Ranking the SEC’s QBs heading into spring practice

SEC football now has a pulse again, with spring practice opening in a matter of weeks for every team. And the one position everyone points to as being the leader of the team and the face of the program is the quarterback. And how do those starting quarterbacks stack up this spring?

Ranking 14 through 4 isn’t difficult, but you could make a case for the big three of AJ McCarron, Johnny Manziel and Aaron Murray in any order.

14. Brandon Allen, Arkansas
13. Jonathan Wallace, Auburn
12. Austyn Carta-Samuels, Vanderbilt

Brandon Allen looks like the QB for Bret Bielema’s pro-style attack, but he looked shaky at best in 2012 playing for the injured Tyler Wilson. Allen threw for just 186 yards on 49 attempts with one touchdown…Jonathan Wallace gained valuable experience in one of the worst seasons in Auburn history. He started the last four games of the season, throwing for 720 yards and four touchdowns. But he looked like the better prospect for Gus Malzahn’s spread attack than Kiehl Frazier ever did…Austyn Carta-Samuels will be the next starter for the Dores, and he has some weapons to work with in receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd. ACS threw for just 208 yards last season, but he threw for 3,655 yards and 19 touchdowns in two seasons at Wyoming before transferring to Vandy. But he hasn’t played much in the SEC yet.

11. Justin Worley, Tennessee
10. Max Smith, Kentucky
9. James Franklin, Missouri

Justin Worley has the most experience returning for Butch Jones at Tennessee. But does he fit Jones’ spread offense? Worley played sparingly last season, and he played more for the injured Tyler Bray two years ago. Worley has thrown for 738 yards and one touchdown in two seasons worth of work…When healthy, Max Smith is a very productive passer. Smith started just three games last season before his season-ending ankle injury, throwing for 975 yards and eight touchdowns. He’ll be potent in Kentucky’s new air attack scheme…James Franklin is better than what he showed in ‘12, but that’s all we have to go on in the SEC. After accounting for a staggering 36 touchdowns in ‘11, Franklin combined for just 10 last season. He never looked comfortable and never looked healthy.

8. Jeff Driskel, Florida
7. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
6. Zach Mettenberger, LSU

First year starter Jeff Driskel won 11 games, but the double-digit wins had more to do with the smothering defense and smash-mouth running game than Driskel’s play. He threw for just 1,646 yards and 12 touchdowns in ‘12, but that’s really all Florida asked him to do. However, the Gators will lean more on their veteran starter next season, and he has to make progress this spring…Bo Wallace is an up-and-down quarterback, and he must learn to take care of the ball in big games. Sunshine threw for 22 touchdowns and rushed for eight more, but he also accounting for a head-scratching 17 INTs. But with a year of experience in the league, Wallace could make a big jump as a passer…Could this be the year Zach Mettenberger breaks out? With Cam Cameron’s history of developing quarterbacks, Mettenberger has to feel giddy about his chances. But there’s a lot of work to do, and he didn’t have the season everyone thought he would in ‘12. Mett threw for 2,609 yards, 12 touchdowns and seven INTs. The ceiling is much higher than his numbers.

5. Tyler Russell, Miss State
4. Connor Shaw, South Carolina
3. Aaron Murray, Georgia

Tyler Russell protected the ball with near perfection throughout 2012 until the last two weeks, when he through six picks. We’ll pitch him a bone for throwing 24 touchdowns and 2,897 yards, but he has to play better in bigger games. Against ranked teams, Russell threw only four touchdowns with seven INTs…Say what you want about Connor Shaw, but the dual-threat signal caller has won 17 of 20 games as a starter. It isn’t pretty at times, but the pesky Shaw gets the job done in big games with pinpoint accuracy on short to mid throws. Between rushing and throwing, Shaw has combined for 4,752 yards and 43 touchdowns, and yet backup Dylan Thompson could be penciled in at #4 at any time…And here is where it gets tough. Aaron Murray has thrown for 10,901 yards and 95 touchdowns in his career. How in the world is he No. 3 on the list? Despite his 4-10 record against top 25 teams in three seasons, Murray hasn’t been able to win the big game yet, but that’s not all his fault. Georgia tends to avoid showing up against ranked opponents on the biggest stage, and that includes Murray. Over the longevity of his career, Murray has produced numbers, but he has very little accolades and hardware to show for it. Could this be his rewarding year?

2. AJ McCarron, Alabama
1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

AJ McCarron has won back-to-back national championships. And if he had as many attempts as Aaron Murray over the last two seasons (789 compared to 642), his numbers would be much more prolific. McCarron has registered 5,950 yards passing and 49 touchdowns, compared to just eight INTs, in just two years as a full-time starter. I mean, what’s a championship quarterback have to do to get to No. 1? Don’t championships mean anything anymore?…You give me one quarterback for one game who will elevate the play of those around him, and I’m taking Johnny Manziel. The prolific slippery star now has the target on his back, and we’ll find out how he handles all the hype of one of the best seasons ever in college football history. But entering spring, Manziel is the No. 1 difference maker in the SEC. His 5,116 yards and 47 touchdowns is wicked, considering he had zero experience, but even with his staggering play, Manziel has room for upside. Now, can he avoid that sophomore slump?

Photo Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports