Whereas it wasn’t necessarily a season to remember for quarterbacks in the SEC a year ago, the 2012 season has a chance to be one of the better ones in recent memory for quarterbacks in this league.
The SEC gets a bad rap when it comes to throwing the football, but the reality is that the league has produced a first-round selection at quarterback in eight of the past 10 NFL drafts. And we’re talking six different teams.
So as we look ahead to the 2012 season, I thought we’d examine those quarterbacks in the SEC most likely to pass for 3,000 yards.
Last season, there were only two -- Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson (3,638 yards) and Georgia’s Aaron Murray (3,149 yards). In 2010, there were four -- Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett (3,869 yards), Kentucky’s Mike Hartline (3,178 yards), South Carolina’s Stephen Garcia (3,059 yards) and Murray (3,049 yards).
How many will there be this season? I’m guessing at least four.
Here’s my list in order of most likely to get to the 3,000-yard plateau:
1. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas: Even though his top receivers from a year ago, Jarius Wright and Joe Adams, are gone, Wilson is a virtual lock to reach 3,000 yards for the second straight season as long as he stays healthy. He passed for 3,638 yards a year ago in his first season as a starter. In case you’re wondering, the SEC single-season record is 4,275 yards, set by Kentucky’s Tim Couch in 1998.
2. Tyler Bray, Tennessee: The “other” Tyler missed five games with a broken thumb last season and still threw for 1,983 yards and 17 touchdowns. Had Bray not been injured, he would have easily surpassed 3,000 yards. He was off to a great start. With a healthy Justin Hunter back and junior college stud Cordarrelle Patterson set to arrive later this summer, Bray is going to be slinging it all over the field.
3. Aaron Murray, Georgia: Entering his junior season, Murray has thrown for more than 3,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. He also has 59 touchdown passes to his credit. If he hits the 3,000-yard mark again in 2012, he would become the first SEC player in history to throw for 3,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. Peyton Manning didn’t do that, and neither did Danny Wuerffel, Eli Manning, David Greene or Couch.
4. AJ McCarron, Alabama: His 2,634 passing yards last season were the fourth most all-time at Alabama, which is still waiting on its first 3,000-yard passer in a season. McCarron has all of the physical tools to be that guy and demonstrated in the BCS National Championship Game last season that he can handle as heavy of a load as you want to give him. Look for the Crimson Tide to throw it even more in 2012.
5. James Franklin, Missouri: He just missed the magic number last season with 2,865 passing yards in his first season as a starter. If Franklin weren’t coming off shoulder surgery, he’d probably be a lock. If he recovers in full, look for him to get there, especially if freshman receiver Dorial Green-Beckham comes in and has the kind of impact the Tigers think he will.
6. Zach Mettenberger, LSU: There have only been two 3,000-yard seasons in LSU history. Rohan Davey threw for 3,347 yards in 2001, and JaMarcus Russell threw for 3,129 yards in 2006. Les Miles keeps saying the Tigers are going to throw it more with Mettenberger under center. He has a huge arm and is plenty hungry to show what he can do. The only thing holding him back will be the Tigers’ running game. They’re extremely deep at running back, and Miles loves to pound away in the second half on the ground.
7. Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt: Rodgers took over during the latter half of the season a year ago and specialized in making big plays. In seven starts, he passed for 1,524 yards and is also adept at scrambling and making things happen. It might be a stretch for him to get to 3,000 yards this fall, but 2,500 could be in range. There’s also a chance that Austyn Carta-Samuels could play some at quarterback for the Commodores after transferring in from Wyoming.
8. Connor Shaw, South Carolina: The Head Ball Coach knows what he has in Marcus Lattimore, particularly if Lattimore is all the way back from his knee surgery. That means the Gamecocks are going to do what they do best, which is run the ball. Shaw has worked hard on being a more effective passer from the pocket. He was lights out in the final three games last season. But the reality is that he’s probably not going to throw it enough in 2012 to get to 3,000 yards.
9. Tyler Russell, Mississippi State: Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has been talking up Russell, who’s a prototypical pocket passer with a big arm. The key will be how well the Bulldogs protect Russell, who moves in as the full-time starter in 2012. Mississippi State has never had a quarterback throw for 2,500 yards in a season, much less 3,000 yards. The school record is 2,422 yards, set by Dave Marler in 1978. Simply getting close to that total would be a very good first season as a starter for Russell.