I think we can safely say that Florida is set at quarterback in Tim Tebow. Ditto for Jevan Snead at Ole Miss. But just about everywhere else in the SEC there are questions at the quarterback positions. But for the sake of our discussion today, here are the five quarterback races I’m keeping a close eye on this spring. Any thoughts on these, or others you think are more noteworthy, are always welcomed.
Auburn: Chris Todd, Kodi Burns: Gus Malzahn, Auburn’s new offensive coordinator, was a very successful high school coach in Arkansas before he joined the college ranks. He coached against Auburn’s Burns, who played at Northside High in Fort Smith, Ark. Malzahn knows what Burns can do. More importantly, he knows what Burns cannot do—at least right now—and that’s throw the ball 30-plus times a game. Todd was the clear favorite last season when Tony Franklin was trying to install the spread. Franklin believed that Todd was the best combination of runner and passer. But Auburn fans never got to see the real Chris Todd because of shoulder problems that were worse than anybody would let on. Todd finally had surgery in December to fix the problem. Neil Caudle, a junior who has played some, and redshirt freshman Barrett Trotter will be in the mix early this spring but you can’t have four quarterbacks taking snaps consistently when there are only 15 practice days. Malzahn’s offense is so quarterback intensive that he’ll have to make some tough decisions early.
Georgia: Joe Cox, Aaron Murray: I like Joe Cox. Here is a guy who came to Georgia with impressive credentials out of Independence High School in Charlotte. He redshirts behind D.J. Shockley, a guy who waited four years behind David Greene. Shockley leads Georgia to an SEC championship in 2005 and then it looks like Cox will get his turn. Enter Matthew Stafford in 2006 and Cox has a big decision to make. He stays at Georgia and waits his turn. There is no question that Cox can play the position. He will be a steady hand at the wheel behind what will be a good offensive line and a stable of very good running backs. But here is the question: Can Cox become an every down quarterback over the long haul of an SEC season? Is Murray, the highly-recruited freshman from Tampa, a talent on the level of Stafford, David Greene, Eric Zeier, and Buck Belue? All four of those guys not only played but excelled in their first seasons (Greene was a redshirt freshman in 2001). Does the other freshman, Zach Mettenberger, get in this mix? In my opinion the position belongs to Cox until Murray’s talent demands he be put on the field. I just don’t think that happens early. The Bulldogs can’t go to Stillwater, Okla., on Sept. 5 with an 18-year-old quarterback.
Alabama: Greg McElroy, Star Jackson: OC Jim McElwain has the same kind of quarterback race at Alabama. McElroy, a rising redshirt junior from Southlake, Texas, has waited his turn behind John Parker Wilson. When he did play, and that wasn’t often, he didn’t embarrass himself, completing 16 of 20 passes for 196 yards. He is a drop back, pro-style quarterback in the mold of Wilson. He has a strong arm and, like most Texas quarterbacks, he knows the game. He is a quick study. He will put in the work to understand the game. Barring injury, he will start the first game against Virginia Tech, which has been known to feast on inexperienced quarterbacks. It will be a big first test under fire. But in order for Alabama to get where they want to go, redshirt freshman Star Jackson has to be in the mix. With three major losses on the offensive line, Alabama will eventually need the change of pace that a mobile quarterback brings. Both will have to play.
Tennessee: Jonathon Crompton, B.J. Coleman, Nick Stephens: Tennessee tried to install a new offense last season under OC Dave Clawson and it was, bluntly, a bit too complicated for the quarterback talent on hand. Lane Kiffin’s offense is more quarterback friendly and the hope is that the Vols will get better play out of the position. Kiffin did not sign a quarterback in February because there was not an elite one left in the recruiting pool. One of these guys is going to have to take the first snap against Western Kentucky on Sept. 5. Crompton played in eight games last season and, to be kind, was not a very good decision maker. Stephens played in seven games, completing 48 percent of his 130 passes. Coleman, who some believe is the most gifted of the group, only played in three games. There is the sense out of Knoxville that quarterback play will be better but the reality may be that none of these guys is the answer long term for Tennessee. Kiffin will certainly have something to sell, namely a big opportunity to play immediately, when he goes recruiting for quarterbacks in 2010.
LSU: Jordan Jefferson, Jarrett Lee, Russell Shepard: LSU played musical chairs with its quarterbacks last season before finally giving the job to Jefferson, a true freshman, in the final two games. Jefferson is mature beyond his years and can handle some of the wrinkles that OC Gary Crowton will inevitably throw at his quarterbacks. Head coach Les Miles won’t say it publicly but Jefferson is his guy. Miles wants to keep his options open because he knows that in this league, invariably you’ll need more than one quarterback to complete a season. Lee started eight games last season as a redshirt freshman but made some throws that were so ill-advised that they were beyond belief. He had 16 interceptions and seven that were returned for touchdowns. He got hurt at the end of the season (ankle) which gave Jefferson his opportunity. The battle really is to see who will back up Jefferson and Shepard, a true freshman from Houston, may be a factor. In the 2008 preseason Miles would always include Jefferson, a true freshman at the time, in the discussion about the quarterback position. This time he will do the same with Shepard, who is a very special talent.
Vanderbilt: Mackenzi Adams, Larry Smith. Smith, a rising sophomore, came on late last season and played well in the Music City Bowl. Adams has had flashes of really good play but needs to be more consistent.