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 4Week 5Week 6Week 7Week 8Week 9Week 10Week 11Week 12.

1. Jayden Daniels, LSU

A few weeks back I wrote that it would be nearly impossible for Daniels to win the Heisman if LSU lost its biggest game of the year at Alabama. Wrong! Barely 2 weeks removed from the Tigers’ 42-28 loss in Tuscaloosa, his stock only keeps going up. He’s the odds-on leader according to most betting sites, including 7 of the 9 sports books listed in SDS’ weekly Heisman tracker. The entire country has been Jayden-pilled.

I’m going to hold off making my final Daniels 4 Heisman case until next week, after he wraps up his regular season (and potentially his college career) this weekend against Texas A&M. Suffice to say, in a campaign fueled almost entirely by his gonzo production, it’s critical for him to go out on a high note. Beyond the stat sheet, Daniels is at an enormous disadvantage opposite the other 2 names at the top of the list, Oregon’s Bo Nix and Washington’s Michael Penix Jr., both of whom will be front and center on the national stage over the next 2 weeks.

Penix’s Huskies (11-0) have already clinched a slot in the Pac-12 Championship Game; the Ducks (10-1) can claim the other one Friday with a home win over Oregon State, setting up a head-to-head, winner-take-all showdown in the Pac-12 Championship Game with a ticket to the Playoff on the line. The only other viable contender at this point, Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr., has an opportunity to make a late surge against Michigan on Saturday — overshadowing LSU-Texas A&M in the same time slot — and Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game. Meanwhile, Daniels will be spending the final Saturday of the season watching from home.

Regardless of what else happens, it’s probably safe to assume an invitation to New York as a finalist is in the bag. Winning it is going to require leaving a very strong final impression.
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(Last week: 1⬌)

2. Carson Beck, Georgia

Another week, another test passed behind the nation’s sturdiest o-line. Saturday’s trip to Tennessee may have been the toughest road environment Beck has faced as a starter, but he didn’t flinch, finishing 24-for-30 for 298 yards, 3 touchdowns and zero picks in a 38-10 blowout. The protection, as usual, was impeccable: Beck wasn’t sacked and faced pressure on just 6 of his 33 drop-backs, per Pro Football Focus. But then, as a rule of thumb sacks are fundamentally a quarterback stat. Beck made the line’s job easy, processing quickly and getting rid of the ball with timing, anticipation, and accuracy. He was 8-for-11 on attempts 10+ yards downfield, and converted 6-of-9 on 3rd down.

You don’t hear the term “system quarterback” as much anymore, probably because it sounds like a not-so-thinly veiled insult. But it’s a perfect label for Beck’s style of play, and not in the dismissive way. How many quarterbacks are running their system more efficiently? Outside of the guys in the thick of the Heisman chase, it’s a short list. Beck is not a blue-chip specimen, hardly runs, and doesn’t show up much in the viral highlight department. He just keeps making the right decisions over and over again. In that sense, he’s been more or less indistinguishable from his predecessor in the system, Stetson Bennett IV, who put up more or less identical numbers last year en route to a 4th-place finish in the Heisman vote and the national title.

It ain’t Jayden Daniels vs. Joe Burrow, but for a first-year starter who began the season as the single biggest question mark in Georgia’s bid for a 3-peat, you can’t ask for much better than that. Beck, like Bennett, has been at his best in the Bulldogs’ biggest games: His most efficient outings of the season in terms of both passer rating and QBR have come against then-undefeated Kentucky, Florida, Ole Miss, and Tennessee — all routs from start to finish. Put him on a different team, and maybe he looks like just a guy. Who knows? On the one he’s on, though, it’s becoming more obvious by the week that he has all the tools to take the Dawgs the distance.
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(Last week: 2⬌)

3. Jalen Milroe, Alabama

I don’t think we can declare Milroe completely cured of the turnover problems that plagued him over the first half of the season, but he’s clearly moving in the right direction: Over the past 3 games he’s only been picked off once in 61 attempts and hasn’t fumbled on 31 carries. It’s almost as if snap-judging a 20-year-old based on a couple glitches in his first meaningful action is unfair.
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(Last week: 3⬌)

4. Brady Cook, Missouri

Not that he wasn’t appreciated before, but the drive to set up the game-winning field goal in Saturday’s 33-31 win over Florida felt like the moment Cook really carved out a niche in Mizzou fans’ hearts. Trailing by one point with a New Year’s 6 bowl on the line, he was 6-for-10 for 67 yards, highlighted by drive-extending completions on 3rd-and-8 and — the big one — 4th-and-17. Missouri has had its share of prolific quarterbacks over the years, but not that many who have managed to make Faurot Field feel like a scene.

Remember, the preseason media poll projected the Tigers to finish 6th in the East. A Black Friday trip to Arkansas is the last remaining hurdle between them and the Peach or Cotton Bowl.
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(Last week: 5⬆)

5. Jaxson Dart, Ole Miss

Last week, Lane Kiffin let it slip on his weekly radio show that Dart was coming back for his senior year — a predictable decision for a guy who is rarely touted as a first-round prospect in 2024, and good news for the Rebels’ offseason stock. Apparently, it also came as news to Dart, who dismissed the headlines as a case of Lane being Lane. “I haven’t really decided yet,” Dart said after Saturday’s 35-3 win over UL-Monroe. “I think he kind of said that to kind of put positive vibes out there.”
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(Last week: 4⬇)

6. Spencer Rattler, South Carolina

Rattler’s performance in a 17-14 win over Kentucky was a microcosm of his career: When it’s good, it’s great — and when it’s not, it’s downright depressing. South Carolina’s 11 full offensive possessions yielded 3 sustained scoring drives and 8 drives that went absolutely nowhere.

Here was Rattler’s production:

3 scoring drives: 14-for-16 passing, 166 yards, 10.4 ypa, 2 TDs, 215.9 efficiency, 14 first downs
8 non-scoring drives: 5-for-11 passing, 41 yards, 3.7 ypa, 76.8 efficiency, 3 first downs, 6 3-and-outs

At least he didn’t waste any of the good stuff on a possession that ultimately failed to pay off. That’s efficiency, baby.
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(Last week: 6 ⬌)

7. Joe Milton III, Tennessee

Milton is technically “up” in the pecking order this week due to an injury to Florida’s Graham Mertz, but make no mistake: As the Vols’ season winds down, his stock has never been lower. Milton was a nonentity against Georgia, averaging 4.9 yards per attempt with no touchdowns in what felt like the end of the road for his tenure as QB1. His vaunted arm strength never really moved the needle, did it? Tennessee was 0-4 in its 4 biggest games of the season — Florida, Alabama, Missouri and UGA — failing to top 20 points in any of them. In fact, the Vols’ best win, a defensively-driven, 20-13 decision over Texas A&M in Week 7, was arguably Milton’s worst performance.

With nothing in particular left to play for this weekend against Vanderbilt, the debate is on over the status of heir apparent Nico Iamalavea: To redshirt, or not to redshirt? Although Milton is still listed as the starter, many locals are restless to turn the page, redshirt be damned.

With 2 games to go (including a bowl game), it’s a tricky situation. Iamalavea, the gem of the Vols’ 2023 recruiting class and presumptive starter in ’24, has played in 3 games this season off the bench, leaving him with 1 more free appearance on his sandwich card before his redshirt is burned. The NCAA’s decision to exempt bowl games from the redshirt count in 2022 was a 1-time waiver that is not in effect this season unless it gets reissued. So, as it stands, playing Iamalavea in both games would cost him his first year of eligibility, in exchange for giving him a head start on his promotion in Year 2.

Of course, let’s be real: The odds of Tennessee eventually reaping the benefits of an Iamalavea redshirt in 2027 are slim to none. If he’s as good as advertised, he won’t be around for a 5th year, anyway. And if he’s not … well, he won’t be around for a 5th year at Tennessee, anyway.
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(Last week: 8⬆)

8. KJ Jefferson, Arkansas

Jefferson has been sacked 41 times this season, most in the league, and the negative yardage has taken a significant bite out of his official total on the ground. Excluding sacks, he’s on pace to hit 2,500 career rushing yards this weekend against Missouri, with just shy of 80% of that total coming after contact, per PFF. He’s also fumbled a staggering 29 times, including 12 times this year.
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(Last week: 11⬆)

9. Devin Leary, Kentucky

Leary was one of the most sought-after QBs in the portal last winter, but his first and only season in Lexington has been every bit as disappointing as Will Levis’ underwhelming turn in 2022. Among his many liabilities, the most glaring has been throwing the ball downfield. Although Leary leads the SEC with 56 attempts of 20+ air yards, he’s completed just 13 of them, for a league-low-by-far 7.6 yards per attempt. Up next: One last chance to go out on a high note against 10-1 Louisville.
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(Last week: 9⬌)

10. Payton Thorne, Auburn

As a former Bo Nix skeptic myself, I’m as stunned by his transformation into one of the sport’s most bankable quarterbacks as anyone. I can only imagine what it must feel like for Auburn fans to watch their old scapegoat play essentially a perfect game at the same time Thorne was game-managing his way through a 31-10 loss to New Mexico State.
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(Last week: 10⬌)

11. Max Johnson or Jaylen Henderson, Texas A&M

Johnson (ribs) remains questionable for this weekend’s trip to Baton Rouge to face his old team, leaving Henderson in line for his 3rd start in as many weeks. The former Fresno State transfer has been solid in the first two, notwithstanding a pick-6 in Saturday’s eventual 38-10 win over Abilene Christian. Obviously, attempting to keep pace with a Heisman frontrunner in full-throttle stat-padding mode on the road is an entirely different assignment, albeit one no one outside of Henderson’s own huddle at this point is very invested in him passing.
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(Last week: 11⬆)

12. Will Rogers, Mississippi State

Now that he’s relatively healthy, we can move on to the next big question on Rogers’ plate: Is Thursday night’s Egg Bowl date with Ole Miss his last game in Starkville? He hasn’t addressed his 2024 plans on the record, but he does have a 5th season of eligibility if he wants it due to the free COVID year. On the other hand, after 39 starts, 1,837 attempts, and head-coaching changes in consecutive seasons, who could blame him if he decided his time is up? Rogers is unlikely to command much attention in the draft, but he would have plenty of options in the portal. He can always decide he bleeds maroon and white, but the Bulldogs’ incoming head coach better have his recruiting pitch ready.
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(Last week: 13⬆)

13. Max Brown, Florida

Graham Mertz‘s season is over due to a fractured collarbone. He does have a 6th year of eligibility available in 2024, and barring a dramatic turn of events remains the presumptive starter heading into the offseason. In the meantime, said events are in the hands of Brown, a redshirt freshman from Tulsa who got the first meaningful snaps of his career in the second half of Saturday’s loss at Missouri and looked … fine. He made one costly mistake on his first series, fumbling the ball away on a botched handoff in the red zone, but rebounded to lead two extended scoring drives in the 4th quarter that put the Gators in position to win.

Brown was a marginal recruit by Florida’s standards, barely cracking the top 100 quarterbacks in the 2022 class according to 247Sports’ composite rating. Still, as a 6-2, 220-pound dual threat, he’s an intriguing enough size/speed prospect to imagine him getting at least a token crack at Mertz’s job next spring if he looks the part against Florida State. With 5-star DJ Lagway set to arrive in January, Saturday’s upset bid against the Noles might be the first and last chance Brown is going to get.
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(Last week: n/a)

14. Ken Seals, Vanderbilt

Under Clark Lea, Vandy’s instability behind center is less of a problem to be solved than a perpetual state of mind. Seals, who took over at midseason from the turnover-prone AJ Swann, is coming off a ghastly 3-game stretch in which the Commodores managed a grand total of 28 points. (Most recently, Lea explained his decision to stick with Seals throughout a 47-6 debacle against South Carolina by uttering the immortal words “he gave us a chance to punt.”) Swann hasn’t seen the field since September, but has a higher ceiling and per Lea remains in the mix to play in this weekend’s finale at Tennessee, as ever.

The outcome of the game is irrelevant, but the situation is not academic: Assuming one or the other is likely bound for the portal, how Lea manages the position against the Vols is also a signal of his plans going forward. Who does he trust more — or distrust less — with his job on the line next year? It’s decision time.
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(Last week: 14⬌)

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