As the season draws near, college football programs across the country are beginning to turn the page from fall camp to game prep. As we’ve seen in many years under Mark Stoops at Kentucky, this is typically the time when quarterbacks earn the title “starter.” A few noteworthy names recently received that recognition, but there are still a few holdouts across the SEC.
The biggest news over the weekend was in Athens. Following Georgia’s second preseason scrimmage, Kirby Smart named Carson Beck the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback, confirming speculation that’s lingered since spring practice.
“He’s done the best job,” said the Georgia head football coach. “We communicated that early in the week to the other quarterbacks.”
The announcement is probably the last big one you’ll receive this preseason. Earlier in the week Hugh Freeze shook things up by picking Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne over Robby Ashford. Before we get into the ongoing quarterback competitions, here’s who else is expected to start on day one across the SEC.
Arkansas: KJ Jefferson
Auburn: Payton Thorne
Florida: Graham Mertz
Georgia: Carson Beck
Kentucky: Devin Leary
LSU: Jayden Daniels
Mississippi State: Will Rogers
South Carolina: Spencer Rattler
Tennessee: Joe Milton
Texas A&M: Conner Weigman
Vanderbilt: AJ Swann
Gamesmanship with the Starting Quarterback
There are two primary reasons why a coach will not name a starting quarterback before the start of the season. In most cases, it’s just a little gamesmanship from the head coach. They don’t feel the need to show their hand, so they will not tip off the opponent.
It feels like Nick Saban is using a little gamesmanship in Tuscaloosa. The Alabama head coach declined to name a starter on Saturday. “They all got to play,” he said. Does it mean he will actually rotate between Jalen Milroe, Ty Simpson and Tyler Buchner? With two dual-threat options and a traditional pocket-passer, he’s keeping his former offensive coordinator on his toes before they open the season against Texas.
Another former Saban disciple, Lane Kiffin, is taking a page from his old boss. The Ole Miss head coach has done an outstanding job distracting the masses from his quarterback competition. Most assume Jaxson Dart will return to that role, but the Ole Miss Twitter account shared an image of OKlahoma State transfer Spencer Sanders that had many people wondering if it was a lead worth following, or more misdirection.
Two Quarterbacks or No Quarterbacks?
The second reason head coaches wait to name a starter: the quarterbacks stink. They’ll use flowery language like, “We are challenging those guys… We want someone to earn it.” While it may be true, there’s an ongoing competition entering the season because nobody is good enough to receive a stamp of approval from the head coach.
That is what appears to be happening in Missouri. Eli Drinkwitz is going to let his players prove it on the field. Sam Horn has not completed a pass in a college football game and Brady Cook was pedestrian (14 TDs, 7INTs) in 2022.
“I think, in this day and age of college football, I think you can very easily see a couple quarterbacks play in the first couple of games and let the play on the field decide it,” Drinkwitz said Saturday. “We got to know a little bit more about some of our other quarterbacks on Friday when we went live with them.
“Some of the plays that Brady will make when he’s live — same thing with Sam — there’s a couple of plays he extends and makes throws down the field that, that he makes just because he’s such a big body. We’ll see both [of them], I anticipate, the first game, and then kind of play it from there.”
Missouri does not come to Kroger Field until Oct. 14, but they still might not have everything figured out under center.