The Tennessean makes the case:
- Six of the conference’s top seven passers from 2011 are back, including a leading preseason Heisman candidate in Arkansas senior Tyler Wilson.
- Two years ago, the SEC had a record four 3,000-yard passers. That number could be matched or even exceeded this season by a group of quarterbacks that includes Georgia’s Aaron Murray, Tennessee’s Tyler Bray, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron and Missouri’s James Franklin.
- First-year Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze has installed an up-tempo, spread offense.
- LSU will air it out more with ex-Georgia QB Zach Mettenberger, something it couldn’t do with Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee.
- Mississippi State is tailoring its offense to Tyler Russell’s ability to throw in the pocket.
- Vanderbilt’s Jordan Rodgers and South Carolina’s Connor Shaw should post better numbers after assuming starting roles during the 2011 season.
Very impressive, no? Some of it I’ll buy. Rodgers and Shaw will start all season, so their numbers should improve. Ditto for Bray, if he and his receivers stay healthy. Ole Miss will probably be better at throwing the ball, never a Houston Nutt area of strength. And then there are the two newcomers from the Big 12, right?
But it’s not as strong as it sounds. TAMU was a good passing team last year (#18 nationally) and Sumlin certainly likes to throw the ball. But Missouri was 62
thnd. For context, that’s fourteen spots behind Georgia.
As for all these 3,000-yard passers suddenly expected to sprout up – where were they in 2011? The SEC only had two of those last year – and both have lost significant chunks of their receiving corps to the NFL and/or redeployment (Malcolm Mitchell). Mettenberger’s got a big arm, but everyone seems to forget that Jarrett Lee didn’t throw badly at all last season and still lost his job. And, sure, Nutt is gone, but so is Bobby Petrino.
Besides all of that, there’s this: the SEC boasts four of the top ten teams in passing defense from 2011 and ten in the top thirty. (By comparison, the Big 12 had none
#19 Nebraska.) Add to that serious quarterback questions at Florida, Auburn and Kentucky and I can’t say the optimism is justified.