A way-too-early prediction of every QB1 in the SEC in 2023
I’m gonna have multiple cracks at this. That is, predicting every SEC team’s QB1 in 2023.
I’ll probably try again post-spring when we get a little more transfer portal movement and then before fall camp, I’ll take another hack.
In this era, it’s necessary. With the fluidity of the transfer portal, I’ll admit that I’m gonna have some whiffs on this. The real roll of the dice would be saying someone in the portal will be an SEC team’s QB1. That’s bold. That’s also maybe a bit too bold given how early in the offseason we are.
For now, here’s who I think will be QB1 at each SEC program to start 2023:
Alabama — Ty Simpson
No Jalen Milroe? Why not? I don’t believe we saw enough from Milroe as a passer to assume that he’s heads and shoulders above Simpson for the job. Alabama’s offense is predicated on having that downfield passing attack and if you don’t have someone who has that pocket presence, it’s an awfully difficult offense to execute. I think as a redshirt freshman, Simpson possesses more versatility than Milroe and he ends up winning Alabama’s first true quarterback battle since 2018.
Arkansas — KJ Jefferson
He’s my top returning quarterback in the SEC and his backup (Malik Hornsby) transferred to Texas State. Any debate here? Nope. Moving along.
Auburn — Robby Ashford
This is probably the part where I should call my shot and predict that a transfer portal quarterback will become Hugh Freeze’s first starter. Despite some clear interest through the portal to add a quarterback, I’ll stick with Ashford, who possesses some early-Malik Willis similarities. He always has his legs, he understands the offense and he has a solid arm, but move-the-chains accuracy remains an issue. That’s not to say Ashford has Willis-level upside, but he’s got a skill set that Freeze should be able to work with.
Florida — Graham Mertz
Welp, we know it won’t be Jaden Rashada. I was pretty underwhelmed by Mertz at Wisconsin. Some of that was the Paul Chryst offense, but he didn’t ever seem like a guy who had the game slow down for him. If he had gone to a situation with a more established offensive play-caller or better receivers, I would’ve been intrigued. But that didn’t happen. Instead, Ricky Pearsall figures to be the go-to target for a thin group of pass-catchers. It feels like the Mertz-Jack Miller battle will be somewhat lackluster … unless another transfer enters the fray.
Georgia — Carson Beck
As Kirby Smart said, Beck did everything Georgia asked of him. Not many blue-chip quarterbacks sit on the bench for 3 years to wait their turn. Beck did that. He did that so that he could have an opportunity like the one he currently has. That is, have the most likely path to starting for the No. 1 team in America. Beck is entering Year 4 in the Todd Monken offense. While I fully expect this battle to go deep into the fall with Brock Vandagriff and/or Gunner Stockton, I think the promising limited sample size pushes Smart to roll with the 4th-year signal-caller.
Kentucky — Devin Leary
I’m extremely high on Leary and a potential bounce-back year for the Kentucky offense. If you think he’s going to be in quarterback battle, remember that he was the preseason ACC Player of the Year before getting hurt in 2022. Leary is a proven commodity, and he gives Kentucky a chance to not just replace Will Levis, but perhaps get an upgrade. A lot of that will depend on the offensive line, which is priority No. 1. Leary might not be as durable as Levis, but he also gets rid of the ball quicker and should be able to maximize a promising group of UK skill-players in Liam Coen’s offense.
LSU — Jayden Daniels
Don’t convince yourself that Brian Kelly is about to pull a 180 and bench the guy who led him to an SEC West title in Year 1. I say that as someone who became incredibly intrigued with Garrett Nussmeier. But Daniels has the keys to the offense, despite any sort of politically correct statements from the LSU head coach this offseason. Daniels could start as a preseason All-SEC quarterback, and while he might not have the same gunslinger mentality that Nussmeier has, Daniels would have to play his way out of the job with several disappointing showings.
Mizzou — Brady Cook
I enjoyed seeing Cook’s full arsenal on display down the stretch. Utilizing his legs felt like a no-brainer, but it’s fair to wonder if he’ll get some competition added to the quarterback room this spring. And I’m not necessarily saying that’s a portal guy, but the decorated Sam Horn was a summer enrollee last year, so this will be the first real side-by-side with those 2. Both will be working with a new play-caller in Kirby Moore. Can he tap into the version of Cook we saw once Bush Hamdan (now at Boise State) took over play-calling duties in the last 3 regular-season games? Either way, I’d expect Cook to get a Year 2, barring a significant transfer addition.
MSU — Will Rogers
It’s a new scheme with Kevin Barbay, but Rogers has more SEC reps than any returner. MSU just lost a pair of underclassmen quarterbacks to the portal, so Rogers is more entrenched than ever as the starter, despite the new play-caller.
Ole Miss — Spencer Sanders
Only Lane Kiffin would portal like that for his starting quarterback. And yes, I used “portal” as a verb because less than a year after his splashy edition of Jaxson Dart, who served as Ole Miss’ starter as a redshirt freshman, Kiffin landed 2 splashy quarterbacks from the portal in consecutive days. Even though Kiffin was clearly desperate to add depth with Dart as the lone scholarship quarterback on the roster, the Sanders addition from Oklahoma State was a sign that he’s willing to move on. Sanders has 1 year of eligibility left after starting 4 years for Mike Gundy. A guy with 85 total touchdowns at the Power 5 level isn’t coming to Oxford to hold a clipboard. Sanders’ mobility is on par with what we saw from Dart, who struggled in the red zone. I’d be surprised if Sanders didn’t earn the starting gig.
South Carolina — Spencer Rattler
Those last 3 games changed the entire vibe of Rattler at South Carolina. It also set the stage for him to be the unquestioned starter heading into his 5th college season. With all due respect to Luke Doty, Rattler is the guy and there won’t be any debate about it.
Tennessee — Joe Milton
Think of the last time we saw a true freshman earn the Week 1 start in the SEC. Bo Nix in 2019 was your answer. Outside of that, there aren’t a ton of examples of that (2016 Jacob Eason comes to mind). Even Jalen Hurts and Jake Fromm weren’t QB1 in their respective openers. In other words, no, I don’t think we’re about to see Nico Iamaleava get the nod in Week 1 when Milton just balled out in the Orange Bowl. Tayven Jackson’s transfer narrows that discussion a bit, but Josh Heupel wants Milton to be the guy. Shoot, he started him over Hendon Hooker in 2021. I fully expect Heupel’s 2.5 years of development with Milton to lead to an obvious QB1 by fall camp.
Texas A&M — Conner Weigman
It’s Weigman or bust for Bobby Petrino. What a sentence that is. Weigman got 4 starts and he appeared in 5 games as a true freshman, which saw him post a quarterback rating of 132. There were some promising signs from the 5-star true freshman. Hence, why Haynes King and Eli Stowers hit the portal. Max Johnson is still around and I suppose we shouldn’t be stunned if Petrino goes rogue, but I’d expect Weigman’s mobility to be a deal-breaker. This is a great opportunity for A&M to fully embrace its new offensive identity with Petrino calling plays and the talented young signal-caller leading the offense.
Vanderbilt — AJ Swann
It would’ve been nice to have seen more of Swann in 2022, but Mike Wright’s skill set was exactly what the ‘Dores needed to finally get in the SEC win column in the 2020s. Now, though, Wright is gone and the offense belongs to Swann. Clark Lea said that would be the case at his postseason press conference. Lea didn’t even sign a quarterback in the 2023 class. Swann has a prime opportunity to give Vandy something it hasn’t had since Kyle Shurmur left — a solid, reliable SEC starter.