New starting QBs abound in SEC
Cameron Newton has abundant faith in No. 4 Florida’s new
And he should know: Both were once Tim Tebow backups and
potential heirs to the Heisman Trophy winner.
”The whole college nation will be hearing about John Brantley,
because he’s an excellent quarterback,” Newton said.
Plenty will be hearing about Newton, too. He’s set to start his
first game for No. 22 Auburn Saturday against Arkansas State.
Newton just arrived by way of a Texas junior college while Brantley
stuck it out with the Gators.
Newton and Brantley will have substantial company around the
Southeastern Conference when the season opens, even if Jeremiah
Masoli doesn’t wind up joining them.
Newton is one of five quarterbacks set to make their first start
for an SEC team. The others are Aaron Murray (Georgia), Nathan
Stanley (Mississippi), Matt Simms (Tennessee) and either Chris Relf
or Tyler Russell (Mississippi State).
At least eight teams will open with starters who didn’t finish
last season in that role. The combined passing numbers for the five
returnees who saw SEC action in 2009: 1,658 yards, 23 touchdowns
and 18 interceptions.
That includes Vanderbilt’s Larry Smith and Kentucky’s Mike
Hartline, who were sidelined with injuries at season’s end.
Having a new quarterback is not always a hindrance, particularly
when the new guy is a longtime backup like Brantley. Alabama’s Greg
McElroy led the Tide to a national championship last season in his
first year as a starter but fourth in the program. And Arkansas’s
Ryan Mallett, maybe the league’s only bona fide star passer going
into opening weekend, put up big numbers quickly.
But it can make for quite an interesting ride. See Snead,
After all, defenders in the SEC are fast, the hits vicious and
the challenge considerable.
”You see a lot of quarterbacks that come through who are great
and just struggle in the SEC,” McElroy said. ”It’s so hard to
play consistently in this league because week in and week out,
you’re getting a team’s best shot. You’re getting a well-coached
team, you’re getting a disciplined team, you’re getting a team that
has big, fast athletes. That makes it difficult to be
Just ask Stephen Garcia. The up-and-down South Carolina junior
is the SEC’s most experienced quarterback but he’s being challenged
by freshman Connor Shaw leading up to Thursday night’s opener
against Southern Miss.
The Rebels’ situation is more up in the air. The NCAA denied
Masoli’s request for a waiver after his transfer from Oregon. Ole
Miss is awaiting results of an appeal.
”We were devastated,” coach Houston Nutt said Wednesday. ”We
were hurt by the decision, but it’s like I told our guys: It’s
life. It’s why football’s the greatest teacher there is. There’s
going to be ups and downs. But it’s not over with Jeremiah.
Hopefully by Friday we’ll get a different answer but if not, we’re
getting two quarterbacks ready to go.”
That would be the sophomore Stanley and JUCO transfer Randall
Mackey. Stanley backed up the aforementioned Snead, throwing just
23 passes. Snead, a Texas transfer, was intercepted 20 times in his
None of the first-time starters face FBS teams coming off
winning seasons, which could help ease through the opening day
A look at the other new SEC quarterbacks:
-Brantley is the most high-profile new starter, because of his
team’s record and his predecessor’s accomplishments. He’ll take the
field against Miami (Ohio).
”I’m trying not to think about it too much so that I don’t get
too nervous,” Brantley said. ”It’s going to be a little
nerve-racking running out there the first time, but if you’re not
nervous then there’s something wrong. I’m excited. I just can’t
wait for Saturday to come.”
-The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Newton won the Tigers’ starting job in
the spring, and gives Auburn a dual threat to run coordinator Gus
Newton transferred from Florida after getting charged with
stealing a laptop (he says he bought it not knowing it was stolen).
The charges were dropped after he completed a pretrial intervention
program for first-time offenders.
”I think he’s a great quarterback,” Brantley said. ”He’s a
really smart football player. He knows the game of football. It’s
just unfortunate because of his past but I think he’s going to do a
great job at Auburn. I’m pulling for him.”
From Newton’s perspective, ”I feel like the luckiest man on
earth to be able to start for any Division I school.”
”We were just waiting our turn, and unfortunately he got the
chance,” Newton said. ”But I’m still in an excellent situation
myself, so it worked out for the both of us.”
-No SEC team has less seasoning at quarterback than Georgia.
Murray is a redshirt freshman, backed up by freshman Hutson Mason
and two walk-ons. The only Bulldog player with game time at
quarterback is Logan Gray, last year’s backup to Joe Cox and now a
No wonder coach Mark Richt said Georgia’s ”quarterback room has
got to be the youngest room maybe in the history of college
But he’s been here before, having started David Greene and
Matthew Stafford as freshmen.
-Mississippi State’s Relf was mostly a runner when he saw action
last season, gaining 131 yards against Ole Miss. He did throw five
TD passes. Russell is a redshirt freshman.
-At Tennessee, Simms beat out freshman Tyler Bray but he hasn’t
even seen Neyland Stadium on a game day much less started.
”I have played it through my mind a million times, almost
everyday since I have been here,” Simms said. ”Even though each
time I play it over in my mind it gets better, it’s not going to
compare to when I actually do it for the first time. I am just
going to try and stay focused and not keep my mouth wide open just
looking around at the place.”
AP Sports Writers Mark Long in Gainesville, Fla.; Beth Rucker in
Knoxville, Tenn.; Charles Odum in Athens, Ga., contributed to this