Quarterbacks: There are a lot of them! Each week throughout the season, we’ll help you keep the game’s most important position in perspective by ranking the SEC starters 1-14 according to highly scientific processes and/or pure gut-level instinct. Previously: Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4 …. Week 5Week 6. … Week 7Week 8Week 9Week 10Week 11Week 12Week 13.

1. Bryce Young, Alabama

Most years, Young’s harried performance against Auburn would have been enough to put his Heisman campaign on life support. Instead, his odds arguably improved: Crunch-time heroics in the 4th quarter and overtime salvaged a dismal afternoon up to that point, while the other front-running quarterback in the race, Ohio State’s CJ Stroud, was the face of the season’s most visible L in the Buckeyes’ loss to Michigan. That result also meant that, unlike Young, Stroud will be relegated to the couch this weekend with no chance to redeem himself before ballots are due. And who else are they going to vote for? Kenny Pickett?

If the Heisman Trophy was actually about honoring the best player in college football this season, it would be a 2-man race between a couple of dominant, wildly productive edge players, Young’s teammate Will Anderson (my personal favorite) and Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson, who singlehandedly absorbed much of the energy from Stroud’s campaign on Saturday by sacking him 3 times and pressuring him a dozen more. The argument for embracing a non-traditional candidate is gaining traction as the cases for the default QB prospects has only gotten thinner, and both Anderson and Hutchinson have a chance to make a final push in front of huge audiences this weekend.

If it’s a de facto quarterback award, as the oddsmakers continue to predict, then Young may not need much more than a competent outing against a revered Georgia defense in the SEC Championship Game to sew it up, win or lose.

Heisman voters love a winner, of course – only 4 players in the past 30 years have taken home the trophy immediately following a loss in their last game, most recently Lamar Jackson in 2016 – but in Young’s case, barring a compete meltdown in Atlanta, it’s not clear that many members of that bloc even recognize the possibility of an alternative.
– – –
(Last week: 1 ⬌)

2. Matt Corral, Ole Miss

The Rebels are in wait-and-see mode over Corral’s status for the Heisman ceremony, which he may or may not attend as a finalist, and the bowl game, in which he may or may not participate as he turns his focus toward the draft. (He said he was playing in the bowl, but he may or may not be the first QB to come off the board.) Meanwhile, speculation over his successor in Oxford is off and running.

As of right now, the heir apparent on the current depth chart is true freshman Luke Altmyer, who attempted 9 passes in 4 games off the bench. (Would Lane Kiffin be willing to burn Altmyer’s redshirt in the bowl game if Corral opts out? TBD.) More likely, Ole Miss figures to be one of the major players on the transfer market, where it will be high on the list of potential destinations for several big fish. Now-former UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel has already been closely linked to the Rebels based on his connection with offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, who was UCF’s OC during Gabriel’s freshman year in 2019. Veterans Spencer Rattler and Myles Brennan, a Mississippi native, are also intriguing names from Oklahoma and LSU, respectively. With Kiffin’s track record at the position and readily available talent, the expectations from year to the next at this point are more or less fixed.
– – –
(Last week: 2 ⬌)

3. Stetson Bennett IV, Georgia

There were no numbers Bennett could have possibly put up against Georgia Tech’s defense that might have eased concerns about his limitations against the likes of Alabama or Michigan in the postseason. For the record, though, his final line in the Bulldogs’ 45-0 win at Tech (14-for-20, 255 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, 3rd-quarter exit) was about as close to perfect within the confines of Georgia’s run-oriented blowout offense as it gets. He finished with career highs for pass efficiency (243.1) and QBR (97.2) before UGA pulled the plug on the passing game, moving into the SEC lead for the season on both counts.

As far as the postseason outlook is concerned, the bigger news Saturday was a receiving corps that was tantalizingly close to full strength for the first time all season. The headliner, George Pickens, made his first appearance since suffering a torn ACL in the spring that threatened to derail his entire junior campaign; he played 7 snaps, catching 1 pass for 5 yards. Also in the rotation: Dominick Blaylock, a 2020 injury casualty who saw his first action in nearly 2 years in last week’s win over Charleston Southern; Kearis Jackson, the Bulldogs’ leading receiver in 2020, who’s been limited by assorted injuries throughout the year; and TE Darnell Washington, a former 5-star recruit who continues to work his way back from a foot injury.

So far, Georgia has had the luxury of bringing the vets along slowly while a mostly unsung rotation of first- and second-year players (Brock Bowers, Jermaine Burton, Ladd McConkey, Adonai Mitchell) has accounted for the vast majority of the output at the position, very little of which has been strictly necessary opposite a defense giving up 6.9 points per game. But that can change quickly as the degree of difficulty ramps up sharply against Alabama, and how the Bulldogs elect to manage snap counts and targets among the wideouts if it does might be the biggest X-factor in Atlanta for either team.
– – –
(Last week: 3 ⬌)

4. Hendon Hooker, Tennessee

Among the single-season Tennessee records Hooker owns after his first year in Knoxville: Completion percentage (69%), yards per attempt (9.8), TD/INT ratio (26/3), and overall efficiency (182.2) – all by substantial enough margins that there’s no real risk of forfeiting the distinction in any category even if things go sideways in a bowl game.

Read More

Online sports betting has come or is coming to a number of SEC states down south. Residents of states where legalized sports betting exists can bet on things like the Heisman race, SEC football games each week and more... all right from their mobile device.

The big question in the meantime: Whether Hooker, 24, will take advantage of the free COVID-19 year of eligibility to return as a 6th-year senior in 2022, or take his chances in the NFL Draft. And let’s be honest, as ecstatic as Vols fans would be to have him back, from Hooker’s perspective, how likely is he to significantly improve on that performance next year as opposed to going the other way?

At any rate, Josh Heupel would probably prefer to have an answer as soon as possible: Every day that Hooker’s on the fence is another day that Heupel’s former starter at UCF, Dillon Gabriel, could take his name off the market.
– – –
(Last week: 5 ⬆)

5. KJ Jefferson, Arkansas

Other than Bryce Young, there’s no returning QB I’m more excited about in 2022 than Jefferson, who checks every box in terms of size, athleticism and efficiency and still was just scratching the surface in his first year as an starter. He may never boast the most polished mechanics from the pocket, and he’ll definitely miss NFL-bound wideout Treylon Burks. But his best games, in a September win over Texas A&M and close, high-scoring losses at Ole Miss and Alabama, point toward an extremely high ceiling and legitimate dark-horse Heisman potential as an upperclassman.
– – –
(Last week: 6 ⬆)

6. Will Levis, Kentucky

I doubt many Kentucky fans were still on the fence re: Levis before Saturday’s 52-21 romp over Louisville, but if they were, well, it’s safe to assume they’re not anymore. The Penn State transfer capped a solid, efficient campaign with arguably his most solid, efficient outing to date, accounting for 262 total yards (149 passing, 113 rushing), scoring 4 touchdowns as a runner, and hurdling a dude in the open field for good measure. As a team, the Wildcats piled up 362 yards rushing on 7.4 per carry, both season highs — the 3rd consecutive meeting in the series in which they’ve gashed Louisville for 300+ on the ground with 3 different quarterbacks at the helm.
– – –
(Last week: 7 ⬆)

7. Will Rogers, Mississippi State

It says a lot about the depth of the position in the conference right now that Rogers, who’s just 51 yards away from joining Joe Burrow and Mac Jones as the only SEC quarterbacks to throw for 4,500 in a season, lands squarely in the middle of the pack. When it takes 50+ attempts per game to get there, so it goes.

Through 12 games, Rogers has put the ball in the air 630 times, easily an SEC record, with a bowl game still to play; nationally, that number ranks 14th all-time for a single season. Of the 13 names currently ahead of him on that list, 10 of them also played for Mike Leach.
– – –
(Last week: 4 ⬇)

8. Emory Jones and/or Anthony Richardson, Florida

There’s very little chance that Jones (a redshirt junior with 2 years of eligibility remaining) and Richardson (a redshirt freshman with 4) both remain in the fold under incoming head coach Billy Napier, and for all the angst about his role this year, Richardson’s combination of youth and massive potential likely gives him a leg up.

Dan Mullen’s reluctance to move on from Jones, his first commitment at Florida, was understandable, and a series of vague and nagging injuries to Richardson over the second half of the season gave Mullen cover to keep kicking the can down the road. Napier should feel free to cast his lot with the more talented player with more room to grow.
– – –
(Last week: 8 ⬌)

9. Max Johnson, LSU

Johnson ended the regular season on a high note against Texas A&M, throwing for 306 yards and 3 TDs with no picks in a dramatic, come-from-behind win in Ed Orgeron’s last game on the sideline. He paid the price for it, too, enduring a career-high 6 sacks in the process.

Going forward, it’s still too early to handicap the looming competition between Johnson, true freshman Garrett Nussmeier and touted 2022 commit Walker Howard under an incoming coaching staff that didn’t recruit them. But if nothing else, with Nussmeier committed to preserving a redshirt, the win over A&M did buy Johnson at least one more solo audition in a bowl game. He may be doomed to the portal eventually, but that doesn’t mean he has to make it an easy call.
– – –
(Last week: 11 ⬆)

10. Zach Calzada, Texas A&M

Calzada was already a shoo-in for Most Unlikely Performance In a Major Upset. After Saturday’s loss in Baton Rouge, he’s also a strong candidate for the Playing Through Pain Award: At various points this season, he’s suffered clearly visible injuries to his ankle (against Mississippi State), his knee (against Alabama) and his shoulder (against Auburn and again at LSU), all while missing just a handful of snaps. If you’d been through all that on your way to a 6-4 record as an emergency starter, your patience with the critics would probably be running a little bit thin at this point in the season, too.
– – –
(Last week: 9 ⬇)

11. Connor Bazelak, Missouri

The raw numbers don’t necessarily reflect it, but after a solid redshirt freshman campaign in 2020, Bazelak undeniably regressed in conference play, and ended on an abysmal note in Saturday’s 34-17 loss at Arkansas, posting career lows for pass efficiency (51.8) and QBR (14.9). Some of the decline can be chalked up to a midseason injury that cost him the Georgia game and limited his capacity thereafter. But a certain segment of the fan base has made its feelings clear, and as long as Bazelak is viewed as the warmed-over option while once-prized recruit Tyler Macon remains on the bench, Eli Drinkwitz is going to have to continue answering for it at every turn.
– – –
(Last week: 10 ⬇)

12. TJ Finley, Auburn

Finley surely won over some fans in the Tigers’ upset bid against Alabama, which ended with him limping badly through most of the 4th quarter and overtime. Toughness notwithstanding, though, he didn’t look like a serious candidate to supplant the injured Bo Nix at the top of the depth chart next year. In fact, Nix himself hasn’t decided whether he’s going to be a candidate, either. On Monday, he candidly  declined to confirm his status for 2022, telling a local radio show “Auburn is definitely my school” – he’s on track to graduate in a few weeks – but “I don’t know what next year looks like.”

Frankly, who does? At a minimum, the Tigers will (again) have a new offensive coordinator, having already parted ways with Mike Bobo; his replacement will be Auburn’s 4th new OC in as many years, annual churn spanning Nix’s entire career. There’s also the unresolved question of head coach Bryan Harsin’s compliance with a COVID-19 vaccination mandate requiring all university employees to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8, on which Harsin has remained pointedly silent.

Until he has some answers about who he’ll be playing for in what will likely be his final college season, more power to Nix for keeping his options open.
– – –
(Last week: 13 ⬆)

12. Jason Brown and/or Zeb Noland, South Carolina

Brown and Noland took their lumps in Saturday’s 30-0 loss against Clemson, and one or the other will get the starting nod in the bowl game. (South Carolina is playing in a bowl game? South Carolina is playing in a bowl game.) As grad transfers who weren’t expected to see the field this season in the first place, neither figures into the Gamecocks’ plans beyond that. First dibs next spring will go to a healthy Luke Doty, but this is another situation where the portal could be a factor.
– – –
(Last week: 13 ⬇)

14. Mike Wright and/or Ken Seals, Vanderbilt

Seals, the nominal starter, only saw meaningful action in one of the Commodores’ last 6 games, mainly due to injuries. He was available in Saturday’s finale at Tennessee, however, where he briefly came off the bench to attempt 1 pass in the second half, and the fact that he ended a deflating sophomore campaign as a spectator in a blowout loss is not a reassuring signal for his future. Wright didn’t exactly seize command of the job in Seals’ absence, going 0-5 as a starter, but at this point he looks like the better bet to stick around.
– – –
(Last week: 14 ⬌)