BamaOnLine.com's annual Southeastern Conference position rankings return this summer with a special emphasis on the SEC West, and rankings now divided by division. True freshmen are not listed. The series begins with a look at the all-important quarterback position.
1.] Alabama Projected starter:John Parker Wilson. Top reserve:Greg McElroy. Key loss: None. Round Table Ranking: 1. 2007 By the numbers: 2,846 (Wilson passing yardage); 55.2 (Wilson completion percentage); 0 (Combined career starts for all reserves). 2007 high point: In a 41-17 dismantling of rival Tennessee, Wilson threw for 363 yards (32 of 46), rushed for 28 more, and fired three touchdown passes without an interception. 2007 low point: In a 17-12 loss to Mississippi State, Wilson was just 16 of 34 for 121 yards and two interceptions that led to 14 MSU points. Spring postcard: Wilson struggled in early scrimmage work but closed the spring with 265 yards and three TDs in the A-Day game. Biggest concern: Wilson's second season as a starter was short on both consistency and composure, and some of his turnovers came at the worst possible times. In other words, he didn't show the game management skills an experienced quarterback should. Can he give up fewer turnovers, and fewer of those killer three-and-out series, without the go-to receiver (D.J. Hall) that he's always relied on in the past? Biggest reason for optimism: With help from an offensive line and a running game that can't help but improve, and the experience of 26 career starts, the table is set for Wilson to post the best season of his career. As tough as road games at Georgia, Tennessee and LSU appear, Wilson has already played in two of those venues.
2.] Arkansas Projected starter:Casey Dick. Top reserve: Nathan Dick. Key loss: None. Round Table Ranking: 4. 2007 By the numbers: 18 (Dick touchdown passes); 268.5 (Darren McFadden's passing rating on 12 attempts); 20 (Average attempts per game by Dick). 2007 high point: In his most efficient performance of the season, Dick riddled Mississippi State with 14-of-17 passing for 199 yards, four TDs and no interceptions in a 45-31 win. 2007 low point: In a 9-7 loss to Auburn, with the Hogs' running game stuffed for the only time all season, Dick connected on just 12 of 26 for 111 yards and an interception. Spring postcard: The elder Dick lit up the scoreboard in the spring game (33 of 49, 404 yards) in a 45-14 win for his squad. Biggest concern: After two full years and parts of a third at the controls of an offense that moved the chains with a dynamite running game, Dick must lead an offense with question marks at running back and a new head coach that likes to throw. The spotlight shifts to the quarterback in Fayetteville this season, and Dick has never felt its full heat. Biggest reason for optimism: The same logic that places Wilson as the top quarterback in the SEC West - his vast experience - demands that Dick rank right behind him. His completion percentage and TD-INT ratio are right there with Wilson, but his yardage totals were pedestrian (130 yards per game). Still, credit Dick for spending his career in the difficult position of throwing only when the defense usually knew the pass was coming. That could change under new coach Bob Petrino.
3.] Ole Miss Projected starter:Jevan Snead Top reserve:Billy Tapp. Key loss:Seth Adams, Brent Schaeffer. Round Table Ranking: 2. 2007 By the numbers: 113.4 (Adams' efficiency rating); 578 (Passing yards by Schaeffer); 16 (Adams' interception total, an SEC-high). 2007 high point: Adams torched Missouri (23 of 41, 303 yards, 3 TDs) in a 38-25 loss. 2007 low point: Adams was picked off four times by Arkansas in a blowout loss that helped open the door for Schaeffer's late-season action. Spring postcard: Snead left no question about who the best quarterback on the Oxford campus is, connecting on 20 of 26 in the spring game for 269 yards and two TDs. Biggest concern: With limited experience and nearly two years removed from his last game action, how will Snead - a transfer from Texas - respond when the Ole Miss schedule begins to stiffen? Entering the season, his hype exceeds his accomplishments. Biggest reason for optimism: In Snead, Ole Miss has the most impressive throwing arm Rebels fans have seen since Eli Manning. At Texas in 2006, Snead connected on 26 of 49 passes for two scores in a reserve role. Snead will make mistakes, but he will also make some throws perhaps no other West QB can make.
4.] Auburn Projected starter:Kodi Burns. Top reserve:Chris Todd. Key loss: Brandon Cox. Round Table Ranking: 3. 2007 By the numbers: 38.5 (Burns' completion percentage); 94 (Percentage of AU passes thrown by the departed Cox); 208 (Net rushing yards by Burns). 2007 high point: Cox played one of his best games against one of the nation's toughest defenses against LSU, completing 18 of 28 for 199 yards, two scores and no interceptions, albeit in a losing effort. 2007 low point: Cox was 16 of 35 with two interceptions in an upset loss to South Florida that sped up the platoon plan for Burns. Spring postcard: Burns won AU's spring game offensive MVP with a 14-of-21 effort (one TD, no INTs, 37 rush yards). Biggest concern: Can Burns be consistent enough in the passing game in a new spread system that will demand quick decisions and wise reads? If not, he may find himself in a platoon situation for the second year in a row. Biggest reason for optimism: The spread scheme of new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin should open more space for Burns' best skill - scrambling and doing damage on the ground. If he can't move the chains through the air, he will move them the way he knows best.
5.] Mississippi State Projected starter:Wesley Carroll. Top reserve:Chris Relf. Key loss: None. Round Table Ranking: 6. 2007 By the numbers: 107 (Carroll's passing yards per game); 9 (Interceptions in just 78 attempts by outgoing senior Michael Henig); 110.2 (Josh Riddell's passer rating, best on the team - Riddell has since left the team). 2007 high point: Carroll did his part to upset Kentucky, completing 17 of 28 for two scores and no interceptions. 2007 low point: In a season-opening shutout loss to LSU (45-0), Henig threw six picks which pressed Carroll into quick service. Spring postcard: Relf threw a game-ending, overtime TD pass to break a scoreless tie in the MSU spring game. He and Carroll were just 4 of 19 between them. Biggest concern: Carroll showed impressively at times last season for a freshman, but isn't the kind of talent needed to carry a team when things go wrong. If the running game can't win games for MSU, can Carroll? Biggest reason for optimism: Carroll absorbed enough lumps in conference play last year as a freshman to set the stage for steady improvement over the next three seasons. Some of the best veteran college quarterbacks are the ones who got a chance to make freshman mistakes.
6.] LSU Projected starter:Andrew Hatch. Top reserve:Jarrett Lee. Key loss:Matt Flynn; Ryan Perrilloux. Round Table Ranking: 5. 2007 By the numbers: 3,101 (Passing yards lost between Flynn and Perrilloux); 9 (Yards passing by Hatch); 0 (Career games for Lee). 2007 high point: LSU essentially clinched the division with Flynn's season-high 388-yard, three-TD effort in Tuscaloosa. 2007 low point: Flynn was just 8 of 19 for 70 yards in a win over South Carolina, while Perrilloux provided 62 yards rushing but nothing through the air. Spring postcard: Hatch's 13 of 17, 184-yard performance in LSU's annual spring game made a strong case for the ex-Ivy Leaguer who transferred from Harvard. Biggest concern: With Perrilloux's disciplinary ouster, LSU's quarterback situation is the most uncertain one in the division. Until he proves he can burn SEC defenses, Hatch can count on a loaded defensive box to stuff the run and place him in obvious passing situations. Biggest reason for optimism: Although the test of live SEC competition can't be duplicated in practice, intelligence and poise are said to be two Hatch strengths. The overall talent surrounding Hatch offensively is second to none in the division. As well, Lee may yet find his way into the job if Hatch falters.
1.] Florida Projected starter:Tim Tebow. The bottom line: There is no bigger reason for optimism in the country than a returning Heisman Trophy winner. A healthy Tebow is the SEC's most dangerous offensive weapon, and as durable as they come. With 55 total touchdowns last season (32 passing, 23 rushing), Tebow is enough of a scoring machine to lead the Gators to the kind of post-season they missed out on last year. From a play-calling standpoint, however, the frequency with which Tebow is called on as a rusher definitely takes its toll. It showed up most in UF's loss to Georgia last year, when Tebow played through obvious pain. If Tebow's 2007 average of 16.2 rushes per game isn't eased back, a price could be paid at some point.
2.] Georgia Projected starter:Matthew Stafford. The bottom line: With a full season under his belt, Stafford brings a rifle of an arm and plenty of experience to the SEC East race this season. He likes to let the deep ball fly, yet has learned to let his running backs to their damage in the passing game. By all accounts, he is primed for a big year. His completion percentage (55.7) and TD-INT ratio (19-10) last year were decent, but not the stuff of champions. Those are the areas in which Stafford can take the next step in his progression as a quarterback.
3.] Tennessee Projected starter:Jonathan Crompton. The bottom line: With the closure of the Erik Ainge Era, the Volunteers will look to Crompton to maintain what is annually one of the league's better offenses. Last year, Crompton threw two picks in just 12 attempts, but has been in the system for three years and has a good grasp of the UT attack. Most of his experience comes from 2006, (seven games, 66 pass attempts, career-high 183 yards vs. LSU). He delivered three TD passes in UT's spring game before minor elbow surgery that is not expected to be a problem for fall practice.
4.] Vanderbilt Projected starter:Mackenzi Adams. The bottom line: Although former starter Chris Nickson can't be counted out for the job, there can be no other preseason projection than Adams, who took over for an ineffective Nickson last season. He completed 101 of 181 passes last year, and while Nickson is known as the more dangerous rusher, Adams quietly piled up 289 rushing yards of his own. Don't be surprised if a platoon situation emerges here.
5.] South Carolina Projected starter:Chris Smelley. The bottom line: After a little taste of action as a true freshman in 2006 and 162 attempts in a platoon role in 2007, full-time starter would seem to be Smelley's natural progression in 2008. Not so fast. After struggling in the spring, Smelley finds himself in a battle with Tommy Beecher that will spill into fall camp. Smelley was 92 of 162 last season for 1,176 yards, with 9 TDs, 7 INTs. Watch for Smelley to emerge in fall camp as the more experienced of the two.
6.] Kentucky Projected starter:Curtis Pulley. The bottom line: After Andre Woodson lit up SEC secondaries for two years, Pulley will get a chance to take over with precious little experience to draw from. Mike Hartline isn't finished battling for this job, however, and with a 6-foot-6 frame, he is an intriguing prospect. Gone along with Woodson are most of his key targets, so UK will also be short on experience at the other end of the pass.