Unlike 2011 when the Southeastern Conference began the season with so many question marks at the quarterback position, there is experience and some star power heading into the fall. Nine starters return in the league, which expands to 14 teams with the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M from the Big 12 Conference, and three of the five schools that are undecided at the position after spring practice return a quarterback who was at least a part-time starter in 2011.
Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
The addition of Missouri brings James Franklin to the league and he just might be one of the finalists on the podium when they announce the winner of the Heisman Trophy in December. How good is he? As a sophomore and starting for the first time, Franklin accounted for 36 touchdowns and 3,846 yards of offense including nearly 1,000 on the ground.
Franklin and Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, last year’s first team All-SEC selection by both the coaches and Associated Press, will be the odds-on favorites to be the preseason All-SEC quarterback when those selections are named in July, but they aren’t the only ones with star quality. Alabama’s A.J. McCarron quarterbacked the Crimson Tide to a national championship; Aaron Murray of Georgia has thrown 59 touchdown passes in his 27 career starts; and Connor Shaw of South Carolina not only has an offense retooled to his talents but the best running back in the league (Marcus Lattimore) coming back to take the pressure off.
Here are Gator Bait’s post spring quarterback ratings for the SEC:
RATING THE STARTERS
1. James Franklin, Missouri (6-2, 225, JR): In his first year as a starter in 2011, Franklin led Missouri to an 8-5 record and a win over North Carolina in the Independence Bowl. Considered a Heisman Trophy candidate, Franklin completed 63.3 percent of his passes (238-376) while throwing for 2,865 yards (21 touchdowns, 11 picks) and ran for 981 yards for another 15 touchdowns. Of course, those numbers were against Big 12 defenses and SEC defenses are a totally different animal, but Franklin is such a talent that he should put up big numbers in 2012 also.
2. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas (6-3, 220, SR): With John L. Smith taking over as head coach, Wilson won’t have to worry that there will be any changes to the offense since Bobby Petrino learned the scheme from Smith at Louisville. He threw for 3,638 yards and 24 touchdowns (6 interceptions) in 2011 so he’s coming off an excellent season. The concern is who to throw to? Arkansas lost four of its top five wide receivers from last season.
3. A.J. McCarron, Alabama (6-4,205, RJR): What does McCarron do for an encore after going 12-1 and winning a national starter as a sophomore? He completed 66.8 percent of his passes for 2,634 yards and 16 touchdowns while throwing only five interceptions. He may not make a lot of big plays but he doesn’t make mistakes that will cost a game, either, and has the potential to get much, much better.
4. Aaron Murray, Georgia (6-1, 211, JR): With 27 straight starts he is the most experienced quarterback in the SEC. As a sophomore he threw for 3,149 yards and 35 touchdowns but he also threw 14 picks. He has 6,198 yards, 59 touchdowns and 22 interceptions in his career. His resume lacks a signature win over a top tier team – he’s 2-8 against ranked teams with his best win over #20 Auburn last year.
Aaron Murray, Georgia
5. Connor Shaw, South Carolina (6-1, 204, JR): Shaw won eight of his nine starts in 2011, completing 112-171 passes for 1,218 yards and 12 touchdowns (6 interceptions), while running for 483 yards (4.2 per carry) and seven touchdowns. He got better as the season progressed and his ability to run the ball has caused Steve Spurrier to revamp his offense from pro-style to spread.
6. Tyler Bray, Tennessee (6-6, 210, JR): Bray missed five starts with a fractured thumb last year but was 4-3 in the games he started. Bray threw for 1,983 yards and 17 touchdowns (only 6 interceptions) in his seven games last year and has 3,832 yards and 35 touchdowns (16 picks) in his career. For Tennessee to reverse a losing trend, Bray has to come through with a big season.
7. Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt (6-2, 205, SR): Rodgers was 3-4 as a starter last year, completing 108-216 passes for 1,524 yards and nine touchdowns (10 interceptions). He also gave the Commodores some mobility at the position, running for 420 yards and four touchdowns. Rodgers and wide receiver Jordan Matthews could be one of the more dangerous combinations in the league this year.
9. Maxwell Smith (6-4, 220, SO): When he took over as the starter the Kentucky offense showed some life last year. He threw for 769 yards and four touchdowns in his four starts. Kentucky's offense has been more of a dink and dunk passing game the last few years, but Smith has the best arm since 2007 when Andre Woodson threw for 40 touchdowns and this year he's got more speed on the outside.
AUBURN; Incumbent Clint Moseley (6-4, 223, RJR) was limited in the spring with an injured shoulder and that allowed Kiehl Frazier (6-2, 220, SO) to move to the #1 slot heading into August ahead of Moseley and Zeke Pike (6-6, 229). Frazier only threw 12 passes last year (5 completions, 34 yards, 2 interceptions) but he ran for 327 yards and three touchdowns. Moseley threw for 800 yards and five touchdowns but he will have to have an outstanding August to wrestle the job from Frazier.
FLORIDA: Florida goes into August with a neck and neck battle going on at quarterback between sophomores Jeff Driskel (6-4, 235) and Jacoby Brissett (6-3, 229). They both saw action as true freshmen last year and Florida coach Will Muschamp says the Gators can win with either one. The competition is so close and they’re both so talented that it’s entirely possible the Gators will run a two-quarterback system.
LSU: Zach Mettenberger (6-5, 222, RJR), whose career began at Georgia and has taken him to Butler County Community College, finally gets to take the wheel of the LSU program. He saw spot duty last year, completing 8-11 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown. He’s considered a step up from the departed Jordan Jefferson and backup Jarrett Lee. Mettenberg gives the Tigers a quarterback with the arm to match the field-stretching speed LSU has on the outside.
Jacoby Brissett, Florida
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Tyler Russell (6-4, 220, JR), who threw for 1,034 yards (69-129) and eight touchdowns as a part-time starter will get the starting nod. Russell has the arm but can he run the option? He had 33 carries for 45 yards on the ground last season. If Dan Mullen makes this more of a pass first offense instead of an option team, Russell could be very effective.
OLE MISS: Randall Mackey (5-11, 195, SR) was the incumbent starter but he played wide receiver and running back after dropping to third on the depth chart behind juco transfer Bo Wallace (6-5, 215, RS)), who led East Mississippi Community College to a 12-0 record and the juco national championship in 2011, and Barry Brunetti (6-0, 215, RJR), who started two games. Wallace has the strong arm and the pocket presence to win the job and lead the offense.
TEXAS A&M Jameill Showers (6-2, 219, RSO) got the only quarterback snaps in 2011 not taken by Ryan Tannehill, completing 4-5 passes for 80 yards and running the ball four times for 33 yards and a touchdown. Showers is in a battle with freshman Johnny Manziel (6-1, 200, FR), who enrolled in January. Head coach Kevin Sumlin isn’t expected to decide on a starter until August, but whoever wins the job can expect to throw the ball about 40 times a game.