College Football Coaches Poll: Can Georgia get the rare three-pointer?
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The last 15 years have been a glorious time for SEC quarterbacks. From Tim Tebow to Cam Newton and Joe Burrow to Bryce Young – what a variety of talent.
Will the SEC's quarterback ability last after the departure of stars like Young, Stetson Bennett IV and Hendon Hooker in 2023? On paper, this season could be a step backwards for SEC quarterbacks, but players like Georgia's Carson BeckKentucky's Devin Leary and Tennessees Joe Milton can change that. These are potential outbreaks.
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Here's how I rank the SEC's quarterbacks. (Note: Only scheduled starters will be considered in this ranking. Talented backups like LSU's Garrett Nussmeier aren't included.)
1. KJ Jefferson (Arkansas)
Jefferson combines accuracy with a six foot, 250 lb frame that he uses to transport defenders. He throws a good, deep ball. Jefferson thrived on Kendal Briles' quick attack with shotguns, averaging a 45-to-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio over the past two seasons while completing 67.7% of his passes. Briles left the team to become TCU's offensive coordinator, so Jefferson has to adjust to Dan Enos' pro-style system. He's asked to go in the middle and improve his pre-snap decisions.
2. Jayden Daniels (LSU)
In Daniels' first game with LSU against Florida State, he was intent on hiding and running instead of staying in the pocket, reading the field and hitting the defense with his arm. That changed over the course of his life first season in the program by Brian Kelly. Few quarterbacks have made more strides from Week 1 through the season finale than Daniels. No SEC quarterback can match Daniels' running ability, and he's developed into a true dual threat.
3. Devin Leary (Kentucky)
Leary excelled at North Carolina State University two years ago, and last summer he had every chance of winning the Heisman Trophy. But his 2022 season fell through and was cut short by a chest injury. Now, a quarterback who recorded a 35-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2021 is healthy and reunited with Liam Coen, a quarterback-friendly offensive coordinator. Leary is missing Will Levis' NFL readings, but he's the better college quarterback.
4.Joe Milton (Tennessee)
Milton's arm is the strongest in college football. In last season's Orange Bowl, he showed the mechanics he was previously lacking. And he's agile enough to keep the defense honest. Accuracy issues previously cost Milton starting positions at Michigan and then Tennessee, but UT staff insist Milton is a different quarterback than when he made the move two years ago. If anyone can turn Milton from raw talent into a polished passer, it's Josh Heupel.
5. Carson Beck (Georgia)
Beck is a prototypical drop-back passer who's comfortable in the pocket. As Georgia's replacement for Bennett, he proved accurate. He shone in Georgia's spring game, suggesting he's ready for a star performance. Being the starter puts a quarterback in different situations than the cleanup duty and all Kirby Smart told ESPN, Beck will have to prove himself if the defense “rips him to death.” However, all signs point to Beck keeping the Georgia offensive going.
6. Spencer Rattler (South Carolina)
Rattler's production varies widely. On days when he's at his best, he could be number 1 on this list. When he's doing badly, he's in the bottom third. However, there are few who can match his skills and he has shown his skill in the last three games of last season, which included upsets against Tennessee and Clemson. Prior to mid-November, however, Rattler had thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. When Rattler shows consistency, he's a talent for all conferences.
7. Will Rogers (Mississippi State)
Rogers threw for more than 10,600 yards on Mike Leach's airstrike. His arm strength won't stand out and he hasn't claimed the field much, but he's accurate. MSU changes systems. Rogers will get a chance to incorporate run-pass option plays and more downfield throws and make more use of his legs. He welcomes the change, but it's not yet clear if this is a misunderstanding with a good cause or if Rogers' cap is higher.
8. Jaxson Dart (Ole Miss)
Like Rattler, the gap between Dart's floor and ceiling is larger than most. He's a hard-nosed runner, an asset to Lane Kiffin's fastbreak system. And he's heavily armed. But in his first season as an Ole Miss starter, he failed at decision-making all too often and he faltered in the red zone. Kiffin grabbed multiple transfer quarterbacks. Dart kept the job. His off-season progress must carry over to fall Saturdays.
9. Jalen Milroe (Alabama)
There aren't many quarterbacks who are more athletic than Milroe, though He still has work to do to secure Alabama's starting job. Alabama needs more ball control, poise and consistency from Milroe than what he offered as a replacement for Bryce Young or in the spring. Milroe's raw skills might plague a defense, but it takes more than that to be Nick Saban's quarterback. However, watch Milroe burst with a read option and its alluring potential is evident.
10. Conner Weigman (Texas A&M)
Weigman's last performance as a freshman became his best, a quiet performance in a November upset against LSU. He will have a wealth of positional mastery talents around him. Working with new offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino should help his development. As a five-star recruit, he gained a high reputation for his sportsmanship. Can he set fire to a defense with his arm? We haven't seen that yet.
11. Payton Thorne (Auburn)
Would the real Thorne please stand up? In 2021, Thorne was one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten at Michigan State. Last season he crashed down the charts after the talent around him waned. The biggest downer for him: He throws too many interceptions, 21 in the last two seasons. Praised for his tenacity and leadership, he is a passer good enough to make Auburn more dynamic.
12. Brady Cook (Missouri)
Cook is brave and challenges his opponents with his legs, but his ability to get the upper hand on defense was limited. He delivered a strong November and underwent off-season shoulder surgery, opening the possibility of a better comeback this season. Coach Eliah Drinkwitz describes Cook as a relentless competitor and he values his experience, tenacity and speed.
13. AJ Swann (Vanderbilt)
Swann grew decided to improve his mechanics this offseason After a promising season as a freshman, he struggled fiercely against some of the SEC's better defenses. Vanderbilt's SEC wins over Florida and Kentucky came at a time when Swann was out through injury. Coach Clark Lea likes Swann's big-play ability, but he would like more consistency from the sophomore starter.
14. Graham Mertz (Florida)
Mertz tallyed 26 interceptions in three seasons for Wisconsin and has not completed more than 60% of his passes as of 2020. Last year he had a lot of problems against Big Ten opponents. In four starts last November, he averaged just 11.3 completed passes and struggled in the spring game in Florida. Coach Billy Napier talks about Mertz's experience and leadership but he needs to step up his game.