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UGA's Cox has big shoes to fill
Cox 4 col BW.jpg
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HOOVER, Ala. — Joe Cox might not become the next Matthew Stafford, a top draft pick now enjoying NFL riches.

Georgia's new starting quarterback would happily settle for being the latest incarnation of D.J. Shockley, a guy who patiently waited his turn and then took advantage of it four years ago.

"I would love to have a chance like D.J. had to play for an SEC championship," said Cox, a senior with one college start under his belt. "Obviously I would like to do exactly what he did during that season as far as preparation and how he handled everything.

"It's kinda scary how similar our situations are."

Also frightening for fans and coaches is just how many new starters the Southeastern Conference could have at quarterback. Sure, Florida has Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. Mississippi is led by Jevan Snead, a one-time Texas Longhorn projected as a potential No. 1 overall pick like Stafford.

Beyond them, there are no proven stars.

Cox, LSU's Jordan Jefferson, Alabama's Greg McElroy and Kentucky's Mike Hartline appear to have secured the top spots for their teams. But nine SEC teams, including Alabama, and LSU, figure to either have new starters or loads of competition in fall camp.

It makes for intriguing if unsettling situations around the league when teams open practice in the next couple of weeks.

At Arkansas, Bobby Petrino has Tyler Wilson vying with 6-foot-7 Ryan Mallett, a one-time starter as a freshman at Michigan who tight end D.J. Williams said has "the strongest arm in college football."

"He's going to be a great quarterback to watch this year," Williams said.

But Petrino points out the importance of experience for a quarterback, especially when it comes to eluding the tough, fast defenses in the SEC.

"I think it's very critical just to experience the speed," said Petrino, who has worked with such quarterbacks as Jason Campbell, Chris Redman and Jake Plummer. "You go out there and you practice and you can throw the ball, but until you understand how fast those defensive rush men are going to be getting to you, how you can train yourself to keep your vision downfield when things are flashing in front of you and moving in front of you, you really don't have any idea what it's like."

South Carolina and LSU both are expected to start sophomores, who gained an idea of what it's like last season.

Jefferson flashed plenty of potential in leading the Tigers to a 38-3 rout of Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

"The kid played a phenomenal game," LSU offensive lineman Ciron Black said. "He really stepped up to the challenge. When Jordan got his chance, he really showed up. He's got to step up to the challenge again."

South Carolina's Stephen Garcia takes over for Steve Spurrier, who hopes Garcia will adopt an approach more along the lines of Tebow's preparation and commitment.

"That's a commitment level that (Tebow) has that is unmatched by any other player probably in the nation," Spurrier said.

Auburn has the potential for a three- or four-man race, though Kodi Burns and Neil Caudle are the front-runners.

"We'd like to get that cleared up, but the fact of the matter is it's not," Tigers coach Gene Chizik said. "It's wide open."

Tennessee also has holdovers Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens vying to run an offense that ranked 115th out of 119 Football Bowl Subdivision teams last season.

"We've got a great quarterback competition to look forward to," Volunteers coach Lane Kiffin said.