Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron passes against Mississippi State on Nov. 16 in Starkville, Miss. (AP Photo)
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Southeastern Conference fans should enjoy all the top-notch quarterbacks while they can because many of the great signal-callers in the league won’t be around for long.
A.J. McCarron, James Franklin, Aaron Murray, Connor Shaw and Zach Mettenberger are wrapping up their careers, and this could also be the last month to see Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel play in college. All but Franklin, who has been slowed by an injury, are semifinalists for the Davey O’Brien Award, given annually to the nation’s top quarterback.
Mettenberger of LSU isn’t sure that quarterback play will drop off in the league next year.
“No one thought that Johnny Manziel would do what he did last year, so who knows,” he said. “There’s a lot of good football players out there and that’s why we have guys to recruit them.”
Alabama’s McCarron is in the final stretch of a perhaps one of the best careers by a quarterback in SEC history. McCarron has helped the top-ranked Crimson Tide to two national titles and is Alabama’s leader in career yards passing and touchdowns. His 35-2 career record gives him a .946 winning percentage, the best for a quarterback in SEC history.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said McCarron has been a great addition since the moment he joined the program and that he’s been impressed with how he’s learned from all his experiences.
“I can’t say enough good things about how he’s done, and I think his record pretty much speaks for itself in terms of the success that he’s had as a starter here,” Saban said. “At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. And he’s always represented the program here in a first-class way. I think he has been absolutely stellar.”
Franklin has thrown for 1,577 yards and 14 touchdowns in six games this season. He’s missed the last four games with an injured shoulder but will return this week. This season is his third straight with at least 1,500 yards passing and 10 touchdown passes.
Murray has been a model of consistency for Georgia, and hasn’t missed a start in his four-year career. He’s 108 yards shy of his fourth straight 3,000-yard passing season and has thrown at least 20 touchdown passes in each of his four years.
“I am definitely proud of the way I’ve been able to play this long,” Murray said. “It’s been a little bit of luck, too, because I’ve definitely taken my share of shots that you see end people’s seasons all the time. But no matter how I’m feeling, if I have even a remote chance of playing I am going to make it happen.”
Murray flirted with leaving early for the NFL before deciding to return for his senior season. Georgia coach Mark Richt said the fact that he returned speaks to the kind of player he is.
“I’ll remember him because he is probably one of the better team guys that we’ve had,” Richt said. “We’ve had a lot of good ones, but I don’t know if I’ve ever even heard him come close to tooting his own horn. It’s always been about the team and about deferring credit to other people. It’s always been about trying to win rather than get a record. Even coming back was a relatively unselfish act in my mind — to come back and try to help Georgia win, and he’s done that.”
Shaw has helped No. 12 South Carolina to an 8-2 record by throwing for 1,868 yards and a career-high 19 touchdowns this season in his third year as a starter. Shaw has thrown just one interception this season.
Mettenberger has thrown for 2,733 yards and 20 touchdowns this season for the 18th-ranked Tigers. He’s enjoyed watching fellow quarterbacks around the league develop since the beginning of their careers.
“You look at all of us, you kind of look at all of our first years starting, it was kind of rough,” he said. “We had to go against some of the best defenses in the country ... we obviously took some time to show maturation throughout our careers. We’ve all kind of had rough patches, we’ve all kind of settled into our own game and really have had pretty good careers here at the tail end.”
The only non-senior of the bunch is Texas A&M’s Manziel, who as a redshirt sophomore will be eligible for the NFL draft after this season. Manziel has refused to talk about his future, but most believe that this will be his last season in College Station.
Manziel has followed up on his Heisman Trophy-winning freshman season to throw for 3,313 yards and 31 touchdowns this year for the ninth-ranked Aggies.
Coach Kevin Sumlin was asked recently what it would mean if Manziel could join Archie Griffin as the only two-time Heisman winners.
“We’ve got a couple big stages these next few weeks,” Sumlin said of the Aggies, who finish the regular season at LSU and Missouri. “Performances by him and the rest of the team these next few weeks are going to impact the awards race and where we’re going to be in the bowl conversation. We know that. We have to handle things one at a time.”
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