Yesterday we rated the quarterbacks in the SEC East. Today let’s look at the SEC West, where the landscape has changed a little in the past 72 hours.
Remember that these rankings do not have anything to do with a player’s NFL potential. This is strictly about the players’ ability—or potential—at the college level.
If you disagree, and I’m sure many of you will, please give me your rankings and why. Here we go:
1. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas: Look at Mallett’s numbers from last season, when he completed “only” 55.83 percent of his passes, and try to project them should he get into the 60 percent area, which I think he will this season. He threw for 3,640 yards. Tim Tebow was a distant second in the SEC at 2,895. His touchdown (30) to interception (7) ratio was 4.28. Only Tebow (4.2) and Alabama’s Greg McElroy (4.25) were even close to that. He was seventh nationally in passing efficiency. Only one other SEC quarterback, Tebow at No. 1, was in the Top 10. The point is that last year was Mallett’s first in Bobby Petrino’s offense and he was able to put up those numbers. He is only going to get better. The only question I have is whether or not there will be any lingering effects from offseason foot surgery. I think Mallett can get into the Heisman Trophy race if he plays well in back-to-back games at Georgia (Sept. 18) and at home against Alabama (Sept. 25).
2. Greg McElroy, Alabama: I’m a big believer that great quarterbacks are not defined by what they do, but rather what they DON’T do. For Alabama’s national championship team of 2009, the senior from Texas was the perfect quarterback. While the offense was leaning on running back Mark Ingram, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy, McElroy was the model of efficiency. He completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 2,508 yards, 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions. His interception percentage of 1.23 (4 interceptions in 325 pass attempts) was the lowest in school history and the second lowest in SEC history (in 1995 Peyton Manning had only four interceptions in 380 passing attempts, 1.05 percent).
But what impressed me the most about McElroy is when he hit a lull in the middle of the season he just kept playing through the tough times and then finished strong. There is a reason that, dating back to his senior year in high school, he is 30-0 as a starting quarterback.
3. Jeremiah Masoli, Nathan Stanley, Ole Miss: Before Masoli becomes the starting quarterback at Ole Miss he has to first win the job from Nathan Stanley, who had it coming out of spring practice. But based on the numbers he put up last season at Oregon, you’d have to give Masoli a real shot at being the starter by the time the Rebels play their SEC opener against Vanderbilt on Sept. 18.
Masoli had 386 yards of total offense (222 passing, 164 rushing) in a 44-10 destruction of USC. He had 389 yards of total offense against Stanford and 345 yards against Arizona. Yeah, he was doing it against Pac-10 defenses but still, the guy can make plays. Let’s just say that Ole Miss thought it might have to put the “Wild Rebel” formation in mothballs because Dexter McCluster was gone. Nope. I think we’ll see a lot of that shotgun formation with Masoli.
4. Cameron Newton, Auburn: The former Florida quarterback returns to the SEC after a stint at Blinn Junior College where he won a national championship and posted 3,488 yards of total offense and 38 touchdowns (22 pass, 16 run) in 2009. Newton is just a splendid athlete and has all of the physical tools to add yet another dimension to Gus Malzahn’s offense. Newton is surrounded by playmakers at running back, wide receiver and has a veteran offensive line in front of him. Now opposing defenses, which could ignore a running threat of 2009 quarterback Chris Todd, will have to watch Newton every time he carries the ball with his 6-6, 247-pound frame. The only question I have is whether or not Newton can quickly adjust to the speed of SEC defenses. I’m betting he will.
5. Chris Relf, Tyler Russell, Mississippi State: Relf deserved the job coming out of spring practice because of the way he played at the end of last season, when he had 131 yards rushing in a big 41-24 win over Ole Miss. Relf was the better quarterback in the spring.
But at the end of last season I starting hearing that the best quarterback in camp was the guy they were redshirting, freshman Tyler Russell (6-5, 225). Both quarterbacks are going to play and when Russell comes off the bench the defensive coordinators are going to squirm in their seats a little. Dan Mullen was 5-7 in his first season in Starkville and there is no doubt that he is going to miss RB Anthony Dixon, who led the SEC in rushing per game (126.5)in 2009. He will need both quarterbacks because after the opener with Memphis, the Bulldogs play Auburn, LSU, and Georgia in consecutive weeks. Then there is a non-conference game with Houston followed by a trip to Florida.
6. Jordan Jefferson, Jarrett Lee, LSU: I had a chance to meet Jefferson during SEC Media Days and was impressed by his poise. There is a lot of pressure on this kid to play well in 2010. If not, the heat could get turned up on a lot of people in Baton Rouge. We forget that Jefferson was just a sophomore in 2009 and, at 19 years, 12 days, was the second youngest quarterback to ever start a season opener at LSU (Y.A. Tittle was 25 days short of his 19th birthday when he started for LSU in 1944). Jefferson’s numbers really weren’t that bad. He completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 2,166 yards and had 17 touchdown passes against seven interceptions. But LSU simply had no running game to take the pressure off Jefferson. Lee will always be remembered for a brutal 2008 season when he threw 16 interceptions including six that were returned for touchdowns. I just get the feeling that Lee is not done playing yet. At some point this season he is going to get another chance.
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