Last year at this time, it was easy for Nick Saban, Ryan Day and Kirby Smart.
Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Georgia’s Stetson Bennett were coming off monster seasons that included a Heisman for Young and a national title for Bennett.
No QB controversies to be found for the top three teams in the 2022 preseason AP poll.
Now all three programs are entering the unknown.
What’s the latest with the Crimson Tide after bringing in Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner? Is there any clarity for the Buckeyes or Bulldogs? And what about crowded rooms at Texas, Ole Miss and beyond?
We break down the eight most important quarterback battles to see where things stand following spring practice.
QB contenders: Tyler Buchner, Jalen Milroe, Ty Simpson
Post-spring Week 1 favorite: Tyler Buchner
How the spring affected the race: The fact Alabama brought in Buchner from Notre Dame less than a week after the A-Day spring game tells you the Crimson Tide weren’t content with what they saw from their quarterbacks during spring practice. Now, that doesn’t mean they’re ready to give up on Milroe or Simpson. It just means they wanted another option as they point toward the start of preseason practice in August. Milroe is a dynamic athlete who can give defenses fits running the ball when the play breaks down. His challenge remains cutting down on his turnovers and overall consistency throwing the ball. Simpson also is plenty talented and may end up being the guy, but he just didn’t look ready to lead a football team this spring. So when Buchner hit the transfer portal,given his ties to his former coach at Notre Dame and first-year Alabama offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, the Crimson Tide didn’t hesitate to scoop him up and reunite him with Rees.
Long-term outlook: It’s difficult to believe Buchner would come to Alabama to be a backup. He has three years of eligibility remaining and began last season as the Notre Dame starter before injuring his shoulder in Week 2 and having surgery. He returned for the bowl game and accounted for five touchdowns in a Notre Dame win. Alabama offered Buchner when he was in high school, but he opted for Notre Dame. It says a lot about both Milroe and Simpson and their belief in themselves that they didn’t transfer after Buchner came aboard. Milroe and Simpson, who have combined for 65 college passing attempts, are determined to stay and fight for the starting job. Alabama also has two more scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, freshmen Dylan Lonergan and Eli Holstein. We know this about Nick Saban: He’s going to play the best guy and the guy who wins over the locker room. Buchner’s stats at Notre Dame weren’t eye-popping, but clearly Rees thinks he’s an upgrade over what the Alabama coaches saw this spring. We’re going to find out. — Chris Low
QB contenders: Graham Mertz, Jack Miller III
Post-spring Week 1 favorite: Graham Mertz
How the spring affected the race: It is probably fair to say the spring did not really affect the race much, as Mertz and Miller remain in a quarterback competition headed into fall practice. While we list Mertz as the favorite, based on his past experience as a starter at Wisconsin, there is still plenty of work to be done for him to win the job. Especially after neither quarterback impressed in what was the lowest-scoring spring game in Florida history, with 17 total points scored. Mertz went 18-for-29 for 244 yards and a touchdown, while Miller was 10-for-20 for 144 yards and a touchdown as both took turns with the first-team offense. Coach Billy Napier has also said the team will be active in the transfer portal to find another quarterback, so this competition may not even look the same come August.
Long-term outlook: There is no question losing five-star prospect Jaden Rashada, who left after an NIL deal reportedly fell through, has hampered the plan at quarterback. Rashada was supposed to be the future at the position, after Anthony Richardson left school to enter the NFL draft. His signing was hailed as a huge victory for Napier, until it became somewhat of an embarrassment. Now the long-term outlook must be adjusted. The Gators do not have much depth right now between Mertz, Miller and redshirt freshman Max Brown, which only puts more pressure on the staff to find somebody currently in the portal. Mertz has started 32 games but was never meant to be the long-term answer when he signed; Miller did not play well in the Las Vegas Bowl, and Brown only threw four passes in the spring game. If there is any good news, it’s that Florida already has a huge commitment from five-star QB D.J. Lagway in the class of 2024. Now the Gators just have to hold on to him. — Andrea Adelson
QB contenders: Carson Beck, Brock Vandagriff
Post-spring Week 1 favorite: Carson Beck
How the spring affected the race: Not much, if at all. Kirby Smart talked about Georgia’s ability to give their quarterbacks more reps than anyone in the country, because they almost always have a third unit and sometimes even a fourth. Beck is the quarterback with the most reps given he has been around the longest, and after an impressive performance in the spring game, he looked the part. Smart said, “I was really pleased with all three quarterbacks and what you saw today was some of what we’ve seen all spring. We have three good quarterbacks who can make the throws and do a really good job. I was pleased with those guys.” It should be noted Smart also went out of his way to mention Vandagriff had some passes that were dropped.
Long-term outlook: It’s safe to say Beck is going to be the first to get a shot as the starting quarterback to begin the season. However, if he were to struggle, Georgia’s schedule allows the Bulldogs to experiment and figure out who really is the best fit for the offense. Georgia’s first four games are at home, against UT-Martin, Ball State, South Carolina and UAB. Smart hasn’t been afraid to switch things up at quarterback when they haven’t worked in the past, so I don’t think people should expect this season to be any different, especially with Georgia feeling like they can get a third consecutive title. — Harry Lyles Jr.
QB Contenders: Kyle McCord, Devin Brown
Post-spring Week 1 favorite: Kyle McCord
How the spring affected the race: Both quarterbacks shared first-team reps, but there wasn’t enough separation to name a starter. Brown missed the spring game after undergoing a procedure on a finger on his throwing hand. In his absence, McCord had a rather pedestrian performance, completing 18-of-34 passes for 184 yards and one touchdown. Some of that was a product of a limited wide receivers group and inconsistent offensive line. It’s McCord’s third season in the offense, and he has an edge in experience. Coach Ryan Day told ESPN this spring that McCord “understands how defenses are trying to attack them,” has changed his body this offseason and has a strong, accurate arm. Day said while Brown hasn’t had as much time in the offense, he’s learned quickly. “I’ve been very impressed with the amount of information he’s been able to process in a short period of time,” Day said. “Very good athlete, can move and change direction very well.”
Long-term outlook: Ohio State had a hole to fill after Dylan Raiola, the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2024 class, decommitted in December, but last month the Buckeyes lured in quarterback Air Noland for the 2024 season. Noland, a 6-foot-3 pocket passer from Fairburn, Georgia, had interest from Alabama, Arkansas, Clemson, Miami, Oregon and Texas A&M. As a junior, Noland had 4,095 yards passing with 55 touchdowns to four interceptions. He also rushed for 156 yards and five touchdowns. Ohio State also has three-star quarterback Lincoln Kienholz, who flipped from Washington and committed in 2023. — Heather Dinich
QB contenders: Jaxson Dart, Spencer Sanders, Walker Howard
Post-spring Week 1 favorite: Jaxson Dart
How the spring affected the race: The Ole Miss coaches couldn’t have been happier with Dart and the way he performed this spring. In some ways, bringing in Sanders and Howard may have lit a fire under him, as he clearly took it to the next level with his decision-making and consistency in leading the offense on scoring drives. Dart, who started 12 of 13 games last season after transferring from USC, only had one turnover all spring. Sanders was limited by a shoulder injury but made up ground as he became healthier. He saved his best for last and was the Rebels’ most impressive quarterback in the spring game. Sanders, who accounted for 85 career touchdowns at Oklahoma State in four years as a starter, is a perfect fit for what Ole Miss does in its quarterback run game. Howard, a former 5-star recruit at LSU, showcased his ability to throw the deep ball and generated a lot of explosive plays, but he also turned the ball over and is still probably a year away from being a serious candidate for the starting job.
Long-term outlook: Dart was good enough (and consistent enough) in the spring that it’s going to be difficult for anyone to unseat him. What he did better than anybody was get the ball into the end zone, and that’s the ultimate measure of a quarterback. But to say Sanders, especially with all of his experience and athleticism, is too far behind to catch Dart would be premature. And who’s to say both quarterbacks won’t contribute in some form or fashion in 2023? Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin has been adamant that he’s going to build the most talented roster he can, and he knows as well as anyone you can never have enough good quarterbacks. Ole Miss goes so fast on offense it helps to have as many reps as possible in that system. For Dart, everything seemed to slow down this spring, and his footwork, timing and rhythm were all improved. Ole Miss doesn’t have to name a starter until more than three months from now. But if that decision had to be made today, it would be Dart. — Low
QB contenders: Joe Milton III, Nico Iamaleava
Post-spring Week 1 favorite: Joe Milton III
How the spring affected the race: It was Milton’s job to lose, especially given the way he played when he filled in at the end of last season for the injured Hendon Hooker. Milton was excellent against a talented Clemson defense in Tennessee’s 31-14 Orange Bowl win over the Tigers, and he built on that success this spring. The best news for the Vols is they had an ultra-talented freshman pushing Milton all spring in Iamaleava, who arrived on campus back in December and went through the bowl practices. There’s a ton of hype surrounding Iamaleava, who has elite arm talent, but Tennessee coach Josh Heupel was impressed with the way Iamaleava came to practice every day determined to get better, never showed any entitlement and soaked up everything he could from Milton. During the early part of his Tennessee career, Milton was prone to overthrowing receivers and getting too amped up. He showed this spring he’s capable of playing within the system, making big plays and being a leader on the team.
Long-term outlook: Heupel and the entire offensive staff are excited to see Milton operate now that he knows (and the team knows) that he’s clearly the man at quarterback. Milton beat out Hooker as the starter when he transferred from Michigan, but it became clear a few games into the 2021 season that Hooker was the better quarterback. Milton knows the 2023 season is his chance to make the kind of jump that Hooker did, and at 6-5, 242 pounds and with an arm that’s one of the strongest in college football, Milton has all the tools to blossom into one of the top quarterbacks in the country. He will also be a monster in short-yardage situations with his ability to run but consistency will be the key. He has to prove he can do it over the course of the entire season, and all the while, the Vols know they have their quarterback of the future ready (Iamaleava) if Milton stumbles or experiences injury problems. — Low
QB contenders: Quinn Ewers, Maalik Murphy, Arch Manning
Post-spring Week 1 favorite: Quinn Ewers
How the spring affected the race: Sophomore Ewers was the favorite going into the spring after making 10 starts last season, and nothing this spring put any wrinkles into that plan. At the beginning of the spring, with Murphy being held back with a leg injury, much attention was on Manning, the star freshman, with coach Steve Sarkisian saying he would give Manning every opportunity to battle for the job and didn’t want to put any limits on him. But by the time the spring game rolled around, Ewers (16-for-23, 195 yards, TD) was a solid No. 1, redshirt freshman Murphy (9-for-13, 165 yards, TD) put on show of his own in his first appearance in front of Texas fans, and Manning, who played with freshmen and backups, went 5-for-13 for 30 yards. “I think it’s pretty clear to say that Quinn’s our starting quarterback and we feel very good about that,” Sarkisian said after the game.
Arch Manning receives ovation, throws 1st completion in Texas spring game
Arch Manning receives a loud ovation from the Texas fans, then throws a completion in his first pass attempt during the Longhorns’ spring game.
Long-term outlook: Ewers said he wasn’t where he wanted to be last year, when he ranked 53rd nationally in QBR (64.3), but he will helm a reloaded Texas offense that has a strong supporting cast at wide receiver and tight end. Sarkisian is enamored with Murphy’s arm strength and ability to make all the throws. He has a good problem, with three potential starting quarterbacks in his room, but it could prove to be a challenge to keep all of them in Austin. After redshirting in 2021 at Ohio State before transferring to Texas, Ewers could depart for the NFL with a strong season. The Mannings, meanwhile, knew the transition from a private school to Austin would not be an easy one, so the idea of a redshirt has never been out of the question, which is a luxury for both Manning and the Longhorns. “He’s on the right trajectory he should be on,” Sarkisian told Dallas radio station 105.3 The Fan about Manning after spring practice. “He’s a true freshman in college. He really should still be in high school. He just finished his first semester on the Forty Acres, so there’s a definite transition there. … There’s a lot of room for him to grow this summer. Ultimately, it’s a great room that we have.” — Dave Wilson
QB contenders: Dante Moore, Ethan Garbers, Collin Schlee, Justyn Martin, Chase Griffin
Post-spring Week 1 favorite: Dante Moore
How the spring affected the race: Some separation was created. While the quarterback battle in Westwood appeared to be particularly crowded after the departure of longtime Chip Kelly stalwart Dorian Thompson-Robinson, spring showed that Moore, Garbers and Schlee are the three that are truly fighting for the job. Moore was the most impressive of the bunch, which is no surprise given his five-star pedigree, but does complicate things given he’s the least experienced of the trio. Garbers has shown himself to be plenty capable in the past in limited play during the last two years and that continued this spring. Schlee, meanwhile, is the wild card. The senior arrives by way of Kent State, and while there were likely no promises made to him about a starting role, there had to have been at least an expectation that he was the favorite. After spring camp, however, it’s a three-person race.
Long-term outlook: This is a true pick-your-poison situation for Kelly, who does not appear to be in a hurry to make a decision. Garbers is the longtime backup who is familiar with the system but whose ceiling isn’t exactly soaring. Schlee is the incoming transfer who combines both talent with experience and should be good enough to keep UCLA afloat should Kelly hand him the ball. Moore, meanwhile, is the potential superstar who has already shown in spring that he is not going to settle for being second fiddle. Kelly knows Moore will be the starter sooner or later. The question is: Can he bring himself to go bold and let the true freshman start from the first snap of the season? Or will he play it safe, start Garbers or Schlee, and then eventually turn to Moore when in need of a spark? — Paolo Uggetti