This is the first in a series of posts evaluating the SEC offensive skill positions.
The SEC flexed its muscles again in 2010, capturing a fifth straight BCS National Championship. Those five teams all had one thing in common — solid quarterback play. Whether it was Tim Tebow, Greg McElroy, or last year’s winner Cam Newton, confident play at the position was (and is) a must.
In 2011, most SEC teams still seem to be searching at quarterback. Only four of the twelve teams have ‘officially’ named starters, with the others carrying over quarterback battles into the fall.
As we do here at RBN each year entering the doldrums of summer, here’s our take on how the SEC’s 2011 trigger men stack up.
1. Aaron Murray, Sophomore, Georgia (3,049 PaYds, 24 TDs in 2010) – Despite the disappointing season for the Bulldogs, Murray made great strides in 2010 — his first year as a starter. The loss of stud wide receiver A.J. Green to the NFL might put a ceiling on his 2011 numbers, but we still think Murray can make improvement, even as he breaks in a new receiving corps.
2. Tyler Wilson, Junior, Arkansas (453 PaYds, 4 TDs in 2010) – We struggled mightily on whether or not to put Wilson at the top of this list despite the fact that the junior has never started a college game. Tyler’s performances last season subbing for Mallett vs. Auburn and Ole Miss proved he has the tools. The superior skill position talent around him on the Hogs’ offense gives him every chance in the world to succeed.
3. Stephen Garcia, Senior, South Carolina (3,059 PaYds, 20 TDs, 14 Ints in 2010) – We know, we know…Garcia is in the dog house…again. We have lost count of his arrests and suspensions, but it’s a given Spurrier will relent and let the troubled quarterback return as the starter. Garcia is a turnover machine, but has thrown for 37 TDs in the last two seasons. High risk, high reward. Sophomore Connor Shaw, a more dual-threat playmaker, is waiting in the wings just in case.
4. A.J. McCarron, Sophomore, Alabama (389 PaYds, 3 TDs in 2010) – After spending a few seasons watching Greg McElroy lead the Tide to 25 wins, McCarron is ready for his shot. The 6-4 sophomore from Mobile has a strong arm, and a great defense in his corner. While Bama coaches will tell you he is still in a battle with redshirt freshman Phillip Sims, we think McCarron will emerge and be solid in 2011.
5. Tyler Bray, Sophomore, Tennessee (1,849 PaYds, 18 TDs, 10 Ints in 2010) – After Matt Simms got his shot and whiffed last season, Bray came on and started the last half of the 2010 season. With few playmakers on the squad, Bray showed some flashes that make the UT faithful think he’s the guy. A 5-for-30 performance in the Vols spring game gave some fans pause, though, so stay tuned.
6. John Brantley, Senior, Florida (2,061 PaYds, 9 TDs, 10 Ints in 2010) – Man, did we swing and miss on Brantley last year or what? Brantley was a complete misfit in Urban Meyer’s spread offense. He looked like Peyton Manning in 7-on-7 drills, but when you put the live rush on him, he folded like a cheap suit. With the top quarterback recruit for 2011, Jeff Driskel, breathing down his neck, let’s see if new OC Charlie Weis can turn the maligned Brantley into a serviceable player in his final season.
7. Chris Relf, Junior, Mississippi State (1,789 PaYds, 713 RuYds, 18 Total TDs in 2010) – Relf continued to improve his game as the 2010 season went along. Throwing for 200+ yards in each of his last three games shows how far the dual-threat playmaker has come. Sophomore Tyler Russell, once thought of as the “QB of the future,” continues to hold the clipboard for Relf.
8. Jordan Jefferson, Senior, LSU (1,411 PaYds, 7 TDs, 10 Ints in 2010) – The Tigers keep looking for someone…anyone…to step in and replace the embattled, third-year starter. If anything, Jefferson regressed under former offensive coordinator Gary Crowton. Will new OC Steve Kragthorpe make a difference? Georgia transfer Zach Mettenberger is still battling to be the man, so keep an eye on JJ’s progress in the fall.
9. Morgan Newton, Junior, Kentucky (265 PaYds in 2010) – After throwing for 6 TDs as a freshman, Newton played in only five games in 2010. A solid season by senior Mike Hartline (24 TDs) kept Newton on the sideline. Explosive in the open field, the 6-4, 230 pound strong-armed quarterback could be the breakout player of the year in the SEC. However, key losses of wide receiver Randall Cobb and running back Derrick Locke to the NFL may put the Wildcats in a rebuilding mode in 2011.
10. Barrett Trotter, Junior OR Clint Moseley, Sophomore, Auburn – These two fought it out in the spring and neither one really emerged. The battle to replace Cam will continue into the fall according to OC Gus Malzahn. Trotter played in mop-up duty in 2010 (64 PaYds), but neither figure to be much more than a bridge to get to true freshman Kiehl Frazier (Shiloh Christian, Springdale, Arkansas), or top 2012 QB prospect-commit Zeke Pike.
11. Barry Brunetti, Sophomore OR Randall Mackey, Redshirt Junior OR Zack Stoudt, Junior, Ole Miss – I’m sure you’re not surprised to find the “Quarterback Killa’s” bunch near the bottom of this list. The battle will apparently continue into the fall. Brunetti has the most experience in Division I games going 4-for-9 passing, for 6 yards for West Virginia last season. Mackey, who is a run-pass threat, suffers from a speech problem that, “has caused him to have difficulty calling plays in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage.” Stoudt, originally signed by Louisville in 2008, is 6-5 and has a big arm, but limited mobility. ”It’s pretty close,” Nutt said. Oh, brother.
12. Larry Smith, Senior, Vanderbilt (1,262 PaYds, 6 TDs) – Not a lot of options here for the Commodores, so Larry Smith is the starter by default. Smith has started for the past two seasons, but his career 47.6 percent completion percentage on 508 attempts is uninspiring to say the least. Vandy signed three quarterbacks in the spring signing period, so life after Smith (in 2012) can only get better.