Proven quarterbacks with experience are usually plentiful in the SEC; however, this year is a little bit different, with only five returning starters and really more questions than answers.
The returnees include Georgia’s Aaron Murray, South Carolina’s Stephen Garcia, Florida’s John Brantley, Vanderbilt’s Larry Smith and Mississippi State’s Chris Relf. I would not include Jordan Jefferson on this list because he split a lot of time with Jarrett Lee, but then again so did John Brantley. So, what does it really matter?
Here is how I think the SEC quarterbacks stack up in 2011:
10. Morgan Newton, Kentucky
9. Jordan Jefferson, LSU
8. John Brantley, Florida
Morgan Newton certainly stepped into a tough bowl game situation with the suspension of starting quarterback Mike Hartline, and Newton had only a short amount of time to get ready for the Pittsburgh game. We can’t merely judge a player on a one game performance, can we? (Cough – Tyler Wilson). There are signs of hope that Newton can lead this Kentucky football team at quarterback. Let’s just hope Newton turns out to be what the Wildcats thought they were getting in the first place…I was torn even including Jordan Jefferson on this list, but I do think he could start at a couple other schools in the SEC, namely Ole Miss or Vanderbilt. So, you have to include him on the list. He may not even be the best quarterback on his team right now with JUCO transfer Zach Mettenberger pushing him every day. Jefferson is saying and doing all the right things for Les Miles in his senior year leading up to game one against Oregon, but you have to figure he will have a short leash…Yes, Johnny Brantley is on this list. I do think he will have a better year than last year, contrary to what most people think. I think Charlie Weis’ impact will be seen, but Brantley will be pushed by backup Tyler Murphy and true freshman Jeff Driskel. This team has the talent to win now, and I believe they will not wait on Brantley to get mentally right to make a change at quarterback.
7. Zach Mettenberger, LSU
6. AJ McCarron, Alabama
5. Tyler Bray, Tennessee
Yes, go ahead and yell at me – Zach Mettenberger should finish the 2011 season as the quarterback of record for the LSU Tigers. This is a good problem for the Tigers knowing they have two viable options to go with. However, from what I saw out of Mett in the spring game, he certainly has the poise and pocket presence to be a great quarterback in this league. He certainly has the arm strength, and he has great receivers in Reuben Randle and Russell Shepard to throw to as well. I just think Mett will be a gamer come this fall and win this quarterback job…AJ McCarron could be a top-five quarterback in the SEC this season if he just is adequate enough to run this pro-style offense. He has good enough receivers around him, a stout offensive line and a great running game in Trent Richardson. The only thing he needs to focus on right now is winning the position over Phillip Sims…Tyler Bray will in all likelihood have top-three numbers in the SEC when this season is over. However, he will have to prove to me he can come back another year against better teams than what he faced at the end of the year last year. Memphis, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and UNC aren’t exactly your defensive powerhouses. He should do fine because he has talent all around him in Knoxville, but can he handle it mentally?
4. Chris Relf, Mississippi State
3. Stephen Garcia, South Carolina
2. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
There is nothing spectacular about Chris Relf. He keeps his mouth shut and wins ballgames. The best thing he has going for him is his size and Dan Mullen. Mullen calls a conservative offensive game with Relf, and Relf produces on the field with his 245 lb frame. Will Relf have the passing numbers as others on this list? No. Will he have better rushing numbers? Yes. Balance is the key for Relf and this State offense. I would add that Relf has a chance to have a better record than Newton, Brantley or Bray…The problem child is back in Columbia, but Stephen Garcia is promising to keep his nose clean this year. His knucklehead ways could be a cancer to this team, but when he is on the field playing his type of football game, he is very effective. Now, could he be more effective? Absolutely. He has the best receiver in America to throw to, and I fully expect his head will be in the game all year for one more year…I had a problem with not putting Tyler Wilson as the number one quarterback in this league for 2011, but I just cannot bring myself to make that call when he could turn out to be a total bust. No one has a clue how he will perform. Wilson will have to prove everyone he is good enough to run this offense that is filled with stellar athletes. He could end up being the best quarterback in this league when the dust settles in December, or he could just as easily underwhelm and underperform. However, with all the talent that surrounds him on this offense and with an offensive coordinator/head coach in Bobby Petrino, to me all indications point toward a successful season.
1. Aaron Murray, Georgia
The best overall quarterback in the SEC is Aaron Murray, at least he is right now. Murray performed very well as a redshirt freshman last season, throwing for over 3,000 yards, and he has had a year’s worth of practice under his belt. I fully expect his reads will get quicker this year, and his decision-making will improve. Remember, this Georgia offense averaged over 30 points per game last year, and leading the charge was Murray. He is the best looking quarterback prospect in this conference heading into 2011.
How would you rank them?