Saturday Down South's Top 20 SEC quarterbacks since 2000, Part III: 5-1
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 III of my list counting down Nos. 5-1. Feel free to agree or (more likely) disagree as you see fit.
5. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State (2012-15)
Prior to his arrival, the Bulldogs hadn’t been ranked in the Top 10 of the AP Poll at any juncture since the 1999 campaign. But as a junior in 2014, after consecutive victories over then-No. 8 LSU, then-No. 6 Texas A&M and then-No. 2 Auburn, Prescott and Co. were No. 1 in America for the first time in school history. It lasted five glorious weeks.
A dual-threat monster in coach Dan Mullen’s system, he’s 16th in SEC history with 70 passing touchdowns and tied for 10th with 41 rushing TDs. Prescott even scored 3 times as a receiver. But most important, he put Starkville on the college football map.
A fourth-round selection of the Dallas Cowboys in the 2016 NFL Draft, Prescott was the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, made the Pro Bowl and is already one of the league’s true stars.
4. AJ McCarron, Alabama (2010-13)
Unfairly labeled a game manager in the mold of McElroy, McCarron was more of a genuine playmaker at the game’s most important position than many realize. He completed 67 percent of his passes in all three seasons as the starter, plus he led the country in efficiency rating in 2012 on the strength of a sensational TD-to-INT ratio of 30-to-3.
A two-time national champion with the Crimson Tide, McCarron might have won three if not for the infamous “Kick Six” at Auburn in 2013. His career rating of 162.5 is fourth best in conference lore. No ‘Bama passer has more completions, yards or touchdowns.
A fifth-round choice of the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2014 NFL Draft, McCarron continues to back up Andy Dalton but is a constant source of trade speculation.
3. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (2012-13)
In one of the most memorable games in recent league history, Manziel put on a one-man show in 2012 when the Aggies went into Tuscaloosa and beat then-No. 1 Alabama. That upset not only announced A&M as a new force to be reckoned with in the West, but it introduced “Johnny Football” to the rest of the nation. A month later, he was awarded the Heisman Trophy.
By the time that 2012 campaign was in the bag, Manziel finished second in the SEC in passing with 3,706 yards and actually led the conference in rushing with 1,410. He was responsible for 47 total TDs, and then in 2013 he was credited with another 46.
A first-rounder of the Cleveland Browns in the 2014 NFL Draft, Manziel was a spectacular bust in the pros. Make no mistake about it, though. In college, he was a video game come to life.
2. Cam Newton, Auburn (2010)
A case can be made that Newton had the most dominant season ever put together. As a passer, he was second in the land in efficiency rating at 182.1, less than half a point behind leader Kellen Moore of Boise State. As a rusher, he won the SEC’s triple crown by leading the conference in attempts (264) and yards (1,473) and tying for the lead in touchdowns (20).
As a leader, Newton directed the Tigers to a 14-0 record and their first national title since 1957. His victory over defending champion Alabama, when he turned a 24-7 second-half deficit into a 28-27 triumph, is on the short list of legendary Iron Bowl performances.
Taken No. 1 by the Carolina Panthers in the 2011 NFL Draft, Newton is a three-time Pro Bowler and was the league’s MVP in 2015.
1. Tim Tebow, Florida (2006-09)
A no-brainer to finish atop this list, if you combine individual accolades with team accomplishments, Tebow may be the premier college football player of all time. He was the first sophomore in history to be given the Heisman Trophy in 2007, when he accounted for a jaw-dropping 55 TDs both passing and running. The Gators also won two rings (2006, 2008) with him on the roster.
Through the air, he’s the most efficient passer in league history with a career rating of 170.8. On the ground, Tebow’s 2,947 yards rushing are the most ever for a signal caller in the SEC, plus his 57 rushing scores are a conference record regardless of position.
A first-round pick of the Denver Broncos in the 2010 NFL Draft, Tebow’s style of play was never a fit for Sunday. But, oh, those Saturdays. He was a once-in-a-lifetime gamer.