SEC boasts unparalleled depth at quarterback this season

BY foxsports • July 23, 2013

Aaron Murray couldn't help but smile at the absurdity of it all.

Georgia's
quarterback is poised to set a slew of SEC records in his final season,
yet when the media's picks for the all-conference teams were announced
at media days, the senior wasn't the first-team QB; Texas A&M's
Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel was. He wasn't second-team either;
that distinction when to Alabama's two-time BCS-title winner AJ
McCarron.

A player who ranked second in FBS with a 174.8 rating
after throwing for an SEC-leading 3,893 yards and 36 touchdowns was
relegated to third-team?

"Very, very deep group of quarterbacks
in this conference right now," Murray said. "It says a lot. ... We are
really, really loaded right now and it's a lot of fun to watch."

Even that may be putting it lightly as the SEC boasts a depth at the position that no other major conference can match.

All
14 SEC teams have players with starting experience, which is three more
than the closest BCS automatic qualifier conferences, the Pac-12.

The
league also has more returners who threw for at least 1,956 yards in
2012 with seven in Murray, Manziel (3,706), McCarron (2,933), Ole Miss'
Bo Wallace (2,994), Mississippi State's Tyler Russell (2,897), LSU's
Zach Mettenberger (2,609) and South Carolina's Connor Shaw (1,956).
Another, Florida's Jeff Driskel, wasn't far behind with 1,646 yards and
the Gamecocks' Dylan Thompson (1,027 yards) made two starts last year
and will be part of a time-share with Shaw.

"You look at that
lineup, it's a pretty good lineup of quarterbacks," said Mississippi
State coach Dan Mullen. "There's experience."

That's a sentiment that rings true even on those teams that have decisions to make before summer camp breaks.

There's
Auburn, where first-year coach Gus Malzahn has a foursome of junior
Kiehl Frazier, sophomore Jonathan Wallace, junior college transfer Nick
Marshall and true freshman Jeremy Johnson competing for the job. Frazier
(five games) and Wallace (three) both have stars under their belts.

At
Tennessee, junior Justin Worley (three starts), is dueling with
redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman and at Vanderbilt senior Austyn
Carta-Samuels, who made 21 starts in 2009 and '10 at Wyoming before
transferring, is vying with redshirt freshman Patton Robinette for the
job.

Kentucky's sophomore race between Maxwell Smith, Patrick
Towles and Jalen Whitlow includes two players, Smith (eight starts) and
Whitlow (seven), who threw for 975 and 801 yards, respectively, last
season.

The Missouri competition includes James Franklin, who
broke out as a sophomore, throwing for 21 TDs and running for 15 more,
but an injury-plagued junior season saw him start just eight games and
Corbin Berkstresser, Franklin's fill in for four starts in which he
threw for 1,059 yards and five TDs. But experience may not be enough in
this race as both are being pressed by national high school passing
yardage king, redshirt freshman Maty Mauk.

"How we handle it is,
if you're not an established quarterback coming in, we leave it open,"
said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. "We're leaving this open till somewhere
in the middle of August."

Arkansas, which will go with sophomore
Brandon Allen, who has one start and 186 yards to his name and was
given the job coming out of spring practice after Brandon Mitchell
transferred, stands as the least experienced of any SEC passer.

"Obviously
(it's a) good league top to bottom in all phases," Kentucky coach Mark
Stoops said. "Quarterback play is no different."

Throughout the
league's unprecedented run of seven straight national titles, it's
defenses, most notably the quick, athletic physical freaks that dotted
its lines that has been its calling card. Glenn Dorsey, Terrence Cody,
Nick Fairley and the list goes on and on. The level of talent isn't
getting any shallower considering that South Carolina All-American and
Heisman contender Jadeveon Clowney is carrying that mantle.

But could this be the year that the focus is squarely on those passers?

"This
conference has been known for its defensive prowess," Mettenberger
said. "I think quarterbacks will get their shot this year to see what
they can do in the SEC."

Manziel did deliver the SEC a certain
stiff-armed trophy last season as a quarterback, but it would still
stand as a culture shock to see a conference that has lived by the credo
that defenses wins championships, to suddenly become a QB-centric
league. But during that run of championships, the SEC has arguably never
had so much star power at the same time at the most important position
on the field.

"When you look at guys, the experience that AJ
McCarron has, national championship rings on his finger, Aaron Murray
that's coming back. ... A guy that's won a Heisman Trophy coming back,"
Mullen said. "The depth of quarterbacks in this league, to be honest
with you, it could turn the tide to more of an offensive league than a
defensive league this season."


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