As we continue our look back over the last decade of SEC football, this week we will recall the conference’s best players from those 10 years.
The series begins today with a look at the premier players at the sport’s premier position: quarterback.
1. Tim Tebow, Florida (2006-09): Regardless of whether you believe Tebow possesses a skillset that would work in the NFL, his status in the college football world is unquestionable. He was one of the most successful quarterbacks who ever took a college snap, helping the Gators claim a BCS title as Chris Leak’s backup in 2006, winning a Heisman Trophy in 2007 (3,286 passing yards, 32 touchdowns, six interceptions, 895 rushing yards, 23 rushing TDs), leading Florida to a BCS championship in 2008 and nearly taking them back there again the next year. Tebow is the SEC’s career leader for touchdowns (57) and passing efficiency (170.79), ranks second in league history in total offense (12,232 yards), is tied for fourth in completion percentage (66.43). Tebow finished in the top five in Heisman voting in his sophomore, junior and senior seasons and played in three SEC championship games. A better question than asking whether Tebow is the SEC’s best quarterback of the last decade is if he’s the conference’s best quarterback of all time. If he’s not at the very top of the list, he’s close.
2. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (2012-13): Another guy whose pro prospects seem to be fading fast, Manziel still deserves to be remembered as one of the most prolific quarterbacks the college game has ever seen. He won the Heisman in 2012 (3,706 passing yards, 26 TDs, nine INTs, 1,410 rushing yards, 21 rushing TDs) and actually posted better passing numbers the following year (4,114 yards, 37 TDs, 13 INTs), when he finished fifth in Heisman voting. Although Manziel played for just two seasons in Aggieland, he ranks 11th among SEC players in career total offense (9,989 yards) and is first in career completion percentage (68.95) and second in career passing efficiency (164.05). Here’s hoping Manziel gets his personal issues straightened out, because the game is a lot more fun with Johnny Football running wild on the field each weekend.
3. Cam Newton, Auburn (2010): Newton played just one season at Auburn, but what a season it was. He led the Tigers to their only national championship since 1957, enjoyed one of the best seasons ever by an FBS quarterback (2,854 passing yards, 30 TDs, seven INTs, plus 1,473 rushing yards and 20 rushing TDs), won the Heisman Trophy and became the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft. His 182.05 passing efficiency rating that season is the best in SEC history. To date, Newton is the only player on this list who has enjoyed a truly successful pro career. He was the NFL’s Rookie of the Year in 2011 and won the Most Valuable Player award last season, when he led the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl.
4. Aaron Murray, Georgia (2010-13): The only player on the list who didn’t win a Heisman and/or start for a national championship team, Murray still belongs here. Just look at where he ranks in the SEC career record book. First in passing yardage (13,166). First in total offense (13,562). First in passing touchdowns (121). Fifth in passing efficiency (158.61). The Kansas City Chiefs backup twice led the Bulldogs to the SEC championship game and nearly to the BCS championship game at the end of the 2012 season, although Georgia’s upset bid against Alabama that year fell a few yards short in the closing seconds.
5. AJ McCarron, Alabama (2010-13): Although McCarron ranks among the SEC’s best career passers, his position here is not so much because of the numbers. Well, maybe two numbers. The BCS championship Alabama won in 2011 and the one it earned the next season with McCarron starting at quarterback. McCarron also won the Maxwell Award and finished as the Heisman runner-up as a senior when he passed for 3,053 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Just missed the cut: Dak Prescott, Mississippi State (2012-15); Connor Shaw, South Carolina (2010-13), Matthew Stafford, Georgia (2006-08); Andre Woodson, Kentucky (2004-07); Ryan Mallett, Arkansas (2007-10); JaMarcus Russell, LSU (2004-06); Chad Kelly, Ole Miss (2015)