New starting QBs abound in SEC

Cameron Newton has abundant faith in No. 4 Florida’s new

quarterback.

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,

Jevan.

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

consistent.”

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

second season.

None of the first-time starters face FBS teams coming off

winning seasons, which could help ease through the opening day

jitters.

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

Malzahn’s offense.

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

receiver.

No wonder coach Mark Richt said Georgia’s ”quarterback room has

got to be the youngest room maybe in the history of college

football.”

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

story.