1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …

We’ve suddenly hit assimilation by proxy with the end of days proclamations of the Alabama quarterback competition. Because if Alabama doesn’t have a quarterback, what does the rest of the SEC look like?

Relax, everyone. It’s much better than you’ve heard.

In fact, the SEC — from top to bottom — will have the best quarterbacks in college football in 2023. Of the 14 teams, only 3 have legitimate issues at the most important position on the field.

“A down year? Maybe with name guys that everyone knows,” an SEC defensive coordinator told me. “But there are guys all over our league who can absolutely crush you.”

Our annual post-spring look at the top quarterbacks in the SEC, ranked in tiers:

2. Tier 1, championship level

1. Jayden Daniels, LSU: Brian Kelly says Daniels is committed to being the best in the nation, and all the pieces are there.

The offensive line is elite in pass protection, and there are 2 receivers who will be among the best in the SEC at their positions (WR Malik Nabers, TE Mason Taylor), and a 3rd (WR Karen Lacy) primed for a breakout season.

Daniels had career numbers across the board in 2022, including completing 69% of his passes. If he reaches the 73-75% area in Year 2 under OC/QBs coach Mike Denbrock, he’ll be among the best in the nation at his position.

And we haven’t even mentioned his ability to stress defenses with his legs, which prior to his time at LSU, was his best attribute.

2. Will Rogers, Mississippi State: His senior year begins with a new system under OC Kevin Barbay, who wants Rogers to take more snaps under center and throw more vertically. Rogers only had 3 completions that covered at least 40 yards last season; 14 SEC QBs had more.

Time to find out if those bloated career numbers — TD/INT ratio of 82/24, 10,689 yards, 71% of passes completed — were built on the Air Raid system, or on the arm of a talented thrower. I’m going with the thrower, and further development in a more balanced offense.

3. Jaxson Dart/Spencer Sanders, Ole Miss: There wasn’t a true competition in spring practice because Spencer Sanders was limited with a shoulder injury.

Then Sanders played in the spring game, and although it was tackling optional (and QBs couldn’t be hit), he looked dynamic and accurate.

Then there’s Dart, who played well last season but faded down the stretch. He wore down, and the offense slowed down and Ole Miss couldn’t win games that mattered.

Best guess: Ole Miss needs both this season, and coach Lane Kiffin and OC/QBs coach Charlie Weis Jr. will use both even if both are healthy. There’s too much to like about both players, who are accurate throwers and willing and dangerous runners.

They could combine to create 1 impressive season.

4. Carson Beck, Georgia: He has 58 career attempts but could start for a majority of FBS schools.

Arm talent and football IQ — and as much as anything, 3 years of being humbled as the backup. He’s talented and motivated, and it’s finally his time.

Remember this: He isn’t Stetson Bennett. He’ll move in the pocket a little longer, get another read and throw an accurate ball. He’s a lot more like Aaron Murray than Bennett.

3. Tier 2, a step away

5. Conner Weigman, Texas A&M: Look, I admit it: I’m all in on new OC/QBs coach Bob Petrino and Weigman. More so, really, on Weigman — who played well in the last month of the season (8 TDs, 0 INT) despite difficult games and circumstances (the ugly end of coach Jimbo Fisher as play caller).

If Fisher and Petrino aren’t at odds (I get it, a big IF) by the end of the season, Weigman could be the best quarterback in the conference. He’s that talented, and Petrino is that good as a quarterbacks coach and play-caller.

6. Devin Leary, Kentucky: First and foremost, Kentucky better get the offensive line figured out, or it doesn’t matter who’s playing quarterback — a potential 1st-round pick in the NFL Draft, or a transfer trying to rekindle a special season.

Now add OC/QBs coach Liam Coen back into the mix, and see why the idea of Leary playing like 2021 (35 TDs, 5 INTs at NC State) instead of 2022 (11 TDs, 5 INTs, injured, missed 7 games) isn’t that far of a stretch.

He tore his pectoral muscle in Week 6 after yet another missed block in pass protection. One ACC coach told me Leary is, “a tough SOB, an assassin out there when (NC State) could protect for him.”

7. Joe Milton III, Tennessee: Before we go further, Milton isn’t Anthony Richardson, Part II.

Richardson was an elite athlete who could stress defenses with his feet, and at times a dangerous thrower. That’s not Milton. He’s a pocket quarterback who will take off and run if/when needed.

While NFL scouts say Richardson and Milton have a similar problem (taking speed off short throws), that’s where the comparisons end. The key for Milton in 2023 is growth.

Growth from a miserable start to 2021, when he was benched for Hendon Hooker. And growth, specifically, from his 1st start against Vanderbilt after Hooker’s injury last season.

Against Vanderbilt, 124th in the nation in scoring defense: 11-of-21, 147 yards, 52.4% passes completed, 1 TD, 0 INT.

Against Clemson, 22nd in the nation in scoring defense: 19-of-28, 251 yards, 67.9% passes completed, 3 TDs, 0 INT, Orange Bowl MVP.

8. Spencer Rattler, South Carolina: Here’s the problem with quarterback transfers: We expect everything to move freely and smoothly between programs.

And sometimes, it just takes time.

Time to build chemistry between receivers, and trust they’ll be open and where they’re supposed to be. To trust the offensive line, and the play calling and the team’s ability to play cohesively at a high level.

Rattler was absolutely part of the problem early last season, but he most certainly wasn’t all of it. The more he trusted the offense and his teammates, the more he stopped trying to make so many highlight plays that turned into poor decisions.

Which Rattler will we see in 2023? The quarterback who played with poise and confidence in November, beat Tennessee and Clemson and had a TD/INT ratio of 13/3 over the last 5 games of the season.

Not the quarterback who had 5 TDs and 9 INTs over the first 8 games of the season while trying to figure out his new team and conference.

9. KJ Jefferson, Arkansas: He made a nice jump in the pass game last season by improving accuracy on intermediate throws. Now, the question: How does the new offense change his growth?

The philosophy under new OC/QBs coach Dan Enos is, as much as anything, load management in the run game. In his 2 seasons as the starter, Jefferson had 304 carries.

That’s too many, and frankly, it’s 1 of the reasons he wore down in November and couldn’t play against LSU. They’ll go more under center this season (not noticeably more), but the idea is to lean more on play action and Jefferson’s ability to throw accurately — and at least not as much on his legs.

A dual-threat quarterback, in a perfect world, averages 5-6+ yards a carry because it’s as much out of deception as it is scheme. Jefferson has averaged 4.3 yards per carry (4.1 last season) — and those are running back averages.

Translation: Your quarterback is absorbing unnecessary hits, even if he is built (6-3, 245) to handle it.

4. Tier 3, game managers

10. Payton Thorne, Auburn: Which Thorne does Auburn get?

The efficient Thorne who inn 2021 led Michigan State to a New Year’s 6 bowl with a TD/INT ratio of 27/10? Or the Thorne of last season, who tried to do too much with an inexperienced offense and made too many mistakes?

At this point, Auburn coach Hugh Freeze simply needs a reliable thrower. That’s what he’ll have in Thorne, who at the very least will be the best thrower at Auburn since Jarrett Stidham.

11. Tyler Buchner, Alabama: We’re going with Buchner because Tide coach Nick Saban isn’t adding Buchner from the spring portal if he doesn’t need him.

No matter who plays — Buchner, Jalen Milroe or Ty Simpson — the offense will be more about protection than aggressive play calling. Think 2014 with Jake Coker, who was never put in a bad situation by then-OC Lane Kiffin.

You want protection? Alabama beat No. 8 Georgia in Athens that season, and did it with Coker throwing 16 passes. The Tide won by 28.

Alabama played great defense (this year’s unit could be as good as 2014), ran the ball and protected Coker until the final month of the season — when the playbook opened up and he played flawlessly over the last 4 games (Auburn, SEC Championship Game, 2 Playoff games).

If Alabama can get that scenario from Buchner or Milroe or Simpson, it will be Saban’s best coaching job in Tuscaloosa.

12. AJ Swann, Vanderbilt: Good quarterback in a tough situation.

The best way to explain the undervalued Swann: He’d start at Alabama, Auburn, Florida and Missouri.

13. Brady Cook, Missouri: This competition will evolve in fall camp, and will include redshirt freshman Sam Horn and Miami transfer Jake Garcia.

Cook was spotty in his first season as a starter in 2022, and Garcia and Horn — both former blue-chip recruits — both showed potential in spring practice. Both are more pure throwers, but both — like Cook (who missed spring recovering from shoulder surgery) — need those 4 weeks of fall camp to get ready to play.

14. Graham Mertz, Florida: It’s never a good sign when, in a spring game where the quarterback isn’t live and can’t be hit, the offense scores 7 points against the remnants of what was, historically, the worst defense is school history over the past 3 seasons.

We can point to Mertz’s uneven play in 3 seasons as a the starter at Wisconsin. We can talk about his turnovers and struggles against ranked teams.

None of that means anything right now. The only thing that does is how it looked after 15 spring practices at Florida, and the results weren’t good.

There’s still a month of fall camp to make it work, but there’s a reason Florida is searching for a quarterback from the spring portal — and there’s not much left (more on that later).

5. The Weekly 5

Early odds from our friends at FanDuel for the top 5 games with SEC teams in the first 2 weeks of the 2023 season:

1. Texas at Alabama (-7.5): A curious number considering the questions at quarterback for Alabama — and the loaded Texas offense.

2. LSU (-1.5) vs. Florida State: A lot of respect for an FSU team whose biggest wins of 2022 were over LSU (on a botched extra point), and 2 teams that combined for 12 wins: Florida (1 possession game) and Oklahoma (last-minute FG).

3. Texas A&M (-7.5) at Miami: Apparently, I’m not the only one who loves the potential of Petrino-Weigman and the Aggies’ offense.

4. Florida (+9) at Utah: This game only gets interesting if star Utah QB Cam Rising (ACL rehab) can’t play.

5. South Carolina (+1.5) vs. North Carolina. A big game for Rattler vs. UNC QB Drake Maye, a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

6. Your tape is your resume

An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible SEC player. This week: Tennessee WR Bru McCoy.

“There’s no doubt he’ll put up numbers in that offense. He’ll be a volume catch guy because he’s big and can get open and he catches the ball. I have questions about his explosiveness after the catch, and his ability to stress vertically. But to be fair to him, he has barely played 2 seasons. This is now his 2nd year playing at Tennessee, so we’ll see how much easier it all looks for him. He needs to show he can be dangerous after the catch.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, post spring practice.

1. Georgia: Learn these names on defense: DE Mykel Williams, OLB Marvin Jones Jr., CB Kamari Lassiter. The defense depth chart may look new, but guess who’ll be among the nation’s leaders in November?

2. LSU: Kelly went from recruiting by sipping through a straw at Notre Dame, to drinking out of a firehose at LSU. What did we think was going to happen?

3. Tennessee: Heupel says the defense will be “elite.” Maybe that’s just talk for the Big Orange Caravan — or maybe DC Tim Banks now has scheme and talent.

4. Alabama: A wildly underrated factor to the success of the offense in 2023: Can highly-respected O-line coach Eric Wolford find a consistent group of 5-8 linemen to perform better than the past 2 seasons?

5. Texas A&M: As long as Weigman develops, there’s a lot to like about the talent level on both sides of the ball. A motivated Fisher helps, too.

6. Kentucky: The middle of the defensive line (Deone Walker and Keeshawn Silver) can be elite, but UK needs production LB JJ Weaver and DE Tre’vonn Rybka.

7. Ole Miss: The offense needs production from 2 critical spots: WR (Louisiana Tech transfer Tre Harris) and TE (Michael Trigg).

8. Arkansas: No more zone-based defense. The Hogs are getting after the QB. That means Landon Jackson (LSU transfer in 2022), and transfers Trajan Jeffcoat (Missouri) and John Morgan III (Pitt) are critical to the operation.

9. Mississippi State: The offense is new, but back is a majority of the defense that did the heavy lifting backing up late coach Mike Leach’s aversion to punting. They were 4th in the SEC in opponent 3rd-down conversion rate (33.5%).

10. South Carolina: The next step: responding to big hits instead of collapsing. In 6 of 11 losses the past 2 seasons, South Carolina couldn’t withstand the initial hit, and were routed by (in order) 27, 25, 30, 30, 41 and 32 points.

11. Florida: It’s looking more and more like Florida will have to depend on a rebuilt defense — with a new coordinator and philosophy, and unproven players.

12. Auburn: The roster, from top to bottom, is as good as any mid-level SEC team. But there’s 2 years of misery still in the mental tank. When does it finally flush?

13. Missouri: The next step for Missouri: winning road games. The Tigers under Drinkwitz are 3-13 in games away from Columbia, including losses in 2 bowl games and 2 nonconference Power 5 games (Boston College, Kansas State).

14. Vanderbilt: Did the Commodores really turn under coach Clark Lea in 2022 with consecutive SEC wins over Florida and Kentucky — or did they hit 2 struggling teams at the right time?

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: Who has greater success in the SEC in 2024 and long term, Oklahoma or Texas? — Tyler Davis, Dallas.


I’ve made it clear from the jump that they’re both entering a situation where they’re no longer picking and choosing in recruiting against the Big 12, and then winning big. Like it or not, the South becomes their recruiting footprint — and more damaging, the state of Texas opens up further for the SEC.

Historically, Oklahoma has proven — throughout the modern era and most recently in the BCS/CFP era — that it can compete at the highest level. While Year 1 with coach Brent Venables wasn’t good, he still landed the No. 4 recruiting class in the nation according to the 247Sports composite. One spot ahead of Oklahoma was Texas.

But watch how Florida begins to recruit Texas with its likely permanent opponent game against Oklahoma, and the rotation that brings 2 games against Texas and texas A&M (home and away) over 4 years. Or how much better LSU recruits Texas. And how Georgia and Alabama only get stronger in the state.

Ultimately, it comes down to coaching, and who can develop players. Venables did it as defensive coordinator at Clemson, and Sarkisian was hit and miss as head coach at Washington and USC.

While it’s hard to argue with the recruiting work Sarkisian has accomplished at Texas (No. 3 in 2023, No. 5 in 2022, No. 15 in 2021), it has to translate to a turn toward the nation’s elite. And Venables — who has had the Nos. 4 (2023) and 8 (2022) recruiting classes — can’t afford another 6-win season.

Because if there’s 1 true current similarity between Texas and OU and the SEC, it’s a lack of patience with coaches who don’t win.

9. Numbers

191. The number is astounding: 191 quarterbacks entered the transfer portal in the winter and spring windows, per 247Sports transfer portal tracker. While there are a few remaining with FBS starting experience (1 game or more), the only legitimate starters from last season who could make an impact are Casey Thompson (Nebraska) and Hayden Wolff (Old Dominion).

Of those 191 entries, 44% (84) still haven’t found schools for the 2023 season. Players who have graduated can still transfer and are eligible for the 2023 season.

10. Quote to note

Tennessee coach Josh Heupel, speaking on the Big Orange Caravan tour: “We’re going to play elite defense — not just good defense, but elite defense. We took huge strides in Year 2 creating havoc on that side of the ball.”