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 2.

1. KJ Jefferson, Arkansas

The Razorbacks had no intention of deploying Jefferson as a runner against Kent State, a 38-point underdog with little hope of hanging on defense. After a sluggish first half, though, they gave him the green light in the second, calling his number 9 times for 44 yards after halftime. They weren’t in any hurry about it, either: Arkansas’ last 3 possessions drained more than 20 minutes off the clock, yielding 2 long touchdown drives and a kneel-down to cap a 28-7 win.
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(Last week: 1⬌)

2. Jayden Daniels, LSU

Daniels met with no resistance whatsoever from Grambling, throwing for 269 yards and 5 touchdowns (a new career high) in 2 quarters’ worth of work. Tougher sledding this weekend when his attempt to resurrect his Heisman campaign resumes in earnest at Mississippi State.
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(Last week: 2⬌)

3. Spencer Rattler, South Carolina

Rattler was as close to perfect as it gets in the Gamecocks’ blowout win over Furman, finishing 25-for-27 for 345 yards and 3 touchdowns, plus a 4th TD on the ground. If you absolutely have to single a guy out for Offensive Player of the Week on the basis of an FCS turkey shoot, that’s the kind of line he’d better be putting up. Back to Earth this week in the conference opener at Georgia.
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(Last week: 6⬆)

4. Jaxson Dart

Dart took his lumps in the Rebels’ 37-20 win at Tulane, including 4 sacks, an interception, and a steady diet of 3rd-and-long scenarios in a game that was much tighter than the final score implied. He was also responsible for the weekend’s most clutch play, salvaging a critical 4th-down attempt in the 4th quarter despite a massive breakdown in protection. Dart deftly sidestepped a free rusher, found daylight and dropped the game-clinching TD in the hands of TE Michael Trigg.

Three looming concerns going forward: 1), an o-line that struggled opposite Tulane’s much smaller d-line; 2), a slumping ground game that makes the offense much less play-action friendly than it was in 2022 and puts more pressure on Dart’s growth as a straight drop-back passer; 3) the status of his top target, Louisiana Tech transfer Tre Harris, who left Saturday’s game with an injury and could miss several weeks with Alabama and LSU just ahead in the first 2 conference games.
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(Last week: 5⬆)

5. Will Rogers, Mississippi State

Coach Zach Arnett made no secret this offseason that Mississippi State was moving on from the Air Raid, bringing in new offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay from Appalachian State with a mandate to instill more balance. Based on the early returns, though, the new offense is not so much “balanced” as it is a full-on pendulum swing in the opposite direction. Through 2 weeks, the Bulldogs have kept the ball on the ground on 62.9% of their total snaps, a near inversion of the lopsided run-pass ratio they took for granted under the late Mike Leach.

In fact, the skew in Saturday’s 30-24 overtime win over Arizona was actually more run-oriented than MSU’s season-opening blowout of Southeastern Louisiana, which was itself the Bulldogs’ most run-oriented outing since prior to Leach’s arrival. Rogers, coming off a career-low 29 attempts in the opener, put the ball in the air just 17 times against the Wildcats for 162 yards, including 2 attempts in the extra session. That comes out to barely 1/3 of Rogers’ per-game average in 2021-22, when he routinely put it up 50 times or more.

Emphasis, of course, on early. It’s much too soon to draw sweeping conclusions about how those numbers figure to play out over the course of the season based on 2 games the Bulldogs were comfortably favored to win and led from start to finish. More to the point, the run/pass breakdown where the Air Raid is involved always felt semantic. Is there a functional difference between the litany of screens and check-downs that functioned as de facto handoffs under Leach and, well, actual handoffs? The real distinction isn’t the quantity, but the quality: Rogers’ yards per attempt (9.5) and overall passer rating (214.8) against Arizona were the best of his career vs. an FBS opponent.
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(Last week: 5⬌)

6. Joe Milton III, Tennessee

The starters played all 60 minutes in a sloppy, 30-13 decision over Austin Peay, Tennessee’s lowest-scoring win over any opponent since the end of the 2019 season. (Even the 2020 pandemic team that went 3-7 under Jeremy Pruitt scored 31+ in each victory.) For his part, Milton was just 1-for-10 on attempts that traveled at least 10 yards downfield, resurfacing concerns about his accuracy against the most overmatched team on the schedule. This weekend’s trip to Florida will be a big one for resetting expectations for the rest of the season.
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(Last week: 3⬇)

7. Jalen Milroe, Alabama

The “Milroe 4 Heisman” bandwagon barely got out of the driveway before the wheels came off. Immensely talented as he is — let there be no doubt about that — by the end of the Crimson Tide’s 34-24 loss to Texas he was just another fledgling starter with too much on his plate on a big stage.

If Milroe wasn’t being held to a championship-or-bust standard every time out, it would be easier to cut him some slack. Yes, the 2 picks were killers: Neither came in an obvious must-throw situation, he was well-protected on both, and they led directly to 10 Texas points, the final margin on the scoreboard.

As much as the position as evolved throughout the Saban era, one constant is that Bama quarterbacks have rarely made those kinds of big, scoreboard-tilting mistakes, much less twice in one game. But Saban-era quarterbacks have also rarely found themselves in the position of having a big game foisted onto their shoulders on a night when almost nothing else is going right. Alabama’s running backs averaged 3.2 yards on 20 carries; the o-line allowed 17 QB pressures and 5 sacks; the defense forced just 3 punts and zero takeaways while barely laying a hand on Milroe’s counterpart, Quinn Ewers.

Even the most basic operation, the shotgun snap from center, was an adventure.

Meanwhile, Milroe accounted for more than 82% of Alabama’s total yard as a runner and passer, and his right arm, which was also responsible for a couple of long touchdown passes in the 3rd quarter, was the only reason the Tide were still alive well into the 4th.

Obviously, Alabama doesn’t have the patience for a learning curve. Backup QB Tyler Buchner, who didn’t see the field Saturday night, woke up on Sunday morning with a lot of new fans. Without Milroe’s big-play potential, though, what is the offense left with? An underwhelming ground game, inconsistent receivers and a rebuilding front, opposite a defense that’s clearly a rung (at least) below the units that could be counted on to keep the lid on around 20 points as long as the offense didn’t screw things up.

With respect to Jase McClellan, a fine running back, this team isn’t going to game-manage its way to a championship handing the ball off 25 times per game to Jase McClellan. The next great Bama wideout is probably still in high school.

Maddening as he may be at this stage of his career, the upside of Milroe’s dual-threat skill set is arguably the best thing the Tide have going for them. If it takes the better part of his redshirt sophomore season to iron out the kinks, then— brace yourself, here it comes — an old-fashioned rebuilding year might just be the cost of reaping the rewards of the finished product.
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(Last week: 7⬌)

8. Conner Weigman, Texas A&M

Weigman, like Milroe, threw 2 interceptions in a disappointing loss at Miami, and, also like Milroe, came out of it as one of the least of his team’s concerns. He dropped back 57 times, faced pressure on nearly half of them, enjoyed minimal support from the running game, and spent the entire second half in comeback mode as the defense unraveled. The Aggies’ final output on offense (33 points on 433 yards) topped their production in 10 of 11 games vs. FBS opponents last year in both categories.

Anytime frustration is running as high as it is right now in College Station, the quarterback is bound to attract his share. Again, though, amid the broader angst over the direction of the program, Weigman’s development in Year 2 — and his chemistry with fellow sophomore Evan Stewart, specifically — is one of the few pieces of the project that’s still more or less on schedule. If nothing else, at least it’s something the Aggies can hang their hats on while waiting for the rest of the massively hyped 2022 recruiting class to catch up.
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(Last week: 8⬌)

9. Carson Beck, Georgia

Another week, another good-not-great stat line that seemed specifically engineered to avoid drawing attention to itself. Beck’s output against Ball State (23-for-30, 283 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) was nearly identical to his line against UT-Martin in Week 1, and just as difficult to draw any broader conclusions from. Ideally this week’s date with South Carolina will give us a little bit more to work with, although I suspect that if he has his way Kirby Smart would just as soon prefer that it doesn’t.
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(Last week: 9⬌)

10. Devin Leary, Kentucky

A tale of 2 halves: In the first half of Kentucky’s 28-17 win over Eastern Kentucky, Leary was 14-for-25 for 125 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT and a dismal 103.2 passer rating. (The lone touchdown, for the record, coming just before halftime to tie the score at 7-7 at the break.) In the second half, he was 10-for-13 for 174 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs, good for an astronomical rating of 265.5. Put it all together, and what do you have? The Wildcats are still at least a couple more weeks from finding out with another gimme on deck against Akron.
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(Last week: 10⬌)</em

11. Brady Cook, Missouri

Cook’s afternoon against Middle Tennessee was a lot like Leary’s: Alarming first half vs. a big underdog, with a course correction just before halftime. After falling behind 7-3 in the 2nd quarter, Cook led 3 consecutive touchdown drives covering 70+ yards apiece — just enough cushion for the Tigers to survive the upset bid, 23-19. Next up: Personnel changes on the offensive line ahead of a measuring-stick visit from Kansas State.
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(Last week: 12⬆)

12. Payton Thorne, Auburn

Hugh Freeze doesn’t yet seem to trust Thorne, who has attempted just 31 passes across Auburn’s first 2 games and ceded about a quarter of the snaps in Saturday’s 14-10 win at Cal to last year’s starter, Robby Ashford. But then, he seems to trust Ashford even less, restricting him almost exclusively to a Wildcat role. Either way, it’s hard to see the Tigers beating anybody they care about beating if either QB is forced to compensate for the defense rather than the other way around.
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(Last week: 11⬇)

13. Graham Mertz, Florida

Mertz hit his marks in a run-driven, 49-7 blowout over McNeese State, going 14-for-17 for 193 yards before calling it a night. The biggest chunk of that total came on a 50-yard touchdown strike to Ricky Pearsall, with whom Mertz seems to have some burgeoning chemistry.

Any chance the Gators have of springing an upset Saturday against Tennessee begins and ends with establishing the run. Somewhere in between, though, the Mertz-Pearsall connection will have to uphold its end of the bargain.
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(Last week: 13⬌)

14. AJ Swann, Vanderbilt

There’s not as much star power at the top of the pack as there’s been in the past, but it speaks to the SEC’s depth at the position that Swann remains stuck in the basement after throwing for a career-high 314 yards and 3 touchdowns at Wake Forest. Yes, he also threw 2 interceptions in a losing effort, which is why he hasn’t budged. But at least he is still maturing into a viable Power 5 starter, which is a lot more than can be said for most of the names that have occupied this position over the years. Considering half the names on this list are transfers, imagining what it would look like if not for the portal is a grim thought.
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(Last week: 14⬌)

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