published Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Greeson: SEC facing QB shuffle

Some schools face more uncertainty than others

The face of the Southeastern Conference has moved on to try his hand in the NFL. But as Tim Tebow departs, there will be few tears shed for the Florida Gators.

John Brantley is waiting in the wings, and the former high school All-American will be just fine.

Fine, however, is a fluid term when used to describe quarterback projections in the SEC, where defenses feast on the weak-armed, and the fan bases can't tolerate the weak-hearted.

I bet Ole Miss fans felt at least fine heading into last season with Jevan Snead poised for a breakout season. They probably feel better today heading into spring practice with Snead and his 20 inteceptions poised for a future in the CFL.

A relative unknown such as Nathan Stanley or Raymond Cotton has to look way better to Rebels fans compared to the supersized disappointment that was Snead's final season in Oxford.

With that in mind, here is a team-by-team glance at the quarterback situation at each SEC school:

Alabama

* Last year’s starter: Greg McElroy

* This year’s starter: McElroy. There is an embarrassment of riches waiting their turn in Tuscaloosa with A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims standing in line. They’ll have to wait, though, after McElroy helped the Tide to their first national title since 1992. He is part of the nation’s best returning backfield.

Arkansas

* Last year’s starter: Ryan Mallett

* This year’s starter: Mallett. The Razorbacks will be a trendy sleeper pick throughout the preseason mainly because of Mallett’s splendid gifts, though the same lofty expectations were placed on Jevan Snead and the Rebels last year.

Florida

* Last year’s starter: Tim Tebow

* This year’s starter: John Brantley. The Gators should be fine — there’s that word again — unless Brantley battles injuries.

LSU

* Last year’s starter: Jordan Jefferson

* This year’s starter: Jefferson. He got better as the year progressed despite the Tigers offense being consumed by injuries.

South Carolina

* Last year’s starter: Stephen Garcia

* This year’s starter: Garcia. It feels like Garcia has been in Columbia for like eight years already — and he’s just going to be a junior.

Tennessee

* Last year’s starter: Jonathan Crompton

* This year’s starter: Nick Stephens. A trio of newcomers — including two, Matt Simms and Tyler Bray, who will go through spring practice — will get a chance, but behind a new offensive line, Stephens’ experience and size will be added advantages.

ANYTHING BUT SETTLED

Auburn

* Last year’s starter: Chris Todd

* This year’s leader: Cam Newton. The nation’s top-ranked junior college player signed with Auburn in December and will compete in spring practice. Newton, a former Florida Gator, will have to hold off Neil Caudle among others, but if the Tigers coaches really felt Todd’s replacement was on campus, they likely would not have pursued Newton.

Georgia

* Last year’s starter: Joe Cox

* This year’s leader: Aaron Murray. Truthfully, Murray is just a guess. The Bulldogs are the poster program for unsettled with Logan Gray and Zach Mettenberger also in the mix. Should be an interesting spring in Athens.

Kentucky

* Last year’s starters: Mike Hartilne and Morgan Newton

* This year’s leader: Hartline. Hartline started the first five games last year before injuring his knee against South Carolina. Newton carried himself well for a true freshman in the second half of the season, and with Joker Phillips taking over the Wildcats, this likely will be a two-man race that may not be settled in the spring.

Mississippi

* Last year’s starter: Jevan Snead

* This year’s leader: Nathan Stanley. Stanley got some action in the Rebels’ Cotton Bowl win, but Raymond Cotton was a blue-chip recruit who redshirted last year and will get a look this spring.

Mississippi State

* Last year’s starter: Tyson Lee

* This year’s leader: Chris Relf. Relf secured his status as the front-runner for 2010 with a superior performance in the season-ending Egg Bowl blowout over Ole Miss. Also there is Tyler Russell, a 2009 Parade All-American who redshirted last season.

Vandy

* Last year’s starter: Larry Smith

* This year’s leader: Jordan Rodgers. Smith is back, but he struggled mightily last year before missing the last three games after injuring his hamstring. Rodgers, the brother of Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers, is coming in after a strong junior college showing. Parade 2009 All-American Charlie Goro could get a look as well.

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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