Saturday Down South's Top 20 SEC quarterbacks since 2000, Part I: 20-11
It’s a quarterback world. The rest of the us are just living in it. If you don’t have a QB, then you don’t have a football team.
The SEC has done well at the game’s most important position since the turn of the 21st century, producing a trio of Heisman Trophy winners and eight starters who will forever be national champions. None of the other conferences have done better.
Everybody loves a quality list — they can always be debated endlessly — although ranking the league’s Top 20 QBs from the last 17-plus seasons is no easy task. A few (Kentucky’s Jared Lorenzen) enjoyed individual success but failed to win enough games, while some others (Alabama’s Greg McElroy) captured titles but didn’t put up big numbers.
There’s no perfect system, of course. There wasn’t any sort of specific criteria that I adhered to, like the amount of games won or touchdowns thrown. Seasons with double-digit victories and sensational TD-to-INT ratios certainly help, though.
Without further ado, here’s Part I of my list counting down Nos. 20-11. Feel free to agree or (more likely) disagree as you see fit.
20. Jalen Hurts, Alabama (2016-present)
The only active player to make the cut, Hurts was the league’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2016 and has been even better in 2017. Through the air, he’s a 60.8-percent passer with 15 scores. As a runner, he averages 5.6 yards per carry with 8 more touchdowns. As much as he handles the ball, it’s incredible that he’s only turned it over twice.
Because he’s not necessarily what the NFL looks for in a field general, Hurts could be terrorizing the SEC for two more seasons.
19. Jay Cutler, Vanderbilt (2002-05)
An iron man, Cutler started all 45 games over the course of four seasons and never missed one to injury. In Year 1, he was a first-team freshman all-conference selection. In Year 4, he became the first Commodore to earn the league’s Offensive Player of the Year award since 1967. Vandy hadn’t defeated Tennessee since 1982, but he ended that streak in 2005.
When it was all said and done, Cutler was a finalist for the Johnny Unitas, Davey O’Brien, Manning and Sammy Baugh awards.
18. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss (2015-16)
Only three passers in SEC history have thrown for 4,000 yards in a single season, as Kelly joined Kentucky’s Tim Couch and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel with a 4,042-yard performance in 2015. The nephew of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly fired 31 TDs against 13 interceptions that year, plus he led the Rebels to their first Sugar Bowl triumph since 1969.
While his senior campaign in 2016 was a bit of a disappointment due to ineffectiveness and injury, Kelly was magnificent as a junior.
17. Matthew Stafford, Georgia (2006-08)
After a bit of a slow start to his career upon arriving in Athens with so much hype, Stafford was solid as a sophomore and spectacular as a junior. While he only posted a 1-2 mark against Florida, he was 2-1 against Georgia Tech and 3-0 against Auburn. Additionally, he was 3-0 in bowl games and named MVP of both the Chick-fil-A Bowl and Capital One Bowl.
Eight players on this list went on to be first-rounders in the NFL Draft, and Stafford is one of four who was the No. 1-overall pick.
16. Brandon Allen, Arkansas (2012-15)
The more success that ex-coach Bret Bielema had with the Razorbacks, the more Allen was responsible for it. Bielema may be out of Fayetteville now, but he peaked in 2015 with Allen as a senior. After 20 TD passes and only 5 interceptions as a junior the year before, he left the Hogs on a high note with 30 scores and just 8 picks.
Allen had 64 touchdown tosses in his career and once recorded 7 in a single game, both of which are all-time records for the program.
15. Casey Clausen, Tennessee (2000-03)
Believe it or not, but the Volunteers used to win 10-plus games regularly under former coach Phillip Fulmer. Clausen was the starter when UT went 11-2 in 2001 and 10-3 in 2003, finishing No. 4 and No. 15 in the final AP Poll, respectively. He was especially effective on the road, assembling a 14-1 record away from the comfy confines of Neyland Stadium.
Clausen completed at least 62 percent of his throws in three of four seasons and registered 75 career TDs as a passer.
14. JaMarcus Russell, LSU (2004-06)
Forget that he’s arguably the biggest bust in draft history, going No. 1 to the Oakland Raiders but being unemployed following just three seasons. After flashing here and there as a freshman and sophomore, he broke out as a junior with 28 scoring strikes against only 8 picks. He proved to be extra effective on the deep ball, averaging 9.7 yards per attempt.
Once Russell lit up Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl with 332 yards passing and 3 total TDs, the Bayou Bengals finished No. 3 in the AP Poll.
13. Andre’ Woodson, Kentucky (2004-07)
Prior to Missouri’s Drew Lock this year, only one player in conference annals had thrown 40 TD passes in a single season. It was Woodson in 2007. Despite chucking it 39.8 times per game for the Wildcats, he was only responsible for 11 INTs. From the end of his junior year through the beginning of his senior year, he went a then-NCAA-record 325 passes without an interception.
From 2006-07, Woodson authored back-to-back 8-5 campaigns in Lexington, including bowl-game victories over Clemson and Florida State.
12. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas (2009-10)
A transfer from Michigan, where he wasn’t a fit for then-coach Rich Rodriguez’s system, Mallett immediately put up monster numbers for the Razorbacks once he finally had a chance to play. As a junior he threw for 30 scores, and then as a senior he fired 32 more. Twice he was the league’s Offensive Player of the Week. Twice he was a second-team All-SEC choice.
Mallett averaged an even 9 yards per attempt in 2009 and then 9.4 in 2010, completing a pass of at least 83 yards both years.
11. Chris Leak, Florida (2003-06)
Leak is second in conference lore with 895 completions, third with 11,213 yards passing and tied for fourth — coincidentally, with ex-teammate Tim Tebow — with 88 touchdown passes. While Tebow may have wowed people in short-yardage and goal-line situations when the Gators won the national championship in 2006, it was Leak who actually started for that squad.
Right out of high school, he made the league’s all-freshman team. As a junior and senior, he was second-team All-SEC.