How important is the quarterback position? How far do you think Auburn would have gotten without Cam Newton in 2010? How good do you think Texas A&M would have been last season minus Johnny Manziel?
No single player can quickly flip the fortunes of a football program like a quarterback. And in the cases of Newton, Manziel, and also Tim Tebow, being a dual-threat quarterback can make a player’s impact even more profound.
Last season, the top 12 total offense leaders in the SEC were quarterbacks. Nine will return in 2013. Three will have to be replaced:
|| Rush Yds
|| Pass Yds
|| Total Yds
| Johnny Manziel
|| Texas A&M
| Aaron Murray
| Tyler Bray
| Tyler Wilson
| Bo Wallace
|| Ole Miss
| AJ McCarron
| Tyler Russell
|| Miss. State
| Jordan Rodgers
| Zach Mettenberger
| Connor Shaw
|| S. Carolina
| Jeff Driskel
| James Franklin
So who’s in the best position at the most important position as spring practice sessions kick off across the SEC?
Good To Go
Texas A&M — In terms of athletic ability and electrifying potential, no team is in better shape than Texas A&M. The return of the Heisman-winning Manziel should guarantee that the Aggies will be a nightmare for defensive coordinators once more. Manziel is spending the offseason working on his passing with the goal of being a better pocket-operator and less of a runner in 2013. Such a switch would help his pro potential, but we suspect the fleet-footed scrambler will still make a lot of plays with his legs this fall.
Alabama — In terms of intelligent leadership, no SEC team appears to be in better shape than Alabama. McCarron’s insane touchdown-to-interception ratio and his coming out party in the BCS title game will put him in the Heisman race with Manziel.
Georgia — Aaron Murray decided to pass on the NFL and return to Athens for his senior season. With a Bulldog defense that’s having to rebuild in 2013, it’s likely Murray and the offense will be called upon to put up some massive numbers. If that happens, Murray could establish himself statistically as the best quarterback to ever slip on the silver britches.
South Carolina — Connor Shaw isn’t dripping with pro potential. Arguably, he’s more a runner than a pure passer. But the kid’s a winner. Since Stephen Garcia was dismissed in 2011 and Shaw was given an on-field promotion, Carolina has gone 16-3 in games in which the 6-1 senior has played. USC will need to give him help from the running back position, but Shaw’s proven he can manage a game well and make big plays when necessary.
LSU — The preseason hype for juco transfer Zach Mettenberger was too much last year. With the exception of a standout performance against Alabama in Baton Rouge, the ex-Georgia QB was too up and down last year. If new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron can teach him, Mettenberger might be set for the biggest one-year jump in the league this fall.
Ole Miss – Bo Wallace is a poor man’s Manziel. He’ll need to cut way down on his interceptions (he tossed 17 last season) moving forward, but his performance in 2012 was good enough to lead the surprising Rebels to a winning record and a bowl win.
Miss. State — Tyler Russell put up some solid numbers in 2012. Unfortunately, he was expected to put up record-shattering numbers with a host of veteran wideouts. Expect improvement this season as Russell now has a full year of starting experience under his belt.
Florida — Jeff Driskel showed flashes of Tebow-esque ability for the Gators last season. But for a season of football, Driskel managed to throw just 12 touchdown passes all year long. In eight of his 12 starts he completed fewer than 15 passes. Will Muschamp wants to run the ball first, yes, but Driskel will need to show improvement as a passer in 2013 if the Gators are to grow on offense.
Missouri — James Franklin returns from an injury-plagues, lackluster season. Corbin Berkstresser — his main backup last year — returns as well. But Tiger fans are hoping Maty Mauk can jump both of the aforementioned and steal Mizzou’s starting job. If we believed Franklin could stay healthy and that coach Gary Pinkel believed in him, we’d say he’s got the most upside of any SEC quarterback out there. But we don’t.
Wide Open (alphabetical order)
Arkansas — Brandon Mitchell is moving back to quarterback this spring after spending the 2012 season at receiver. He’ll do battle with Brandon Allen who served as Tyler Wilson’ primary backup a year ago.
Auburn — Jonathan Wallace showed glimpses of promise late last year, but Kiehl Frazier will be in the mix as well. Gus Malzahn has spoken of his faith in Frazier, having recruited him to AU. But before leaving for Arkansas State two years ago, Malzahn steered clear of letting Frazier throw the ball when he did use him. Last year, under Gene Chizik and offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, Frazier threw just two TDs against eight interceptions. For that reason: advantage Wallace.
Kentucky — The fan favorite is sophomore Kentucky native Patrick Towles. Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow will also be given an opportunity to grab the starting job this spring. Expect this battle to run into the fall.
Tennessee — Justin Worley has seen some spot duty serving as Tyler Bray’s understudy. Nathan Peterman was recruited to Cincinnati by new Vol coach Butch Jones, so there’s familiarity there. If neither player grabs the reins this spring, UT has a pair of hot quarterback prospects (Josh Dobbs, Riley Ferguson) who could be thrown into the fire come fall practice.
Vanderbilt — Austyn Carta-Samuels transferred in after starting for two years at Wyoming. Patton Robinette made a brief layover at North Carolina before signing with the Commodores. Give Carta-Samuels the edge due to experience, but James Franklin won’t be scared to go to the more mobile Robinette if need be.