SEC FOOTBALL: September QB Quagmires

Look around the sport of college football after two weeks. Quarterbacks --- specifically in their inability to have much of any smoothness in September --- are struggling and holding their teams back, even the ones who excelled so noticeably last season.

Chad Henne was a walking train wreck of a quarterback on Saturday against Notre Dame. Drew Tate was sleepwalking before getting slammed out of the Iowa State game with an injury. JaMarcus Russell of LSU is still just as inconsistent as he was last season. D.J. Shockley showed how far he still has to go to become a legit starting signal-caller in the SEC. Tyler Palko of Pittsburgh was obviously overrated in a very huge way.

And this doesn't even touch on the QB nightmares at Oklahoma, Arkansas, West Virginia, Syracuse, Wake Forest, and a host of other programs.

Coaches, as a result of their QBs' limitations, are babying their offensive captains with simple game plans and easy throws such as bubble screens. Few coaches not named Steve Spurrier are daring to push the ball downfield in the passing game. And given the mistakes QBs are making, it's understandable to see why.

But that still doesn't take away the existence of a problem. Even Vince Young, despite his late-game heroics against Ohio State, played poorly in the middle third of the game, committing turnovers no human being should ever have made. Whether it's youth, pressure, fear, information overload, or a combination of the above, quarterbacks just don't find a groove in early-season games. Matt Leinart is about the only exception; Sam Keller of Arizona State had a tuneup against Temple before his sensational night against LSU last Saturday.

So as the Vols and Gators get ready to tee it up this Saturday, it's all about the quarterbacks and how ready they are to avoid huge mistakes. It's not even about making big plays anymore in college football, at least early in a season. In September, when style points are rarely if ever there for the taking and inefficiency defines 98 percent of offenses across the country, merely securing the ball and grinding out a win --- no matter how ugly or close --- are top priorities.

In a 60-minute battle, there are numerous occasions when points are gained. The thing to remember, however, is this: gained points come not just in the form of tallied points, but saved points as well. All the touchdowns Florida doesn't concede to Tennessee as a result of mistakes avoided will be just as much a factor on the scoreboard as all the points the Gators add to their own total. Urban Meyer is a creative mind, but to a certain extent, he will find himself in a straitjacket because, like every other college football coach, he lives at a time in the sport's history and evolution when defenses rule early-September games. Chris Leak could set the world on fire for extended portions of Saturday's game against the Vols, but if he sprinkles in just one or two poorly-timed turnovers, any excellence displayed by the third-year player could go for naught. In the first really big game of the Meyer era, be mindful of the quarterbacking quandry faced by Florida's new coach... and every other sideline general in this sport.

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