SEC position rankings: Quarterbacks

Now that the month of July is upon us, we’ll start examining every SEC team a little closer for the 2013 season.

Today, we kick off our annual position rankings.

When you’re dealing with the kind of talent the SEC boasts at every position, this is an impossible task. Somebody obviously has to be last.

We’ve talked to people we trust around the league in coming up with these rankings, but there are always going to be glaring whiffs.

Case in point: Who knew this time a year ago that Johnny Manziel was going to be Johnny Manziel? Obviously, we didn’t here on the SEC blog and had Texas A&M 13th in the quarterback rankings.

I’d say that was a tad low.

Anyway, we’ve based our 2013 rankings on having a true game-changer (or game-changers) at the position as well as having experience and depth. Past performance is weighted heavily, but we also take into account what help is on the way and project the impact newcomers will have.

After unveiling the position rankings each day, we’ll come back later in the day and rank the top players in the league at the various positions.

I’m sure there won’t be any debate concerning our picks.

We’ll start with the quarterback position.

1. South Carolina: It’s hard to beat the one-two punch at South Carolina. Both Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson have won big games on big stages, and they complement each other perfectly. Shaw is coming off foot surgery, but is a tough-as-nails runner and an underrated passer. Thompson is a polished pocket passer. You can bet that Steve Spurrier will play both this season. Spurrier is also high on true freshman Connor Mitch, who enrolled early and went through the spring.

2. Georgia: Murray is heading into his eighth season as the Bulldogs’ starter. OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But there’s no substitute for his experience, and he’s already the only quarterback in SEC history to have thrown for 3,000 yards in three straight seasons. Behind him, the Bulldogs have junior Hutson Mason, who’s super talented and would be starting for a lot of other teams in the SEC right now. He redshirted last season.

3. Texas A&M: The remarkable playmaking ability of Johnny Manziel has the Aggies in the top 3. He should be even better his second time through the SEC. It’s been an eventful offseason for him, so we’ll see how he responds on the field to the glare of being the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. There isn’t a proven backup behind Manziel. Sophomore Matt Davis is more mobile than junior Matt Joeckel and probably had the better spring of the two.

4. Alabama: If you’re looking for quarterbacks who win games and play big in big games, AJ McCarron’s your guy. He’s 25-2 as a starter with back-to-back national championships and is entering his third season as the Tide’s starter. Phillip Ely transferred, but junior Blake Sims moved into the backup role as last season progressed. Sims is an exceptional athlete, but not known for his passing. Alec Morris will be a redshirt freshman.

5. Ole Miss: The challenge for Bo Wallace is cutting down on his turnovers. He threw an SEC-high 17 interceptions last season. Otherwise, he was very effective and finished fifth in the SEC in total offense (3,384 yards) in his first season in the league. Sophomore Maikhail Miller might be the best athlete of the Ole Miss quarterbacks and showed some promise in the spring, and senior Barry Brunetti also has experience and gives the Rebels some options.

6. Florida: Physically, Jeff Driskel has all the tools, and he’s a strong candidate to be one of the most improved players in the league and have a breakout junior season. The Gators still need to play better around him, but he’ll also be given more latitude by the coaches and won’t be looking over his shoulder now that Jacoby Brissett has transferred. The Gators might be forced to turn to true freshman Max Staver if Driskel were to go down.

7. Mississippi State: Tyler Russell was perhaps the most improved quarterback in the SEC last season, and coach Dan Mullen has said he expects Russell to have an outstanding senior season. Russell did struggle down the stretch last season and threw six interceptions in his last two games. Sophomore Dak Prescott will see his role grow this season. His 230-pound frame should come in handy in short-yardage situations.

8. LSU: There were promising returns this spring with the improvement Zach Mettenberger made under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Mettenberger also played some of his best football a year ago in November after a tough start. It’s going to be difficult for sophomore Stephen Rivers to hold off freshman Anthony Jennings for the backup job. Jennings enrolled early and turned some heads this spring.

9. Missouri: The key for Missouri is senior James Franklin staying healthy. He was banged up all of last season and not nearly as effective as he was in 2011 when he lit up Big 12 defenses for 2,865 passing yards and 981 rushing yards. The Tigers are also high on redshirt freshman Maty Mauk and his dual-threat ability. Sophomore Corbin Berkstresser played some last season in relief of Franklin and has a strong arm.

10. Vanderbilt: Senior Austyn Carta-Samuels gets his shot as Vanderbilt’s starter after spot duty behind Jordan Rodgers last season. This won’t be Carta-Samuels’ first rodeo as a starter. He was the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year at Wyoming before transferring to Vanderbilt. He has a stronger arm than Rodgers and is also a willing runner. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman Patton Robinette, too.

11. Kentucky: The Wildcats have three sophomore quarterbacks who’ve all played some, which is always a plus. Jalen Whitlow was the starter at the end of last season as a true freshman. He really impressed the new coaching staff this spring and probably has the edge. Maxwell Smith opened last season as the starter, but injured his ankle. He was named to the SEC All-Freshman team in 2011, while sophomore Patrick Towles was also pressed into action last season as a true freshman.

12. Auburn: There’s a lot of buzz concerning incoming junior college newcomer Nick Marshall and what he can do in Gus Malzahn’s offense, but there are still plenty of questions for the Tigers at the quarterback position. Junior Kiehl Frazier struggled mightily last season in the old system, and Jonathan Wallace went from true freshman to starter by the end of the season. Incoming freshman Jeremy Johnson could also be a factor.

13. Tennessee: Junior Justin Worley has at least played some for the Vols and made three starts two years ago as a true freshman. He’s the front-runner to open the season as the starter now that Tyler Bray is gone, but will have to fend off challenges from redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman and a pair of incoming true freshmen – Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson. It’s not going to help whoever lines up at quarterback that the Vols will be woefully unproven at receiver.

14. Arkansas: As Bret Bielema takes over at Arkansas, he inherits a program that is frighteningly thin at quarterback. Sophomore Brandon Allen enters the season as the starter, and he played only sparingly a year ago while filling in for the injured Tyler Wilson. The Hogs were impressed by Allen this spring, but there’s no depth behind him now that Brandon Mitchell has transferred.