Ranking The SEC: Quarterbacks

Football is in the air. Can you feel it? SEC Media Days start up on July 25, the start of fall practice is just over three weeks away, and kickoff to the 2007 season is inching closer with each passing day. In anticipation of the new season, GamecockAnthem.com presents a series of position-by-position previews, ranking the twelve SEC teams #'s 1-12. Today we begin by ranking the SEC quarterbacks.

Despite losing no. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell to the NFL and BCS Championship winning quarterback Chris Leak to graduation, it is still a strong year for quarterbacks in the SEC. With a mixture of returning veterans and rising young stars, it's an interesting year to rank signal-callers in the best conference in college football. However, while many sportswriters rank players based on potential and/or past limited success, this analyst looks at previous consistency and productivity as two key factors when creating the rankings.

Read below for GamecockAnthem's 2007 pre-season SEC quarterback rankings:

1. Andre Woodson/Kentucky - Woodson could be the best pure passer in the SEC. He completed 63% of his passes for over 3,500 yards and had an unbelievable 31-7 TD to INT ratio last year. He was the second most efficient passer in the league last season, behind only JaMarcus Russell. Now heading into his third year as a starter and having the luxury of nine of his top ten receivers returning, Woodson's primed for a huge senior season.

2. Erik Ainge/Tennessee - After a forgettable sophomore campaign in 2005, Ainge bounced back last season with a strong junior season under the tutelage of offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe. Last fall, Ainge completed 67% of his passes for nearly 3,000 yards with a 19-9 TD to INT ratio. However, those numbers came when throwing to one of the strongest wide receiver corps in the SEC. Now entering his senior season and viewed as the clear leader of the Volunteer's offense, we'll see how he fares without the trio of Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain and Bret Smith on the receiving end of his passes.

3. John Parker Wilson/Alabama - Lost in all the turmoil of the Alabama program was the fact that John Parker Wilson was the best first year starting quarterback in the SEC last year. He actually threw for more yards (2,707) and touchdowns (17) than the revered Brodie Croyle did the year before, and he is the 3rd leading returning passer in the league behind Woodson and Ainge this season. With his top four receivers returning and one of the league's better offensive lines to work behind, Wilson could put up gaudy numbers this fall.

4. Brandon Cox/Auburn - Cox did not have the kind of junior season he hoped for in 2006, completing 60% of his passes for only 2,198 yards, but he still helped lead the Tigers to an 11-2 campaign. His 14-9 TD to INT ratio was higher than expected last year, but Cox manages the game well and generally puts his team in position to win. He has the 3rd best returning pass efficiency rating in the league behind Woodson and Ainge, and if he can get better protection than last year, he should have a strong senior season with four of his top five wide receiver targets returning this fall.

5. Blake Mitchell/South Carolina - Mitchell unfairly caught most of the flack for USC's early season offensive struggles a year ago, but when given an offensive line to work behind, he's shown he can be one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. Mitchell's strong play at the end of the 2006 season propelled the Gamecocks to a road victory over arch-rival Clemson and a shootout win over Houston in the Liberty Bowl, in which he was named the Most Valuable Player. He completed 67% of his passes for 1,789 yards and a 10-6 TD to INT ratio in only 6 starts last season, ranking 4th in the SEC in pass efficiency. Now in his third year in Steve Spurrier's system, Mitchell will be asked to bring along a young but talented wide receiver corp as the steady, efficient leader of the Gamecock offense this fall.

6. Matt Stafford/Georgia - The prized QB took his lumps as a freshman last year, but he showed progress throughout the season and played his best ball late in the year. Stafford completed 52% of his passes for 1,749 yards and a less than stellar 7-13 TD to INT ratio last year. However, the experience he gained as a freshman will likely pay dividends this season. Under the direction of new OC Mike Bobo and with the return of four of his top five receivers, Stafford is expected to take his game to the next level this fall.

7. Chris Nickson/Vanderbilt - The dual threat signal caller had a surprisingly solid first year as a starter, helping ease the loss of Jay Cutler to the NFL. Nickson completed 55% of his passes for 2,085 yards and had a 15-13 TD to INT ratio. He also led the Commodores in rushing with 694 yards and 9 TD's. The next step for Nickson will be showing more touch and efficiency in the passing game.

8. Tim Tebow/Florida - Florida fans will say, "How is he so low?" It's simple - Tebow has to prove that he can consistently beat teams with his arm before being given consideration as one of the league's elite quarterbacks. At this point, Tebow has shown that he is little more than a glorified fullback. Granted, he has as much hype as any QB in the league, but he'll need to show that he can consistently read a defense and make the throws, something he was not asked to do a year ago with only 22 completed passes. How will he perform as "the guy" this year without Chris Leak there to serve as a safety net? Only time will tell.

9. Matt Flynn/LSU - Flynn is best known for his breakout showing in LSU's 40-3 blowout victory over Miami in the 2005 Peach Bowl. However, what not everyone realizes is that Flynn only completed 13 passes for 196 yards in that contest. That's not exactly groundbreaking. Fast forward to 2007, and the rising senior is coming into one of the most difficult circumstances any quarterback could ask for. He's expected to pick right up where no. 1 overall draft selection JaMarcus Russell left off and even take the Tigers to a place Russell couldn't - the BCS Championship. That's a lot to ask from a quarterback that completed all of 12 passes last season, and it doesn't help matters that LSU lost its top two receivers from a year ago. While Flynn could very well come in and light up the SEC, he still has a lot to prove.

10. Casey Dick/Arkansas - Dick has shown flashes of potential the past two years, and with Mitch Mustain out of the picture, this season will be his chance to put it all together. The junior signal-caller completed only 49% of his passes last year for 991 yards and a 9-6 TD to INT ratio, but he'll have the luxury of working alongside the best backfield in America, and he has one of the top receivers in the conference in Marcus Monk.

11. Michael Henig/ Miss. State - Injuries and porous offensive line play have slowed Henig's progress the last two years. Last season he completed only 44% of his passes for 1,201 yards and a 7-9 TD to INT ratio. The good news for Henig is that MSU's offensive line is expected to be slightly better this season, and the Bulldogs return their top five receivers.

12. Brent Schaeffer/Ole Miss - Schaeffer struggled so much a year ago, he may not even win the starting quarterback job this season for the Rebels. After having a full year in the system, he should show progress in 2007, but that wouldn't being say much. Ole Miss fans are still holding out hope that he will display the Michael Vick-like ability that he showed in the prep school ranks following his departure from Tennessee.

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