Posted by Bryan Fischer
Look up and down the depth charts of NFL teams and you'll find five starting quarterbacks from SEC schools. 15% of the league seems like a good number but for a conference that has won five straight national championships and is widely considered to be home to the best football in the country, it's much smaller than you'd expect. After all, one school - USC - has three starting quarterbacks in the league and one was a career backup in college.
In light of the so-so quarterback play around the SEC this year (apart from Arkansas' Tyler Wilson and generally from Georgia's Aaron Murray), the question should be asked: Why can't SEC teams recruit great quarterbacks? There's not a single SEC quarterback in the top 20 in passing efficiency and a signal-caller has thrown for more than 350 yards in a game this season just twice. Twice. They play great defense in the league but that doesn't explain why Jarrett Lee throws up easy interceptions from time-to-time or the position is an open door at schools like Ole Miss.
One reason the league has struggled to churn out good quarterbacks is schools generally don't find many good ones in their own backyards. Tennessee feels great about their (now injured) quarterback Tyler Bray but remember he's from California. Of those starting quarterbacks in the NFL, Matthew Stafford is from Texas and Jay Cutler played high school football in Indiana. Both had solid careers in college but have blossomed at the next level while Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow has struggled to produce at the next level. Is it conservative coaching (or lack of any good QB coaching), systems, too much defense or something in the water? States like Florida have been known to produce a good quarterback from time-to-time but it's just not a strength of the region. In the end, it comes down to recruiting a quality player and there just haven't been enough of them headed down South.
This season for example, Alabama lost out on five-star quarterbacks Gunner Kiel and in-state prospect Jameis Winston. Sure a big time quarterback commits to an SEC school from time-to-time but generally, you don't have top high school players at the position flocking to play at schools in the league. Meanwhile, Pac-12 and Big 12 schools, among others, keep churning out great passers. Increasingly, it seems, the high-flying offenses elsewhere have attracted the good ones and resulted in diminished play at SEC schools. Even when they do grab a big name, such as Florida's John Brantley, things just haven't worked out. Russell Shepard went to LSU with great fanfare but is now a play-making wide receiver as another example.
In the class of 2012, Auburn has the highest rated prospect at the position in Zeke Pike but there are plenty of questions about his mechanics, arm strength and maturity. Newcomer Texas A&M might have the best recruit in dual-threat Matt Davis. In 2011 the Gators grabbed two of the best in the country but we'll see how they play down the road after being thrown to the wolves as freshmen. One of them, Jeff Driskel, is the first consensus top quarterback to go a league school in years. Recruiting is an inexact science - look at powers like Texas struggle to find "the guy" - but it seems like more schools have a QB lab with issues in the SEC.
It's tough to succeed with great defenses but you can't fault lack of skill position on offense for lack of production if look at the rosters and incoming classes. There are plenty of reasons why each school in the SEC has struggled with quarterback play over the years - from development to playing against tough defenses - but ultimately it comes down to recruiting the right guys. There is a secret to success and conference schools have seemingly found it at every position but one. We'll see if things improve going forward but for now, no one is confusing the SEC as the cradle of quarterbacks.