-A Bowl MVP as a freshman and passed for 2,166 yards and 17 touchdowns during his sophomore season, but after back-to-back eight-win seasons, he still doesn't have Tiger fans convinced.

    However, even after throwing for just 96 yards against Vanderbilt last week, LSU head coach Les Miles still believes in Jefferson and gave him a vote of confidence in the media this week.

    "I think Jordan Jefferson has run this team and can run this team," Miles said. "And whatever we can do to make him more aggressive playing quarterback for us is what we are going to do."

6. Aaron Murray, Georgia

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    COLUMBIA, SC - SEPTEMBER 11: Quarterback Aaron Murray #11 of the Georgia Bulldogs rolls out and looks downfield to pass during the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium on September 11, 2010 in Columbia, South Carolina. The G
    Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    Completion Percentage: 31-47 (66.0 percent)

    Touchdown Passes-Interceptions: 3-1

    Passing Yards: 352

    Passing Efficiency: 145.7

    After a 17-6 loss to South Carolina that was devoid of any offensive firepower from Georgia, things aren't looking good for the Bulldogs as they prepare to host Ryan Mallett and the No. 12 Arkansas Razorbacks.

    Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who signed with the Bulldogs as's No. 3 quarterback recruit, is the SEC's only freshman starting quarterback and his talent warrants that distinction.

    However, learning the college game while facing SEC competition will be tough for Murray, especially considering that the Dawgs were without running back Caleb King and wide receiver A.J. Green last Saturday.

    And until Murray gets those playmakers back, scoring consistently will be a tough task for the Bulldogs.

    To shed some optimism on the situation, having to operate the offense without Green and King creates some adversity for Murray at a young age.

    As a result, he will be battle-tested and used to performing under pressure, which will do wonders for his leadership ability in future seasons.

5. John Brantley, Florida

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    GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 11:  Quarterback John Brantley #12 of the Florida Gators attempts a pass during a game against the South Florida Bulls at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 11, 2010 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Im
    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Completion Percentage: 35-56 (62.5 percent)

    Touchdown Passes-Interceptions: 4-0

    Passing Yards: 285

    Passing Efficiency: 128.8

    Following a legend, hold it. You've read this article before. Brantley will face a difficult challenge replacing a school legend like Tim Tebow.

    You get it, so I won't bore you with it.

    Anyway, Brantley has been pretty average in his first two outings at the Gators' starting quarterback, but the victory over USF definitely showed some progress.

    The redshirt junior threw for 175 yards against the Bulls and began to throw down the field more regularly, connecting with wide receivers Deonte Thompson and Carl Moore for a combined 11 catches, 123 yards, and one touchdown.

    Florida coach Urban Meyer recently said that Brantley "has got to be a 200-plus-yard passer."

    With a receiving corps that includes Thompson, Moore, Omarius Hines, and Andre DeBose, that shouldn't be too much of a problem for the Gator gunslinger.

4. Jeremiah Masoli, Ole Miss

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    NEW ORLEANS - SEPTEMBER 11:  Jeremiah Masoli #8 of the Ole Miss Rebels looks to pass the ball against the the Tulane Green Wave at the Louisiana Superdome on September 11, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Ole Miss defeated Tulane 27-13.  (Photo by Chris G
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Completion Percentage: 21-30 (70.0 percent)

    Touchdown Passes-Interceptions: 1-2

    Passing Yards: 390

    Passing Efficiency: 176.9

    While a 49-48 double overtime loss to Jacksonville State put a damper on Jeremiah Masoli's Ole Miss debut, that shouldn't overshadow how much of a boost he gives the Rebels.

    His 176.9 passing efficiency in the 10th best mark in the nation and based on his performance last season in leading Oregon to a Pac-10 championship, Ole Miss could surprise a few people this season.

    While Masoli makes a lot of plays with his arm, he's a very dangerous runner as well, rushing for 1,442 yards and 24 touchdowns in his college career.

    The Rebels may not contend for the SEC West title in 2010, but with Masoli leading the offense, they could definitely be a spoiler.

3. Cameron Newton, Auburn

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    Completion Percentage: 20-33 (60.6 percent)

    Touchdown Passes-Interceptions: 5-1

    Passing Yards: 322

    Passing Efficiency: 186.5

    While the Florida Gators have a talented quarterback in John Brantley, it's too bad that things didn't work out for Cameron Newton in Gainesville.

    The Auburn Tigers' starting quarterback is the ideal quarterback for a spread offense, boasting a powerful throwing arm and a big physique (6' 6", 250 lbs) that is very useful when running in the open field.

    Additionally, Newton is determined to not only become an NFL quarterback, but have a successful college career in terms of winning as well.

    He led Blinn College to a NJCAA national championship last season and is determined to get Auburn to the SEC Championship Game before he leaves the Tigers.

    "I'm grateful I'm getting the opportunity," Newton told Bill Bryant of The Huntsville Times. "Every day there's a new thing for me to learn. I'm staying level-headed. I'm very comfortable here."

2. Greg McElroy, Alabama

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    TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 11:  Quarterback Greg McElroy #12 of the Alabama Crimson Tide of looks to pass against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 11, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Completion Percentage: 29-40 (72.5 percent)

    Touchdown Passes-Interceptions: 3-0

    Passing Yards: 447

    Passing Efficiency: 191.1

    Greg McElroy is a winner, plain and simple.

    The Alabama Crimson Tide's senior signal-caller has not lost a game as a starting quarterback since the eighth grade and he led 'Bama to a BCS National Championship in his first year as their starter.

    While most credit the Crimson Tide's success to their stellar running back duo of Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, McElroy is a crucial key to Nick Saban's championship team.

    McElroy quietly put up very good numbers, throwing for 2,508 yards, 17 touchdowns, and a 60.9 percent completion percentage in 2009.

    Alabama is a very talented team with a lot of weapons, but McElroy is the engine that makes the national championship-winning juggernaut click.

1. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas

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    GAINESVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 17: Quarterback Ryan Mallett #15 of the Arkansas Razorbacks releases a pass against the Florida Gators October 17, 2009 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Completion Percentage: 49-67 (73.1 percent)

    Touchdown Passes-Interceptions: 6-2

    Passing Yards: 701

    Passing Efficiency: 184.6

    Since transferring from Michigan to Arkansas, Ryan Mallett has become a star for head coach Bobby Petrino and the Arkansas Razorbacks.

    Mallett, who passed for 3,627 yards and 30 touchdowns last season, has the best arm in the SEC and he could very easily find himself in New York at the Heisman Trophy ceremony at season's end.

    Arkansas may be the only legitimate challenger to Alabama in the SEC West this season and if the Razorbacks want to make it to Atlanta, Mallett needs to have a Heisman-caliber season.

    Luckily for the folks in Little Rock, he's more than capable of doing so.

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