The best quarterbacks in the SEC in 2012? (Part 4)

I think Tyler Wilson is the best quarterback in the SEC, but what do others think?

247 sports notes:

First in a series that goes position by position to rate the best players and units in the Southeastern Conference. Today: the quarterbacks.

Aaron Murray at GeorgiaGeorgia’s Aaron Murray will be the top rated quarterback in the SEC heading into the 2011 season.

In a league that’s known for its defensive linemen, it’s hard to overlook the quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference. This is a glamour position in the nation’s number one football league but this year there is no Tim Tebow or Cam Newton on the horizon. Even though there is only one returning starter with star quality stats in Georgia’s Aaron Murray, there is no lack of talent heading into 2011.

Now that spring football is over, here is an early look at the quarterback position, rating by units and individually.

SEC EAST

1. Georgia:Aaron Murray is the top returning quarterback in the league after throwing for 3,049 yards and 24 touchdowns (only eight picks) as a redshirt freshman in 2010. Murray won’t have the luxury of throwing to A.J. Green in 2011, but the Bulldogs will have competent receivers. If Murray gets the protection, he should build upon last year’s work to become an All-SEC type this year. Sophomore Hutson Mason is the backup but he threw only 17 passes last year. Behind him is talented freshman Christian LeMay, whose problems in high school kept him from playing as a senior, and redshirt freshmen Greg Bingham and Parker Welch.

2. Florida:John Brantley is the incumbent and now that he will have the chance to run a pro style offense instead of the spread and get his coaching from Charlie Weis, he should be substantially better in 2011. Although Brantley didn’t have a great spring game, he will benefit from three months of working in the film room with Weis before practice begins again in August. Given Weis’ track record with quarterbacks, Brantley could be the most improved player in the SEC next season. Behind him are athletic redshirt freshman Tyler Murphy and touted freshmen Jeff Driskel, the Gatorade National Player of the Year, and athletic Jacoby Brissett, who could play Division I basketball as well as football.

3. South Carolina:Stephen Garcia’s future at South Carolina is completely up in the air but even if the oft-troubled Garcia doesn’t come back, South Carolina should be in very good hands. Conner Shaw backed up Garcia last year and while he doesn’t have the arm strength that Garcia has, he’s less likely to throw into double coverage, too. He will be backed up by junior Seth Strickland, sophomore Andrew Clifford and redshirt freshman Dylan Thompson. Whoever quarterbacks the Gamecocks will be able to hand the ball off to Marcus Lattimore, the best running back in the conference and maybe the country, and throw to Alshon Jeffery, arguably the best wide receiver in the nation. That should take the pressure off and considering it’s Steve Spurrier who will be coaching the position, figure South Carolina will be productive at quarterback.

4. Tennessee: A quarterback controversy is entirely possible in Knoxville. The incumbent is Tyler Bray, who threw for 18 touchdowns and 1,849 yards as a true freshman, but Bray was 5-30 in the spring game while Matt Simms, who threw for eight touchdowns and 1,460 yards last season, threw for a touchdown and ran for a touchdown in the spring game and was much, much sharper. Bray will be given every chance to retain his starting job but if he falters, Simms has SEC starts under his belt. Neither quarterback got any real separation in the spring. Freshman Justin Worley, who enrolled early, showed a strong arm and good decision making skills in the spring. The other quarterback on the roster is Nash Nance, who redshirted last year as a freshman.

5. Kentucky:Morgan Newton at and watched senior Mike Hartline last season but when Hartline was ineligible to play in the bowl game, Newton took over and completed 21-36 passes for 211 yards. He threw for six touchdowns and 706 yards as a true freshman in 2009. Newton had a good spring that had some Kentucky observers comparing him to former UK standout Andre Woodson, who threw for 71 touchdowns and 7,224 yards as a starter in 2006-07. Newton’s backup figures to be true freshman Maxwell Smith, a strong armed kid from California who enrolled early and played well during spring practice.

6. Vanderbilt: The good news for new coach James Franklin is that he has a two-year starter in Larry Smith. That’s also the bad news because Smith has never completed more than 50 percent of his passes and he has averaged a little more than 5.0 yards per attempt. Those numbers better improve if Franklin intends to improve Vandy’s anemic offense. The backup is Jordan Rogers, who redshirted last season. He’s never been healthy since he’s been at Vandy but he’s a far better passer than Smith and with a good August, he could take over as the #1 QB. Rogers’ brother is Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rogers. Sophomore John Townsley and redshirt sophomore Charlie Goro back up Rogers and Smith.

SEC WEST

1. Arkansas:Bobby Petrino is such a good quarterbacks coach that whoever he lines up under center figures to be one of the best in the SEC. Tyler Wilson spent the 2010 season backing up Ryan Mallett, but he showed what he could do against Auburn last year when Mallett went down with a concussion. All Wilson did was complete 25-34 passes for 332 yards and four touchdowns. He comes into the season having thrown for 740 yards and seven touchdowns in his two years of apprentice work. Now Wilson is ready to start and considering he will be throwing to the nation’s best set of wide receivers and can hand the ball off to Knile Davis, who ran for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns last year, he figures to have something close to an All-SEC season. Behind Wilson are backups Brandon Mitchell, who impresses everyone with his strong arm and quick feet, and freshman Jacoby Walker, another big arm type who can run the ball as well.

2. Mississippi State: A year ago, who would have thought that Chris Relf would establish himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC? Everybody knew he could run the ball but he proved he can be a capable passer as well in leading the Bulldogs to a 9-4 record that included a smashing bowl win over Michigan. Relf threw for 1,776 yards and 12 touchdowns while rushing for 701 and five more out of Dan Mullen’s spread option offense. If Relf improves on those numbers, he could contend for All-SEC. Mullen has an experienced backup in Tyler Russell, who threw for 635 yards and five touchdowns last year as a redshirt freshman. Redshirt freshman Dylan Favre, the nephew of Brett Favre, had an outstanding spring and in the fall, Mullen brings in highly regarded Dak Prescott, a terrific athlete with outstanding size (6-4, 230).

3. LSU: On the SEC Coaches Teleconference on Wednesday, Les Miles went on and on about the strides Jordan Jefferson made in the spring under new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe. Jefferson is a terrific athlete who is better known for running the ball (383 yards and six touchdowns in 2010) than throwing it although he did throw for 17 touchdowns and 2,166 yards as a sophomore in 2009. If Jefferson can hold his position and actually excel, it would allow Miles to redshirt big arm juco transfer Zach Mettenberger, the former Georgia signee. Senior Jarrett Lee, who has started nine games and thrown 18 touchdown passes in his career, is a capable backup. Metterberger has the best physical tools of the three but Miles has made it very clear that he would be most comfortable with a senior starter at quarterback. In the all, those three will be joined by athletic Jerrard Randall, who might end up at another position before his career is through.

4. Alabama: A.J. McCarron always looked good in his relief appearances for Greg McElroy (completed 30-48 passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns) but now he has to prove he can be the starter. That’s going to be a tough job since he couldn’t distance himself in the spring from redshirt freshman Phillip Sims. Mark Ingram is gone from the offense as is Julio Jones, but Alabama has competent receivers in Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks, and tailback Trent Richardson figures to have a monster season, so neither McCarron or Sims will have to be great. All they will have to do is avoid fumbling and throwing the ball to the other team to be competent. Freshman Phillip Ely will make all the road trips but he’s got to spend his first year in the weight room getting strong enough to play Division I football.

5. Auburn: No one will have a greater statistical dropoff at the quarterback position than Auburn. Auburn doesn’t have one quarterback capable of matching Cam Newton’s Heisman Trophy stats of 2,854 passing yards and 30 touchdowns to go with 1,473 rushing yards and another 20 touchdowns and no one is sure there are any two who could put up those numbers. Barrett Trotter, who ran for 68 yards and passes for 64 more last year, ended the spring locked in a battle with redshirt freshman Clint Moseley, but no one would be surprised if they have to take a backseat to hotshot freshman Kiehl Frazier, who spent four years in high school running the Gus Malzahn offense at a very high level. Frazier has the strong arm to throw the ball in the SEC and he runs the ball better than either Trotter or Moseley.

6. Ole Miss: When senior Nathan Stanley left the program during spring practice that pretty much left the Ole Miss quarterback job a tossup between juco transfer Randall Mackey and West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti. Mackey finished the spring just ahead of Brunetti, but in the spring game, Brunetti threw for 211 yards and two touchdowns while Mackey threw for 151 and one touchdown plus threw an interception. Also in the mix is juco transfer Zach Stoudt and athletic freshman Maikhail Miller. The quarterback position figures to be like the rest of the Ole Miss team, a real question mark for 2011.

RATING THE STARTERS:

1. Aaron Murray, Georgia
2. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
3. Chris Relf, Mississippi State
4. John Brantley, Florida
5. Jordan Jefferson, LSU
6. A.J. McCarron, Alabama
7. Conner Shaw, South Carolina
8. Tyler Bray, Tennessee
9. Morgan Newton, Kentucky
10. Barrett Trotter, Auburn
11. Larry Smith, Vanderbilt
12. Randall Mackey, Ole Miss

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