Shane: Who will be the SEC’s best quarterback?

By Shane from Centerpoint
One of the most accepted doctrines of SEC football is that a team’s most important player is the quarterback. A great signal-caller’s performance is usually the deciding factor in the victory when you review the post game stats, especially after two of the league’s top-tier programs clash. In essence, the fortunes of multi-million dollar organizations and perhaps millions of supporters rest squarely on the shoulders of twelve young SEC quarterbacks who will line up under center when the 2009 campaign kicks off. Some will respond and be very successful – some will fold under the pressure of the extreme brand of defense used throughout the conference. With that said, the following quarterback rankings and opinions that accompany them are based on current circumstances and are subject to change if I’m proven wrong by the evidence:

#1 Florida – Everybody knows Tebow! That’s all I need to say. Big Timbo’s exploits are legendary. He’s a championship-caliber quarterback in linebackers’ clothing. I don’t care whom the Gators play, if Tim Tebow is healthy, Florida is going to be hard to beat. He is the first Bo Jackson/ Hershel Walker type athlete in this league since they left for the NFL many years ago. I could go on, but is it really necessary? By the way, what’s the guy’s name who backs him up?

#2 Mississippi – Houston Nutt walked into an ideal situation when he took over at Ole Miss. He arrived just as Jevan Snead began to develop into one of the best quarterbacks the state of Mississippi has seen since Brett Favre. This guy is only going to improve as he matures. He has a “cannon” of an arm, and he’s deceptively fleet of foot as well. Snead has the potential to lead the Rebels to a BCS bowl berth if he stays healthy.

Note: The rest of the rankings (#3-12) consist of a list of quarterbacks who are either untested, or didn’t have much success last season when they were leading their team. Therefore, these placements are subject to change quickly as the new season progresses.

#3 LSU – Jordan Jefferson looks like he has the potential to be the Tigers’ next star. His performance late in the 2008 season allowed LSU to rebound from a dismal season and have hope for this year. After watching Jarrett Lee almost single-handily destroy the program, LSU fans are probably looking forward to seeing Jefferson develop and Lee riding the pine. If Lee has to play, well, you’ll see why I said this list is subject to change.

#4 Alabama – In a Nick Saban-coached offense, the signal caller has the advantage of a strong running game to create pro-style play-action passing situations. Greg McElroy is yet another very talented Texas quarterback, who ‘s in his third year of Saban’s system. Alabama fans can look for McElroy to exceed the former three-year starter’s performance. He is similar in stature and style to Wilson, but a much more accurate passer and has much better foot speed. If Star Jackson or a “hotshot” true freshman is starting the first game, it means Mac is hurt. It also means this ranking is about to drop.

#5 Vanderbilt – Mackenzi Adams has shown that he has the ability to play winning-football. Coach Bobby Johnson just needs to get him to be more consistent and patient when he drops back to throw. He has a good arm, but tends to flee from the pocket too quickly sometimes. Backup Larry Smith showed flashes of brilliance during the bowl game, but Adams appears to be the man for the job. One more thing to remember folks— at Vandy, the best quarterback may be the last man standing.

#6 Georgia – Joe Cox has been around the Georgia football program for years, waiting for a shot to prove that he is the guy to lead the Bulldogs to victories on the field. He is ranked in the sixth position mainly because of the quantity of superior talent that surrounds him. Much like McElroy at Alabama, Cox can grow into a valuable asset for his Georgia teammates to follow. Without Cox running the show, Georgia is left to rely on defense and special teams.

#7 South Carolina – Head coach Steve Spurrier had two of his three starters bolt for greener pastures. However, the remaining player is very, very talented. In fact, if Steve Garcia would grow up and focus on the task at hand, he could very well be at the top of this ranking. Who knows what Spurrier has behind Garcia? Maybe he’ll find the “magic” with Garcia this year. If not, the Gamecocks will repeat last year’s mediocre output.

#8 Kentucky – Between Mike Hartline (the drop-back passer), and Randall Cobb (the dual-threat), Coach Rich Brooks has a decent one-two punch in charge of his offense this year. Both have been through the SEC at least once and the experience alone will help their play improve this year. Nevertheless, the prospect of their performance leading the Wildcats to success will decrease as they face some of the SEC’s better defenses.

#9 Arkansas – If Ryan Mallet stays away from the bottle and out of jail, Bob Petrino has the capability to coach him up and make him a future star. People who make a living evaluating talent have said a lot of good things about Mallet, but you almost have to question his leadership qualities after his recent arrest. I believe one of the Dick brothers remains on the roster and he might have to run the show. Either way, Petrino’s offense this year will only be a shadow of the product he will eventually put on the field.

#10 Mississippi State – New Coach Dan Mullen is a disciple of Florida’s Urban Meyer. Wesley Carroll never had a chance to get comfortable under the former leadership. Mullen will provide him with a fresh start and even if Carroll isn’t the number one guy, whomever Mullen taps will have a fair chance in his system. Carroll has a chance to reinvent himself with a good coach in place to help him.

#11 Auburn – I hate to be too critical of young quarterbacks, but I must be brutally honest about Kodi Burns; he will never be a competent college quarterback – one who can compete at the high level required to be successful in the SEC. The proof is in the record. The Tiger offense struggled mightily under his guidance last season and it got ugly. Chris Todd may be better, if he can get over shoulder surgery and regain some velocity on his throws. The other two, Neal Cauldle and Barrett Trotter, are still a long way from being ready to face SEC talent. Auburn is in trouble at the quarterback position, and the starter is perfectly healthy. What does that say about their chances this year?

#12 Tennessee – Jonathon Compton is one of the worst decision-makers in the history of the SEC. His performance last year was a total disaster. Without a doubt, he cost Tennessee three or four games with his actions alone. If he is named the starter, the Vol Nation is in for a long season. Newcomer Nick Stephens was a major improvement over Compton, but that’s not saying much. If Kiffin can get Stephens to improve, Tennessee may be able improve their record by a few games, although it’s not likely.

—Shane writes a weekly column for the Capstone Report.
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