Apologies if you’ve heard me say this before, but it bears repeating.

Entering 2024, 5 SEC quarterbacks either won a New Year’s 6 Bowl or started in a Playoff game. Carson Beck, Jaxson Dart and Brady Cook all won New Year’s 6 Bowls while Jalen Milroe and Quinn Ewers were a play away from winning Playoff semifinal games.

Chances are, the vast majority of SEC fanbases will feel like their quarterback is being “disrespected” entering the season. It’s not disrespect. It’s just that there’s depth for days. In other years, new starters like Garrett Nussmeier, Nico Iamaleava and Jackson Arnold would be locks to start in the top 5 of any sort of SEC QB rankings. In a year like this, forget about it.

Shoot, look at the preseason Heisman odds. Six of the top 8 and 9 of the top 16 players in the Heisman odds are SEC quarterbacks.

It begs the question — will this be the best year of SEC quarterback play that we’ve ever seen? And is there a way to quantify that?

You came to the right place.

Being the best year ever for SEC quarterback play isn’t as simple as “did an SEC quarterback win the Heisman?” There are 9 instances of that happening, including 3 times in the last 5 seasons, most recently with Jayden Daniels. You know, in case you forgot.

  • 1966 Steve Spurrier
  • 1971 Pat Sullivan
  • 1996 Danny Wuerffel
  • 2007 Tim Tebow
  • 2010 Cam Newton
  • 2012 Johnny Manziel
  • 2019 Joe Burrow
  • 2021 Bryce Young
  • 2023 Jayden Daniels

On a somewhat unrelated note, it’s pretty wild that 6 of the last 17 winners were SEC quarterbacks while just 3 of the winners from 1935-2006 were SEC quarterbacks.

I won’t say that an SEC quarterback winning the Heisman is a required prerequisite for “best SEC QB play season ever,” but it helps. What I believe to be an even better barometer is having several SEC quarterbacks finish in the top 10 of the Heisman voting. That’s right. Several, not just “a couple.”

I know what you’re thinking. Connor, has that ever happened before? Has there ever been instances of 3 SEC quarterbacks finishing in the top 10 of the Heisman voting? You bet.

Here those are:

  • 2022 — Stetson Bennett IV, Hendon Hooker, Bryce Young

OK, so that’s the only time that happened.

That year, the debate wasn’t about which SEC quarterback would win. It was about Bennett vs. Hooker for a spot in New York. Bennett won out after Hooker’s late-season injury. It spoke to the depth of the conference’s quarterback play that Bennett was a Heisman finalist even though he wasn’t even a first-team All-SEC selection by the AP or the coaches.

But yeah, 3 SEC quarterbacks finishing in the top 10 of the Heisman voting would be a nice box to check for this discussion, especially if it meant sending multiple quarterbacks to New York.

I know what you’re thinking. Connor, has that ever happened before? Has there ever been multiple SEC quarterbacks in New York? You bet.

Here those are:

  • 2013 — AJ McCarron (2nd), Johnny Manziel (5th)
  • 2020 — Mac Jones (3rd), Kyle Trask (4th)

It’s worth noting that 1982 was the first year that Heisman finalists were invited to New York instead of just the winner. It’s also worth noting that the 2020 ceremony was virtual. In other words, the only time that there were ever 2 SEC quarterbacks physically in New York as Heisman finalists was 2013 with McCarron and Manziel.

Consider that another box to check for this 2024 class.

Some might consider 2013 the gold standard for SEC quarterback play. That preseason hype was as good as there’s ever been at the position. Manziel was coming off the Heisman season with an offseason loaded with drama. McCarron was coming off consecutive national titles. Aaron Murray was on his way to becoming the SEC’s all-time leader in touchdown passes. There were promising returning starters like Zach Mettenberger and Connor Shaw. McCarron, Murray and Shaw were all coming off a top-10 quarterback rating finish in 2012.

The SEC doesn’t have that in 2024, but it does return 3 of the top 12 finishers in quarterback rating from 2023 (Milroe, Beck and Dart). How much does quarterback rating matter when we’re talking about this distinction? Eh, that’s debatable. Manziel wasn’t in the top 15 in quarterback rating when he won the 2012 Heisman, but his rushing numbers provided a huge boost.

Finishing in the top 10 in the Heisman voting is a sign that an SEC quarterback was elite. That’s a better indicator of a special season for quarterback play than any other because if you’re good in the SEC, you’re getting national eyeballs. Besides nerds like me, nobody will care if the 10th-best SEC quarterback has a QB rating of 150.0.

So if we see all 3 of these boxes checked, history tells us that we can declare it the best season ever for SEC quarterback play:

  • 1 SEC QB wins Heisman
  • 2 SEC QBs are Heisman finalists
  • 3 SEC QBs finish in the top 10 of the Heisman voting

The odds are still against that happening. Why? Because we’ve never seen that happen in the same season.

But maybe in the expanded SEC, those odds increased. That’s not such a crazy thought.

Perhaps the best is yet to come.