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Monday, October 10, 2011
Quarterback issues litter the SEC

By Edward Aschoff

If you’re looking for fall work, turn no further than the SEC.

There should be a slew of “Quarterbacks Wanted” signs on the locker room doors of most SEC facilities.

We’re halfway into the 2011 season and there are still a handful of teams in search of a consistent starting quarterback.

You can send your applications to just about anywhere outside of Tuscaloosa, Fayetteville and Athens.

We might be celebrating the year of the quarterback here at ESPN, but the SEC certainly is not.

Currently, only three quarterbacks -- Tyler Bray, Tyler Wilson and Aaron Murray -- are averaging more than 200 passing yards a game, and 72 interceptions have been thrown in the SEC. Eight teams have a team quarterback efficiency less than 150.

Connor Shaw
Connor Shaw added a spark to the South Carolina offense against Kentucky.
With teams preparing for the second-half stretch, some coaches should look at their quarterback situations and think about changes.

South Carolina is a perfect example. Senior Stephen Garcia disappointed for two straight weeks before coach Steve Spurrier benched him for sophomore Connor Shaw.

Shaw blew the doors off South Carolina’s offense against Kentucky, passing for 311 yards and four touchdowns. The offense clicked with him leading the way and actually looked alive. The question is if he can keep it going, because we know Spurrier prides himself on his quarterbacks’ play and won’t stand for more ineptitude at the position.

There are more teams that should consider following Spurrier’s lead.

Kentucky’s offense just can’t get anything going in general, but junior Morgan Newton has really regressed. The league’s coaches named him a SEC All-Freshman selection two years ago, but he looks nothing like his former self. Newton has thrown six touchdowns to seven interceptions, is averaging 110 yards a game and his passing efficiency is 86.5.

Yuck.

Backup Maxwell Smith hasn’t looked great by any means, but with the Wildcats sitting at 2-4 and winless in conference play, it might be time to use the bye week to prep the freshman more. Does Newton really give Kentucky that much more of a chance to win?

Mississippi State entered the year with senior Chris Relf riding a wave of hype that he surfed on late in the 2010 season. Viewed as one of the best dual-threats in the league, Relf has hit the wall. He’s averaging a paltry 115.8 yards in the past four games and has four interceptions compared to one touchdown. He also has just 73 rushing yards and zero scores on 45 carries in that span.

Tyler Russell replaced Relf at the half against UAB, throwing three touchdowns in a 21-3 comeback win.

Coach Dan Mullen didn’t say much about the quarterback situation, but Relf told reporters he expects to keep his job, for now.

"Coach Mullen said I'm still going to be the starting quarterback," Relf said. "It's just a matter of me going out there and playing hard. It's just a matter of them believing in me to throw the ball in the game. That's how I see it."

Vanderbilt’s offense is just trying to keep its head above water at this point. Quarterback Larry Smith has received a ton of criticism during his Commodore career and he’s hearing even more now. With bowl hopes on the line, it might be time to take this offense in a new direction.

Smith went down with a leg injury against Alabama, forcing Jordan Rodgers into the game. Rodgers wasn’t spectacular, but he did complete 11 of his 18 passes for 104 yards, but had two interceptions.

Smith has thrown for just 412 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. His season-high? Just 140 yards against Connecticut.

Then, you have schools like Florida and Tennessee, who have to deal with injuries to their starting quarterbacks. The Vols seem to be in a much better position with senior Matt Simms taking over for Bray, who was the league’s top passer before Saturday. The Gators are working with a trio of freshmen with John Brantley out. Jeff Driskel was supposed to be the No. 2, but he sprained his ankle against Alabama and missed the LSU game, giving Jacoby Brissett his first-career snaps and start.

Brissett wasn’t awful, but he didn’t look ready for LSU. However, none of Florida’s backups would have.

Florida needs Brantley more than ever, and Tennessee is hoping Simms can get through a five-week stretch that features LSU, Alabama, South Carolina and Arkansas.

Auburn and Ole Miss aren’t free from quarterback issues, either. The Rebels might have finally found their guy in Randall Mackey, but it took five weeks and three losses to do it. Mackey hasn’t been spectacular, but he has to be the best option, right?

The Tigers have started to use more of the two-quarterback system with Barrett Trotter and Kiehl Frazier. Trotter passes, Frazier runs, but neither did much against Arkansas over the weekend. The question is if Frazier starts throwing more, will he eventually get the majority of the snaps?

There is still time for teams to regroup from their quarterback problems, but for now, SEC quarterbacks have seen better days.

Much better.