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Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Top SEC quarterback battles

By Edward Aschoff

Alabama QBs AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims finished the spring in a dead heat for the starting job.
It seems like just about every team in the SEC has a battle on its hands at the quarterback position. Some are turning out to be very entertaining, while others are a bit nerve-racking.

At Alabama, redshirt sophomore AJ McCarron and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims left spring even under center.

Ole Miss has three quarterbacks taking snaps in Oxford -- and it would have been four had senior Nathan Stanley stuck around.

Auburn has two unproven quarterbacks looking to replace Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, who directed the Tigers to a national championship last season. They'll add another body to the mix this summer when true freshman Kiehl Frazier arrives.

Here's a look at the best SEC quarterback battles to keep an eye on this preseason. And some could even bleed over into the season:

1. Alabama: AJ McCarron vs. Phillip Sims -- They exited the spring neck-and-neck for the starting spot. McCarron has the most experience, which isn't saying much, considering he only played mop-up duty last fall, completing 30 of 48 passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns. He was the favorite heading into spring, but Sims quickly caught up to him, and is a solid pro-style passer as well. Neither will blow past defenders, but are athletic enough to make plays with their feet. Most importantly, the players and coaches are impressed with their leadership skills and most feel pretty comfortable with either one taking the position this fall. Coach Nick Saban hasn't ruled out playing both this season. My pick: McCarron

2. Ole Miss: Randall Mackey vs. Barry Brunetti vs. Zack Stoudt -- Ole Miss could have the most exciting battle on its hands. The Rebels left spring with Mackey, a junior college All-American who redshirted last season, having the edge. But just weeks later Brunetti was granted immediate eligibility to play this fall after transferring from West Virginia in January. Both are your typical dual-threat quarterbacks, but Brunetti might have more all-around skill and word is that he's a tougher runner. He's also got the only Division-I experience, after playing sparingly for West Virginia last fall. Stoudt can't be counted out, either. He's not mobile, but he might have the best combinations of arm accuracy, arm strength and pocket awareness of the bunch. This one won't be decided until fall camp is underway. My pick: Brunetti

3. Auburn: Barrett Trotter vs. Clint Moseley vs. Kiehl Frazier -- Trotter and Moseley were on campus this spring, so even while they each struggled at times, they are clearly ahead of Frazier, who will be on campus this summer. None have the skill Newton had, but with time, it seems like each would be a viable starter. This one will come down to the end of camp. Trotter has the most experience after playing in five games last fall. We saw the offense shine when directed by a dual-threat quarterback last season, but will Trotter's limited experience pay off? My pick: Trotter

4. LSU: Jordan Jefferson vs. Zach Mettenberger vs. Jarrett Lee -- This one is really between Jefferson and Mettenberger, but Lee is still on campus and he'll get his shot for playing time. It's not a secret that Jefferson's numbers last year were hard to stomach. However, this spring, new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe helped revamp his game. He worked extensively on Jefferson's technique, adding some more zip to his passes. Jefferson left having his best spring and the starting job is his to lose. But don't expect Mettenberger to just accept his role as the No. 2 guy. He'll continue to push Jefferson because he's got the best pure quarterback talent of the three. If Jefferson struggles, coach Les Miles might not hesitate to throw Mettenberger out there. My pick: Jefferson

5. Florida: John Brantley vs. Tyler Murphy vs. Jeff Driskel vs. Jacoby Brissett -- This race has the most bodies competing, but new coach Will Muschamp left spring making it clear that Brantley is his starter. Players and coaches were thrilled with his spring (outside of a miserable spring game), but no one outside of Florida's practice field knows what Brantley looked like in Charlie Weis' new pro-style offense. Murphy was a bright spot at the position and drew high praise from Weis this spring. Driskel enrolled early at Florida as the nation's top high school quarterback, but was slow at picking up the offense. However, fans are already revving up the Driskel bandwagon in and around Gainesville. Finally, there's Brissett, who was an All-American as a senior in high school. By not reporting this spring, he's behind everyone, but he's done some major playbook studying and will show up prepared this summer. My pick: Brantley