- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Everybody loves position rankings. Well, most everybody.
We presented our preseason rankings back in June on the SEC blog, and like most preseason predictions, we wished we had a lot of those picks back by the second or third week of the season.
Now that we’ve actually played the 2011 season, we’ll do it all over again, and we’ll kick if off with the quarterbacks.
At most positions, depth will be the most important factor, and if there’s a superstar in the group, that’s going to carry a lot of weight, too.
But with the quarterbacks, we’re mostly concerned with how the main guy fared this season.
For all positions, performance in conference games is where we’ll start, and how a unit closed the season, including the bowl games, will also be a determining factor.
You can go here to see our preseason quarterback rankings.
Our focus now is how they did this season. Here goes:
1. Arkansas: In his first full season as a starter, Tyler Wilson was outstanding. He led the SEC in passing with 3,638 yards to go along with 24 touchdown passes and only six interceptions. He thought about declaring for the NFL draft, but elected to return and was rated recently by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 3 rising senior quarterback in the country. We didn't give Wilson nearly enough love in the preseason. Shame on us. He's the real deal.
2. Georgia: Aaron Murray had a record-setting season for the Bulldogs and tossed 35 touchdown passes. He was instrumental in their turnaround and had a big hand in their 10-game winning streak. He also threw 16 interceptions and had two costly picks in the bowl game that helped trigger Michigan State’s comeback. Five of Murray’s picks came in his last three games. All in all, it was still a splendid season for a second-year starter in this league.
3. Alabama: AJ McCarron gets bonus points for the way he played in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game. He earned Offensive MVP honors in leading Alabama to a 21-0 victory over LSU. It wasn't just that one game that has the Crimson Tide in the No. 3 spot. McCarron was solid all season long and didn't turn the ball over. In 234 passing attempts against SEC competition, he only threw three interceptions and averaged 207.2 passing yards.
4. South Carolina: The first half of the season belonged to Stephen Garcia, and it wasn't pretty. In retrospect, Garcia's dismissal might have been the best thing to happen to the Gamecocks. Connor Shaw took over and just got better and better as the season progressed. In his last three games, including wins over Clemson and Nebraska, Shaw completed 75 percent of his passes for 657 yards, eight touchdowns and just one interception. He also rushed for 239 yards in those three games.
5. LSU: It says something about the quarterback play in the SEC that the Tigers are ranked this high, especially with the egg Jordan Jefferson laid in the BCS National Championship Game and how poorly he played in the first half of the SEC championship game. But Jarrett Lee deserves props for stepping in there and playing the way he did in the first eight games, and Jefferson's ability to run the option made a big difference in the first Alabama game. Still, it's hard to get over that stinker in New Orleans.
6. Tennessee: The Vols were dealt a tough blow when Tyler Bray broke his thumb in the Georgia game. He had 14 touchdown passes and only two interceptions going into that game, but wound up missing the next five games. The Vols tried senior Matt Simms and then went with true freshman Justin Worley, but had trouble mustering any offense. Bray came back and played the final two games, although he was a shadow of what he was before the injury. He ended the season with a woeful performance against Kentucky.
7. Florida: When John Brantley went down with a high ankle sprain in the Alabama game, he was throwing the ball as well as he had since coming to Florida. But from that point on, the Gators were a train wreck on offense. True freshmen Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel took a beating while filling in for Brantley, and even when Brantley did come back against Georgia, he wasn't close to 100 percent. Brantley still averaged 175.8 passing yards in league play, which was fourth in the SEC.
8. Vanderbilt: We had the Commodores ranked last in the preseason, and that's because Larry Smith had come off two rocky seasons in a row. He also opened this season as the Commodores' starter, and the passing game once again never took flight. Jordan Rodgers stepped in at the midway point and immediately pumped new life into the Commodores' offense. He was able to generate a lot more big plays down the field and also made things happen with his legs. He didn't end the season on a high note and played poorly in the bowl game.
9. Mississippi State: After finishing his junior season with a bang against Michigan in the Gator Bowl, Chris Relf just didn't take the kind of step during his senior season that a lot of people in and around the program thought he would. The Bulldogs also played Tyler Russell a bunch at quarterback, and he's got a big arm. It's just that much of his damage came against weaker competition in nonconference games. The Bulldogs were one of seven SEC teams that finished with more interceptions than touchdown passes in league play.
10. Auburn: The Tigers finished dead last against SEC foes in passing offense. Their vertical passing game was non-existent, and it was a struggle to complete anything down the field. They averaged just 126.5 passing yards per game against league foes. Three different players split the quarterback duties. Barrett Trotter opened the season as the starter, and Clint Moseley finished it. The Tigers also used true freshman Kiehl Frazier in specialty situations. Despite who was in there at quarterback, nothing came easy for the Tigers this season in the passing game.
11. Kentucky: The Wildcats had high hopes for Morgan Newton entering the season, and Kentucky coach Joker Phillips was pleased with the the way Newton had taken command of the offense in the spring and preseason. It just never translated during the season, though. Newton didn't throw the ball with any confidence and was also saddled with injuries. True freshman Maxwell Smith showed some promise toward the end of the season, but was also banged up. The Wildcats found a way to beat Tennessee in the finale with receiver Matt Roark playing quarterback.
12. Ole Miss: The truth is that there were several candidates for the cellar. It's not like anybody is going to remember 2011 as the Year of the Quarterback in the SEC. In the case of the Rebels, they struggled to find a quarterback all season. Three different players started games, and Ole Miss finished with six touchdown passes and 12 interceptions against SEC foes. Randall Mackey looked like he might be starting to get it once November rolled around, but was then suspended for the last two games.
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