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Quarterback Questions in the SEC

By BJ Bennett
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College football's top conference now faces top-heavy transition at the game's most important position.

The SEC enters this off-season without a national champion and with considerable questions at the quarterback position. Gone are the league's top five leaders in pass efficiency from a year ago, proven stars who each ranked in the top 12 nationally in quarterback rating. As Johnny Manziel, Zach Mettenberger, A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray and Connor Shaw go, history, along with a Heisman Trophy, championships and countless records, will follow. Each signal caller leaves with a legacy. Between the big five, 15,781 passing yards and 137 passing touchdowns, from last season alone, must be replaced.

College football's top conference now faces top-heavy transition at the game's most important position.

For Anthony Jennings, Matt Joeckel, Hutson Mason, Blake Sims and Dylan Thompson, the shoes to fill couldn't be much bigger. Each projected new starter has talent, varying levels of experience and the expectations that come with taking over for a contender. Thompson, a senior at South Carolina, has 218 career attempts and 14 touchdowns. He has long been a part of Steve Spurrier's quarterback carousel. Mason, also a senior, got two key starts in replace of the injured Murray to end last year. Jennings and Joeckel both saw limited time, though Jennings started the Outback Bowl due to Mettenberger's injury. Sims, another senior, has completed two passes against BCS competition.

Fresh off of a run to the BCS National Championship Game, Auburn senior Nick Marshall moves into the starring role for quarterbacks in the SEC. A former Georgia defensive back, Marshall's first year as a starting quarterback was a remarkable one. As a passer, he completed just under 60% of his passes for 1,976 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. As a runner, he totaled 1,068 yards and 12 more scores. Perhaps most impressively, Marshall played extremely well in tough spots and was largely at his best against top talent. He should only become more consistent in his second season under Gus Malzahn.  

Ole Miss senior Bo Wallace is the most experienced of the returnees as 2014 will be his third year as the starter for the Rebels. He has 54 touchdowns the last two seasons in Oxford and has added punch to the Ole Miss attack; the Rebels averaged 16.1 points per game in 2011, 31.5 in 2012 and 30 in 2013. A gritty competitor, Wallace is a two-way talent capable of the big play. He must continue to cut down on his turnovers, 27 interceptions in two years, to be at his absolute best.

One of the more intriguing quarterbacks in the league also resides in the Magnolia State. Mississippi State junior Dak Prescott is often most highly-regarded for his downhill running ability at 230 pounds. He has developed his touch, however, and set new career highs in passing yards with 283 and passing touchdowns with three in the Liberty Bowl against Rice. Becoming a more consistent downfield passer will be the key for Prescott, who averaged just 7.3 yards per attempt last fall.

After stepping in and playing quite well as a reserve his freshman season, Missouri's Maty Mauk is now the go-to guy for the defending SEC East champions. With eleven touchdowns and just two interceptions in 2013, Mauk proved to be capable and comfortable in the big moment. His play, while starter James Franklin was injured, is one of the main reasons the Tigers were as successful as they were. Mauk must fine-tune his accuracy some, but it's quite clear the framework is in place.

With Florida finishing last in the conference in both scoring and total offense last season, now-healthy junior Jeff Driskel will be given the chance to take back over under center. Used mostly as a read-option runner in 2012, he was relatively-effective as a game manager for the Gators. Under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, Driskel will likely be given a chance to be more of a playmaker with his arm. He was rated by as the top-ranked pro-style quarterback recruit in the country coming out of high school. 

The pressure will be on Vanderbilt sophomore Patton Robinette, who takes over full-time for a team minus star head coach James Franklin and the SEC's all-time leading receiver Jordan Matthews. Robinette scored eleven total touchdowns after injury forced Austyn Carta-Samuels out. Still developing as a passer, Robinette's running ability will be relied upon heavily by the new coaching staff. Junior Brandon Allen of Arkansas, Kentucky juniors Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow and Tennessee sophomore Joshua Dobbs return for teams that went a combined 10-26 a year ago. 

Right around the corner, spring practice could result in some suprises at quarterback for a number of teams in the league. Official depth chart positioning is still yet to be determined. Unlike last season, there are just a handful of proven commodoties. The next best thing may be the next in line. 

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: / Twitter: @BJBennettSports