A pre-fall camp prediction of who will be every SEC team's Week 1 starting quarterback
Prediction season is officially here.
We’ve got SEC picks already out there, and if you’re a real go-getter like me, you’ve got a national championship prediction already out there.
(I’ve got Ohio State beating Alabama. Tide fans, you’re welcome for the “yummy” rat poison.)
With that in mind, let’s continue the predictions with guessing who will start at quarterback for every SEC team in Week 1. Obviously, we know that some jobs have already been decided. These are the guys who will be taking the first snap, barring an injury/disciplinary issue:
- Alabama — Bryce Young
- Arkansas — KJ Jefferson
- Florida — Anthony Richardson
- Georgia — Stetson Bennett IV
- Kentucky — Will Levis
- MSU — Will Rogers
- South Carolina — Spencer Rattler
- Tennessee — Hendon Hooker
- Vanderbilt — Mike Wright
Any disagreement on those starters? Seven of those 9 guys were at SEC Media Days. The 2 guys in that group who weren’t were Rogers and Rattler, both of whom were openly discussed as their team’s starter by their head coach at SEC Media Days.
Also, shoutout to Wright, who was named the starter publicly at SEC Media Days. Clark Lea privately named him the starter at the end of spring ball.
Based on that list, that means the following jobs are up for grabs:
- Ole Miss
- Texas A&M
Ideally, these coaches want to get down to a 2-man competition. Splitting up first-team reps with 3 or even 4 guys in fall camp isn’t ideal, no matter what a coach says.
We did just have coaches discussing their signal-callers at SEC Media Days. I’d argue that most of the comments about perceived battles were pretty down the middle, with the exception of the aforementioned Lea.
Still, though. What better time than now to predict the rest of the battles that are up for grabs?
My Week 1 prediction — Zach Calzada
I’ve gone back and forth on this a few times over the summer. Think about the way this offseason played out for Bryan Harsin. He was in an admittedly uncomfortable spot with a coup to get him fired after Year 1. He became more direct, he made an effort to become more personable, he started his own podcast and he did everything he could to try and move past his awkward February.
So do I really think that means Harsin is going back to the well with the guy who struggled in relief of Bo Nix? I don’t. TJ Finley isn’t it, and while I don’t think Calzada is the answer in the short- or long-term, the unknown of his abilities away from Jimbo Fisher’s offense will intrigue Harsin. Calzada was asked to run the Haynes King, RPO-based offense and didn’t do so at a high level. Even though Calzada was arguably the No. 13 starting quarterback in the SEC last year, I get the feeling that Calzada is the consensus choice to be the Week 1 guy.
Tank Bigsby on Zach Calzada: “You want to play with somebody who’s got that dog in him.”
— Tom Green (@Tomas_Verde) July 21, 2022
Do I still think Oregon transfer Robby Ashford needs to have a role? Absolutely, and I’m on record saying I think he’ll be the team’s starter by Halloween. In the meantime, though, I won’t be surprised if the Alabama killer gets the nod to take over a new offense in 2022.
My Week 1 prediction — Jayden Daniels
I still don’t think Brian Kelly knows who his starter is gonna be. Truly. If Garrett Nussmeier continues his offseason improvement, there’s a world in which he’s the surprising Week 1 starter getting all sorts of Ian Book comps. I find myself becoming more and more intrigued by the second-year signal-caller after he got rave reviews coming out of spring.
I don’t believe Kelly closed the door on Brennan earning the starting job, either. He wouldn’t have talked him out of the transfer portal unless he thought the 6th year super senior could run the offense. If called upon, Brennan is more than capable of becoming one of the league’s better quarterbacks.
But Daniels is my guess because he was hand-picked by Kelly at sort of an atypical time in the transfer calendar. Kelly had 3 legitimate options, and admitted he didn’t plan on pursuing a transfer until Daniels became an option. Call me crazy, but I think Kelly wants Daniels to master the offense and emerge as the guy. The combination of LSU’s loaded receivers room with Daniels’ mobility behind a potentially leaky offensive line would bode well for Kelly’s Year 1.
We saw what Daniels could do when he had weapons at Arizona State in 2019. Repeating that success — he had a 17-2 TD-INT ratio for an 8-win team — could be the vision Kelly has for his first offense in Baton Rouge.
My Week 1 prediction — Brady Cook
Eli Drinkwitz was asked 2 questions about quarterbacks in the main media area at SEC Media Days, and both of them were about Jack Abraham. As in, the Mississippi State transfer who walked on at Mizzou after he took a medical redshirt in 2021. As in, the guy on his 5th school. As in, the 7th year senior who was high school teammates with DK Metcalf.
That tells you a lot about the lack of national intrigue related to Mizzou’s quarterback battle.
That’s not to say that the Tigers are destined to struggle at the position in the post-Connor Bazelak world (he transferred to Indiana). But expectations are low after Mizzou reportedly whiffed in the transfer portal on JT Daniels and Jayden Daniels. Cook is more the choice by default after he got the start over Tyler Macon in the Armed Forces Bowl. Perhaps I’m too pessimistic after he failed to lead a Tyler Badie-less Mizzou offense on a touchdown drive for a 56-minute stretch against a service academy.
Oh wait. Did I say Drinkwitz only got asked 2 questions about quarterbacks at SEC Media Days? It was 3 if you include the question about whether he thought 4-star summer enrollee Sam Horn was going to join Mizzou or play Major League Baseball. The good news for Drinkwitz was that Horn went undrafted. The bad news is that starting a true freshman summer enrollee who probably needs to add some weight doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to be a Week 1 starter.
I’d expect Cook to be Drinkwitz’s best immediate plan to try and stretch the field more consistently after that deep passing attack struggled in 2021.
My Week 1 prediction — Luke Altmyer
Let’s get a little bold, shall we?
I did a total 180 on this just before Ole Miss’ spring game. In February, I was sipping the Jaxson Dart Kool-Aid a bit too much, and I dumped a full can of Altmyer Kool-Aid in the trash. I can now see the error in my ways. Nobody, myself included, gave Altmyer a chance simply because Dart was the splashy offseason addition. Never mind the fact that Kiffin was in need of adding a transfer even if Altmyer was the next coming of Archie Manning. Plus, Altmyer was ineffective in relief against a Dave Aranda defense in the Sugar Bowl. Well, the 3rd quarter was promising.
What’s fair to mention is that Dart didn’t play a single defense of Baylor’s caliber. In his lone season at USC, he didn’t face a top-20 defense. Dart only faced 1 team who finished in the AP Top 25, and it was BYU, which held the true freshman to 7.1 yards per attempt without a single completion of 20 yards.
I get that there’s a larger sample size of Dart, who was rated higher in the 2021 class than Altmyer. But the spring game should’ve served as a reminder that Lane Kiffin’s offense isn’t easy to master. Dart was all over the place, and he forced throws like a young Matt Corral did in his early days with Kiffin. We need not forget how valuable it is to have that experience in the system, which Altmyer has. Also remember that Kiffin doesn’t necessarily have to worry about Dart bolting if he doesn’t win the starting job because he already used his 1-time exemption (that rule appears to be changing soon but it’s still in place for now).
I find myself becoming more and more intrigued by Altmyer, who might not have the biggest arm but is plenty capable of making necessary reads and adding that mobile element that Kiffin’s quarterbacks need. Altmyer is known to be a film junkie who would text his high school coach play ideas a 1 a.m. That’s the type of mindset it’ll take to win this job, and I think Altmyer is the surprising winner.
My Week 1 prediction — Haynes King
Gut call here. No inside info. Jimbo Fisher surprised me when he went with Kellen Mond over Nick Starkel, which proved to be the right move. Perhaps he’ll surprise me again and go with Max Johnson after his year-plus as LSU’s starter. Maybe that’s the wrong way to phrase that. It wouldn’t surprise me if Fisher rolled with a guy who had a 27-6 TD-INT ratio playing in the toughest division in America.
But I’ll go with King because I think the unknown of his abilities is too enticing for Fisher to pass up. Remember, King already won a Fisher QB battle once. We essentially got 5 quarters of relatively unimpressive play from King before his season-ending injury in Week 2 at Colorado. Johnson, meanwhile, has the tall task of mastering the ever-complicated Fisher offense with entirely new surroundings.
So then why would Fisher have added the southpaw? Like, besides the fact that he wanted Johnson’s younger brother, No. 1 2022 tight end Jake Johnson? Well, even if Fisher felt like King was his guy, remember how last year played out. They didn’t have another option to turn to with Calzada, who didn’t perform well enough when healthy and played through injuries he probably shouldn’t have (mainly a knee injury on that final drive vs. Alabama and a dislocated shoulder against Auburn).
Fisher needed depth at QB so that Conner Weigman could take a redshirt year and not serve as the primary backup to a guy who just missed nearly all of last season. And hey, it’s totally possible that Johnson would step in and thrive in Fisher’s system to give A&M someone who has had success against SEC West competition.
Still, though. I think Fisher wants to see King fulfill his immense potential as his starter.