I find that one helpful rule regarding quarterbacks is, "Don't get your hopes up." If your team has a quality returning starter, or a long history of producing quality starters and strong candidates to continue the line (a la Aaron Corp and Taylor Potts at Southern Cal and Texas Tech, respectively), that's one thing; you have nothing to worry about except injuries. But that situation is always in the minority -- the vast majority of offenses are either breaking in new starters or welcoming back a so-so option they're just hoping will emerge as a respectable within-the-offense type, in which case, don't get your hopes up. The cliché about the backup quarterback as the most popular player on the team is cliché for a reason: A secure, competent, confident, healthy quarterback is a relatively rare and precious commodity.
So when the Georgia blog Get the Picture laments the sorry state of SEC passers -- "What the hell is the deal with quarterbacks in this conference?" -- it's worth putting the question into some perspective. It's true the SEC only has two proven, quality starters coming into the year, Tim Tebow and Jevan Snead, and at least twice as many total noobs who don't yet deserve the benefit of the doubt. Commenters there respond predictably to the dearth of top-end passers: "You don’t want to be facing SEC defenses every week." (Cue chanting.) If you break down the starting quarterbacks in every conference, though, that ratio of quality to uncertainty by my count seems about par for the course:
"Not viable" here is reserved for returning starters who were so bad it's inconceivable that they could ever lead a successful offense (see specific assignments for each category here; Ricky Stanzi fans, my e-mail is on the sidebar). This is a small number because these players tend to be replaced fairly quickly by others who have a chance. If the SEC is at any disadvantage, it's in the fact that three of last year's most obviously inept quarterbacks, Jonathan Crompton (Tennessee), Kodi Burns (Auburn) and Mike Hartline (Kentucky), are all scheduled to be back under center this fall. It's not that other conferences didn't have their share of terrible quarterbacks, but at least UCLA and Michigan, for example, are going out of their way to get rid of the problem.
It is fair to say that SEC quarterbacks were unusually bad last year -- eight regular quarterbacks from four different schools finished with pass efficiency ratings that wouldn't have qualified for the top-100 nationally -- but it's argue that's going to continue in a league that's sent eight different starters to the NFL since 2005. LSU and Arkansas have made apparent upgrades; Alabama shouldn't suffer much of a drop off from John Parker Wilson to Greg McElroy; and Vanderbilt is at least trying to move on from last year's disaster by moving bowl game starter Larry Smith to No. 1, ahead of beleaguered veteran Mackenzi Adams. Even in the cases of Crompton and Burns, who somehow haven't been supplanted, maybe the new regimes at Tennessee and Auburn will bring some reversal of fate; if nothing else, they can't possibly be worse.
In any case, it's no surprise that the high-flyin' Big 12 is the standard bearer of star passers, but everywhere else, there are a lot more question marks and guys just hoping to hold down the fort than genuine assets. Which should be expected -- that's the case in the NFL, and they don't even have mandatory turnover every two or three years. Most of the new quarterbacks will trickle into the "viable" category, but at least as many are liable to wind up fading into the wrong extreme as they are to wind up excelling; at such a high-pressure position, you're doing OK if you're "not bad." Mediocrity is the nature of the beast. (Except, of course, in the Big 12, and there we can just blame the defenses.)