There is no finer conference in the history of college football than the Southeastern Conference. Well, at least that’s what the folks down south will have you believe. In their defense, there’s a strong argument to be made that the SEC is the greatest conference of all-time, in part because there have been some amazing quarterbacks to play in the league over the years.
Quite frankly, there are too many good quarterbacks who played in the SEC to possibly name. However, we’ve done our best (as always, this is up for debate and subject to change) to come up with the 25 best quarterbacks in SEC history.
25. Heath Shuler, Tennessee
For a couple of years, there was no quarterback in the SEC better than Shuler. He helped the Volunteers to a 9-3 record in 1992 despite just 10 touchdown passes. But he took things to the next level the following year, throwing for over 2,300 yards with 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He finished second in the Heisman voting, and until Peyton Manning showed up, he held most of the passing records in the Tennessee record book.
Of course, Shuler didn’t work out in the NFL. Washington drafted him third overall in 1994, but Shuler had trouble keeping the starting job from Gus Frerotte, who the Redskins took in the 7th Round that same year. He was eventually traded to New Orleans but didn’t have much success there, ultimately becoming one of the biggest busts in NFL history. However, Shuler bounced back and ended up serving three terms in the House of Representatives before leaving Congress to become a lobbyist.
24. Bert Jones, LSU
Jones didn’t become a starter at LSU until late in his junior year, but he made the most of his time, leading the Tigers to a 12-2-1 record as a starter. Following his senior season, Jones finished fourth in the Heisman voting and was a consensus All-America, becoming the first LSU quarterback to earn such honors. He left LSU as the school record holder in both passing yards and touchdowns and eventually made it into the College Football Hall of Fame.
After college, Jones spent 10 seasons in the NFL, playing primarily with the Baltimore Colts. He wasn’t the best quarterback in NFL history, but he had a brilliant season in 1976, leading the NFL in passing, winning league MVP honors, and going to his only Pro Bowl.
23. Connor Shaw, South Carolina
Shaw’s name doesn’t jump out among the most talented quarterbacks in SEC history, but it’s hard to argue with what he accomplished in his four years at South Carolina. He took over for a struggling Stephen Garcia during his sophomore season and went on to become one of the most steady and reliable quarterbacks in the league, throwing just one interception compared to 24 touchdowns as a senior. That year, he couldn’t start against Missouri because of an illness and a knee injury but came off the bench to help the Gamecocks complete a 17-point comeback and win in double overtime.
After Shaw went 27-5 as a starter and 17-0 at home at South Carolina, the best record for a quarterback in school history, he bounced around the NFL as a backup for a few years. He started one game for the Browns in 2014, but that was the extent of his pro career.
22. Pat Trammell, Alabama
Trammell is the quarterback who helped turn Alabama around soon after Bear Bryant returned to the Crimson Tide in 1958. He seized control of the Alabama offense in 1959, won an SEC championship in 1960, and then led Alabama to an undefeated season and a national championship in 1961. During that 1961 season, he helped to mentor Joe Namath, who ultimately took the reins as Alabama’s quarterback.
When his football career was over, Trammell earned his medical degree. He was working toward becoming a dermatologist when he succumbed to testicular cancer, passing away at the age of 28. Bryant referred to the day Trammell died “the saddest day of my life.” Despite his short life, Trammell remains an Alabama legend.
21. John Rauch, Georgia
Few people alive today will remember Rauch, but his story is amazing. He was diagnosed with a heart murmur at age 14 and advised to give up sports. Rauch didn’t listen and became a three-sport star in high school before becoming a four-year starter at Georgia. The Bulldogs were 36-8-1 in those four seasons, including an undefeated record during Rauch’s sophomore season. He was conference MVP and a First-Team All-American as a senior and left Georgia as the SEC’s all-time leading passer.
He had a brief pro career that included playing on both sides of the ball and then went into coaching. Rauch spent over 30 years in coaching, including stints as the head coach of the Raiders, Bills, and Toronto Argonauts. His heart problems finally killed him in 2008, but only after he lived 80 glorious years on this planet.
20. Tee Martin, Tennessee
Like a lot of Tennessee quarterbacks, Martin is sometimes forgotten or overshadowed by Peyton Manning, who he backed up for two seasons before finally getting a chance to start. When he got that chance, all he did was lead the Vols to a 13-0 record and a national championship. Along the way, he broke the NCAA record for consecutive completions and registered 2-0 records against SEC foes Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky.
The Steelers took Martin in the 5th Round of the 2000 draft but he rarely got a chance to play in the NFL. Martin attempted just 16 passes over four NFL seasons. He then spent a year in NFL Europe before starting a successful coaching career, returning to Tennessee in 2019.
19. David Greene, Georgia
After a redshirt year, Greene became a four-year starter at Georgia and immediately left his mark with a famous touchdown pass to beat Tennessee early in the season. He was SEC Rookie of the Year while leading the Bulldogs to their first conference title in nearly 20 years. Greene then won SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors his sophomore season. In four years, he guided the Bulldogs to 42 wins, which made him the winningest quarterback in FBS history. He was also the SEC’s all-time leader in yards gained until he was passed by fellow Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray.
Unfortunately, Greene didn’t have much of an NFL career. The Seahawks drafted him in the 3rd Round of the 2005 Draft but released him in 2006. He spent three seasons as a backup in the league but never threw one pass. Greene retired from football, moved back to Georgia, and began working in the insurance industry.
18. Andre’ Woodson, Kentucky
Woodson got off to a slow start in his career at Kentucky, but he ended up having two amazing seasons for the Wildcats. Over his last two years in Lexington, Woodson threw 71 touchdown passes to just 18 interceptions. He led the SEC in passing during his junior year and eventually broke Danny Wuerffel’s record for touchdown passes in a season and Jared Lorenzen’s school record for career touchdown passes. Just for good measure, Woodson was the Music City Bowl MVP in his final two seasons, helping turning Kentucky around after the Wildcats went 3-8 his sophomore year.
Alas, Woodson couldn’t forge a career for himself in the NFL after being a 6th-round pick in 2008. He spent time with the Giants and Redskins but primarily on the practice squad. Woodson also spent a few years in coaching, including two seasons back at Kentucky as a graduate assistant. He now works for Amazon.
17. Rex Grossman, Florida
Despite being part of the Steve Spurrier to Ron Zook transition at Florida, Grossman is one of the best quarterbacks the Gators ever had. As a redshirt freshman, he led Florida to an SEC championship. The following year, he led the country in completion percentage and passing efficiency, earning SEC Player of the Year and consensus All-American honors despite finishing second in the Heisman voting to Eric Crouch in one of the closest votes in Heisman history. Grossman was nearly as good in his third and final season, ultimately totaling over 9,000 passing yards and 77 touchdown passes.
However, his gunslinger style never worked too well in the NFL. He led the Bears to the Super Bowl in 2006, but that was the only season Grossman started all 16 games for a team, and he finished it with 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. To his credit, Grossman lasted nine seasons in the NFL. But he finished with more interceptions than touchdowns and a 55% completion rate.
16. Babe Parilli, Kentucky
Not many people will know Parilli, but he certainly qualifies as one of the all-time SEC greats. He played at Kentucky under Bear Bryant and was magical when it came to the “T” formation Bryant ran. Parilli could hide the ball from defenders as if he were a magician. He was a consensus All-American in both 1950 and 1951, finishing fourth and third, respectively, in the Heisman voting in those years. He left Kentucky as the NCAA leader in passing touchdowns, passing yards, and completions.
After leading the Wildcats to a 28-8 record during his college years, the Packers picked him fourth overall in 1952. He played in the AFL until 1969, retiring at the age of 40 and earning a ring as Joe Namath’s backup in Super Bowl III. Parilli also had a coaching career in both the World Football League and Arena Football League. He passed away in 2017 at the age of 87.
15. Shane Matthews, Florida
Matthews could flat out sling it during his college days and was one of many quarterbacks to excel under Steve Spurrier. In fact, he was the quarterback during Spurrier’s first three seasons at Florida. Matthews was a First-Team All-SEC selection all three years, won SEC Player of the Year twice, and helped the Gators win the SEC title in 1991. He remains one of the all-time great players in Florida history.
Despite hanging around the NFL for 14 seasons, Matthews only started 22 games as a pro, appearing in 32. He never started more than seven games in a season and struggled to maintain a job as a starter despite being a valued backup for many years. When he was done playing, Matthews got into both radio and coaching. He then went into business but got involved with a company doing some shady things, ultimately serving three months in prison.
14. Aaron Murray, Georgia
He was never the biggest or strongest quarterback, but Murray may be the finest quarterback in Georgia history. He had a rough start during his freshman season but ultimately led the Bulldogs to two SEC Championship Games, nearly completing a comeback over Alabama in 2012. Murray threw for over 3,000 yards in all four seasons, totaling 121 touchdown passes to just 41 interceptions. He’s the SEC’s all-time leader in both passing yards and passing touchdowns.
As a pro, Murray’s lack of size hurt him. He spent two years as a backup in Kansas City but never threw a pass. He was on the practice squad of a few more teams and then ended up playing the 2019 season in the Alliance of American Football.
13. Tommy Hodson, LSU
Few quarterbacks in SEC history were as accomplished and consistent as Hodson. He was a four-year starter at LSU, earning SEC Freshman of the Year honors in 1986 and then being named First-Team All-SEC in all four years. He threw for over 2,000 yards all four seasons and was the first SEC quarterback to eclipse 6,000 career passing yards and 60 career passing touchdowns. He also led LSU to two top-10 finishes and an SEC championship.
The Patriots drafted Hodson 59th overall in 1990, but after starting six games as a rookie, he was a career backup and played sparingly. Hodson ended up spending six years in the NFL before moving back to Baton Rouge to raise his family.
12. Eli Manning, Ole Miss
As the son of Archie and brother of Peyton, the youngest Manning had a lot to live up to, but he acquitted himself well as a legacy at Ole Miss. He started for three seasons and was arguably the best quarterback in college football during that time. He threw for over 10,000 yards and 84 touchdowns, raising the level of the Ole Miss program substantially. As a senior, Manning won SEC Offensive Player of the Year, the Maxwell Award, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, and finished third in the Heisman voting.
Manning was the top overall pick in the 2004 Draft and has at least come close to living up to that billing. He led the Giants to two Super Bowl wins, both of which were won in dramatic fashion with Manning leading a touchdown drive late in the 4th quarter. There have been some bumps along the way, but Manning will surely be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day.
11. A.J. McCarron, Alabama
Winning back-to-back national championships as a starting quarterback is nothing to scoff at, which puts McCarron in exclusive company. Obviously, he played on great teams and was surrounded by serious amounts of talent. However, McCarron is Alabama’s all-time passing leader and single-season passing leader. He was also Heisman runner-up his senior season and threw just 15 interceptions over three full seasons as a starter against 77 career touchdown passes.
In the NFL, McCarron has struggled to establish himself, starting only three games, all of which came in 2015. He had a chance to win Buffalo’s starting job in 2018 but lost out in the preseason to Nathan Peterman and Josh Allen, in part because of an injury. He appears destined to be little more than a career backup.
10. Joe Namath, Alabama
Long before he was Broadway Joe, Namath played at Alabama for Bear Bryant, who considered Namath “the greatest athlete I ever coached.” His numbers aren’t all that impressive because Alabama didn’t throw the ball that much back then. However, Namath led the Crimson Tide to a 29-4 record during his time as a starter, including a national championship in 1964.
Of course, Namath went on to have a storied professional career, throwing for over 27,000 yards over 13 seasons. His most famous moment was guaranteeing victory in Super Bowl III and then delivering on that guarantee, leading the Jets to a 16-7 win. After football, Namath went on to have an acting career and has remained in the public spotlight despite a few embarrassing moments along the way.
9. Archie Manning, Ole Miss
The patriarch of the Manning clan is undoubtedly the most prestigious player in Ole Miss history. Oddly enough, he threw more interceptions than touchdowns during his college career, although that’s more of a reflection on the players around him being unable to play at his level. During his final two seasons at Ole Miss, he led the Rebels to a 15-7 record, elevating their level of play, much like Eli did years later. The older Manning also had two top-5 Heisman finishes and took home SEC Player of the Year and First-Team All-American honors in 1969.
Manning was then selected second overall by the Saints in the 1971 NFL Draft. He spent 12 of his 16 NFL seasons with the Saints, ultimately being inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame. Despite passing for over 23,000 yards in the NFL and being a far better runner than his sons, the elder Manning finished his pro career with 125 passing touchdowns to 173 interceptions.
8. Tim Couch, Kentucky
Late in his freshman season, Couch became Kentucky’s starter in a pass-heavy offense, and from there, the numbers just got crazy. In a little over two years, Couch amassed over 8,000 yards passing with 74 touchdowns. He left Kentucky as the NCAA leader in completions in a season, completions over two seasons, and completion percentage. In his final season, Couch was SEC Player of the Year, a First-Team All-American, and a Heisman finalist. He also led the Wildcats to multiple wins over top-25 teams and a New Year’s Day bowl game in his final season.
The Browns made Couch the first-overall pick in the 1999 Draft, although he fell short of expectations. Couch finished his NFL career with more interceptions than touchdowns, making him a massive bust, in part because of a series of injuries. However, Couch did help get the Browns to the playoffs in 2002, which is a considerable accomplishment. After his days in the NFL, Couch went into broadcasting as a color analyst.
7. Pat Sullivan, Auburn
For a long time, Sullivan was the gold standard when it came to Auburn quarterbacks. He led the Tigers to a 26-7 record during his three years as a starter. In 1970, Sullivan led the nation in total yards and set a record by gaining over 8.5 yards per play. He finished off his college career in 1971 by claiming the Heisman Trophy.
Sullivan’s NFL career was brief and never matched what he accomplished in college. He played five seasons, appearing in only 30 games for the Falcons and Redskins. Sullivan then worked as a business executive and color analyst for Auburn radio broadcasts before going into coaching. He spent six seasons as the head coach at TCU and eight at Samford before retiring following the 2014 season.
6. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
It’s safe to say that the SEC and college football have never seen a player quite like Manziel. From the first game of his career, he turned heads with his throwing ability, improvisational running skills, and his overall arrogance. He became just the fifth freshman in college football history to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Along the way, he was the first SEC player to have two games with over 500 yards of total offense in one season. Manziel also became the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy. Even as he took a little step back as a sophomore, he always put on a show, drawing attention to himself, for better or worse.
The Browns made the foolish decision of taking Manziel in the 1st Round of the 2014 Draft. In the NFL, his lack of size and maturity quickly caught up with Manziel. He was involved in several off-field incidents that caused the Browns to cut ties with him after two seasons. It was all downhill from there both personally and professionally, as Manziel never got another chance in the NFL and had both his agent and sponsors cut ties with him as well.
5. Steve Spurrier, Florida
Before he was the Head Ball Coach at Florida, Spurrier himself was a great quarterback for the Gators. After spending his sophomore season in a time-share at quarterback, Spurrier was the undisputed starter for his final two seasons at Florida and was unstoppable at times. He had a propensity for leading the Gators in late-game comebacks and left school with a host of Florida and SEC records. In his final season, he was SEC Player of the Year and the Heisman Trophy winner.
As a player, Spurrier was arguably the most influential figure in Florida football history. But when he went into coaching after a decade in the NFL, he did even more to help the Gators. In 12 seasons coaching Florida, Spurrier won six SEC titles and one national championship. The Gators were ranked in the top-15 at the end of all 12 seasons. A two-year stint coaching the Redskins didn’t work out, and while Spurrier had a successful run as the head coach at South Carolina, he will always be remembered most for his accomplishments as both player and coach at Florida.
4. Danny Wuerffel, Florida
If only Wuerffel could have been a full-time quarterback for four seasons, he could have set insurmountable records. After sharing the quarterback job with Terry Dean for two seasons, Wuerffel exploded in 1995 and 1996, leading the SEC in passing yards both seasons and leading the country in touchdown passes both years. In the end, he finished his college career with over 10,000 passing yards and 114 touchdown passes, the most in SEC history. His list of records doesn’t stop there either. Wuerffel also won the Heisman in 1996 and helped Florida win the SEC championship in all four of his seasons in Gainesville.
Unfortunately, Wuerffel’s skill set just wasn’t well-suited for the pros. He spent three years with the Saints and then three more seasons with three different teams. He started just 10 games during those six years, throwing 12 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions. Even reuniting with college coach Steve Spurrier and sharing time with former Florida quarterback Shane Matthews couldn’t get Wuerffel’s NFL career on track. Nevertheless, his accomplishments as a college quarterback are difficult to top.
3. Cam Newton, Auburn
If you forget everything that happened at Florida, it’s possible that no quarterback in SEC history had a better one-year stint int he league than Newton in 2010. He was like a combination of former Auburn quarterback Pat Sullivan and former Auburn running back Bo Jackson. Newton threw for over 2,800 yards and 30 touchdowns while running for over 1,400 yards and another 20 touchdowns. No defense could keep him contained for 60 minutes, as Newton ended up winning the Heisman and leading Auburn to an undefeated season and a national championship in his only season at the school.
After being picked first overall in 2011, Newton has put together a pro career worthy of the top overall pick. He was Offensive Rookie of the Year and utterly brilliant in 2015 when he won MVP honors and led the Panthers to a 15-1 record, only to lose to the Broncos in the Super Bowl. As was the case during his one year at Auburn, Newton’s size, speed, and arm strength give him one of the most unique skillsets the NFL has ever seen at the quarterback position.
2. Peyton Manning, Tennessee
There’s a strong argument that Manning is the best quarterback in football history. Injuries suffered by other quarterbacks got him on the field as a freshman, but once he became the starter, Manning never looked back. During his three-plus seasons as the starter at Tennessee, Manning was nothing short of masterful. He was 39-6 as a starter, breaking the SEC record for career wins by a quarterback. As a senior, Manning was a consensus First-Team All-American and won a slew of awards while leading Tennessee to an SEC title despite finishing second in the Heisman race. When all was said and done, Manning had over 11,000 passing yards and 89 touchdown passes to just 33 interceptions.
As a pro, Manning is also in an elite category that few other quarterbacks share. He was selected to 14 Pro Bowls and owns several NFL records, including most MVP awards with five and most career passing touchdowns. Even after Manning missed an entire season after undergoing several neck surgeries, he returned and had some of his best seasons. Despite being criticized for not carrying his team to enough championships, Manning won Super Bowl 50 with the Broncos in his final season, allowing him to retire as a champion and finish his career with two Super Bowl rings.
1. Tim Tebow, Florida
Pro careers aside, there’s no greater quarterback in SEC history than Tebow. While not the most conventional quarterback, Tebow exuded grit and determination, always doing whatever it takes to get the job done. After splitting time with Chris Leak while helping the Gators to a national championship as a freshman, Tebow became the full-time starter in 2007. He won the Heisman that year, becoming the first sophomore to win the award and was a finalist the next two years. Tebow then carried Florida to another national championship in 2008, rallying the team after a loss with an impassioned post-game speech. Despite not winning the Heisman his junior or senior seasons, Tebow did take home SEC Player of the Year honors both years. He finished his collegiate career with over 9,000 passing yards and 88 touchdown passes while also rushing for nearly 3,000 yards and scoring 57 more touchdowns on the ground.
Tebow was far from the perfect NFL prospect, but he was a 1st-round pick in the 2010 Draft. After serving as a backup, Tebow became a starter in the middle of the 2011 seasons, leading the Broncos on an improbable winning streak, culminating in an overtime playoff win over the Steelers in which Tebow threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime. However, the Broncos parted ways with him after the season in favor of Peyton Manning and Tebow threw just eight NFL passes after the 2011 season. He eventually walked away from football to begin a baseball career, signing a minor league deal with the Mets. However, he continues to work as a college football analyst for ESPN.