The SEC is one of college football’s top conferences for quarterback play in 2013.
Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel clearly ranks as the No. 1 quarterback for this season, as the sophomore hopes to repeat as a Heisman Trophy winner, while leading the Aggies to a SEC West title. Alabama’s AJ McCarron ranks as the No. 2 quarterback, with Georgia’s Aaron Murray not too far behind.
South Carolina’s Connor Shaw ranks as the No. 4 starting quarterback but is expected to share time with Dylan Thompson this fall.
Two quarterbacks that could rise significantly in this ranking in 2013 will be LSU’s Zach Mettenberger and Florida’s Jeff Driskel. With both passers in their second year as a starter, improvement from 2012 should be expected.
College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top quarterbacks in each conference. One important note: This is just a ranking of starters and backups weren’t included for this article. Also, some projection for how we think quarterbacks are going to play for 2013 factored into this ranking.
Ranking the SEC Starting Quarterbacks for 2013
1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (SO)
Manziel’s 2012 season is one of the best years by a freshman in college football history. In 13 games, Manziel threw for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushed for 1,410 yards and 21 scores. He tossed only nine picks and won the Heisman Trophy after leading Texas A&M to a 10-2 regular-season mark. Repeating his numbers from last season will be difficult, as the Aggies won’t have Kliff Kingsbury calling the plays and left tackle Luke Joeckel departed early for the NFL. Also, SEC defenses have a full offseason to study Manziel, so the road figures to be tougher for the sophomore in 2013. However, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner is still in for a big season and should be a preseason first-team All-American.
2. AJ McCarron, Alabama (SR)
McCarron isn’t going to post huge numbers like Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, but the senior is one of college football’s top quarterbacks and has a chance to finish his career as one of the most prolific of the BCS era. McCarron is coming off his best year under center, throwing for 2,933 yards and 30 scores in 2012. For his career, McCarron has tossed only eight interceptions in 690 attempts and has two national championships as Alabama’s No. 1 quarterback. Alabama has one of the SEC’s top receiving corps and despite the loss of three key offensive line starters, McCarron could improve on his 2012 totals.
3. Aaron Murray, Georgia (SR)
There is only one thing left unfinished on Murray’s pristine college resume: He needs to cap a season with a win in Atlanta to cement his legacy as one of the top SEC quarterbacks of all-time. He already holds the Georgia school record for passing efficiency after finishing second in the nation a year ago with a 174.82 rating, while his 3,893 yards and 36 touchdowns were UGA benchmarks as well. The 6-foot, 210-pound gunslinger needs less than 1,500 yards and just 19 passing scores, both of which are obviously well within reach, to set both SEC all-time records. The star from powerhouse Tampa (Fla.) Plant has started every one of his possible 41 career games, leading the Dawgs to a 22-6 record and two East Division titles over the last two seasons. A win in the SEC Championship game is all that Murray has left to accomplish.
4. Connor Shaw, South Carolina (SR)
Shaw won’t wow anyone with elite passing talent or overall accuracy, but he brings so much more to the offense than just throwing the football. The Flowery Branch (Ga.) High senior-to-be boasts a 17-3 record as a starter and brings an unquestioned level of toughness to the huddle. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder also has an uncanny ability to extend plays with his legs. However, this toughness and inclination to run the ball also has led to consistent injury trouble for the Gamecocks quarterback. He has missed five games over the last two seasons and was absent from spring football after offseason foot surgery. Backup Dylan Thompson is a more polished passer and Steve Spurrier has made it clear that both will play this fall, but Shaw’s leadership and toughness makes him the starter in Columbia. An underrated starter at that.
5. Tyler Russell, Mississippi State (SR)
In the first half of the season, Russell looked like an All-SEC quarterback. Through the first seven games, Russell threw 15 touchdowns and just one interception. However, in the next seven contests, he managed only nine scores and tossed nine interceptions. So where is Russell? Probably somewhere in the middle. The senior is clearly capable of playing better than he did at the end of last season. However, Russell is losing some of his best receivers and struggled to produce against the SEC West’s best teams. If Russell can regain his early 2012 form, he should be one of the SEC’s top-five quarterbacks this fall.
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6. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss (JR)
Wallace was one of the SEC’s top newcomers last year, throwing for 2,994 yards and 22 touchdowns, along with 390 rushing yards and eight scores. The Tennessee native tossed eight touchdowns over the final two games and threw for 310 yards in a narrow loss to LSU in mid-November. After a solid debut, the Ole Miss fan base is holding its breath about Wallace for 2013. The 6-foot-4 passer had shoulder surgery after the BBVA Compass Bowl but is expected to return by the season opener. However, shoulder surgeries – as evidenced by Missouri’s James Franklin – aren’t a guaranteed return to full health immediately. If Wallace does return to 100 percent, he should easily improve on last season’s numbers.
7. Zach Mettenberger, LSU (SR)
Big things were expected of Mettenberger in his first season as LSU’s No. 1 quarterback, but he fell short of those expectations. In 13 starts, he threw for 2,609 yards and 12 touchdowns and tossed seven picks. Mettenberger had a solid performance against Alabama, torching the Crimson Tide for 298 yards and one score. However, he had only two other contests of more than 250 passing yards and finished the year on a down note with just 120 yards against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Mettenberger has a new coordinator in former NFL coach Cam Cameron and another offseason should help the Georgia native get more comfortable with his supporting cast. Mettenberger has room to improve and could rise in these rankings if he and Cameron can get on the same page.
8. Jeff Driskel, Florida (JR)
The Oviedo (Fla.) Hagerty prospect was the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation coming out of high school in 2011. He saw action in just five games as a freshman when John Brantley was injured and he was clearly out over his skis. But as a sophomore, the burly 6-foot-4, 240-pounder settled in as the starter and began to control the offense. Driskel is entering his third season on campus and his second full season as the unquestioned starter and it should be his best. He brings an elite level of athleticism — his 177 yards rushing against Vanderbilt is a school record for a quarterback — and is at his best on the run, out of the pocket and improvising. So if he can learn to play more consistent and efficient football within the confines of the designed offense, he could blossom into one of the SEC’s best quarterbacks.
9. James Franklin, Missouri (SR)
A highly-touted dual-threat prospect from Corinth (Texas) Lake Dallas, Franklin had a breakout 2011 campaign by throwing for 2,865 yards, rushing for 981 yards and accounting for 36 touchdowns. So expectations were sky high heading into 2012 before a serious shoulder injury last spring slowed his development. He also was limited by a balky knee last season. Transitioning into the physical and extremely competitive SEC is tough enough when fully healthy, so Franklin struggled mightily in his second season as the starter. He rushed for 859 fewer yards, threw for 1,303 fewer yards and produced 26 fewer touchdowns. He has the talent and the system to be productive but needs to stay healthy if he wants to get Mizzou back to the postseason as an SEC program. Franklin will be pushed by Maty Mauk for playing time in the fall.
10. Austyn Carta-Samuels, Vanderbilt (SR)
The senior-to-be from San Jose (Calif.) Bellarmine Prep was a star at Wyoming before transferring to Vandy. He earned Mountain West Freshman of the Year honors in 2009 after a dynamic first season in Laramie. He produced more than 2,000 yards of total offense as a sophomore before deciding he needed a change of scenery. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound athlete — he has 786 career rushing yards — lost the battle to start to Jordan Rodgers a year ago but is the guy for the Commodores in 2013. He has the ability to extend plays with his legs and will have elite talent around him at running back and wide receiver to lean on. Carta-Samuels should be capable of leading the Dores to an unprecedented third straight bowl game. If he struggles, redshirt freshman Patton Robinette will get a chance to lead the offense.
11. Jalen Whitlow, Kentucky (SO)
Four different Wildcats attempted at least 30 passes a year ago, but Whitlow (161) led the team. The wide spread of playing time portrays the struggles with productivity and injuries at the quarterback position for Kentucky a year ago. Enter new head coach Mark Stoops. The battle will rage deep into the summer but the 6-foot-2, 210-pound dual-threat option appears to be the early front-runner over fellow sophomores Maxwell Smith and Patrick Towles. Whitlow brings an athletic dimension to the spread offense that new playcaller Neal Brown is looking for — see his 206 yards rushing and three touchdowns in seven starts a year ago — and he showcased his skills by dominating the heavily attended spring game in Lexington. The Prattville (Ala.) High prospect has some sneaky upside if he can hold on to the starting job.
12. Justin Worley, Tennessee (JR)
Sitting behind the brittle Tyler Bray the last two seasons gave Worley a leg up in the 2013 race for Tennessee’s starting quarterback job. He got work in three games as a freshman, throwing for 604 yards on 87 attempts, and saw time in three more games as a sophomore. This small bit of experience gives the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Rock Hill (S.C.) Northwestern product the inside track on Nathan Peterman and incoming four-star freshman Joshua Dobbs. The pro-style passer has a solid arm and big frame but it remains to be seen exactly who new coach Butch Jones is leaning towards. This position battle might run well past the season opener unless Worley proves he has developed in an SEC starter.
13. Brandon Allen, Arkansas (SO)
With Tyler Wilson expiring his eligibility, the Razorbacks are expected to hand the keys to the offense to Allen. The sophomore made one start last season (Alabama), throwing for 60 yards on 10 completions. The Arkansas native finished 2012 with 186 passing yards and three interceptions on 21 completions. Considering all that transpired with the Razorbacks last season, Allen shouldn’t be judged too much on his numbers from 2012. The 6-foot-3 quarterback was a four-star prospect coming out of high school by Rivals.com and has the size and skill-set to be a good fit in new coordinator Jim Chaney’s offense. Allen held an edge over Brandon Mitchell in spring ball and should take the first snap for Arkansas in 2013.
14. Kiehl Frazier, Auburn (JR)
Auburn’s offense was simply a disaster last season. The Tigers averaged 18.7 points a game and ranked 112th nationally in passing offense. A big reason for the sluggish offense was the departure of Gus Malzahn to Arkansas State at the end of 2011, which prompted Gene Chizik to hire Scot Loeffler as the team’s new coordinator. Loeffler implemented a pro-style attack, which didn’t mesh with Auburn’s personnel. Frazier and backup Jonathan Wallace are the biggest beneficiaries of Malzahn’s return to The Plains, as both quarterbacks are a better fit for the spread. Frazier finished 2012 with 753 passing yards and two touchdowns, along with eight interceptions. The junior has the most experience of any quarterback on the roster, which should give him the edge to start in the season opener.
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