The quarterback position rarely has been so out of balance in the SEC.
You have Florida Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and Ole Miss' Jevan Snead, a likely first-round draft choice, at the top end. Then, there's everybody else, including players who have struggled in starting roles, alternated as starters, or have no starting experience at all.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt can appreciate the disparity as well as anyone. As a head coach at Arkansas, he often had to get by without a top-flight quarterback.
"It makes all the difference in the world," Nutt said at last week's SEC spring meetings. "Everybody can try to fool themselves, saying 'We've got this defense or we're experienced in the offensive line,' but this quarterback thing in the SEC is crucial.
"You can't explain (to inexperienced quarterbacks) the speed of the game. They have to experience it."
Arkansas, Alabama, LSU, South Carolina, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Auburn will open the 2009 season with different quarterbacks from their season openers of last year. In most of those cases, the uncertainty at the position is a continuation of last season.
South Carolina, LSU and Vanderbilt all started three different quarterbacks last season. Their third starters from last season - Stephen Garcia at South Carolina, Jordan Jefferson at LSU and Larry Smith at Vanderbilt - will begin this season as No. 1 quarterbacks.
Tennessee also was prominently involved in the quarterback shuffle. The Vols opened with Jonathan Crompton, replaced him with Nick Stephens and also tried B.J. Coleman before going back to Crompton, who will compete with Stephens for the starting position this fall.
Tyson Lee ended the 2008 season as Mississippi State's starting quarterback but could be challenged by true freshman Tyler Russell. Ryan Mallett, who was a part-time starter at Michigan as a freshman, is the new starter at Arkansas.
The quarterback situations at Alabama and Georgia are similar in that their teams have plenty of talented, experienced players at other positions. Both junior Greg McElroy at Alabama and fifth-year senior Joe Cox at Georgia have been described by their coaches as accurate passers who have a command of their offenses.
Georgia coach Mark Richt has been there twice before with mixed results. In his first season as a starter, fifth-year senior DJ Shockley led the Bulldogs to an SEC championship. But fifth-year senior Joe Tereshinski faltered in his starting opportunity and was replaced by true freshman Matthew Stafford in 2006.
"We're more close to the situation we had with DJ," said Richt in assessing Cox's chance for success. "I really think it would be very difficult to knock him out of the box (as the starter).
"You could break the huddle and he could tell you what any one of the other 10 guys are to do on the play. And I believe when the play is over, he could tell a defensive guy if he was out of position."
However, it takes more than a firm grasp of the offense to succeed as an SEC quarterback. An NFL arm isn't required, but you have to be able to pass effectively in a conference renowned for defense.
Nutt expects some of the SEC's new starting quarterbacks will be more than effective.
"There will be names pop up that you don't realize how good they are," Nutt said. "We will be talking and writing about them at the end of the year.
"I just don't know who they are yet."
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or >firstname.lastname@example.org.