First up are the field generals – the quarterbacks. The Southeastern Conference produced the top pick in the NFL Draft, JaMarcus Russell, and also produced the BCS National Championship’s MVP, Chris Leak. In a league that’s usually known for its defense, it’s produced some pretty good QBs over the years.
But both of those two quarterbacks are gone, so which signal callers will be the best in the league this fall?
#1 – Andre’ Woodson/Kentucky – The most athletic quarterback in the SEC, Woodson has the ability to beat you with his arm as well as his legs. He returns with the highest quarterback rating of all starting quarterbacks in the SEC from last season, and has Kentucky fans excited about the fall. As a sophomore, Woodson completed 63 percent of his passes, throwing for 3,515 yards. Not only is he an efficient passer, but he also protects the football. In 2006, he threw 31 touchdowns against only seven interceptions. Only downside, he was sacked 36 times.
#2 – Erik Ainge/Tennessee – Being taught by the same coach that taught Peyton Manning, Ainge is poised to have a strong senior season. In 2006, he completed 67 percent of his passes for nearly 3,000 yards. He also threw 19 touchdowns against only nine interceptions. Maturity and consistency have been issues in the past with Ainge, but reports out of Knoxville say David Cutcliffe has him under control.
#3 – Tim Tebow/Florida – No one knows what Tebow will do running the Florida offense, but you can make a educated guess. He’s surrounded by possibly the best receiving corps in the SEC and his feet and stiff-arm have proven to be valuable weapons. The questions for Tebow will be can he withstand the pounding of a full SEC season and is he as good of a passer as he showcased in the Orange and Blue Game?
#4 – Matt Flynn/LSU – Flynn’s legendary status in Baton Rouge dates back to the 2005 Peach Bowl win over Miami. The Tigers crushed the Hurricanes 40-3 behind 13-of-22 passing for 196 yards and two touchdowns from Flynn. Plus, he rushed for 39 yards. He earned the start after Russell went down with an injury in the SEC Championship Game, but other than the bowl game, Flynn doesn’t have much experience other than mop-up duty. He’s a senior, though, on a very talented team.
#5 – Chris Nickson/Vanderbilt – This might be my stretch of the group, but with the success of Jay Cutler and the emergence of Nickson, Vanderbilt is beginning to look like Quarterback U. in the SEC. Nickson had a decent sophomore season as a dual-threat quarterback, throwing for 2,085 yards and rushing for nearly 700 more. The only knock on Nickson is that he throws just as many interceptions as he does touchdowns.
#6 – Matt Stafford/Georgia – Stafford spent most of last season playing the quarterback shuffle with Joe Cox, but he nailed down the starting job in the spring. The second rated quarterback from the class of 2006 - just behind Mitch Mustain and just ahead of Tebow – has Bulldog fans excited about his potential. After nailing down the fulltime role last October, Stafford threw for 1,749 yards. But he also threw 13 picks.
#7 – John Parker Wilson/Alabama – Wilson had a rough sophomore season, sacked 27 times with 10 interceptions. But with improvements upfront, a new coaching staff and a year of experience under his belt, Wilson could improve on a season where he threw for 2,707 yards.
#8 – Brandon Cox/Auburn – After a stellar sophomore season, Cox struggled as a junior. He threw nine interceptions and was sacked 34 times. Cox is dark horse candidate who could easily move up the list in ’07.
#9 – Blake Mitchell/South Carolina – Mitchell had a rollercoaster season last year, dealing with on-the-field and off-the-field issues, but he’s in his third year learning under the best in the business. Mitchell could be one of the best in the SEC, but with his top receiver – Sidney Rice – gone and inconsistency through the years, he’ll have to prove it.
#10 – Brent Schaeffer/Ole Miss – Last year, Schaeffer didn’t have the benefit of spring or summer workouts since he was completing his transfer to Oxford. Now with a full season under his belt, he could live up to the promise he showed as a freshman with the Vols.
#11 – Casey Dick/Arkansas – Dick has one job – get the ball to Darren McFadden. The end.
#12 – Michael Henig/Mississippi State - Henig put up less than impressive numbers in just seven games played last season. Completing only 44 percent of his passes for 1,201 yards, Henig threw more interceptions than touchdowns. He’ll need his teammates upfront to do a better job of protecting him in the fall.
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