10 most underrated quarterbacks in SEC history
There are many former SEC football players that have flown under the radar since they left campus – too many to name them all – and each has his own unique reason for not receiving more recognition conference-wide or on a national level.
Understandably, with the rise of offensive production in the league in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as well as a longer schedule, conference championships, and bowl game statistics added to official NCAA record books, many great quarterbacks from the past have been overshadowed by modern signal caller that have racked up more impressive numbers.
With that in mind, we take a close look at 10 of the most underrated quarterbacks in SEC history.
Eric Zeier, Georgia
Former Georgia quarterback Eric Zeier set 18 SEC records with the Bulldogs during his four-year collegiate career, including a conference record 11,153 passing yards. Zeier was just the third player in Division I history to surpass 11,000 career passing yards. He led the conference in passing as a junior (3,525) and as a senior (3,396), ranking in the top ten nationally both seasons, and also finished in the top ten of the Heisman Trophy voting both years.
However, Zeier only held the SEC passing record for three years until Peyton Manning came along. Then, another former Bulldog, David Green, broke Manning’s record in 2004. In 2013, former Georgia QB Aaron Murray took the top spot from Green, and remains the league’s all-time leader with 13,166 career passing yards, and also tops the list with 121 TD passes.
Though Zeier still ranks in the top five in SEC history in passing yardage, he’s just third among former Georgia signal callers, and has also been overshadowed by No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick Matthew Stafford among the best to wear red and black.
Shane Matthews, Florida
The starting quarterback at Florida during Steve Spurrier’s first three seasons as head coach of the Gators, Shane Matthews held the SEC passing record prior to Zeier and finished his collegiate career with 9,287 yards and 74 touchdowns. Matthews led the Gators to their first SEC title in 1991, and was the SEC Player of the Year in 1991 and 1992. He also finished fifth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in ’91, his junior season.
Other great Florida quarterbacks followed Matthews, including Danny Wuerffel, who was the second player in school history to win the Heisman, and the first to quarterback the Gators to a national championship. Tim Tebow would become the second Florida QB to win a Heisman and a national title, but Tebow began his career as a backup and short-yardage runner behind another underrated signal caller: Chris Leak.
Chris Leak, Florida
One of the most touted recruits of his era, Chris Leak earned his first scholarship offer when he was in the eighth grade – years before he would go on to set nearly every passing record in the state of North Carolina and multiple national records. Leak signed with Florida and played his first two seasons for Ron Zook, which included a career-high 3,197 passing yards and 29 TDs (both of which led the SEC) and a sophomore in 2004. However, Zook was fired, and the Gators brought Urban Meyer in to lead the program.
Though Leak, a pocket passer, wasn’t an ideal fit for Meyer’s spread-option offense, he still led Florida to a national championship as a senior in 2006. Overall, Leak threw for 11,213 yards, which ranks third in SEC history, and 88 career touchdown passes, which ranks fourth on the league’s all-time leaderboard.
Andre Woodson, Kentucky
Tim Couch rewrote the Kentucky record book under Air Raid guru Hal Mumme and set many SEC single-season passing records along the way. Jared Lorenzen broke many of Couch’s school records and gained national notoriety as “The Hefty Lefty.” However, despite Couch and Lorenzen’s accomplishments, the greatest quarterback in UK history may be Andre Woodson.
Woodson broke Lorenzen’s school record for passing touchdowns with 79, which ranks No. 7 on the all-time conference leaderboard. He also set an SEC single-season record with 40 TD passes in 2007 – the same year he led the Wildcats to an upset over No. 1-ranked and eventual national champion LSU – and also set an NCAA record with 271 consecutive pass attempts without an interception.
Harry Gilmer, Alabama
Most of the players on our list played in the SEC in the last 30 years. However, many of the early signal callers in league history fall even farther under the radar. Harry Gilmer technically played halfback, punted and returned kicks at Alabama from 1944-47, but he led the nation with 13 touchdown passes and also ran for 8 scores during his sophomore season.
Gilmer won SEC Player of the Year honors and finished fifth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in ’45, and led the Crimson Tide to a 10-0 record, an SEC Championship and a No. 2 final ranking in the AP poll. He pulled out another top 5 Heisman finish as a senior.
Wayne Madkin, Mississippi State
Dak Prescott is the best quarterback in Mississippi State football history, but arguably the most underrated signal caller ever to play for the Bulldogs is Wayne Madkin.
As the starting QB in Starkville from 1997-2000, Madkin led MSU to three bowl games, won the 1998 SEC Western Division title, and posted a 10-2 record and No. 13 final ranking in the AP Top 25 in 1999. He also set the school record with 6,336 passing yards, which he held for more than a decade until Prescott broke it.
Jay Barker, Alabama
Overshadowed by pro legends like Bart Starr, Ken Stabler and Joe Namath, as well as more recent stars like AJ McCarron, Jay Barker still holds a very special place in the hearts of Alabama fans. Barker threw for a then-school record 5,689 passing yards in his four years in Tuscaloosa, led the Tide to the 1992 national championship, and won SEC Player of the Year honors and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as a senior in 1994. He finished his career with a 35-2-1 record as a starter.
Steve Taneyhill, South Carolina
One of the most flamboyant quarterbacks in SEC history, Steve Taneyhill led the South Carolina Gamecocks through their first four seasons in the league from 1992-95. Taneyhill finished his career with 8,555 passing yards, which ranked among the top five in league history at the time. In ’95, Taneyhill threw for 3,094 yards and 29 touchdowns – both of which ranked second in the conference.
Casey Clausen, Tennessee
There have been many great passers in Tennessee football history, including campus legends like Peyton Manning, Heath Shuler, Johnny Majors, Tee Martin and Condredge Holloway. However, some would be surprised to know that Casey Clausen ranks No. 2 behind Manning on the Vols all-time leaderboard in both passing yards (9,707) and touchdowns (75). Clausen also led Tennessee to 34 wins in four years as a starter.
Tommy Hodson, LSU
Not well known to many of today’s young SEC football fans, LSU QB Tommy Hodson led the Tigers to the SEC title in 1986 and 1988. Hodson was a four-year starter in Baton Rouge and finished his college career with 9,115 passing yards — shattering Kerwin Bell’s previous league record by 1,530 yards — and 69 touchdowns.
- Brandon Allen, Arkansas
- Kerwin Bell, Florida
- Mike Bobo, Georgia
- Casey Dick, Arkansas
- Doug Johnson, Florida
- Romaro Miller, Ole Miss
- Whit Taylor, Vanderbilt
- Herb Tyler, LSU
- Stan White, Auburn
- John Parker Wilson, Alabama
- Greg Zolman, Vanderbilt