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2012 Quarterback Rankings: SEC

The best league in football adds Franklin, Missouri to list of quarterbacks.

<p> The best league in football adds Franklin, Missouri to list of quarterbacks.</p>

-by Braden Gall (follow at )

There is no doubt this is the Era of the Quarterback.

Houston’s Case Keenum (152) and Boise State’s Kellen Moore (142) both broke Graham Harrell’s all-time NCAA touchdown record of 134 scoring strikes this season. Keenum also became the NCAA’s all-time record holder for total offense (19,572) and passing yards (18,685). Moore, meanwhile, is the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback with a 50-3 record as a starter. And because Keenum still has one game left to go, he could conceivably reach 20,000 yards of total offense (think about that).

Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson both need efficient showings in bowl games to break Colt Brennan’s NCAA single-season passer efficiency record of 186.0. And Wilson broke Harrell’s record of consecutive games with a touchdown pass with 37.

In the unbalanced college game, there are many different ways to evaluate quarterback play. Gifted runners, crazy schemes, talent differentials, level of competition and raw NFL talent all become a part of the equation. The bottom line is the quarterback is the single most important position on the field, and having a great one under center can take a mediocre football team and elevate it to title contender (just ask Wisconsin).

So who will boast the best signal callers in college football next fall? Athlon Sports takes a very early stab at ranking quarterback play in 2012 by conference:

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

4. SEC

This is where the rankings start to get interesting. The ACC and Pac-12 are head and shoulders above the rest of the nation when it comes to passing talent. For now, the Big 12 gets the nod over the SEC due to a few factors. First, if all the talent falls back into place in the Big 12 — Robert Griffin III, Landry Jones and Geno Smith —  it would easily top the SEC. Second, can Mizzou's James Franklin accomplish in the SEC what he produced in the Big 12? And lastly, half of this conference will have major question marks or unproven commodities under center in 2012.

At the top, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson give the SEC a fantastic 1-2 punch. Wilson led the SEC in yards in his first season as the starter, and Murray led the conference in touchdown passes as he led the Dawgs back to the SEC title game. Georgia will once again be picked to win the East, and the Hogs to challenge LSU and Alabama.

Most important will be the influx of "new" talent. The SEC missed out on most of Tyler Bray’s 2011 season at Tennessee due to injury, and Big Orange faithful will welcome him back to campus for a full season in 2012. Bray might be the best pure passer in the entire conference and will certainly benefit from the return of injured star wideout Justin Hunter. Missouri will bring second-year dual-threat star Franklin to the East as well. The sophomore was dynamic all season long and claimed MVP honors by posting 132 yards passing and 142 yards rushing (and three touchdowns) against North Carolina's SEC-type front seven in the Independence Bowl. How good he can be in his first season facing actual SEC defenses remains to be seen.

It also appears that LSU will go with the burly, highly touted UGA transfer Zach Mettenberger. The 6-foot-5, 225 pounder saw limited action in five games this fall with LSU and will be a junior next fall. The Tigers also reeled in the nation’s No. 2 incoming freshman quarterback in .

The development of A.J. McCarron at Alabama, Jordan Rodgers at Vanderbilt and Connor Shaw at South Carolina will likely determine just how good the quarterback play in the SEC will be in 2012. McCarron led all SEC passers with a 66.8% completion rate and appears poised for stardom next fall as he becomes the focal point of the offense. Other than Bray, he might be the best pure passer and top NFL prospect in the conference. Rodgers won't have the veteran, opportunistic defense helping him next fall and will need to continue to prove himself. Shaw went 6-1 after Stephen Garcia was excommunicated, but doubts still remain about his ability to lead the Gamecocks to a championship.

While the top is very strong in this league, the bottom is full of more questions than any other conference. Mississippi State has options but none has been able to take the next step. Florida, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Auburn each have major issues at the position. The Gators, Aggies and Tigers have highly touted yet largely unproven players to choose from, while Kentucky and Ole Miss could be in for another long year.

The Known Commodities:

1. Aaron Murray, Georgia (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,861 yards, 33 TD, 12 INT, 58.8%
Rushing Stats: 79 att., 116 yards, 2 TD

2. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas (SR)
Passing Stats: 3,422 yards, 22 TD, 6 INT, 63.1%
Rushing Stats: 53 att., minus-21 yards, 4 TD

3. Tyler Bray, Tennessee (JR)
Passing Stats: 1,983 yards, 17 TD, 6 INT, 59.5%
Rushing Stats: 26 att., minus-70 yards, TD

4. James Franklin, Missouri (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,733 yards, 20 TD, 10 INT, 63.2%
Rushing Stats: 199 att., 839 yards, 13 TD

5. AJ McCarron, Alabama (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,400 yards, 16 TD, 5 INT, 66.8%
Rushing Stats: 26 att., minus-33 yards, 2 TD

6. Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,498 yards, 9 TD, 9 INT, 51.2%
Rushing Stats: 108 att., 387 yards, 4 TD

7. Connor Shaw, South Carolina (JR)
Passing Stats: 1,218 yards, 12 TD, 6 INT, 65.5%
Rushing Stats: 116 att., 483 yards, 7 TD

The Unknowns:

Zach Mettenberger, LSU
Tyler Russell/Chris Relf, Mississippi State
Kiehl Frazier/Clint Moseley/Barrett Trotter, Auburn
Jeff Driskel/Jacoby Brissett, Florida
Jamiell Showers/Matt Davis/Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
The Kentucky Wildcats
Barry Brunetti/Randall Mackey, Ole Miss

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

CFB Conferences: 

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