SEC loaded with quality quarterbacks


Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will be looking for a season similar to last year's Heisman Trophy campaign. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Published: Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 7:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 12:30 a.m.

As spring football practices around the South wind down, it's clear that the most important position on every college football team is in good hands in the SEC. All 14 teams return quarterbacks who have seen action in the SEC and 10 of them return the quarterback who started a majority of the games for those teams last season.

There aren't a lot of big shoes to fill. Arkansas' Tyler Wilson and Tennessee's Tyler Bray are both expected to be second or third-round picks in the NFL Draft that starts Thursday. Vanderbilt's Jordan Rodgers will either be a late pick or a free agent.

So how do the SEC quarterbacks rate for 2013. I'm projecting who will be the starter at each school, and their position in these ratings is not just based on their skill but the situation each quarterback is dealing with at his school.

1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: I think Manziel may have a season that doesn't live up to last year's because he loses his tackles and will have the bull's-eye on his back for an entire season, But how can you go with anybody but the defending Heisman Trophy winner?

2. A.J. McCarron, Alabama: You may see a guy in the right place at the right time, but when Alabama has needed McCarron to make a big throw, he makes a big throw. You see a manager of the game, I see a guy with a bunch of rings. And in the end, that's what matters most.

3. Aaron Murray, Georgia: Murray cut down on his interceptions last year, but I can also point to his numbers in the two biggest regular-season games of the year. Against South Carolina and Florida, he threw one touchdown and four interceptions. Still, this is a guy with a legitimate shot to break Danny Wuerffel's SEC record for career touchdown passes.

4. Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, South Carolina: Both are going to play this season and will cause defenses fits because they are so different. Shaw is a tough guy who can give the Gamecock offense a running threat while Thompson can really spin it. Shaw's ability to deal with getting yanked will have a lot to say about this season, but he should be used to it by now.

5. Jeff Driskel, Florida: Driskel's first season as a starter saw a lot of good things, but he needs to take another step forward if Florida is going to duplicate last year's overachieving team. I'm just not sure the weapons are there to allow him to have a big season, and you have to think his running will be limited because of the lack of experience behind him.

6. Tyler Russell, Mississippi State: Russell is in his fifth year in Dan Mullen's system and could be ready to be an elite quarterback. Seven of his 10 interceptions last year came against Alabama, Ole Miss and Northwestern in the bowl game so he has to improve his performances in the big games.

7. Zach Mettenberger, LSU: Will new coordinator Cam Cameron bring out the best in the LSU quarterback or is this just who he is? That's the big question with Mettenberger. He had his moments last year and got better as the season progressed, but there were times when you wondered what he was thinking.

8. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss: The Rebels' surprising bowl season didn't come by accident. Wallace is exactly what coach Hugh Freeze wants at Ole Miss. But as much as I like the eight rushing touchdowns, I don't like the 17 interceptions. That has to get better.

9. James Franklin, Missouri: I feel like those of us in the SEC who were introduced to Franklin didn't really see him at his best because of injuries. His shoulder is healed and he had a good spring, but you keep going back to those four awful picks he threw against Florida.

10. Justin Worley, Tennessee: The kid has a good arm, but he won't have the benefit of having NFL receivers around him like Bray did. Even though he played last year, Worley is an unknown because of the coaching change and the talent Tennessee lost at the skill positions.

11. Jonathan Wallace, Auburn: There is a temptation to move Wallace up higher because he's running a Gus Malzahn offense with skilled receivers. And there is a temptation to move him down because we aren't even sure if he will start. We'll leave him here.

12. Austyn Carta-Samuels, Vanderbilt: The guy was a pretty good quarterback at Wyoming before transferring to Vanderbilt and showed some signs of a big arm last year. There's just not enough of a sample size to be convinced he's a big-time SEC player.

13. Jalen Whitlow, Kentucky: He may turn out to be special, and the hoopla over the hiring of Mark Stoops in Lexington may turn out to be justified. Until then, we have to go with the fact that in seven starts he had single-digit completions four times.

14. Brandon Allen, Arkansas: Somebody has to be last. Allen should beat out Brandon Mitchell for the job and will have to find some receivers to throw to. We'll call Allen the player most likely to prove me wrong. For now.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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