10 most underrated quarterbacks in SEC history

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It’s hard to hide the quarterback. There’s no offense without him, even if he takes two steps and hands off. But sometimes, the hard work of the man under center gets glossed over. That’s where we come in. Here are 10 underrated SEC quarterbacks. Check out the list and drop us your comments on who else should have been in — or if one (or more) of these guys is too famous to play the “underrated” card.

Buck Belue, Georgia

Georgia has had bigger names under center (Fran Tarkenton and Matthew Stafford) and recent passers who put up huge statistics (Eric Zeier, David Greene, Aaron Murray), but Belue was a force. From 1979-1981, Belue led the Georgia attack with near-perfection. Sure, having Herschel Walker to hand off to didn’t hurt, but Belue knew how to make big plays — as typified by his 93-yard game-winning pass to Lindsay Scott against Florida in 1980. In his final two seasons, Belue led the SEC in passing and UGA went 21-1, including the 1980 title, which is still UGA’s most recent championship. Not bad at all.

Casey Clausen, Tennessee

He was never the golden boy like Manning, but this ignores the fact that he was a tough customer at quarterback. UT went 36-13 in his four seasons as a starter, and Clausen threw for 9,707 yards and 75 touchdowns. At most SEC schools, they build statutes for guys who put up those numbers. At UT, he’s kind of forgotten.

Matt Jones, Arkansas

He led Arkansas to an SEC title game appearance, he was a first-round NFL draft pick, and he’s the SEC’s second leading QB rusher of all time behind Tebow (2,535 yards). Granted, he was an erratic passer and flamed out in the NFL as a receiver. But the passing stats of 5,857 yards and 53 touchdowns aren’t exactly bad. Sometimes, guys are victims of classification. We all think we know what a great quarterback looks like, and that’s not the way Matt Jones played. But his team’s numbers and his numbers will tell you that he was a lot better than many remember.

Chris Leak, Florida

He didn’t win a Heisman like Wuerffel or Tebow, but he did lead the Gators to a national title, and passed for 11,213 yards (still No. 3 on the SEC career list) and 88 touchdowns (tying Tebow for fourth) despite playing for two head coaches. Leak was the rare player who started as a freshman and handled everything that was ever thrown at him.

Jared Lorenzen, Kentucky

He never played in a bowl game, and he never missed a meal, but the lineman-sized “Hefty Lefty” is too often recalled as a punch line, and not often enough as an incredibly nimble and skilled passer. He ended his career with 10,354 passing yards (7th in SEC history and the Kentucky record), threw for 78 scores and rushed for a dozen more.

As a freshman, he passed for 528 yards against Georgia— a mark that has never been surpassed in a conference game by an SEC passer. Couch before and Woodson after are both more clearly remembered, and each made postseason appearances, but Lorenzen’s probation-weakened teams weren’t his fault.

Wayne Madkin, Mississippi State

All he did was win. Stuck in Jackie Sherrill’s offenses, Madkin never looked pretty. But he was the kind of guy who would complete 40 percent of his passes, throw for under 200 yards, but make the plays to win the game. With him under center, State won the West in 1998, and won another nine games a year later. He did throw for 6,336 yards and 34 touchdowns, and added seven rushing scores. Prescott and Fitzgerald are much flashier, but Madkin won a division title, which isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence in Starkville.

Ryan Mallett, Arkansas

He only stayed two seasons, and he didn’t win any SEC titles, but Mallett (now with the Baltimore Ravens) changed Arkansas from a run-first, run-second, run-third program into a passing team. Now, sure, Bobby Petrino helped a bit, but in two seasons, Arkansas was 18-8, and Mallett threw for 7,493 yards and 62 touchdowns — in two seasons. Next guy to reach that win-loss mark or those stats can claim Arkansas legend status.

Steve Taneyhill, South Carolina

Also a mainstay on the all-underrated mullet team, Taneyhill was Carolina’s first quarterback when they joined the SEC. As a player who started for 3 ½ years, it seemed like the gunslinger was always a Gamecock. He threw for 8,555 yards and 61 scores under coaches Sparky Woods and Brad Scott. Few SEC players had thrown for 3,000 yards in a season when Taneyhill did so in 1995.

John Parker Wilson, Alabama

He doesn’t stand out in Alabama lore because he wasn’t an All-American and he didn’t win any championships, but Wilson steadily bridged the gap from Bama’s lean years into a return to glory. He was a backup as a freshman, but then started for three years — Mike Shula’s final 6-7 campaign, Nick Saban’s first 7-6 team, and then the 2008 team, which was Bama’s return to glory.

Sure, they didn’t win a title, but Wilson passed them back to No. 1 in the polls — or game-managed them back, as his critics would argue. He also finished his career with 7,924 passing yards and 47 touchdowns. A.J. McCarron broke most of his Alabama passing records, but Wilson was much better than people remember.

Greg Zolman, Vanderbilt

A talented lefty passer, Zolman broke virtually all of Vandy’s passing records — and then watched his successor, Jay Cutler, do the same to all of his records. Zolman never reached postseason play, but he did throw for 7,981 yards and 41 touchdowns. He was stuck on some rotten teams, but he elevated their play significantly.

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  • It was Sparky Woods offense that doomed Madkin. Who runs a spread with a wishbone line? Completely wasted Walker and Miller, they should have gone to Alabama and maybe had a career. And no, Madkin is in no way underrated. I was a freshman in 98 and was at the Georgia Dome. Madkin was not the reason we were there, JJ Johnson and Joe Lee Dunn had more to do with, and a scary offensive line who weren’t the best at pass protection. Barrin Simpson anchored a 5-1-5 defense in 99 whose ppg were destroyed by an anemic and turnover prone offense (under Woods first season in Starkville). Orchestrated chaos that resulted in almost as many batted passes as completions and sealed up the running lanes from Dunn’s earlier stacked nickel. We were bailed out numerous times by Matt Wyatt in the fourth quarter that year, and he is another reason we won TEN games, not 9, in 1999, though you might simply be excluding the bowl. Madkin would no doubt have had a better career under better circumstance, so would have a bunch of players, but he was what he was.

    • Definitely, much more so than Madkin. If he hadn’t messed that shoulder up, who knows?

      • As well as Mullen works with QB’s, he probably should have signed with Alabama or somebody like that. He didn’t fit.

        • Tyler was more of a pocket quarterback with a strong arm. Mobility is a must in his offense, as every other play is an option, and the older the qb gets the more he calls it himself.