This article was originally featured over at The Saturday Edge and split up into East and West rankings. Since then recruiting has been finalized and we now have a truer picture of what the quarter back grouping of 2013 will look like. Here is how I see the SEC QB groups heading into the 2013 season:
Not only does Georgia have the best returning QB in the SEC East in Aaron Murray (3893 yds passing, 36 TD), they also have the deepest and most talented group in the entire SEC as a whole. Back-up Hutson Mason took a red-shirt last year to put a year between him and Murray. Behind Mason, the Dawgs have Christian LeMay (Scout.com #8), Faton Bauta (Scout.com #24) and 2013 early enrollee Brice Ramsey (Scout.com #7).
The Aggies have a returning Heisman Trophy winner calling the shots for them but Alabama has a two-time BCS National Champion at QB. AJ McCarron is 25-2 as a starter and returns for his senior season looking for a three-peat. McCarron has great command of what Alabama wants him to do and he’s been able to step up when Alabama has needed him. Alabama is known for running the football but McCarron still finished with almost 3,000 yards passing and a fantastic 30:3 TD to INT ratio. The only real knock on the QB position at Alabama is established depth as back-ups Blake Sims and Phillip Ely (there have been rumors of Ely transferring to USF but I haven't found anything concrete) threw a combined 14 passes last season. Oh yeah, keep an eye out for Cooper Bateman in the future. He’s an early enrollee this season and is ranked as the #5 QB by Scout.com.
#3 Texas A&M Aggies
The Aggies return Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and he had the Aggies playing better than any team in the Nation at the end of the season. Manziel finished second in the SEC in passing yards and led the Nation in total offense. Manziel’s offensive line (which along with Alabama’s was among the best in the Nation last year) takes a bit of a hit this season losing Luke Joeckel, but the Aggies are still poised to score big with play-makers all over the field. They did take a hit on the depth chart with #2 Jameill Showers announcing he will transfer. The next man on the depth chart (Matt Joeckel) threw just 11 passes last season. The Aggies did sign two 4-star prospects in this recruiting cycle.
Steve Spurrier and his quick hook doesn’t make it easy to be a QB for the Gamecocks. That might be one of the reasons Spurrier hasn’t recruited an elite level high school QB in recently memory. Despite the lack of recruiting, the Gamecocks still have one of the better QB groups in the SEC East. Connor Shaw is a gamer and more importantly he’s a dual threat (1956 yds passing, 17 passing TD, 67.5% completions, 435 yds rushing). If we are just talking SEC East starters, after Aaron Murray, Shaw is the guy I would want running my team. Dylan Thompson will be his back-up and despite only completing 52% of his passes he had a couple of very good games last year against Clemson and East Carolina and also had two TDs in just ten attempts against Michigan in the Outback bowl. Spurrier did add a four star prospect in Connor Mitch during the recruiting cycle. According to Rivals, Mitch is the first four-star QB that Spurrier has signed since Stephen Garcia in 2007. Yep, that Stephen Garcia.
#5 LSU Tigers
A lot was expected from Zach Mettenberger last season and the JUCO transfer by way of Georgia struggled to find his niche in the LSU offense. Mettenberger finished 8th in the league in passing yards, 11th in completion percentage and tenth in TDs, but did show flashes. Mettenberger will be better in his second year as a starter and he has a very dependable run game behind him. Mettenberger’s back-up Stephen Rivers has good bloodlines but he’s unproven. The Tigers also signed two 4-star prospects that will be joining the team this fall.
As a first year starter in 2012, Jeff Driskel struggled. He finished 11th in passing yardage in the SEC and 10th in passer rating. In his second year in Brent Pease’s offense it will be interesting to see how much of a step he takes forward this season. Jacoby Brissett is transferring which leaves Tyler Murphy as the inexperienced back-up. Will Muschamp did sign one QB during this recruiting cycle as he brought on Rivals three-star prospect Max Staver.
Moving to the SEC didn’t help James Franklin. In 2011 he threw for 2872 yards with 21 TD and escaped injury. In 2012 he threw for 1562 yards with 10 TD (vs 7 INT) and only played in 9 games. Franklin has to stay healthy and the Tigers have to do a better job protecting him. Rising sophomore Corbin Berkstresser played in ten games and threw for over 1,000 yards but had more INT than TD. They also have Maty Mauk (Scout.com #14 in 2012) waiting in the wings.
After the 2011 season the Rebels would have been dead last on this list but Hugh Freeze found a good QB in Bo Wallace to help run his system and it paid off in the win column for them. Wallace started out at Arkansas State and then went to JUCO where he threw for over 4,000 yards before arriving at Ole Miss. Last year, Wallace came six yards short of throwing for 3,000. The biggest issue for Wallace was valuing the football as he threw an SEC high 17 INTs. With a year under his belt and a year of Hugh Freeze’s system in the books, Wallace and the Rebels will continue to improve on offense in 2013.
Statistically, Tyler Russell had a better year than Bo Wallace but I was disappointed in the Bulldogs inability to beat anybody of note in 2012. Russell threw for 2897 yards but did so at only a 58% clip. I’m not sure Russell is the right fit for Dan Mullen’s offense and it will be interesting to see what he can do as a senior in 2013.
Tyler Wilson was one of the better QBs in the league last year but it didn’t translate on the field as the team went just 4-8. The big question this year is if Brandon Allen will get the starting nod or if Brandon Mitchell will get another shot at QB (he played WR last year and caught 17 passes). Don’t expect Bret Bielema to go straight to the power run game like Wisconsin had as he simply doesn’t have those types of players and he’s brought in former Tennessee OC Jim Chaney. QB is a big question-mark for the Hogs heading into 2013.
Kentucky has options in Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow. Smith played in four games last season before suffering a season ending injury and put up pretty decent stats (975 yds passing, 68.7% completion, 8 TD vs 4 INT). Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles struggled as freshmen last year but they have talent and could develop into good QBs with the right tutelage.
#12 Auburn Tigers
Scot Loeffler’s attempt to move the team from a spread offense to a pro-style offense was a failure in 2012 and it may have stunted QB Kiehl Frazier beyond repair. With Gus Malzahn coming back into the fold, can Frazier take over at QB for the Tigers and run Malzahn’s offense? Crazier things have happened but when Malzahn was OC in 2011, he only let Frazier throw 12 passes (versus 76 runs). Jonathan Wallace is another option but if Auburn is to be successful in 2013 they might have to depend on someone who hasn’t even stepped foot on campus yet. That man is Nick Marshall. He played QB in high school but was recruited as DB by Georgia but was kicked off the team shortly after his freshman season. Marshall went the JUCO route and as a QB threw for almost 4,000 yards and 36 TDs. For Auburn to turn their program around, they may have to depend on Marshall and if he works out the Tigers will vault up this list.
Jordan Rodgers has run out of eligibility and that leaves the Commodores with a lot of question marks. Former Wyoming Cowboys QB Austyn Carta-Samuels will probably be the guy under center for Vandy this year. He played in six games last season but only threw 25 passes in 2012, but he was a two year starter for the Cowboys in 2009 and 2010. After Carta-Samuels, the Commodores have Patton Robinette (Scout.com #38) and early enrollee Johnathon McCrary (Scout.com #46).
Tyler Bray made a head scratching decision when he declared for the NFL draft and in the process also left Butch Jones with an empty QB cabinet. Justin Worley looks like the guy who will inherit the QB job (Scout.com #38) but he only threw 38 passes in 2012 and had two INT vs zero TD. The other option looks to be Nathan Peterman (Scout.com #18) but he didn’t throw a pass last year as he took a red-shirt. True freshmen Joshua Dobbs or Riley Ferguson might be seeing action sooner rather than later.