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Thursday January 20th, 2022 2:08AM

SEC proving it can also quickly reload at QB position

By The Associated Press
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Will Rogers has quickly developed into the type of quarterback Mike Leach envisioned to run his pass-heavy Air Raid scheme at Mississippi State.

Rogers turned in a nearly perfect performance in his last game, completing 36 of 39 passes. In a league that had six quarterbacks drafted — five in the first three rounds — over the past two NFL drafts, the Southeastern Conference has reloaded at the position pretty quickly with players like Rogers.

And as good as the Mississippi State sophomore is playing, Rogers still has plenty of room for improvement

“He has done a good job,” Leach said. “He has continued one step at a time and steadily improved. But along with that, it’s hard to gauge sometimes because of the receivers. The improvement of the receivers, the offensive line and the running backs contribute to Will’s improvement.”

Rogers has plenty of company in the SEC quarterback spotlight.

Matt Corral of No. 15 Ole Miss could be the next SEC quarterback selected in the top 10 during April's NFL draft, joining Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones as first-round picks. Freshman Bryce Young is Alabama's next Heisman Trophy candidate at the position.

Rogers, who led last week's upset of then-No. 12 Kentucky, leads the nation completing 75.2% of his passes. Young is tied for fourth nationally with 26 touchdown passes and fifth in passing efficiency.

Then there's Hendon Hooker at Tennessee, who ranks fourth nationally and best in the SEC in passer rating running Josh Heupel's up-tempo offense. He's been intercepted twice all season.

Nine different quarterbacks have thrown for at least 300 yards this season, and seven SEC quarterbacks rank among the top 33 nationally for completion percentage.

“That’s a tough position,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said of quarterbacks. "They would probably all like to have a few plays over, like most like most other positions as well.”

Rogers leads all SEC quarterbacks throwing for an average of 361.3 yards a game. He set the SEC mark completing 92.3% of his passes against Kentucky. He also has seven 300-yard passing games this season, tying the single-season record set by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott in 2015.

Young's performance might be even more impressive. Yes, he replaced Jones, the Patriots' starting quarterback as a rookie. But the Alabama freshman doesn't have Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith as targets. He's completing 70% of his passes and has 2,453 yards passing with only three interceptions.

Through his first eight starts, Young's production ranks right there with Alabama's last three quarterbacks over the same span. Those three — Jalen Hurts, Tagovailoa and Jones — are all NFL starters now. No. 3 Alabama coach Nick Saban calls Young really competitive and a hard worker who wants to be right.

“His confidence and experience and playing with the new players that we have on offense, all of those things have contributed to that development, and hopefully we’re going to have to continue to do that as we go through each and every one of these games to finish the season,” Saban said.

Young is coming off an open date to finetune his decision making and communication.

“There’s a handful of stuff, there’s a lot of other stuff that I also we talked about that I want to improve on,” Young said.

Bo Nix of Auburn found himself benched for LSU transfer T.J. Finley in the second half against Georgia State.

The junior reclaimed his job, completing 76.8% of his passes (43 of 56) in the past two games and leading Auburn to the No. 12 ranking with upsets of Arkansas and Ole Miss. Nix has thrown for three TDs and run for three more with only one interception.

“The past few games, I’ve just played with that mindset: cut it loose, you’ve got nothing to lose, you don’t know what else is going to happen, tomorrow’s not promised,” Nix said. “So just go out there and cut it loose and have some fun.”

Tennessee is in position to become bowl eligible in Heupel's first season thanks in large part to his quarterback. A graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, Hooker signed with the Vols' last coach, Jeremy Pruitt, but stuck around to work with Heupel.

Hooker has thrown 17 TDs and is tied with Corral, Nix and JT Daniels of Georgia for the fewest interceptions in the SEC. Hooker is third in the SEC with a 68.7 completion percentage and on pace to set the Tennessee single-season record. He also leads the league averaging 9.5 yards per pass attempt.

“All those factors compile and give him an opportunity to have an opportunity at some point to have a career at the next level, too,” Heupel said.

And any quarterback that has a future in the NFL certainly can help an SEC team win.

___

AP Sports Writers John Zenor, Gary B. Graves, Pete Iacobelli and Charles Odum contributed to this report.

___

More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25. Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://apnews.com/cfbtop25

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