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Monday, July 27, 2009

Where have all the quarterbacks gone?

After the circus of SEC media days, we have a week of cooldown before players report and we fire up August practice.

For those who didn't see it, I wrote a story for Sunday's paper about the lack of experienced quarterbacks in the league. Here's how it starts:

HOOVER, Ala. — For three days reporters prodded coaches at the SEC Media Days to reveal their all-conference quarterback selection, the goal being to find who didn’t fall in lockstep and vote Florida’s Tim Tebow first and Ole Miss’ Jevan Snead second.

A better question might have been who should have been third?

Beyond Tebow, a two-time national champion and former Heisman Trophy winner, and Snead, a Texas transfer putting up gaudy stats in Oxford, quarterback remains a largely unsettled position in the SEC, a major concern in a conference that had 11 teams finish in the top-40 nationally in total defense last year.

“Without good quarterback play, it’s tough to win a championship,” Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

It's a weak crop this year for a couple of reasons. Georgia's Matthew Stafford left for the NFL (pretty good decision since he went No. 1 overall and broke the bank). Also, former prized recruit Ryan Perrilloux would be a senior had he not been in constant trouble in his two years in Baton Rouge. Now he's at Jacksonville State. A couple other supposedly big-time recruits -- Neil Caudle and Chris Smelley -- haven't yet panned out.

Seriously, though. Take a glance at this year's group of QBs. It's seriously lagging behind other conferences, especially the Big 12, which has been the cradle of quarterbacks lately.

  • Alabama: Junior Greg McElroy, who backed up former Missouri star Chase Daniel in high school, will follow up the steady if not spectacular John Parker Wilson. Despite no college starts to his credit, McElroy wowed everybody in the spring.
  • Arkansas: Ryan Mallett, a cannon-armed, 6-foot-7 transfer from Michigan, finished the spring as the starter and should be the perfect fit for Bobby Petrino’s quarterback-friendly system.
  • Auburn: Neither Caudle or Kodi Burns seized the job in the spring, so the battle resumes in August, with senior Chris Todd joining the mix following offseason shoulder surgery. Most fans hope dual-threat true freshman Tyrik Rollison can get on the field in some capacity.
  • Florida: In three years he’s won two national titles and a Heisman Trophy. One more season like that and Tebow could go down as the greatest quarterback in college history.
  • Georgia: Joe Cox served as Matthew Stafford’s understudy for three years. Now the fifth-year senior gets his shot. Highly-touted freshmen Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger will battle for the backup job and a bigger future role.
  • Kentucky: The shifty Randall Cobb will stay at wide receiver this season, opening up the job for junior Mike Hartline, who had his ups and down last season but started in six of the Wildcats’ seven wins.
  • LSU: Jordan Jefferson only started two games last year but staked his claim to the No. 1 spot with a strong showing in the Tigers’ 38-3 rout of Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. He can’t afford to flop, however, with sophomore Jarrett Lee and freshman sensation Russell Shepard waiting in the wings.
  • Mississippi State: Senior Tyson Lee will get the first crack at running the spread offense new head coach Dan Mullen brings with him from Utah and Florida. But Tyler Russell, the jewel of MSU’s 2009 class, is the future in Starkville and might get a shot early.
  • Ole Miss: After a slow start, the Texas transfer Snead finished last season strong, throwing for 26 touchdowns and finishing third in the SEC in quarterback efficiency behind Tebow and Stafford.
  • South Carolina: After Smelley transferred to Alabama to play baseball, the starting job is Stephen Garcia’s. His development has been slowed by his off-the-field antics, but nobody has ever doubted the former prize recruit’s physical tools.
  • Tennessee: Head coach Lane Kiffin said senior Jonathan Crompton and junior Nick Stephens will get equal reps to start preseason practice. Neither thrived while splitting time last year, as the Vols finished 107th nationally in passing offense.
  • Vanderbilt: Senior Mackenzi Adams and sophomore Larry Smith will battle for the chance to improve what was the SEC’s worst passing offense last year. Adams is more experienced, but Smith threw for 121 yards in his first start, a 16-14 Music City Bowl victory against Boston College last December.
Fear not, SEC fans. Help appears to be on the way ... eventually. Here are last February's quarterback signees and their national rank, according to Rivals.com:

  • 3. Aaron Murray, Georgia, 4-star
  • 7. A.J. McCarron, Alabama, 4-star
  • 11. Zach Mettenberger, Georgia, 4-star
  • 12. Tyler Russell, Mississippi State, 4-star
  • 14. Ryan Mossakowski, Kentucky, 4-star
  • 1. Shepard, LSU, 5-star
  • 2. Rollison, Auburn, 4-star
  • 10. Jordan Reed, Florida, 4-star
  • 11. Raymond Cotton, Ole Miss, 4-star
  • 14. Morgan Newton, Kentucky, 4-star

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