StatTiger: Young QBs Can Prosper in the SEC

Stuart Carter looks at trends with quarterbacks and the passing game in the SEC.

When Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M won the Heisman Trophy, he defied all logic in doing so. Not only are freshman quarterbacks supposed to struggle, they certainly have no business being mentioned as the best college football player in the country.

Of course, that was the traditional logic until Manziel ripped up the college football world this past season with his amazing athletic ability. Not only does Johnny Football give hope to all underclassmen at the quarterback position, he has become part of the recent trend of the passing game becoming more explosive and utilized more frequently in the Southeastern Conference.

During the 2011 season quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference accounted 200 yards or more passing in 68 games. During the 2012 season that figure nearly doubled with 112. Not only have passing attacks evolved in the SEC over the past decade, the production level has, too.

Those numbers help explain why there have been three Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks from the SEC in the past six seasons. We have also seen an increase in the quarterbacks from the SEC selected in the NFL Draft. From 1993-2002 there were seven drafted from the Southeastern Conference. From 2003-2012 the total nearly tripled to 18.

During the 2012 season Auburn's offense was No. 94 nationally in pass efficiency and No. 12 in the conference. Had Auburn possessed consistent play from the quarterback position, the Tigers likely would have captured four to five more wins.

Since 1992 Auburn has compiled a pass rating of 129.4. During the 127 games Auburn exceeded that average the Tigers posted a record of 115-12 and nine of those losses were by seven points or less. One of the keys for offensive success in 2013 will be improving the passing attack, which will primarily lie squarely on the shoulders of the quarterback.

During the past seven seasons 25 quarterbacks from the Southeastern Conference finished the season rated in the nation's Top 25 in pass efficiency. This is an increase from the 18 during the previous seven-year period.

Overall the SEC in 2012 as a conference was the second most efficient among the six major conferences at the FBS level. Not only are we seeing more efficient passers, we are also seeing more underclassmen starting and flourishing.

From 1979-1999 less then one-fifth of the nation's Top 25 passers from each season were underclassmen. From 2000-2012 over one-fourth have been underclassmen. This includes an increase of freshman quarterbacks cracking the Top 25 in pass efficiency at 3.3 percent from 1979-1999 to 8.5 percent from 2000-2012.

From 1990-1999 there were only six freshman quarterbacks to make the Top 25 list of most efficient quarterbacks. From 2000-2012 there were 24, including Heisman winner Johnny Manziel.

It's an interesting note the last five quarterbacks to win the Heisman played in a variation of the spread offense and four of them were athletic quarterbacks. The combination of a dual-threat quarterback and spread offense places more pressure on opposing defenses, which allows less experienced quarterbacks to have a higher level of success early in their careers. We have witnessed this early success as well at the NFL level with Cam Newton in Carolina, Robert Griffin III in Washington, Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco and Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson.

From 2000-2012, 15 underclassmen quarterbacks from the Southeastern Conference made their way to the nation's Top 25 in pass efficiency. The SEC quarterbacks had an average ranking of No. 14 nationally and no other major conference had more underclassmen quarterbacks in the nation's Top 25 since 2000. The Big 12 was next with 13 and the Pac-12 was third with 12 underclassmen quarterbacks.

There was a time when coaches were extremely concerned about starting a young quarterback, but times have changed, especially with spread offenses. Many of these athletic quarterbacks come from spread offenses at the high school level and are prepared to make plays in space at the collegiate level. Their athletic skill set allows them to make more plays than a stationary quarterback early on during their careers.

With the addition of three athletic quarterbacks in the 2013 signee class, Auburn might one of the most athletic groups of QBs in the history of the program. Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will have Kiehl Frazier, Jonathan Wallace, Jeremy Johnson, Jason Smith and Nick Marshall to work with when preseason practice starts in August. All five have found their comfort zone playing within the spread element, increasing Auburn's probability of finding the right man to pull the trigger in Malzahn's offense.

Malzahn and Lashlee transformed Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Alpin from the No. 52 passer in the nation to No. 17 during their one season coaching him. During the 2011 season Alpin threw for 19 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, but under Malzahn he threw for 24 touchdowns and only four picks in 2012.

Experience at the quarterback position is vital, but no longer essential in the modern age of football. Over the last decade we have seen underclassmen step into a starting role, making an immediate impact at the collegiate and professional levels. There is room now for pure athletic ability in the right scheme to translate into immediate success. Whether it is underclassmen like Tim Tebow or Manziel or a junior college transfer like Cam Newton, newcomers to the league can prosper early at quarterback in SEC football.

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