SEC quarterbacking is a big mess


Published: Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 5:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 5:45 p.m.

Here's the thing — it's possible to get to the SEC Championship Game without a big-time quarterback. For evidence I give you Casey Dick, Ben Leard, Wayne Madkin and Brian Burgdorf.

And just because you have a big-time quarterback doesn't mean you get there. Ask Tim Couch, Eli Manning, JaMarcus Russell and Matthew Stafford. They were all the first picks in the NFL Draft without playing in Atlanta.

So just because an SEC team has a volatile quarterback situation in the spring doesn't eliminate it from its hopes and dreams of playing for a conference title. But it may eliminate it as being one of the teams who can play for it all.

The SEC has won four straight national championships and all four have been won with quarterbacks who had experience and were set in their jobs. Chris Leak was a fourth-year starter in 2006. Matt Flynn was a fifth-year senior who had a bowl game start entering his senior year. Tim Tebow had a Heisman Trophy in his pocket before the 2008 national title season. Greg McElroy was a fourth-year junior with playing experience and was entrenched as the starter in the spring before leading Alabama to the title last season.

This is not to say that there are SEC schools who should give up hope of playing for a national title this season. Well, not because of quarterback play anyway.

But the league is a bit of a mess at the position as we finish up spring football.

Alabama knows its has a proven winner in McElroy. Arkansas has the best quarterback in the league in Ryan Mallett. Florida has a quarterback in John Brantley with perhaps the league's best arm and three years of soaking up knowledge behind Tebow.

The rest? Not so hot.

Wait, you say. This is Jordan Jefferson's breakthrough year at LSU. Except that he has been outplayed in the spring by Jarrett Lee. If you don't remember Lee in 2008, it's probably because you were one of the few people who didn't return one of his interceptions for a touchdown.

Tennessee's most experienced quarterback, Nick Stephens, quit the team. That left the job for junior college transfer Matt Simms, who responded in the next scrimmage by completing 8-of-25 passes. Freshman Tyler Bray, by all accounts, isn't ready to play in the SEC.

Vanderbilt's starter is Larry Smith, who didn't complete 50 percent of his passes and threw for four, count 'em, four touchdowns last year.

Kentucky appears ready to go back to Mike Hartline, who will have Morgan Newton breathing down his neck. Hartline has been shaky at best during his time at Kentucky.

At Georgia, the best quarterback in camp has been Zack Mettenberger. Trouble is he's suspended for the opener. Mark Richt can't seem to decide between Logan Gray and Aaron Murray.

At Mississippi State, Chris Relf and Tyler Russell are battling for the job. Scare anybody?

Cam Newton, the former Florida quarterback, is expected to start at Auburn. Good for him. He could be the guy out of this collection who will emerge. But we'll see.

Ole Miss is going with a rookie in Nathan Stanley. South Carolina starter Stephen Garcia would look like a rock except he and Steve Spurrier aren't happy with each other.

A lot of things can chance between now and the first game of fall. A lot of things can change during the season. Coaches around the league will have plenty of time to adjust to the strengths of their quarterbacks and design offenses that take advantage of their skills.

But for the SEC to retain its title as the best league in America, the quarterback play is going to have to be better than it looks like it will be.

Because right now, I see a big mess.

Which is good if you're Alabama, Arkansas or Florida.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. You can listen to The Pat Dooley Show weekdays from 4-6 p.m. on 104.9 FM. And follow at http://Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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