Trivia time: What two Alabama quarterbacks rank in the Top 25 in total yards for a single season in SEC history?
In 2018, Alabama starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had arguably the greatest season of any Crimson Tide quarterback, throwing for 3,353 yards and rushing for 190 more, prior to a December 29 matchup with Oklahoma, but even that performance does not rank him in this elite group.
The answer is Blake Sims and Jalen Hurts. Sims’ 2014 performance ranks him 12th on the all-time list, and Hurts’ 2016 performance ranks 21st overall.
The last two decades of college football have seen a marked increase in offensive decadence, and only one player makes the Top 25 prior to 1998: Tennessee’s Peyton Manning, who threw for 3,819 yards and 36 touchdowns in 1997, his senior season in Knoxville.
Here are the top 10 performances—based on total yards in a season—as of December 2018:
Drew Lock, Missouri – 2017
While the Missouri Tigers clawed to a 7-6 season during head coach Barry Odom’s second year, quarterback Drew Lock turned in a season for the ages. Lock began the year with a 7-touchdown, 521-yard passing performance against the porous defensive unit of Missouri State, and twice more threw for more than 400 yards. In a four-game stretch, his arm helped defeat Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Arkansas in succession. Lock’s 4,075 total yards on the season rank him 10th on our list.
Tim Couch, Kentucky – 1998
Overshadowed by Rick Pitino’s and Tubby Smith’s national championship Kentucky teams in the mid- to late-1990s, Wildcat quarterback Tim Couch posted two of the greatest passing seasons ever for an SEC quarterback in 1997 and 1998. Playing for coach Hal Mumme, Couch threw for 4,275 yards in 11 games in 1998, connecting on 72.3 percent of his passes. Couch’s minus 124 rushing yards placed him at 4,151 total yards, which ranks him 9th on our list.
Tim Tebow, Florida – 2007
Statistically, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow had his best season in 2007, his sophomore year, when the Gators went 9-4. That year, Tebow replaced quarterback Chris Leak, who led the Gators to a 13-1 mark and a BCS National Championship in 2006. A true dual threat, Tebow accounted for 32 touchdowns and 3,296 yards through the air and 23 touchdowns and 895 yards on the ground. His 4,181 total yards on the season ranks him 8th on our list.
Jordan Ta’amu, Ole Miss – 2018
Quiet but uber-effectiveness. Words to describe Jordan Ta’amu’s 2018 season, one in which he totaled 3,918 yards passing and 342 yards rushing. Regardless of his outstanding year, Ta’amu did not even finish in the Top 10 in the Heisman Trophy voting, his year largely overshadowed by fellow Hawaii native, Tagovailoa, at Alabama. Ta’amu’s 4,260 total yards in 2018 rank him 7th on our list.
Cam Newton, Auburn – 2010
At the time, Cam Newton’s 2010 performance was considered one of the best—if not the best—in the history of college football. Leading Auburn to its first national championship since 1957, Newton threw for 2,854 yards and 30 touchdowns. He even caught 2 passes for 42 yards and a touchdown. But it was on the ground where Newton brought another element to the table. Incredibly, he ran for 1,463 yards (a 5.6 yards per rush average) on the year and scored 20 rushing touchdowns. If Auburn needed 3-5 yards, Newton’s feet could take them there. His 4,359 total yards put him at 6th on our list.
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State – 2015
Considered the greatest player ever to suit up in Maroon and White, Prescott, a Haughton, Louisiana, native, led Mississippi State to a 9-4 record in 2015, punctuated by a 51-28 win over N.C. State in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte. That year, Prescott threw for the most yards of his college career (3,793) and rushed for 588 more. His 29 touchdowns against 5 interceptions were good enough for a 151 QBR, and his 4,381 total yards on the season rank him 5th in all-time SEC single-season numbers.
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State – 2014
It was Mississippi State, and not Alabama, that held the top ranking in the country heading into a November 15 meeting at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. After three straight wins over top 10 teams (LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn), the Bulldogs vaulted to No. 1 in the polls. The Bulldogs, led by junior quarterback Prescott, marched to 9-0 before the biannual meeting held 70 miles west of Starkville. After a late touchdown drive spearheaded by Prescott brought the Bulldogs within five, Alabama’s DeAndrew White recovered the ensuing onside kick attempt to seal the 25-20 win. Said Prescott after the game, “We just ran out of time.” His 4,435 total yards are good enough for 4th place on our list.
Chad Kelly, Ole Miss – 2015
Joining in on the offensive feast during the ascent of the spread/multiple offense in the SEC ecosystem was Ole Miss quarterback Chad “Swag” Kelly, who threw for 4,042 yards in 2015 while leading the Rebels to a 10-3 record. Kelly had his proverbial coming-out party on September 19 of that year when he threw for 341 yards in a 43-37 victory over Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and followed that performance with six other games where he threw for more than 300 yards, including 381 yards and two touchdowns against Auburn. Ole Miss won the AllState Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma State, and Kelly’s 4,551 total yards were one of the reasons why the Rebels enjoyed only the seventh 10-win season in the history of the program.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M – 2013
If there was any indication whether or not “Johnny Football” was going to slump in his second season as starting quarterback of the Texas A&M Aggies, a September meeting against Alabama erased all doubt. Turning in one of the best statistical performances in the history of Kyle Field, Manziel was 28-for-39 passing for 464 yards and 5 touchdowns. He also rushed for 98 yards on 14 carries. Manziel did everything but serve concessions and win the ballgame. His favorite target on the sunny afternoon in central Texas was WR Mike Evans, who logged 279 yards on 7 receptions, including a 95-yard strike with 8 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Manziel went on to throw for 4,114 yards on the season and 37 touchdowns. His 4,873 total yards place him second on the all-time SEC list, behind only himself.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M – 2012
After Ryan Tannehill’s stellar career in College Station, where he amassed a career total of 5,450 yards passing, Texas A&M found itself without a quarterback in the spring of 2012. No worries. A redshirt freshman from Tyler, Texas, Johnny Manziel, would more than fill the void Tannehill left behind. That year Manziel came onto the scene like a deer scampering through a Senior Center. And with a dash of head coach Kevin Sumlin, a sprinkle of offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, and a tablespoon of Manziel, the recipe for offensive success was set at TAMU. After losing to No. 24 Florida at Kyle Field in Manziel’s debut, the Aggies reeled off 11 wins over their next 12 games, including a 29-24 stunner against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Manziel threw for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns and added 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground. Oh, and he also took home the Heisman Trophy. Not bad for a replacement.
In all, Manziel totaled 5,116 yards in his first season as Texas A&M’s quarterback. And that is the single greatest individual season in the history of the Southeastern Conference. H&A