Quarterbacks are ruling the SEC this year

10/02/2013 3:22 PM

10/02/2013 11:32 PM

It seems an odd time to declare this season as the best for Southeastern Conference quarterbacks, considering its quarterbacks have won three of the last six Heisman Trophies — Johnny Manziel, Cam Netwon and Tim Tebow.

But it’s true, or at least headed that way with one-third of the schedule completed.

The roughest, toughest conference of ’em all, the one shaped by power running and defense, is throwing it all over the yard with great success.

Three SEC quarterbacks rank among the top six in passing efficiency and top 11 in touchdown passes: Georgia’s Aaron Murray, Manziel of Texas A&M and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger.

Missouri’s James Franklin, who averages 336 total yards (passing and rushing) trails only Manziel and Murray in that department, and Alabama’s AJ McCarron, with four touchdown passes against Texas A&M, was terrific in his duel with Manziel.

Plenty of factors are at work here. College football has been shifting toward more spread-out offensive sets for several years with the idea that it’s more difficult to tackle in space. Faster pace means more plays, which has the dual impact of increasing scoring opportunities while sucking oxygen from defenders. And if only 2013 games are measured, they’ve most been against overmatched nonconference foes.

But not last weekend’s Georgia-LSU game, which resulted in a 44-41 triumph by the Bulldogs as Murray and Mettenberger combined for 670 passing yards, seven touchdowns and one interception.

LSU coach Les Miles has another reason for increased offensive production. NFL prospects on defense tend to leave schools at the first opportunity. Of the eight SEC defenders taken in the first round of last season’s NFL Draft, all were underclassmen.

Five of the top six leading passers in the conference this season, including McCarron and Vanderbilt’s Austyn Carta-Samuels, are seniors.

“There’s some youth being served,” Miles said. “Younger guys are playing significant football who might not have seen that much action until the back end of a game if those veterans had remained.

“The league is becoming a very competent offensive league and the defenses are dealing with some younger players and developing them. I think at the back end of the season this will be a very strong defensive league.”

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