Sunday, July 1, 2012

Quarterbacking in the SEC

Two interesting stories on this morning, both focusing on the quarterback position. The first covers the growth and development of Alabama QB AJ McCarron.

Fairly or not, he's been labeled a "game manager," a term that's been thrown at Alabama quarterbacks of recent and distant past. When the SEC releases its preseason all-conference teams at next month's Media Days, McCarron, despite winning MVP honors in last year's BCS national title game, leading the league in completion percentage and throwing the fewest interceptions among every-game starters, could easily finish fourth behind Georgia's Aaron Murray, Arkansas' Tyler Wilson and Tennessee's Tyler Bray.

Yet when McCarron calls it a career with the Crimson Tide -- whether it's at the end of this season or the next -- he very well could be the best NFL quarterback prospect Alabama has produced since Richard Todd in 1976.

Despite much success since 1976—including nine Southeastern Conference championships and five national championships—Alabama hasn’t exactly been known for producing top drawer quarterbacks. In the same time period, the Tide has featured a parade of hopeful stars at the position, from Mike Shula to Jay Barker; from Freddie Kitchens to Brodie Croyle. All had great careers at the Capstone and all had memorable games, but none established themselves as NFL quarterbacks.

image The second story explores the history of the SEC in producing NFL starters. One gets the sense that while the conference has produced several high profile, Super Bowl caliber quarterbacks, the conference isn’t exactly known for churning out stars.

Part of this phenomenon is explained by the difference between the college game and the game played on Sundays. History shows that the most successful college football programs don’t necessarily include stud quarterback play. In fact, the SEC’s two biggest stars in the NFL never won much of anything during their college careers. The two most recent high profile quarterbacks—Florida’s Tim Tebow and Auburn’s Cam Newton—aren’t exactly prototypical NFL signal callers and still rely more on their athletic ability than someone like Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers or Tom Brady.

There are four times as many major college football programs than their are NFL teams and college quarterbacks have only four years of eligibility. Furthermore, it’s rare for a college freshman quarterback to come in, start all four years and produce the kind of output that keeps his program in national contention. That quarterback must then be replaced by an as-good-or-better player who does the same thing. It just doesn’t happen in the college game.

There’s a reason why the most successful college football programs rely on balanced offense, physical defense and special teams. The reason is that a program that focuses on the quarterback and relies on him to win football games with his arm can’t find that guy and get him on the field, year after year.

So, while the SEC—and Alabama—produced Super Bowl winners—the most successful college football conference will continue to produce national title contenders without necessarily producing future NFL stars at the quarterback position.

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