StatTiger: Auburn's Need for Better Passing

Improving the efficiency of the passing attack is a major assignment for the 2013 Auburn football team.

Coming off a 3-9 season there are many areas of concern for Gus Malzahn's first season as head football coach at Auburn, but without a doubt improving the play at the quarterback position has to be at the top of the coach's priority list.

Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace are the only two scholarship quarterbacks going through spring practice, which means offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee can devote more time to each player. Frazier and Wallace have a great opportunity to get a leg up on the competition, which is scheduled to arrive on campus in the summer.

Malzahn signed three quarterbacks in February. The group includes junior college player Nick Marshall and a pair of players finishing their senior year of high school, Jeremy Johnson and Jason Smith. All three had productive years, leading their teams to winning seasons.

Last season four quarterbacks from the Southeastern Conference were ranked in the nation's top16 for pass efficiency. Those four came from teams that compiled a 47-7 record, demonstrating the importance of quarterback performance. Just how important has quarterback play become in the Southeastern Conference? The average QB rating of the starting quarterbacks in the SEC Championship Game has been 143.9 from the first game in 1992 through last season's contest. The average national quarterback ranking of those players has been No. 23, with 21 of 42 ranked in the nation's top 25.

Jonathan Wallace will be a sophomore for the Tigers this season.

Of the 42 quarterbacks to start in the conference championship game 19 were in the Top 20 and 11 finished in the top 10. The Most Valuable Player from the Southeastern Conference Championship Game has been a quarterback in 13 of 21 contests.

The average quarterback rating of the winner of the championship game is 151.5 and the losing quarterback had an average rating of 136.8. Bottom line, the better quarterbacks tend to be a major part of making it to the league championship and the best of the best normally win it.

The last eight quarterbacks to start in the conference championship all had pass efficiency ratings exceeding 140. The Southeastern Conference is producing more productive passers in the past 20 years than any other time period.

Experience appears to be vital with 31 of the 42 starting quarterbacks in the SEC Championship game listed as an upperclassman. Only three freshman quarterbacks have started in the SEC Championship Game along with eight sophomores, 12 juniors and 19 seniors.

Of the 21 winning quarterbacks from the SEC Championship, 16 were either a junior or senior. There has only been one SEC Championship Game in which both starting QBs were underclassmen. This occurred in 2002 when David Green of Georgia and Matt Jones of Arkansas squared off as sophomores.

Of the 21 starting quarterbacks to win the SEC Championship Game, 15 finished the season ranked among the nation's top 20 most efficient passers. Of the ones on the losing team only four finished in that group.

Rex Grossman of Florida is the only freshman quarterback to start for the SEC champion and Cam Newton of Auburn, who was a redshirt junior that season, is the most highly rated quarterback to win the SEC Championship.

Jason Campbell of Auburn is the most highly rated senior quarterback to win the SEC Championship. Aaron Murray of Georgia is the most highly rated quarterback to lose the championship, but he did so to the No. 1 rated quarterback for 2012, A.J. McCarron of Alabama.

The good news for Auburn is that five of Malzahn's seven starting quarterbacks finished in the top 20 of pass efficiency and three finished in the top five. If you combined the overall passing numbers of Malzahn's primary starting quarterbacks the past seven seasons, it would average 158.3. Only nine of 42 starting quarterbacks from the SEC Championship Game had a higher pass rating than 158.3.

Auburn's starting quarterback will lack SEC experience in 2013, which is always a major obstacle to overcome. Of Malzahn's seven previous starting quarterbacks six were either a junior or senior. His only underclassman, Casey Dick of Arkansas, did make it to the SEC Championship in 2006.

Since 1970 Auburn has won at least 75 percent of its games during a season on 17 occasions. During 15 of those 17 seasons Auburn had a junior or senior as the starting quarterback.

If Auburn is to start a junior quarterback in 2013, it will have to be Frazier or Marshall. With how the Tigers performed the past two seasons, 2013 appears to be a rebuilding season. Since 2000 only five of the 366 teams in college football to finish with a winning percentage of .333 or lower were able to win at least 75 percent of their games the following year. The odds appear to be against Auburn in 2013 to end up in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.

The heavy favorites in terms of quarterback are A.J. McCarron of Alabama, Aaron Murray of Georgia, Conner Shaw of South Carolina and Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. That was last year's pecking order in pass ing efficiency. McCarron, Murray and Shaw will all be seniors giving them the added bonus of experience.

Jeff Driskel, at junior at Florida, and LSU senior Zach Mettenberger are on the outside looking in, but they could benefit from being surrounded by good enough talent to make it to the conference championship. Both quarterbacks lacked consistency during 2012, something they could improve on as upperclassmen in 2013.

Last year Wallace led the Tigers in pass efficiency at 139.60, Clint Moseley was next at 111.05 and Frazier finished at 99.87. Combined AU's passers averaged 117.21, a number that needs to be much better this fall.

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