We’re judging SEC quarterbacks today and handing out awards based on their superlatives at the position, fully realizing not every quarterback can be named as the ‘best’ at something.
This looks to be the year of the quarterback in the SEC.
Let’s give it a shot:
Best Overall: Tyler Wilson, Arkansas (SR)
Tyler Wilson and Matt Barkley will seemingly go head to head for the first quarterback chosen in next year’s draft. With all the expectations mounting last year of Wilson’s first season as a starter, he did not disappoint and lived up to all the hype. Wilson threw for 3,638 with 24 touchdowns, while completing 63.2 percent of his passes. He also played baseball growing up, and that helped with arm action, motion and strength. Wilson is ready to have a fantastic senior season.
Best Leader: AJ McCarron, Alabama (JR)
AJ McCarron has been there and done that. Last year, in his first year at the helm for the Tide, McCarron lost one regular season game and eventually avenged that loss in the national championship. Sure Alabama had a sick defense and a man named Trent Richardson, but McCarron rarely gets the credit he deserves. He was asked not to lose any games and keep turnovers at a minimum, and he showed up on college football’s biggest stage in New Orleans with a gutsy performance, throwing for 234 yards. He’ll be one of the upperclassmen in charge of making sure Alabama’s 2012 doesn’t mirror 2010.
Best Arm: Tyler Bray, Tennessee (JR)
Tyler Bray gives Tennessee a downfield threat every play with his Howitzer. Often times last year, he would roll out of the pocket and make impressive throws on the run, as well as tough off-balance throws wandering around the pocket. Scouts will grade him as an early draft pick on arm strength alone, but he has the pocket presence to go along with the arm strength. He has so much raw ability to play the position. Bray can make all the throws on the field from the deep route to the quick hitches, and from sideline to sideline.
Best Runner: James Franklin, Missouri (JR)
The biggest dual-threat quarterback in the SEC enters with a chip on his shoulder to prove all the doubters wrong. While Franklin rushed for over 900 yards and 15 touchdowns last year, he also threw for over 2,800 yards and 21 touchdowns. Franklin has the physical presence to take some hits in the SEC at 225 pounds, but we’ll see if he can stay healthy all year, seeing he carried over 16 times per game. There is little doubt Franklin enters as the best runner in the SEC at quarterback.
Best Backup: Rob Bolden, LSU (SO)
Rob Bolden comes to LSU from Penn State, and he immediately becomes the best backup in the SEC. Bolden played two years for the Nittany Lions and started as a true freshman in 2010. In his career at Penn State, Bolden threw for a total of 2,045 yards and seven touchdowns. But he also threw 14 interceptions and threatened to leave Penn State a couple different times. Bolden is turning over a new leaf and is excited to be a part of the Tigers’ roster. He’ll never be a big-time SEC quarterback and maybe will never get a start, but he gives the Tigers a backup with experience in case something happens to Zach Mettenberger.
Ready for Big Stage: Connor Shaw, South Carolina (JR)
I would describe Connor Shaw’s performance last year as gutsy. It’s not easy taking over for an established starter, even if it was Stephen Garcia. But Shaw really stepped in and did a nice job for the Gamecocks. Steve Spurrier has changed his play calling and offensive mentality to fit the strengths of Shaw’s game. He completed 65.4 percent of his passes last season and threw 14 touchdowns. He also ran for 525 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s a great athlete who is ready for a breakout season both throwing and running. Spurrier may have his best quarterback he’s had at Carolina.
Most to Prove: Tyler Bray, Tennessee (JR)
Bray has much to prove this season. He was out for five games last year with a broken thumb, and he’s been in and out of the news this off-season for doing senseless off-the-field blunders. We haven’t even seen him for an entire season yet. Bray needs to rise to the occasion in a make-or-break year for his head coach. He has a ton of weapons at receiver at his disposal and really looks to elevate his game and prove Tennessee’s offense has the best aerial attack in the SEC. There are a lot of expectations mounting for the Vols to show improvement. Bray has to prove to fans and teammates he’s a leader, and that the selfishness and youth is a thing of the past.
Most Irreplaceable: Aaron Murray, Georgia (RJR)
If Aaron Murray went down, Georgia would be in trouble. And I know he hasn’t led the Bulldogs to an SEC Championship yet. But the running game will be a question mark this season until proven otherwise, and Georgia will need to have a great season from Murray if the Bulldogs want to meet expectations. He threw for 35 touchdowns and over 3,000 yards last year. What can he do for an encore?
Most Improved: Connor Shaw, South Carolina (JR)
There were many doubters and naysayers last year when Connor Shaw took over for Stephen Garcia. But he silenced his critics rather fast with a four-touchdown performance over Kentucky. He really evolved and showed progress as a passer and a runner and took his game to another level that many didn’t know he had. Shaw is the undisputed starter now, and I look for Shaw to improve this season once again, with even more playing time thrown his way.
Best New Starter: Zach Mettenberger, LSU (JR)
Zach Metternberger has been handed the keys the Porsche without even starting a game yet. Many think Mett is the quarterback LSU needs to win a championship and make 2011 a thing of the past. He has all the talent around him to succeed, even if he’s not as good as what everyone is expecting and projecting. Mett has a stout offensive line, playmaking receivers and an offensive backfield with depth to spare. I think Mett will have a good first year for the Tigers.