Hungry for action in the country's best conference? Throughout the summer, we're ranking the best of the best- quarterbacks, running backs, wideouts, tight ends and overall units. Today we look at the signal callers. Each team's quarterbacks are ranked on four critical categories- skill, poise, experience and intangibles.
#1- Ryan Mallett, Arkansas, junior, 6-foot-7, 240-pounds
There's a reason Mallett's name has filled up the rumor mill this offseason – he's that good. Mallett missed spring practice due to a foot injury, and when he was spotted earlier this month on crutches again, it threw Hogs' fans into a tizzy. He's fine, though, and will be 100 percent ready for the fall, head coach Bobby Petrino insists.
SKILL (A-plus): Mallett has it all. He threw for 3,627 yards, 30 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in his first season as an SEC starter. He also had three, five-touchdown games. He can make every throw and makes NFL scouts salivate.
POISE (A-minus): If there's anything lacking in Mallett's game, it's a proven ability to stand and deliver against elite competition. To take the next step this year, he'll have to prove he can do it against the SEC's best defenses. He averaged just 204 yards with a 41 percent completion rate in road losses to Alabama, Florida and LSU a year ago.
EXPERIENCE (A): Nobody in the conference has more meaningful time under center than Mallett, who started at Michigan in 2007 before transferring to Arkansas and sitting out the 2008 season. He's a veteran's veteran and is the most seasoned passer in a youthful SEC group.
INTANGIBLES (B): He'll have to prove this year that he's healthy and that he can rise to the occasion in big moments. That should be easier considered the Hogs will have a talented offense around him, particularly at wide receiver with the likes of Greg Childs, Joe Adams and Jarius Wright.
#2- Greg McElroy, Alabama, senior, 6-foot-3, 225 pounds
Alabama fans could, and probably will, make a very good argument that McElroy should be at the top of this list. "What else does the kid have to do?" they may be asking. And they have a point. McElroy is 14-0 as a starter and has one national championship to his credit.
SKILL (B-minus): The only area where McElroy takes a back seat to Mallett is in arm strength and pure passing ability. He won't dazzle scouts with his physical tools or his statistics (2,508 yards, 17 touchdowns, four interceptions), but he's the perfect quarterback for Nick Saban's get-the-job-done offense.
POISE (B-plus): It's hard to knock a guy who hasn't lost a collegiate game as a starter yet, but, like Mallett, McElroy has yet to prove he can carry his team to victory. He may not have to since he's got Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson in the backfield again, but a 58-yard effort in the national title game did nothing to erase the belief that he's more game manager than superstar.
EXPERIENCE (A): The only thing McElroy hasn't had to adjust to yet is losing. It will be interesting to see how he responds if the Crimson Tide find themselves on the losing end. However, there's no reason to doubt a senior who waited his turn and capitalized big time when he got his shot.
INTANGIBLES (A-plus): Think David Greene, the former Georgia quarterback who just won games for the Bulldogs in the early part of the 2000s. Along with being a model citizen off the field (3.86 GPA and Alabama's male student athlete of the year), McElroy is and King of Intangibles. He hasn't lost a game as a starting quarterback since the eighth grade, and he still remembers the final score of that one.
#3- Jordan Jefferson, LSU, junior, 6-foot-5, 220 pounds
Jordan is the third-leading returning quarterback when measured by yards per game. His 180.5 trails only Arkansas' Ryan Mallett and South Carolina's Stephen Garcia, and his completion percentage a year ago was higher than either of those players.
SKILL: (A) Jordan's skills haven't been questioned since he was a high school All-American and ranked one of the 20 best quarterbacks in the nation by Scout.com. He totaled 2,166 yards and 17 touchdowns against seven interceptions a year ago and has good accuracy (61.5 completion percentage) for a kid with such a big arm. He can run enough to get out of trouble.
POISE: (C) Jordan proved he has some moxie by earning the starting job late in his freshman season and then being named the MVP of the Chick-fil-A Bowl that season. Last year, he became the second-youngest quarterback (19 years, 12 days old) to start a season opener for the Tigers. The youngest? NFL Hall of Famer Y.A. Tittle. However, he still has to make up for a last-minute gaffe against Ole Miss last year in which he and head coach Les Miles came out looking very bad after Jefferson tried to stop the clock with one second remaining and failed.
EXPERIENCE: (B) LSU finished dead last in total offense a year ago, and even though that wasn't all Jefferson's fault, he will have to grow this season. He spent most of last year throwing short and safe patterns so it will be interesting to see if he gets to let loose more this year.
INTANGIBLES: (B-minus) Jefferson hasn't shown he can take a team on his back yet, but he will get that chance in the first game of the 2010 season when the Tigers take on North Carolina and its vaunted defense. If Jefferson plays well there, he will have his team behind him the rest of the way.
#4- John Brantley, Florida, junior, 6-foot-3, 218 pounds
It speaks volumes about the quarterback situation in the SEC that fourth on this list is a player who has never started a collegiate game. Brantley has seen the field in 16 games as a Gator, throwing for 645 yards and 10 touchdowns as the backup for a guy you may have heard of – Tim Tebow.
SKILL: (A-minus) His talent is unquestioned. Brantley, a Florida legacy, was the Gatorade National Player of the Year in 2006. He was 27-1 as a high school starter and broke Tebow's record for career touchdown passes (99). He reminded people of that talent in the Gators' spring game when he threw a 47-yard touchdown pass on his first play and finished 15 of 19 for 201 yards. This guy can play.
POISE: (I for incomplete) It's impossible to know how Brantley will react to meaningful action. He took a master's course in leadership the last two years watching Tebow play, but it's a different animal to be doing it yourself.
EXPERIENCE: (D) Through no fault of his own, Brantley doesn't have any meaningful experience, but at least he'll get a few warm-up games with Miami of Ohio and South Florida before the SEC bullets start flying.
INTANGIBLES: (I for incomplete) Get used to seeing this ranking for a lot of the signal-callers in the SEC. It's an amazingly untested bunch.
#5- Stephen Garcia, South Carolina, junior, 6-foot-2, 240 pounds
There's no reason Stephen Garcia shouldn't be higher on this list… except for the fact that his coach doesn't have many nice things to say about him. Steve Spurrier always rides his quarterbacks hard, but he usually saves it for the fall. Not this offseason. On more than one occasion, Spurrier has called out Garcia in a strikingly harsh manner, saying he plays "undisciplined" and that he must improve this year.
SKILL: (A-minus) Garcia was behind only Ryan Mallett in passing yards per game last year, and the fact that he can run enough to hurt opponents allowed him to lead the league in total offense in conference games. The talent is there.
POISE: (C) Here's where Garcia takes some hits. He threw 10 interceptions last year and completed just 55.3 percent of his passes. He was 10th in the league in passing efficiency and really stunk it up his last time on the field, a bowl game loss to Connecticut in which he completed 42 percent of his passes and threw an interception.
EXPERIENCE: (B) It's hard to believe Garcia is only a junior. It seems he's been around forever. He has started 16 games, including 14 in a row, which makes him an old-timer this year. Now he needs to make some positive experiences.
INTANGIBLES: (D) Garcia has struggled in this area since before he took the field. He was arrested in Columbia before he even joined the team as a freshman. He has since added another arrest and two suspensions from spring practice. It's no surprise that Spurrier has grown frustrated.
#6- Cameron Newton, Auburn, junior, 6-foot-6, 247 pounds
Auburn fans are eager to welcome back Newton to the SEC, where he played for Florida in 2007 and 2008. Newton played in six games for the Gators before leaving school after being arrested on charges of felony burglary, larceny and obstruction of justice.
SKILL: (A-minus) Newton proved his skill level after leaving Florida and joining Blinn College, where he was an honorable mention junior college All-American and led Blinn to the NJCAA national title. He accounted for 38 touchdowns, 22 through the air and 16 on the ground, so he's a great fit for creative offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's system.
POISE: (C) Newton still has something to prove after his aborted stay with the Gators. By most accounts he has matured since leaving Florida.
EXPERIENCE: (B-minus) Quarterbacking at the junior college level is nothing like playing in the SEC. Newton has conference experience, but he's never carried the load.
INTANGIBLES: (C) Although the level of play is nothing like SEC football, Newton has to be given some credit for leading his team to a national title. Blinn lost only once last year. The Tigers would take that in 2010.
#7- Aaron Murray, Georgia, freshman, 6-foot-1, 209 pounds
Murray was supposed to be competing for the starting job right now, but his competition just keeps falling away. Fellow freshman Zach Mettenberger was dismissed from the team in the fall and junior Logan Gray has all but moved to wide receiver.
SKILL: (B-plus) Recruiting experts believe Murray is the real deal. He was ranked behind only USC's Matt Barkley and Texas' Garrett Gilbert coming out of high school. The Parade All-American and MVP of the Elite 11 quarterback camp passed for 4,013 yards and 51 touchdowns and ran for 932 yards and 12 touchdowns in his final full season of high school football. Not that it counts as a skill, but it'd be nice if he was three inches taller.
POISE: (I for incomplete) It takes some poise to admit to your teammates that you're an avid reader of the Harry Potter books, but it'll take time to see if that translates to the playing field.
EXPERIENCE: (D-minus) The only reason Murray doesn't get an F is that he does have a redshirt season under his belt.
INTANGIBLES: (B) Murray doesn't get an A here because he has done nothing on the collegiate level, but he proved all he could in high school, returning early from a broken leg to lead Plant High School to a Florida state title in his final season.
#8- Mike Hartline, Kentucky, senior, 6-foot-6, 206 pounds
Hartline probably will be the Wildcats' starter in the season opener, but that's a big probably. First-year head coach Joker Phillips actually has a three-way battle on his hands. Sophomore Morgan Newton, who led the Wildcats to road wins against Auburn and Georgia after a knee injury sidelined Hartline last year, is waiting in the wings. And, if that doesn't work out, redshirst freshman Ryan Mossakowski is also an option.
SKILL: Newton (B) is the most gifted of the options at quarterback. He has a cannon arm but needs to work on his accuracy, and he can run well enough to make an opponent account for that. Hartline (C), who had the best spring of the three quarterbacks, excels with his short-yardage accuracy but doesn't stretch the field with his arm.
POISE: Hartline (B) didn't make any friends in the locker room two years ago when he criticized teammates after losing the starting job, but he has come back strong. He showed good leadership during spring practice this year. Newton (B-plus) was 5-3 as a freshman last year after getting thrown into the starting job due to Hartline's knee injury.
EXPERIENCE: Hartline (A) and Newton (A) have an experience edge over Mossakowski (C-minus), which is why they are the two most serious contenders for the starting job.
INTANGIBLES: The job may come down to this, and we'll give the slight edge to Newton (B) over Hartline (B-minus).
#9- Matt Sims/Tyler Bray, Tennessee, (Sims, junior, 6-foot-3, 200 pounds), Bray (freshman, 6-foot-6, 190 pounds)
Senior Nick Stephens, a former starter for the Vols, was in line to replace Jonathan Crompton, but he transferred in April when it became apparent he was in no way a shoo-in for the starting spot. That leaves first-year head coach Derek Dooley to choose between junior college transfer Simms and true freshman Bray. Simms has the edge headed to fall.
SKILL: Simms (B) has the pedigree. His father (Phil Simms) and brother (Chris Simms) have shown him the ropes. Now he has to do it for himself. The rocket-armed Bray (A-minus) was one of the top quarterback prospects in the country last year when he made a verbal commitment to former Vols' head coach Lane Kiffin. Bray thought about turning his back on Tennessee but decided to stick around and has to like the quarterback depth chart.
POISE: Simms (C-minus) doesn't have the best track record. He originally played for Louisville but left the Cardinals after being hit with a four-game suspension and played at El Camino Community College last year. His three-interception performance in the spring game didn't do anything to ease people's minds in Knoxville. Bray (B) graduated from high school early so he could compete in spring practice this year, and Dooley praised his presence following the spring game.
EXPERIENCE: Sims (C) beats Bray (I for incomplete), but even he can not be considered tested.
INTANGIBLES: Sims (C), as we've mentioned, will have to prove himself. Bray (I for incomplete) will, too, but, unlike Simms, he'll be given the benefit of the doubt.
#10- Larry Smith, Vanderbilt, junior, 6-foot-2, 220 pounds
Smith still is not the set-in-stone starter, but he's the leader heading into fall camp. Jared Funk and Jordan Rodgers also are in the mix for the Commodores.
SKILL: (C) Smith still is finding his form under center. He won the starting job last season and held onto until being sidelined late with an injury, but he completed just 46.7 percent of passes and threw seven interceptions and just four touchdown passes. POISE: (C) Smith gets some for hanging in there during an 0-8 SEC season, but his touchdown-to-interception ratio suggests he needs to make better decisions.
EXPERIENCE: (B) Almost a full year of starting definitely qualifies you for veteran's status in this year's SEC. He missed the final three games of the season last year due to a hamstring injury but participated in spring drills.
INTANGIBLES: (B-minus) If Smith can earn his teammates' trust with a little more consistency, he can win some ballgames. He never lost a regular season game as a three-year starter at Prattville High School in Alabama.
#11 Chris Relf, Mississippi State, junior, 6-foot-3, 240 pounds
Relf and redshirt freshman Tyler Russell are listed as co-starters on the Bulldogs' post-spring depth chart but expect Relf to come out first when the season opens. That doesn't mean Russell won't play. We expect them to share time with Relf handling the bulk of the running/spread offense duties and Russell adding a downfield passing attack.
SKILL: Relf (C) was fifth in the SEC in passing efficiency last year despite throwing for just 283 yards last year. He was used mostly as a running threat last year and had 131 yards on the ground in a season-ending win over Ole Miss. Russell (C) was a Parade Magazine All-American in high school.
POISE: Like we said, there are going to be a lot of "I for incomplete" grades in this year's quarterback class, and both of these guys get one. Relf has yet to have the weight of the starting job on his shoulders and Russell hasn't played at all. Time will tell.
EXPERIENCE: Relf (C) gets the edge here but only because he's actually played. Both of them will have to learn on the job.
INTANGIBLES: Relf (B-minus) adds a running dimension, and Bulldogs' head coach Dan Mullen absolutely loves that. It's what makes Relf the likely starter in this race.
#12 Nathan Stanley, Ole Miss, sophomore, 6-foot-5, 215 pounds
Stanley, like the rest of the world, was surprised that Jevan Snead bolted from Oxford, Miss., after the season he had last year. Unlike the rest of the world, Stanley will be the guy to take his place under center.
SKILL: Stanley (C) doesn't have much of a resume in college. He completed 11-of-23 passes for 163 yards, one touchdown and one interception in fill-in duty last year. He was well-regarded in high school in Oklahoma but hardly an elite recruit.
POISE: Stanley (I for incomplete) will get a chance to ease into the season before having to prove much of anything. The Rebels play Jacksonville State, Tulane, Vanderbilt, Fresno State and Kentucky before getting to Alabama.
EXPERIENCE: Stanley (D) shouldn't feel bad. He's got plenty of company in the no-meaningful-experience category this year.
INTANGIBLES: Snead's No. 1 intangible, running back/wide receiver, Dexter McCluster is gone so Stanley (I for incomplete) will have to do more on his own.