The rest of the SEC should be so
fortunate. Aside from LSU, only Auburn, Florida and
perhaps South Carolina enter the 2006 season
with a solid, proven quarterback running the offense, and even Florida senior Chris Leak
still has a lot to prove about his ability and willingness to run coach Urban Meyer’s spread option offense.
With the loss of quarterbacks such
as Vanderbilt’s Jay Cutler, Alabama’s Brodie Croyle and Georgia’s D.J. Shockley
and the ongoing questions surrounding the quarterback position at Tennessee,
Arkansas, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, the SEC faces
considerable uncertainty entering the season.
Throughout the SEC, both new (such
as Alabama’s John Parker Wilson) and used
quarterbacks (such as Tennessee’s Erik Ainge) enter the summer
carrying the weight of that uncertainty.
"It's just a fact of life in
college football," Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said. "One of them graduates.
You've got to get somebody else ready and that's always an interesting thing. It
happens every year to some programs.
"Some of them, it works out a
little better than others. Sometimes it doesn't."
How well those teams answer those
quarterback questions will go a long way toward determining who – and who won’t
– contend for the SEC championship this fall.
That said, here’s a look at where
every SEC program stands at quarterback entering the summer. Well, every team
but LSU, of course. Any LSU fan worth his tailgate supplies already knows what’s
going on with Russell, Flynn and Perrilloux.
ALABAMA: Just when Croyle helps lead Alabama to a 10-2 season
he completes his eligibility and moves on to the NFL as a third-round choice of
the Kansas City Chiefs.
Alabama coach Mike Shula and offensive
coordinator Dave Rader have been grooming Wilson, a sophomore, for the starting
job since the spring of 2005. Senior Marc Guillon has experience as a starter
and showed considerable progress in the spring, but it’s Wilson the coaches want
for his strong arm and his ability to move around in the
"The best thing that happened to
him was last spring he came in and took all the reps in spring ball too, then,"
Shula said. "He went through the season and didn’t play probably as much as we
would have liked him to play but did a nice job when he came
Now if the Crimson Tide can just
get Wilson to
cut down on the interceptions that became something of a bad habit in the
"In the spring game at the end of
the first half, he was 13 of 14 and in the second half he came in and threw an
interception and forced a ball," Shula said. "My point is, he’s going to make
some plays for us, and he’s going to make some mistakes because he’s young, and
he’s going to get better with experience."
ARKANSAS: Robert Johnson lost his
starting job to true freshman Casey Dick last fall and Dick played admirably for
a rookie, but neither quarterback lived up to coach Houston Nutt’s expectations
in the spring.
"I think there is competition
there," Nutt said. "Casey realizes that. Robert closed the gap. But I want to
leave things as they are, prove it on the field, starting August."
At that point, incoming signee
Mitch Mustain, the Parade High School Player of the Year from Springdale, Ark., will be on campus. It remains to be seen
if his experience playing for new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn at Springdale will help him
compete for the starting job as a true freshman.
"Mitch will get an opportunity,"
Nutt said. "The one thing you’ll look for the very first scrimmage is, he’ll be
thrown in there against a fast defense and let’s see how he responds."
AUBURN: Junior Brandon Cox grew up in the fire
as a sophomore and overcame a shaky start by completing .578 of his 306 passes
for 2,324 yards with 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also emerged as
the SEC’s second-leading quarterback in both passing efficiency and passing
yards per game (218.7).
"He’s proven he can win. Now he’s
got to prove he can be a champion," offensive coordinator Al Borges said.
"That’s where Brandon’s next step has to take him, to go from
a good quarterback to a championship quarterback. That’s how you’re remembered
-- when you can win big."
Cox’s backup, sophomore Blake Field, won his only start last year against Division I-AA Western Kentucky, but
his main competition for the No. 2 job, sophomore Calvin Booker, decided in
early May he would transfer to Georgia Tech instead of waiting his turn at
FLORIDA: Tim Tebow is the best quarterback in the history
football. Of course, that’s because he’s undefeated as a starter and has never
turned the ball over or missed an open receiver in a big game. It also helps
that he outplayed Leak in the spring game.
Other than that, Tebow is just a
true freshman with a ton of talent and a whole lot to learn. Meanwhile, Leak is
still the starter after a solid spring and Meyer continues to insist Leak will
start and Tebow will play a part-time role this fall.
However, you can guarantee that as
soon as Leak struggles in any way, shape or form, impatient Florida fans will be
demanding a quarterback change. The interesting thing will be watching how the
coaches and quarterbacks handle the situation.
GEORGIA: After five years of David Greene and D.J. Shockley the Bulldogs started over with junior Joe Tereshinski,
sophomore Blake Barnes, redshirt freshman Joe Cox and true freshman Matthew Stafford competing for the job.
Tereshinski heads into the
preseason as Georgia’s No. 1 quarterback – for now, but Stafford, a top national prospect who graduated and
enrolled early and participated in spring practice, played better than the
others in the spring game and is likely to improve over the
"I really didn't see it as a
competition in the spring, especially with those young guys because they don't
know what to do yet," Richt said. "They learned a lot. They should have enough
of a working knowledge to compete in the fall. If they don't, then it will
eliminate them from the race. But they're sharp guys and they've learned an
awful lot and they've got all summer to continue to get
"It will be more of a true
competition in the fall rather than what we saw in the
Even though the situations remains
very uncertain for Georgia, coach Mark Richt doesn’t sound all that
"I've done it over 20 years and
coaching quarterbacks all that time," Richt said. "You just know they're
leaving. That's just part of it. You've got guys that you're getting ready and
trying for their opportunity. I don't think I've ever really sweated it
KENTUCKY: Both junior Andre Woodson and
sophomore Curtis Pulley experienced their share of ups and downs in the spring
and the starting job remains wide open entering preseason practice.
"Both of them are doing some good
things, but this race is far from over," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. "There's a
lot of ground that can be made up in the summer months and in the first couple
weeks of fall camp."
Woodson, who started in 2005, is
more of a drop-back quarterback who must do a better job of protecting the
football, whether he’s passing or moving around in the pocket. Pulley is more of
a raw athlete who brings impressive scrambling ability but must become more
accurate and make better decisions in the passing game.
"It might not be decided by the
first game," Brooks said. "We may use both of them, though that wouldn't be my
OLE MISS: Juco transfer Seth Adams
and redshirt freshman Billy Tapp both did some positive things in the spring,
which is good for them but not real meaningful when it comes to the competition
for the starting job.
While Adams and Tapp compete for
the starting job, incoming quarterback Brent Schaeffer has been the starter
since the moment he committed to play for the Rebels. Schaeffer, the former
starter who left after his true freshman season and spent last fall at a junior
college, missed the spring and won’t be available until preseason practice
"We tried to turn it into a
position to see if we can get our second team ready in case something happens to
Brent," Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron said of spring practice. "We had a battle
there and we still have a long ways to go. The speed of our offense wasn't what
we needed and what we expect to have with Brent."
In the meantime, new offensive
coordinator Dan Werner and Schaeffer are trying to make up for lost time by
"We talk a lot," Werner said.
"Normally, when a guy comes in from juco or high school, the first day, he
doesn't even know how to get in the huddle. But he's going to be way, way past
that. It's not a normal new guy situation."
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Here’s a gamble most folks would take: we’re
betting less than 12 percent of all SEC fans can name the starting quarterback
No, it’s not Wayne Madkin. He’s
ancient history. Same with Kevin Fant. Not Omarr Conner, who started most of the
past two seasons before losing his job and moving back to
It’s Michael Henig, a sophomore who
finally became the starter in the ninth game of the 2005 season and experienced
some painful lessons down the stretch. He also made considerable progress in the
spring. Even versatile backup Tray Rutland also showed some improvement before a
suspension ended his spring.
"Mike has really progressed," senior receiver Tyler Threadgill said. "We
feel like our offense can score with anybody."
SOUTH CAROLINA: Junior Blake Mitchell returns
as the starting quarterback after an inconsistent first season as the Gamecocks’
starter. He held on to the job in the spring but redshirt freshman Cade Thompson
spent the spring narrowing the gap.
In the annual spring game Thompson
completed 10 of 13 passes while Mitchell completed 10 of 27 passes and produced
the game’s only turnover. That wasn’t enough to change coach Steve Spurrier’s
depth chart, but it did give him some confidence in Thompson as a potential
"Blake didn’t play his best. He
knows that. But he’s still the starter," Spurrier said after the spring game.
"But it was encouraging that Cade says, ‘Hey, if something happens, I can go
TENNESSEE: After flip-flopping between Ainge and Rick
Clausen throughout the 2005 season on the way to a startling 5-6 finish,
coach Phillip Fulmer made some staff changes and brought David Cutcliffe back to
run the offense and coach the quarterbacks. Cutcliffe held both roles when the
Vols won the 1998 national championship in 1998. Now he’s got to find a way to
get Ainge back on the right track.
"He adds a lot to the staff as far
as experience, knowledge of the game and energy and enthusiasm," Fulmer said of
It remains to be seen if
Cutcliffe’s return is enough to salvage Ainge’s once promising career. Ainge
showed plenty of potential as a true freshman in 2004 but lost his confidence
and rhythm in 2005.
If the spring was any indication,
Ainge appears to be headed in the right direction.
“It was a strange, strange year,
and I think a lot of things contributed to Erik not having the kind of sophomore
season we all expected him to have," Fulmer said. "We all saw the talent he had,
and I think he is much closer to being that kind of
VANDERBILT: No SEC team will likely
experience a more significant drop at the quarterback position this season than
Vanderbilt. It’s going to be impossible for the Commodores to replace everything
Cutler brought to the field as an athlete, playmaker and experienced
With Cutler in the NFL, as a
first-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos, the Commodores will turn to either
sophomore Chris Nickson, who possesses a strong arm and the ability to make
plays with his feet, or redshirt freshman Mackenzi Adams, another versatile
quarterback who brings even less experience and consistency than
With Nickson limited by a hamstring
injury in the spring neither player won the starting job. That means Nickson,
Adams and the Commodores have a lot of work to get done before the Sept. 2
season opener at Michigan.
“We have to get someone ready to
perform against Michigan," Johnson said. "That’s what spring
practice is all about. We put them in all kinds of situations and see how they
react. That didn’t go as well as we planned, obviously, because Chris was
hobbled just about the whole time. That’s still to be determined."
Richard Scott is a Birmingham,
freelance sports writer and author. Reach him at RScottfree@aol.com.