Talented QBs lead SEC offenses

For as long as anyone can remember, running the football has been the SEC's offensive calling card. Clearly, that isn't going anywhere, but the 2013 season is literally bringing a change in the southern air.

"The depth of quarterbacks in this league, to be honest with you, it could turn the tide to more of an offensive league than a defensive league this season," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.

A league that consistently has had a run-first, run-as-much-as-you-can philosophy will see more passing plays thanks to a handful of talented starters returning in 2013. Sure, this still will be league marked by its running games, but teams won't be afraid to sling it more this fall, as seven of the league's top 10 passers from a year ago will return. That list includes reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, two-time defending national champion AJ McCarron and constant record-breaker Aaron Murray.

"You look at that lineup, it's a pretty good lineup of quarterbacks," Mullen said. "There's experience. There's also a lot of talent out there in the league.

"When you look at guys, the experience that AJ McCarron has, national championship rings on his finger, Aaron Murray that's coming back. ... The talent that he has, the ability he has, all of those quarterbacks, there's so much talent."

Those three are the class of the SEC. All Manziel did last season was become the first freshman to win the Heisman after breaking the SEC record with 5,116 yards of total offense, and accounting for 47 touchdowns (26 passing, 21 rushing), while leading Texas A&M to an 11-2 record in its first season in the SEC.

McCarron has won two straight national titles at Alabama, is 25-2 as a starter and was incredibly efficient last season, throwing 30 touchdowns to just three interceptions.

Murray has all of the tools to be an All-American and likely will leave Georgia with plenty more school and SEC records. He's in line to become the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in four consecutive seasons, as well as become the conference's all-time leader in passing yards.

The SEC has a solid group of quarterbacks to contend with the headliners. Ole Miss' Bo Wallace had a major turnover issue last season (17 interceptions), but averaged 230.3 passing yards per game and threw 22 touchdowns. His mistakes were drilled into his head this spring as he was forced to watch and dissect every turnover on film. With his athleticism and arm, he's already being looked at as a solid draft prospect for next year.

South Carolina's Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson have become anything but the odd couple in Columbia. With Shaw's injury-plagued year, both grabbed a chunk of snaps, with Shaw throwing for 1,956 yards and 17 touchdowns to Thompson's 1,027 yards and 10 touchdowns. They'll share again this fall, and don't mind it at all.

"It works for us," Shaw said. "We work well together and Coach [Steve] Spurrier has handled two quarterbacks before, and he can do it again. Both of us completely trust him and root for each other 100 percent."

The Head Ball Coach made rotating quarterbacks the norm at Florida, winning an SEC title in 2000 with Rex Grossman and Jesse Palmer, and in 1993 and 1994 with Danny Wuerffel and Terry Dean. Spurrier wants both to play, even if he doesn't know how he'll split up snaps.

"I think it'll work out," Spurrier said. "I don't know how it's going to work out, but I look back on the eight conference championships I've been fortunate enough to be on the winning teams, and four of the eight we played two quarterbacks."

Behind them is a group of quarterbacks that has all the talent to make waves in 2013, but still has a lot to prove. Cue Florida's Jeff Driskel, LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Mississippi State's Tyler Russell and Missouri's James Franklin.

There were ups and downs for all four last season, but you can sense more confidence oozing from each. Driskel is extremely athletic, but was incredibly erratic last year. He finally has the same offensive coordinator for two straight seasons and the entire receiving unit to himself.

Mettenberger found his comfort level in LSU's offense during the latter part of last season and it carried over to the spring. With new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron calling plays, he should have more freedom down field, and it'll help that he has all of his main receiving targets back.

Russell has to shake last season's late fall. After being so efficient through a 7-0 start, he became mistake-prone, and the Bulldogs stumbled to a 1-5 finish. He made strides technically this spring, but has the tall task of working with a completely rebuilt receiving corps.

Then there's Franklin, who went from being one of the nation's best dual-threat quarterbacks in 2011 to hobbled in 2012. Battered and bruised, Franklin finished with 2,162 fewer yards of offense than he had in 2011. But his shoulder has healed and his confidence is soaring. A healthy Franklin could do wonders for Mizzou's offense.

For the rest of the league, questions remain. Kentucky and Tennessee are still trying to find their quarterbacks, while Auburn is turning to junior college transfer Nick Marshall. Marshall will be the eighth different starting quarterback that first-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has worked with in as many years. Brandon Allen and Austyn Carta-Samuels are unproven at Arkansas and Vanderbilt, respectively, and have big shoes to fill.

No matter the quarterback situation, the position is more important in the SEC than it has been in years because of the talent coming back. Teams really have no choice but to throw more.

Running is still the staple, but passing could dictate more in SEC offenses in 2013 than most people are used to.