With training camp for just about everybody cranking up this week we’re going to spend some time looking at the quarterback position in the SEC, ACC, and nationally. We spend a lot of time talking about the importance of defense and the offensive line but let’s face it, if you don’t have a quarterback who can distribute the ball and who can limit his mistakes, you simply aren’t going to win at this level.
Today we’ll rate the quarterbacks in the SEC East. On Tuesday we’ll look at the SEC West and how the addition of Jeremiah Masoli at Ole Miss will impact the position. We’ll do the same for the ACC on Wednesday and Thursday.
Remember one thing about these rankings which, I will admit, are totally arbitrary. They have absolutely nothing to do with a player’s NFL potential. They have everything to do with the quarterback’s ability—or potential—to play college football at the SEC and ACC level.
So here we go. Feel free to disagree about the order of the rankings and provide your own:
BREAKING DOWN THE QUARTERBACKS: THE SEC EAST
1. Stephen Garcia, South Carolina: Yep, you read that right. I know Steve Spurrier spent the spring verbally beating on this guy like a rented mule. But if you take a closer look at his numbers, you have to conclude that he is not that far away from being a decent and productive SEC quarterback.
**–He was third in the SEC in total offense (3,048 yards) behind Tim Tebow and Ryan Mallett.
**–He averaged 18.38 completions per game, more than any SEC quarterback. To be fair, South Carolina threw the ball more than any other team in the league (440 times to Arkansas’s 439) because the Gamecocks were dead last in rushing.
But here are a couple of bad numbers he needs to improve:
**–He was ninth in passing efficiency, completing only 55.32 percent. He had 10 interceptions, which is too many. But based on his number of attempts, his interception percentage was 2.31, which was fifth in the league.
**–He has not learned how to throw the ball away. South Carolina had 37 sacks last season, the most in the SEC. Some of those sacks were because the offensive line was not very good—actually it was pretty bad. But a bunch of those sacks, Spurrier says, were because Garcia has not or will not learn to throw the ball away and live to fight another down. “Way too many negative plays,” Spurrier told me last week.
2. John Brantley, Florida: Brantley has only played in mop-up situations so he is at No. 2 because of pure talent and potential. When he does play, this kid is going to be very, very good. It’s a bit of a daunting task to be the guy after Tim Tebow. But here is what you need to know about Brantley. He comes from a family of Gators and once he committed to Florida (he originally committed to Texas), Brantley was all in. He has an NFL arm and the perfect mindset to be a quarterback at Florida. And it doesn’t hurt that he has a lot of guys around him who can run very, very fast. He will stretch the field vertically and thus put opposing cornerbacks on edge on every play. Now all Florida has to do is figure out who’s going to carry the ball on third and one. No. 15 (Tebow) used to do that. “Somebody has to do it (run on third and short) but it won’t be me,” said Brantley. See what I mean?
3. Aaron Murray, Georgia: Murray, the redshirt freshman from Tampa, is the guy. And, like David Greene in 2001, he’s going to be surrounded by a lot of really good players. There is a veteran offensive line, one of the top three receivers in all of college football (A.J. Green), and what should be a very good running game with Caleb King and Washaun Ealey. I’ve heard from more than one SEC coach outside of Georgia that this kid has all the intangibles to be a great player. And you have to say that Mark Richt and Mike Bobo know how to coach the position. Georgia’s offensive line has to take it as a challenge to keep Murray’s uniform clean. He has to stay vertical and he can’t get hurt. Let me repeat that: HE CAN’T GET HURT!
Georgia’s options after Murray (Logan Gray and true freshman Hutson Mason) are limited—and scary.
4. Mike Hartline, Morgan Newton, Ryan Mossakowski, Kentucky: New head coach Joker Phillips is going to have to get this race down to two guys pretty soon. Hartline has the edge because, despite a knee injury in 2009, he has played in 21 games and started 14. I think Newton, the former Indiana High School Player of the Year, is the most talented of the three (by far) and has the most upside. He impressed me with his poise on the road when Kentucky beat Auburn and Georgia. He can make plays with his arm and his legs. Mossakowski has a good arm but was limited as a true freshman last season because of shoulder surgery. My guess is that he’ll be the odd man out. Hartline will be the starter because he makes the fewest mistakes. But Newton will be a big factor because with him in the lineup, the Kentucky offense will three big playmakers in Newton, wide receiver Randall Cobb, and running back Derrick Locke.
5. Larry Smith, Jared Funk, Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt: After Smith led Vanderbilt to a win in the 2008 Music City Bowl I was convinced he’d have a pretty good run in Nashville. But last season he completed only 46.7 percent of his passes and the Vanderbilt offense was just awful, averaging only 8.9 points in its eight SEC games. Smith is still the starter heading into fall camp but keep an eye on redshirt senior Jared Funk and JUCO transfer Jordan Rodgers (brother of Aaron). It will be interesting to see if new head coach Robbie Caldwell views this position differently than the departed Bobby Johnson. Johnson shook up the offensive coaching staff in an effort to jump start the unit. If Vanderbilt doesn’t start scoring more, the Commodores are looking at another 2-10 season because they have 10 bowl teams on the schedule.
6-. Matt Simms, Tyler Bray, Tennessee: It looked like Nick Stephens was going to be the guy to replace Jonathan Crompton until spring practice started. But once his reps went down in practice, Stephens continued a disquieting trend of Tennessee quarterbacks (such as B.J. Coleman) leaving town instead of sticking around to compete.
So now the position goes to Simms, a JUCO transfer who started his career at Louisville, and Bray, a 6-6 freshman who enrolled early and took part in spring ball. Bray played better in the spring game than Simms (who had three interceptions) but he has no experience in game situations. This is a troubled position that will only be made worse by an offensive line that could start multiple freshmen. If true freshman Nash Nance from Georgia becomes a factor during camp, you’ll know the Vols are in big trouble. It’s got to be Simms (who started his career at Louisville) because of a schedule that includes Oregon, Florida, at LSU, at Georgia, Alabama, at South Carolina in the span of eight weeks. You can’t throw a freshman—and a thin freshman (6-6, 210) at that—into that meat grinder.
Tuesday: The SEC West and the impact of Jeremiah Masoli at Ole Miss.
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