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The Best (And Worst) SEC Quarterback Situations Entering 2014

quarterback-silhouette-question-markUsing statistics from a previous season is not always the best way to predict which school will thrive at the quarterback position in an upcoming year.  There are injuries to consider.  Not just to the QB but to his offensive line or receivers.

There are always surprises, players who come from nowhere to become stars.  Two years ago there was a four-way battle for the signal-caller spot in Kevin Sumlin’s brand new Texas A&M offense.  The winner was a small fella who Texas had actually recruited to play safety.  But Johnny Manziel went on to win the Heisman in just his first season.

Last offseason, Auburn’s quarterback battle appeared to be a four-way battle as well.  But the two holdovers from 2012 were quickly chucked from the race.  A pair of newcomers — the runner Nick Marshall and the thrower Jeremy Johnson — wound up duking things out.  The former Georgia defensive back, Marshall, earned the starting gig and led the Tigers to the brink of a BCS championship.

Before we look at 2014, let’s take a quick look back at 2012 and 2013.  Below you’ll find the 2012 total offense numbers for each school’s top returning QB.  Farther to the right you’ll find the 2013 total offense numbers for each school’s top quarterback for comparison.  Again, be careful not to draw too many conclusions:

 

  School   Top 2012 QB Returning   Total Off. 2012   Yds/Gm 2012   Top 2013 QB   Total Off. 2013   Yds/Gm 2013   SEC Rec.   Overall Rec.
  Texas A&M   J. Manziel   5116   393.5   J. Manziel   4873   374.8   4-4   9-4
  Georgia   A. Murray   3825   273.2   A. Murray   3261   296.5   5-3   8-5
  Ole Miss   B. Wallace   3384   260.3   B. Wallace   3701   284.7   3-5   8-5
  Alabama   AJ McCarron   2937   209.8   AJ McCarron   3041   233.9   7-1   11-2
  Miss. State   T. Russell   2892   222.5   D. Prescott   2769   251.7   3-5   7-6
  LSU   Z. Mettenberger   2401   184.7   Z. Mettenberger   2949   245.8   5-3   10-3
  S. Carolina   C. Shaw   2391   217.4   C. Shaw   3005   231.2   6-2   11-2
  Florida   J. Driskel   2054   171.2   T. Murphy   1277   141.8   3-5   4-8
  Missouri   J. Franklin   1684   187.1   J. Franklin   2939   267.1   7-1   12-2
  Kentucky   J. Whitlow   1007   100.7   J. Whitlow   1492   124.3   0-8   2-10
  Auburn   J. Wallace   872   96.9   N. Marshall   3044   234.2   7-1   12-2
  Vanderbilt   A. Carta-Samuels   225   37.5   A. Carta-Samuels   2382   238.3   4-4   9-4
  Arkansas   B. Allen   183   36.6   B. Allen   1581   143.7   0-8   3-9
  Tennessee   J. Worley   134   26.8   J. Worley   1295   161.8   2-6   5-7

 

As you can see, the numbers from one year don’t always mean very much heading into the next year.  So even though the list below of returning total offense leaders is stacked up by total yards gained, you’ll find that our grades don’t always mesh with those 2013 stats.  Here’s our quickie take on the best, worst, good and bad SEC quarterback situations rolling into 2014:

 

  School   Top 2013 QB Returning   Total Off. 2013   Yds/Gm 2013   Our View of Situation
  Ole Miss   B. Wallace   3701   284.7   Good, Just needs to keep cutting down on turnovers
  Auburn   N. Marshall   3044   234.2   Best, But Marshall still needs to improve as a passer
  Miss. State   D. Prescott   2769   251.7   Good, Prescott was a solid leader in ’12 when healthy
  Arkansas   B. Allen   1581   143.7   Worst, Injuries were an issue, but Allen needs work
  Kentucky   J. Whitlow   1492   124.3   Bad, Likely an open race as Whitlow’s health always a ?
  Missouri   M. Mauk   1300   100.0   Good, Mauk showed he’s a solid heir to the job
  Tennessee   J. Worley   1295   161.8   Bad, An open race once between up to 4 guys
  Georgia   H. Mason   960   240.0   Good, Mason wasn’t great, but he should be ready for ’14
  Vanderbilt   P. Robinette   856   85.6   Bad, If Franklin walks out how will new coach see/use him?
  S. Carolina   D. Thompson   810   101.2   Good, But not great… he’s not been a Shaw clone to date
  Florida   J. Driskel   515   171.6   Bad, New OC and likely an open competition
  Texas A&M   M. Joeckel   293   73.2   Good, Whoever gets the nod should excel in Sumlin’s system
  Alabama   B. Sims   228   28.5   Good, The people around Bama’s QB will help a lot
  LSU   A. Jennings   199   22.1   Good, Beat Arkansas and Iowa and run game will help

 

We’re not factoring in freshmen because we’ve yet to reach signing day and who knows which commitments might flip-flop between now and then?

One thing is clear looking at this SEC quarterback chart — the league should shift back to more of a defense-first conference next season.  In 2013, a combination of young defenses, veteran quarterbacks and the proliferation of hurry-up offenses inside the league conspired to “soften” the SEC in terms of defense.  In 2012, SEC defenses allowed 42,609 in conference-only games.  That number ballooned to 46,600 yards in 2013.  On average, SEC defenses allowed about 70 yards per game more in 2013 than they did in 2012.

With newcomers expected to take over at so many schools and with defenses that should be a bit more veteran in 2014, we suspect that total-yards-allowed number to drop a bit, even with all of the hurry-up offenses currently being utilized across Dixie.  That’s because only about half of the league’s teams — Ole Miss, Auburn, Mississippi State, Missouri, Georgia, South Carolina and LSU — have a pretty firm grasp on who’ll be taking their offense’s snaps in the season ahead.

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Quarterback Play Down Across The SEC

It’s not been a banner year for signal-callers in the Southeastern Conference.  Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, and Georgia stand alone as teams who’ve gotten enough success from their starter (or starters in LSU’s case) to not require a quarterback change.

The other eight schools in the league have either had to shuffle QBs in an effort to find a quality starter or they have had to replace an injured starter.

Below, is a comparison of each SEC program’s passing averages from 2010 to 2011.  The schools are listed according to their yards per game averages from a season ago.  A red number in a 2011 column signifies a downturn in productivity:


School
Comp. % ’10
Comp. % ’11
Yds/Gm ’10
Yds/Gm ’11
Yds/Att ’10
Yds/Att ’11
Rating ’10
Rating ’11
Arkansas
64.7
63.4
333.7
321.9
9.3
8.5
162.19
149.23
Kentucky
65.1
45.5
269.3
117.0
7.6
4.3
144.08
85.29
Alabama
69.9
66.7
261.2
228.4
9.4
8.0
167.79
144.06
Tennessee
56.8
61.0
254.5
261.0
7.9
8.2
136.45
146.05
Georgia
60.7
61.1
242.4
248.7
8.8
8.4
152.97
151.61
S. Carolina
64.8
56.8
238.4
200.4
8.6
6.8
147.63
119.35
Auburn
65.5
54.5
214.4
163.5
10.1
6.4
180.56
117.73
Ole Miss
56.1
51.1
192.3
160.6
7.0
6.4
123.30
105.80
Miss. State
58.2
56.6
185.5
196.1
8.4
6.7
139.25
119.54
Florida
60.4
59.4
184.3
178.0
6.3
7.6
117.30
125.13
Vanderbilt
46.9
51.4
159.4
140.1
5.3
5.3
95.55
94.71
LSU
57.5
63.6
155.6
183.1
6.7
8.3
117.59
162.42



Observations:

Alabama – The Tide’s passing numbers are down across the board, but that’s to be expected with a first-time starter taking over for a graduated senior.  The slight decrease in passing numbers hasn’t hurt Alabama and AJ McCarron has done better than expected managing Jim McElwain’s offense.

Arkansas – Again, the numbers are down, but how could they not be?  The Hogs lost a superstar in Ryan Mallett, yet Tyler Wilson’s stats are certainly comparable.  That’s one reason he’s a finalist for the Unitas Award. 

Auburn – Those are some massive drop-offs, folks.  The Tigers have simply not been able to find anything close to a replacement for Cam Newton.  The passer rating decline from 180 to 117 tells you all you need to know.  To be fair to Barrett Trotter, Kiehl Frazier and now Clint Moseley, they’ve been surrounded by new parts all across the offense.

Florida – The Gators’ numbers are similar to last year’s and that’s not a good thing.  Some fans are wondering if Charlie Weis is all he’s cracked up to be.  But it has to be pointed out that the Gators lost John Brantley against Alabama and had to play two of the best defenses in recent SEC history with a pair of true freshmen.  UF’s numbers — especially against Auburn — would have likely been better if Brantley had played.

Georgia — The numbers for UGA’s Aaron Murray are remarkably consistent with his 2010 performance.  While some might complain that there’s been no clear growth for the QB numbers-wise, it’s important to note that Murray’s numbers have shown no noticeable decline despite the loss of all-world receiver AJ Green.

Kentucky – The Cats’ 2010 starter, Mike Hartline, just looks better by the week.  Yards per passing attempt is one of the most telling stats in football.  Seldom will you find a good team with low yards per attempt number or vice versa.  Typically, a team wants to get that number to 8.0 or better.  UK’s is an unbelievable 4.3 yards per attempt.  That’s historically bad.

LSU – There’s been no bigger surprise in the SEC than the improvement shown at the quarterback position by LSU.  Jarrett Lee looks like a totally different player under Steve Kragthorpe and Greg Studrawa.  And his numbers have not taken a hit with the return of Jordan Jefferson, either.  (If we factored in Jefferson’s rushing numbers, LSU’s QB production would look even better… and Auburn’s even worse.)  The Tigers’ passer rating has jumped from 117 to 162 this season.  Remarkable.

Miss. State — Most of the Bulldogs’ passing numbers are comparable to last season’s figures.  But Chris Relf’s inability to improve on a solid 2010 campaign is reflected in the team’s overall passer rating.  There’s a reason Tyler Russell has been given the reins to the offense.

Ole Miss — The Rebels have used three starters and the team’s passing numbers have fallen across the board.  Somewhere, ex-offensive coordinator Dave Rader sits and chuckles.

S. Carolina – It’s probably time to stop calling Steve Spurrier a “quarterback guru.”  He once was an offensive genius, but he never developed quarterbacks — at least not for the pro game — even when he was at his peak.  Steve Spurrier’s constant badgering had to have played some small role in Stephen Garcia’s backslide.  Only once in the past five seasons — with Garcia last year — has Spurrier’s team ranked in the top half of the SEC in passer rating.

Tennessee — Tyler Bray was on pace for a record-breaking year in Knoxville before breaking his thumb late in UT’s loss to Georgia.  (Of course, it must be pointed out that once again, Bray did not have to face the full meat of Tennessee’s schedule in compiling his big stats.)  The team’s numbers will likely continue to fall off as Matt Simms and true freshman Justin Worley battle for playing time.  This is one case where injury robbed an SEC squad of a clear-cut, good quarterback.

Vanderbilt – With the exception of an improved completion percentage, the Commodore aerial attack has looked awfully similar to that of last year’s 2-10 bunch.  Jordan Rodgers’ 10 of 27 effort (1 TD and 2 interceptions) against Army in his first start doesn’t inspire much confidence in a late-season VU turnaround in the passing game.

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