Who are the best SEC quarterbacks that never made an SEC Championship Game? There have been some really good ones... we narrow down the list here, and provide the top five.
First though - five quarterbacks that just missed the cut.
Brodie Croyle (Alabama: 2002-05)
Croyle may have had the most arm talent of any quarterback in Alabama football history. He got the Tide off to a 9-0 start in 2005, and was a Heisman Trophy candidate mid-way through season (before the offensive personnel became riddled with injury).
Connor Shaw (South Carolina: 2010-13)*
All Connor Shaw did was win. Shaw was never flashy, but his leadership and grittiness resulted in the Gamecocks going 27-5 with him under center, and a perfect 17-0 at home. Shaw was a very underrated runner, and was extremely accurate (with an insane 24 TD to 1 INT ratio his senior year).
*(played as backup to Stephen Garcia in 2010 SEC Championship, threw 5 passes in mop-up duty)
Heath Shuler (Tennessee: 1991-93)
Peyton Manning’s predecessor, Shuler was one of the main cogs that jumpstarted the Fulmer machine in Knoxville. Shuler finished runner-up to Charlie Ward in the 1993 Heisman trophy race, and held nearly every school passing record at the end of his career (most which were subsequently broken by Manning).
Jay Cutler (Vanderbilt: 2002-05)
Cutler’s former NFL teammate John Lynch once said of him “If this guy can take a bunch of future doctors and lawyers and have them competing against the Florida Gators, this guy is a stud” In 2005, Cutler became the first Vanderbilt player of the modern era to win SEC Offensive Player of the Year, and capped off his final season with the Commodores by leading them to their first win over Tennessee in 23 years.
Tim Couch (Kentucky: 1996-98)
Back before wide-open passing attacks were cool, Tim Couch assembled one of the best statistical two-year stretches ever by an SEC quarterback. Couch flourished under the godfather of the air raid offense (Hal Mumme), piling up 8,495 passing yards and 75 touchdowns in the 1997-98 seasons. Couch was the number 1 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.
#5 - Ryan Mallett (Arkansas: 2009-10)
Mallett was the perfect fit for Bobby Petrino’s pass-happy system. After transferring from Michigan, Mallett and a deep cast of Razorback receivers blazed SEC defenses during the 2009-10 seasons, leading the conference in points per game in 2009, and passing offense in both years. Powered behind his 32 touchdown passes, and 3,869 passing yards, Arkansas won its final six regular season games in 2010, on their way to earning the school’s first Sugar Bowl appearance since 1979.
#4 - Matt Stafford (Georgia: 2006-08)
Stafford was one of the most hyped signees in Georgia football history. A five-star recruit out of Texas, he got a little “baptism by fire”, breaking his way into the lineup midway through his true freshman season. After struggling most of the year, he finished strong, leading UGA back from a 21-3 deficit over Virginia Tech in the 2006 Peach Bowl. Stafford and the Dawgs then went on a tremendous 2-year run that landed them everywhere but in an SEC Championship, including a Sugar Bowl win over Hawaii, and a 2008 preseason number #1 ranking.
#3 - Dak Prescott (Mississippi State: 2012-15)
The legend of Dak Prescott continues to evolve through his surprising emergence with the Dallas Cowboys, but it started well before that in Starkville. Prescott pushed the Bulldogs to heights the program has never seen before, including a magical 2014 season that had Mississippi State ranked #1 in the country (for the first time in program history) for four straight weeks. His 111 career total touchdowns (70 passing; 41 rushing) ranks him among the top 10 in SEC history, and is good enough to place him third on this list.
#2 - Eli Manning (Ole Miss: 2000-2003)
Manning is one of only eight quarterbacks in SEC history to throw for 10,000+ yards, and is the SEC West’s all-time leading passer. Manning’s 2003 season was magnificent; he had the Rebels to within three points of beating the eventual National Champion LSU Tigers (which would have given Ole Miss a perfect conference record, and their first SEC West division crown). Manning finished his career by leading Ole Miss to their first Cotton Bowl victory since 1955, beating Oklahoma State 31-28.
#1 - Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M: 2012-13)
The two year run that “Johnny Football” had at Texas A&M was unlike anything the SEC has ever seen from the quarterback position. During the 2012-13 seasons, Manziel self-accumulated 9,989 yards of total offense. Those two seasons rank first and second all-time for most single-season total offense in SEC history. During his 2012 Heisman campaign, Manziel also became just the fourth player in NCAA history to pass and rush for 20+ touchdowns in a single season. Perhaps Manziel’s most impressive feat was how well he played versus Nick Saban’s defenses; racking 907 combined yards, and 7 touchdowns in two games. Bottom-line: Manziel was one of the most electrifying players in SEC and NCAA history, and the Aggies are still struggling fill the void he left 4 years later.