- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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It’s time to rank the SEC’s starting quarterbacks.
But first, here are a few things to keep in mind: This is not a ranking of the SEC’s best pro prospects at quarterback. Rather, it’s based on what they’ve done to this point in college football, their potential for this coming season and the overall impact they have on their teams.
The simplest way to look at it is if the SEC coaches were all sitting in a room right now and were going to choose a quarterback to go play with this season, in what order would they come off the board.
I’m not sure how scientific that is, but that’s the way we’re going to do it.
And as usual when we’re doing these things, I’m sure there will be no disagreements.
Here we go:
1. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas: He’s got one of the strongest arms in college football, an NFL future and threw for 3,627 yards and 30 touchdown passes during his first season in the SEC. If Mallett improves his accuracy, those numbers may well go up in 2010 and make him even more of a household name than he already is.
2. Greg McElroy: Alabama: What statistic do we all look at when judging quarterbacks? Well, McElroy is perfect in that category. He’s 14-0 as Alabama’s starter with a national championship. He also played lights out against Florida and with cracked ribs against Texas. He’s just one of those bright, tough guys who gets it done.
3. Jeremiah Masoli, Ole Miss: He still has to beat out Nathan Stanley for the starting job, and Houston Nutt is also banking that Masoli will stay out of trouble. If he does, he’s proven that he was good enough to take Oregon to the Rose Bowl and can beat teams both running and passing.
4. John Brantley, Florida: If Mallett is the best pure passer of the SEC quarterbacks, Brantley might be No. 2. He just has to prove it. The early returns have been promising. He’s been ready to lead an offense for a while now, but had a guy named Tim Tebow playing in front of him.
5. Stephen Garcia, South Carolina: The toughest thing for Garcia will be beating the rap that he doesn’t work very hard, something we heard often this offseason from his head coach. Garcia’s numbers last season were more than respectable. Perhaps this is the season he puts it all together.
6. Jordan Jefferson, LSU: Jefferson didn’t help himself any with a shaky spring game and admittedly was too hesitant last season. But having been through the league once now and being surrounded by the talent he has at receiver, look for him to be a more instinctive quarterback in 2010.
7. Cameron Newton, Auburn: Here’s another guy who could easily shoot up these rankings by the time we get to the end of the season. He’s big, can run and has at least seen SEC defenses before when he was at Florida. We’ll see if Newton’s athleticism opens up more doors for the Tigers.
8. Aaron Murray, Georgia: OK, I realize Murray has yet to play a snap in a college football game and that SEC defenses typically devour freshman quarterbacks. But Murray has been through two springs now at Georgia and is working on his second preseason. His teammates sure are believers.
9. Mike Hartline, Kentucky: The quarterback battle at Kentucky is being closely watched by everyone. Hartline, coming off a knee injury, still has to win the job. His experience should be the difference. He probably gives the Wildcats the best chance to win right now.
10. Chris Relf, Mississippi State: Dan Mullen has said repeatedly now that Relf became a much better passer and a much more polished passer this offseason. At 240 pounds, we know Relf can run over people. Ultimately, he and redshirt freshman Tyler Russell will probably end up sharing snaps.
11. Matt Simms, Tennessee: The Vols don’t have a quarterback on their roster who’s ever taken a snap in an SEC game. They got Simms out of junior college, and it looks like he will be the starter. Simms has worked hard at setting the right tone and being a leader on this team.
12. Larry Smith, Vanderbilt: It’s no secret that the Commodores were dreadful on offense last season, but it certainly wasn’t all Smith’s fault. He’s still trying to hold off Jordan Rodgers and Jared Funk for the starting job. Whoever it is, Vanderbilt has to find a way to throw the ball better this season.