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Spring Football 2023: Breaking Down the 10 Most Important Quarterback Competitions

Jalen Milroe, Alabama

As the calendar flips to April, we move one more month closer to the start of the 2023 college football season. There's still plenty of time between now and then, but spring practice and spring games give us a nice appetizer to carry us through the summer months. It's one of the first times for many quarterbacks in position battles across the country to make a strong impression, all of which will have a major impact on the college football landscape this season. These ten battles are the most important ones to watch throughout the spring and into summer.

Alabama Crimson Tide

Competitors: Jalen Milroe (RSo.), Ty Simpson (RFr.)

Things will look quite different for Alabama's offense this fall, as Bryce Young takes his talents to the NFL and Tommy Rees takes over as offensive coordinator. There's no sugarcoating how big of a loss Young will be, arguably the best quarterback of the Nick Saban era. Yet, there's at least some returning experience here, as redshirt sophomore Jalen Milroe started the Texas A&M game and saw action in eight contests. That slight edge in experience should give Milroe the upper hand in the Tide quarterback competition, but he'll have his work cut out for him holding off redshirt freshman Ty Simpson. The former blue-chipper maintained his redshirt despite seeing game action in 2022, and has the physical tools to be a star under center. This pair seems to have varying strengths; Milroe is a dual-threat with game-breaking ability, while Simpson is a bit more of your prototypical pocket passer. That could be important, as the hire of Tommy Rees should naturally have a major influence here. Rees ran a pro-style, traditional scheme while at Notre Dame and the expectation is that the offense will look a bit more like what Saban used to run in the earlier 2010s. If that is indeed the case, it seems to cater to Simpson's strengths, who has come out and reportedly had a strong spring. If he can follow it up with an impressive showing in fall camp, it seems like a fairly good bet he'll be the starter when Alabama takes the field against Middle Tennessee on September 2nd.

Favorite: Simpson

Cincinnati Bearcats

Competitors: Ben Bryant (RSr.), Emory Jones (RSr.), Evan Prater (RJr.)

After arguably the most successful stretch in program history, Cincinnati is off to the Big 12 with a new head coach leading the way. Scott Satterfield starts anew after a four-year stint at Louisville that started off promising but quickly floundered. His first major decision with the Bearcats will be deciding on a starting quarterback, and there are three experienced options available. Ben Bryant started the first 11 games of 2022 and put up solid numbers across the board before a season-ending injury. He's a proven, stable option under center, but one has to wonder if either junior Evan Prater or senior Emory Jones are better fits in Satterfield's offense. Prater is a former high-profile recruit who has flashed potential, but never put it together. It was a bit disappointing that he wasn't able to break through and take away the job from Bryant a season ago, which might not be a good sign for his future prospects as a starting QB. Jones has started games at both Florida and Arizona State, but hasn't been much more than a mediocre Power Five quarterback. Satterfield and staff brought him on for a reason, but it would surprise me if he's able to hold off both Bryant and Prater in the long-term. 

Favorite: Bryant

Florida Gators

Competitors: Jack Miller (RSo.), Graham Mertz (RJr.), Max Brown (RFr.)

Billy Napier's debut campaign at Florida started off with a massive home win over Utah before derailing, as the Gators limped into the offseason at 6-7. As Napier and the Gators gear up for 2023, there's a sense of pressure permeating throughout the program. Florida brass will need to see progress this fall, which means the ongoing QB battle will be crucial for Napier and his long-term future here. In the midst of the battle are two former transfers from Big Ten country, Jack Miller from Ohio State and Graham Mertz from Wisconsin. Miller never really got a chance to show what he could do at OSU and then backed up Anthony Richardson in 2022. With Richardson skipping out of the Las Vegas Bowl, it was the ideal opportunity for him to grab hold of the job. Instead, he went 13-22 and threw for 180 yards in a blowout loss, an extremely underwhelming debut for the former four-star recruit. Napier and staff were active in the transfer portal, with the result being Mertz, who started 32 games over three years in Madison. Aside from a dominant debut back in 2020 against Illinois, Mertz had a rough go of it, finishing with a 38-26 TD-INT ratio and a 19-13 starting record. Even so, it's hard to find any quarterback who has started 30-plus games at the Power Five level and Mertz has arm talent, even if it hasn't always translated to on-field success. Napier and his staff brought him on for a reason and I think he should be the favorite to start right now, although Miller and Max Brown, a raw but talented redshirt freshman, will be firmly in the mix.

Favorite: Mertz

Georgia Bulldogs

Competitors: Brock Vandagriff (RSo.), Carson Beck (Jr.), Gunner Stockton (RFr.)

The quest for a third consecutive National Title is underway at Georgia, but identifying a new starting quarterback will be chief priority for Kirby Smart and company this offseason. A trio of talented, but inexperienced, options reside in Athens, all with their pros and cons. Junior Carson Beck is the veteran of the quarterback room, set to enter his fourth year in the program. After barely playing in 2020 and 2021, Beck played in seven games last season and played well. He was 26-35 for 310 yards and four touchdowns, but nearly all of that was in garbage time against inferior foes. Competing with him is redshirt sophomore Brock Vandagriff and redshirt freshman Gunner Stockton. Vandagriff has a huge arm and can make defenders miss with his legs, but simply has not seen enough action at the collegiate level to be considered a frontrunner here. Stockton hasn't either, but is a well-rounded young quarterback who has a close relationship with new offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. There doesn't seem to be a real favorite at this point in the process, although Beck's experience is a selling point, but the Bulldogs will have ample time to figure it out. Not only are there several months between now and the start of the 2023 season, Georgia has one of the softest non-conference schedules in FBS ball this year.

Favorite: Beck

NC State Wolfpack

Competitors: Brennan Armstrong (Sr.), M.J. Morris (So.)

Devin Leary is off to Kentucky, leaving the door open for a new signal-caller in Raleigh. Most assume that Leary transferred because of the impressive play by M.J. Morris during his freshman campaign, but the soon-to-be sophomore doesn't have the position on lock. NC State brought in veteran QB Brennan Armstrong from Virginia over the offseason as a one-year rental, and paired him with his old play-caller, OC Robert Anae. It's a low-risk, high-reward move by the Wolfpack if Armstrong can regain his old 2021 form. He surpassed over 4,000 yards passing that year and added 31 touchdowns, while adding a nice running element. One year later, it became clear that the absence of Anae, who had take the OC job at Syracuse, was a major issue and Armstrong was one of the most disappointing in the country. Will his old play-caller help him go out with a grand finale, or was 2021 merely an aberation? Morris will be breathing down his back after impressing when Leary was out with injury, but the job appears to be Armstrong's to loss, at least for the time being.

Favorite: Armstrong

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Competitors: Casey Thompson (Sr.), Chubba Purdy (RSo.), Jeff Sims (Jr.)

A new staff always shakes things up, as is the case in Lincoln. The Matt Rhule era has begun and despite the fact returning starter Casey Thompson is back, a QB battle is unfolding. Thompson put together a solid season in 2022 despite Nebraska's struggles, finishing with 2,407 yards and 17 touchdowns. However, turnovers continue to be a problem for the veteran, and he's still working his way back from shoulder surgery. That opens the door for Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Sims, who started 23 games over three seasons with the Yellow Jackets. Sims was impressive as a true freshman during the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, but dealt with injuries and poor play over the next two years. He can make things happen with his legs, but accuracy remains a problem. There's also Chubba Purdy, who has started games with Florida State and Nebraska, but remains more of a long shot than serious contender for this job. It wouldn't shock me if he enters the transfer portal and heads to another destination in the spring window. Overall, Thompson holds a slight edge in terms of experience, at least in Lincoln, but the new staff has no loyalties to him. Add in the fact he's still not 100 percent, Sims has a good chance to get the inside track to the starting gig as we head into summer.

Favorite: Sims

Ohio State Buckeyes

Competitors: Kyle McCord (Jr.), Devin Brown (So.)

There's no quarterback competition more important in the Big Ten than the battle brewing in Columbus. Junior Kyle McCord is competing against sophomore Devin Brown to take over the starting job vacated by C.J. Stroud. Whoever comes out on top will have the chance to enjoy one of the nation's best receiver corps, headlined by Marvin Harrison Jr. McCord is the slight favorite, set to enter his third year in the program in 2023. McCord came in as a true freshman and impressed the Buckeyes with his arm talent and poise, and was considered a serious challenger for the starting job before Stroud won it. Since, McCord has thrown a total of 58 passes over the last two years, nearly all of them being in garbage time. On the other side, there's Devin Brown, who enrolled early in January of 2022 and has yet to attempt a collegiate pass. He saw the field just once last fall, coming in for a 1 yard run in a 56-point thumping of Toledo. While McCord has the edge in arm ability, Brown's a natural athlete and lethal with his legs. He could give this Ohio State offense a different element than they had under Stroud, who wasn't as dangerous of a runner as his predecessor, Justin Fields. Brown is still probably at a disadvantage because of the lack of experience, and McCord has had an opportunity to develop chemistry with these receivers, but on a personal note, I hope Brown wins. Why? He wears number 33. Any quarterback willing to wear such an untraditional number instantly garners my attention and admiration.

Favorite: McCord

Ole Miss Rebels

Competitors: Jaxson Dart (Jr.), Spencer Sanders (Sr.), Walker Howard (RFr.)

After the disappointing conclusion to the 2022 season, it appears Lane Kiffin has taken on a new strategy at Ole Miss: simply stockpiling every quarterback he can. Despite the fact the Rebels returned an incumbent starter in Jaxson Dart, Kiffin brought on Oklahoma State's longtime starter, Spencer Sanders, as well as a highly touted youngster in Walker Howard from LSU. The decision to bring in those two seems to indicate Kiffin wasn't super satisfied with Dart, who finished with 2,974 yards and 20 touchdowns a year ago. The junior has plenty of talent and can make things happen with his legs, but he just never seemed comfortable in this offense in 2022. You would think another offseason would work wonders, but now Dart will be competing for first-team reps with two others. Sanders has to be considered the more serious competitor, at least in regards to 2023. He spent five seasons with Oklahoma State and started 42 games, finishing with nearly 10,000 passing yards and 85 total touchdowns. He's proven to be a capable Power Five quarterback, but never really had his breakthrough under Mike Gundy. Could that change under Kiffin? As for Walker Howard, this appears to be more of a long-term play for Kiffin, as the redshirt freshman is still incredibly raw. That should bring some clarity to this position battle, but it remains one of the most fascinating in college football and one of the toughest to get a read on. At the end of the day, Kiffin brought on Sanders and the veteran transferred here for a reason, and that's not to sit on the bench.

Favorite: Sanders

Tennessee Volunteers

Competitors: Joe Milton (Sr.), Nico Iamaleava (Fr.)

It's easy to forget that prior to his season-ending injury, Hendon Hooker was considered a Heisman frontrunner. He took full advantage of his opportunity in a wide-open, QB-friendly offense and thrived, likely cementing himself as a Day One or Day Two NFL Draft selection. Which quarterback is next to take the reigns of Josh Heupel's offense? One would assume it will be former Michigan transfer Joe Milton, who started several contests in 2021 and led the Volunteers to a smashing Orange Bowl victory over Clemson. However, he will still have to hold off true freshman Nico Iamaleava, who may be the most hyped recruit in Tennessee history. Some view him, not Arch Manning, as the best QB in the Class of 2023 and the Volunteers weren't shy in doing whatever to secure his services, with Iamaleava signing a multimillion dollar NIL deal. Even with all the attention surrounding him, it's important to reminder Iamaleava is still just 18 years old and this is the SEC we're talking about. No, I think it will be Milton to start things out, but the moment the offense starts to struggle? Fans will be quick to call for their prized newcomer. 

UCLA Bruins

Competitors: Ethan Garbers (RJr.), Collin Schlee (Sr.), Dante Moore (Fr.)

Chip Kelly enters his sixth season in Westwood in 2023 and for the first time since he took over, he's looking for a new starting quarterback. Dorian Thompson-Robinson took over early on during Kelly's debut campaign and proceeded to start 48 games, finishing as the program's all-time leading passer. Now, Kelly is deciding between an interesting trio where only one, Ethan Garbers, was on the roster at this time a year ago. Garbers, a one-time Washington transfer, knows the program, but it's likely he'll be overshadowed by the pair of newcomers. That includes Kent State grad transfer Collin Schlee and Dante Moore, one of the highest-rated recruits in program history. Schlee is the veteran in the room, throwing the ball 266 times with the Golden Flashes last season. He proved to be serviceable, but one has to wonder if he'll be able to acclimate to Power Five ball. Fans are already clamoring for Moore, a former Oregon commit who has all the physical tools to be a superstar at this level. But, the reality is that he arrived on campus just weeks ago and is only 17 years old. It would come as a surprise to me if he ended up winning the starting job by the season opener, but there's no way UCLA is going to keep him off the field. It may end up being a situation where Schlee starts the year but the allure of Moore is too much to ignore and he takes over.

Favorite: Schlee

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