Our predictions for each SEC football team’s starting quarterback, from Alabama to Tennessee
The SEC’s quarterback lineup will feature a new look in 2023, raising the question of whether the conference will maintain its blistering production at the sport’s most important position.
Four of the SEC’s top five quarterbacks from last season in terms of QB efficiency have departed, and as many as half of the conference’s schools will feature legitimate starting quarterback competitions throughout the spring.
Don’t expect many of the coaches who are evaluating competitions to declare a starter by April. Doing so would only encourage backups to hit the transfer portal.
We’re not relying on coach-speak to provide the answers, though.
On this edition of “SEC Football Unfiltered,” a podcast from the USA TODAY Network, hosts Blake Toppmeyer and John Adams handicap seven quarterback competitions across the conference.
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Here’s the outlook:
We project: Ty Simpson (or a transfer)
Competition also features: Jalen Milroe, Eli Holstein, Dylan Lonergan
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Logic: Milroe is an impressive athlete, but his relief appearances for Bryce Young pointed to an unpolished passer who is too loose with the football. Simpson, a former five-star recruit, is more of a mystery, but after a year of scout team seasoning, he may be poised to trigger the offense as a more consistent passer than Milroe. Holstein and Lonergan are four-star freshmen. If the spring reveals neither Milroe nor Simpson is up to the task, Nick Saban may need to consider a transfer, although he’s shown no indication of jumping on college football’s latest trend: the portal quarterback.
We project: Graham Mertz
Competition also features: Jack Miller, Max Brown
Logic: Florida’s competition was supposed to be headlined by a veteran transfer and an exciting rookie. Only one will be with the Gators this spring, and it’s probably not the QB most Florida fans would have preferred. Highly touted recruit Jaden Rashada backed out of his national letter of intent to UF after a lucrative NIL deal reportedly unraveled. Mertz had seemed like a transition option from Anthony Richardson to Rashada. Without Rashada, Florida is strapped with one of the SEC’s weakest quarterback groups. Mertz gained ample experience at Wisconsin, but he’s just a career 59.5% passer with 26 interceptions. But Miller’s start against Oregon State in a bowl game – the Gators lost 30-3 – indicates Mertz is the best option.
We project: Carson Beck
Competition also features: Brock Vandagriff, Gunner Stockton
Logic: Whoever wins this job will be blessed with an abundance of riches around him. In a tight competition, the scales tip to the veteran, and Beck is entering his fourth year in Kirby Smart’s program. He was the second stringer behind Stetson Bennett IV last season, another indication that this is his job to lose. Three is a crowd in quarterback competitions, so if the pecking order becomes clear in the spring, one of the backups may eye the portal.
We project: Jayden Daniels
Competition also features: Garrett Nussmeier
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Logic: Nussmeier flashed his strong arm in dazzling relief appearances against Georgia and Purdue at the end of the season, but Brian Kelly intends to dance with the one who brought him. Daniels engineered a 10-win season in Kelly’s debut, and he’s one of the SEC’s best running quarterbacks. Kelly likes mobile quarterbacks. Daniels improved so much throughout his first season at LSU that he entered the edge of the Heisman Trophy conversation after spurring the Tigers to an overtime win over Alabama. You don’t bench a QB who beats Alabama. Daniels remains the top option as a senior, but Nussmeier has teased a bright future.
We project: Spencer Sanders
Competition also features: Jaxson Dart, Walker Howard
Logic: Ole Miss features the SEC’s most crowded competition by returning its incumbent, Dart, adding a transfer with four years of starting experience (Sanders) and landing a former high-profile recruit from LSU (Howard). Dart is a good runner, but he sometimes struggled with interceptions and reading the field. A veteran like Sanders should be savvy enough to know when he’s being sold a bill of goods. If he believes he’s being brought in to start, he’s probably onto something. Like Dart, Sanders is a bona fide dual threat, which Lane Kiffin relishes. Also like Dart, Sanders is an inconsistent passer. He’s dealt with injuries throughout his career, and the key to Sanders winning this job may boil down to staying healthy.
We project: Brady Cook
Competition also features: Sam Horn, Jake Garcia
Logic: Cook held off a transfer (Jack Abraham) and Horn to remain Missouri’s starter last season. The situation is similar in 2023, with Missouri bringing in Garcia from Miami. With Cook at the controls, Missouri does not threaten opponents downfield as much as many SEC peers. Still, he’s the trusted hand. Horn barely played as a freshman, and Garcia has not lived up to his recruiting hype. Cook performed at his best in late-season wins against New Mexico State and Arkansas. He’s the safest bet to operate new coordinator Kirby Moore’s system.
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We project: Joe Milton … with a caveat
Competition also features: Nico Iamaleava
Logic: Milton played well enough in the Orange Bowl – he earned MVP honors – to deserve the first crack at being Hendon Hooker’s heir. The veteran is equipped with a powerful arm, but he struggled to harness it earlier in his career. He improved his accuracy in 2022. Iamaleava is a national No. 1 recruit. He’s Tennessee’s future. If the recruiting analysts’ assessment on Iamaleava proves correct – early feedback is promising – then he should vie for playing time (and even starts) as the season progresses, especially if any of Milton’s past hiccups re-emerge.
Projections elsewhere: Arkansas (KJ Jefferson), Auburn (Robby Ashford), Kentucky (Devin Leary), Mississippi State (Will Rogers), South Carolina (Spencer Rattler), Texas A&M (Conner Weigman), Vanderbilt (A.J. Swann)
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Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. John Adams is a senior columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel. You can subscribe to their podcast, SEC Football Unfiltered, or check out their SEC Unfiltered newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Our predictions for each SEC football team’s starting quarterback