This is the first in a series of posts evaluating the SEC offensive skill positions.
Over the next couple of weeks as we approach SEC Media Days (July 16-18), we thought we’d take a quick look at the SEC’s best when it comes to the offensive side of the ball. Solid quarterback play was one of the reasons Alabama was able to capture back-to-back National Championships — the league’s seventh straight.
Here’s the RBN take on how the SEC’s 2013 trigger men stack up.
1. Johnny Manziel, Sophomore, Texas A&M (3,706 PaYds, 26 TDs, 1,410 RuYds, 21 TDs in 2012) – Wow…what a season. Manziel emerged as the starter in fall camp and took the college football world by storm. His 5,116 total yards and 47 touchdowns set SEC records and were enough to make him the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. With key losses in the Aggie offensive line, can ‘Johnny Football’ give an encore performance in 2013?
2. A.J. McCarron, Senior, Alabama (2,933 PaYds, 30 TDs, 3 Ints in 2012) – The most important stat for McCarron are those two National Championship trophies he has helped bring to Tuscaloosa. McCarron is the perfect quarterback for Saban, as he will not beat his team by turning the ball over – only three interceptions in 2012. Last year he was asked to do more and he delivered, raising his TDs from 16 to 30. With talented wide receivers like Amari Cooper and Chris Black, he might top those numbers in 2013.
3. Aaron Murray, Senior, Georgia (3,893 PaYds, 36 TDs, 10 Ints in 2012) – We had Murray and McCarron flipped-flopped in this list last year. Back-to-back BCS championships will do that. Experts will tell you Murray made a mistake coming back for his senior year, as he would have been the number one quarterback taken in the draft. Stud running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall should help take the heat off of Murray and give the Bulldogs an explosive offense again.
4. Bo Wallace, Junior, Ole Miss (2,994 PaYds, 22 TDs, 17 Ints in 2012) – Wallace had his ups and downs in his first journey through an SEC schedule. Head coach Hugh Freeze’s offense proved to be high octane when Wallace was throwing it to Rebels. With the signing of 5-star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell to go along with All-SEC receiver Donte Moncrief (979 yards, 10 TDs in 2012), we think Wallace will improve incrementally in 2013.
5. Connor Shaw, Senior (1,956 PaYds, 17 TDs in 2012) and Dylan Thompson, Junior (1,027 PaYds, 10 TDs in 2012), South Carolina – With Connor Shaw being dinged up virtually the whole season last year, Dylan Thompson showed to be a more than adequate backup. Combined the two threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 27 touchdowns. And if reports out of Columbia this spring are true, we will likely see a two-headed QB for 2013.
6. Tyler Russell, Senior, Mississippi State (2,897 PaYds, 24 TDs, 10 Ints in 2012) – Russell thrived in Dan Mullen’s system last year, setting career highs across the board. After the Cowbells started 7-0, hopes were high in Starkville. Losing five of their last six though — including to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl — left a bad taste for Bulldog fans. The lack of an elite supporting cast will likely put a ceiling on Russell’s numbers in his final campaign.
7. Jeff Driskel, Junior, Florida (1,646 PaYds, 12 TDs, 5 Ints in 2012) – Driskel struggled to put it all together in 2012. While he proved to be a dangerous runner, the former number one ranked high school quarterback failed to threaten defenses with his arm. With former Gator QB Jacoby Brissett transferring to North Carolina State, Driskel won’t have to look over his shoulder anymore. 2,400+ yards and 20 TDs aren’t out of reach in 2013.
8. Zach Mettenberger, Senior, LSU (2,609 PaYds, 12 TDs, 7 Ints in 2012) – We thought Mettenberger would have shown a little better last year, but like most quarterbacks the first time through the SEC slate, it wasn’t all roses. Les Miles seemed reluctant to put the game into Mettenberger’s hands, choosing to ‘ground and pound’ instead. Look for more of the same this season.
9. James Franklin, Senior, Missouri (1,562 PaYds, 10 TDs in 2012) – Franklin fought injuries during Mizzou’s first year in the SEC. The dual-threat playmaker found SEC defenses not as forgiving as the Big 12, and managed to play in only nine games as a result. With the freak WR Dorial Green-Beckham (6-6, 220. 4.5) primed for a breakout sophomore season, the Tigers and Franklin need to show improvement or Gary Pinkel may be the first ex-coach analyst on the new SEC Network.
10. Austyn Carta-Samuels, Senior, Vanderbilt (208 PaYds, TD in 2012) – After racking up 3,655 passing yards and 19 TDs in his first two years at Wyoming, Carta-Samuels transferred to Vandy and backed up Jordan Rodgers last season. ACS is a scrambler that can extend plays. He is a career 60 percent passer that should fare well with James Franklin’s unpredictable approach.
11. Brandon Allen, Sophomore, Arkansas (186 PaYds, TD, 3 Ints in 2012) – Given Allen’s shaky performances when given a chance last year, some may be surprised to see him this high on our list. Had the previous regime had the good sense to give him some game experience in lopsided losses, we might be feeling better about Allen’s learning curve in 2013. In the spring, Allen showed average arm strength, but proved accurate in the short passing game. Can he throw the ball downfield well enough to keep defenses from loading the box to stop Bret Bielema’s rushing attack? To be determined.
12. Max Smith (975 PaYds, 8 TDs in 2012) or Jalen Whitlow (801 PaYds, 3 TDs) or Patrick Towles (233 PaYds, TD), Kentucky – One of the three quarterback battles going into the fall, new coach Mark Stoops will have to decide how he wants to go. Smith is a pure passer that has proven to be accurate when healthy. Whitlow has great athleticism and can make plays with his feet. Given a suspect offensive line, Whitlow is the early line favorite to win the job.
13. Kiehl Frazier, Junior (753 PaYds, 2 TDs, 8 Ints in 2012) or Jonathan Wallace, Sophomore (720 PaYds, 4 TDs, 4 Ints), Auburn – Frazier has the inside track to win this job in the fall, as the former Shiloh Christian quarterback reunites with new head coach Gus Malzahn. Frazier was just plain awful a year ago, losing playing time to then true freshman Wallace. If Gus can turn either of these guys into a serviceable starter, we’ll be impressed.
14. Justin Worley, Junior (134 PaYds, 2 Ints in 2012) or Nathan Peterman, Freshman, Tennessee – Worley looks to be the guy here after subbing in for an injured Tyler Bray for three games in 2011. He saw little action last season, but by all accounts had a good spring. It wasn’t good enough to be named the starter by new head coach Butch Jones, though. Regardless, Worley and Peterman are just keeping the seat warm until incoming freshmen Joshua Dobbs or Riley Ferguson are ready.
Next time, we’ll take a look at the SEC’s best running backs for 2013.