THE BOTTOM LINE
Active SEC quarterbacks with the highest win percentage as a starter:
QUARTERBACK // W-L // PCT.
AJ McCarron // 25-2 // .926
Connor Shaw // 17-3 // .850
Jeff Driskel // 11-2 // .846
Johnny Manziel // 11-2 // .846
Zach Mettenberger 10-3 // .769
Aaron Murray // 28-13 .683
There are four returning Southeastern Conference quarterbacks who produced at least 11 victories last season as the starter, and three of them roll right off the tongue.
AJ McCarron has guided Alabama to back-to-back national championships. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, and Georgia's Aaron Murray is poised to rewrite the league record books this year.
The fourth is Florida junior Jeff Driskel, who remains somewhat of an enigma midway through his college career. Driskel was thrust into action as a true freshman under coordinator Charlie Weis when senior starter John Brantley suffered a knee injury, and he became the starter last year under Brent Pease.
"There is no question his experience will help in his development at the position," Gators head coach Will Muschamp said after the conclusion of spring practice. "It's year two of the scheme and the system and its terminology, and I think we're going to play better around him. That's the bottom line.
"The quarterback is like the head coach in that you get way too much credit when things go right and you get way too much blame when they don't. That's the position, and he understands that."
South Carolina also won 11 games last season, but Connor Shaw missed two of those wins due to injury.
Driskel completed 156 of 245 passes last season (63.7 percent) but for only 1,646 yards. Florida's grind-it-out offense relied on 1,152-yard rusher Mike Gillislee with some assistance from Driskel, who rushed for 177 yards at Vanderbilt and 81 at Tennessee in totaling 413 yards for the season.
The Gators are expected to have another stout ground game this season despite Gillislee's departure to the NFL, but Driskel recognizes he has to improve a passing attack that ranked 114th nationally. Florida's offense overall ranked 103rd.
"I need to make more vertical plays," the 6-foot-4, 232-pounder from Oviedo, Fla., told reporters earlier this spring. "Last year, it was more about handing the ball off, handing the ball off again and then getting the conversion on third down. It's hard to just to put drives together consistently.
"You've got to hit big plays in order to score touchdowns, and we need to do that more."
Though Muschamp believes Driskel may have received too much of the praise and too much of the criticism a year ago, the success of the Gators often depended on his decisions. Driskel passed for 11 touchdowns and only one interception in Florida's 11 victories, but he had one touchdown and four interceptions in the two losses.
Driskel had a costly interception just before halftime of the annual showdown with Georgia, and he had an interception returned for a touchdown on the first play of the Sugar Bowl setback against Louisville.
"He really did attack the offseason, in my opinion, from a mental aspect of the way you're supposed to do it," Muschamp said. "He understands more about what we are as far as where he's protected and where to take the ball as far as the run game and the pass game. I saw us improve up front offensively, and I think we're improved at the wideout position.
"We still need to take some strides at tight end, and I think we'll have quality backs again."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...