SEC teams banking on transfer QBs to help replace departed stars

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FILE - Georgia quarterback Carson Beck (15) throws in the first half of Georgia's spring NCAA college football game, Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Athens, Ga. Coach Kirby Smart has made it clear that Carson Beck is the quarterback to beat. (AP Photo/Brett Davis, File)

The Southeastern Conference must replace much of its star power at quarterback, including a pair of top-5 draft picks and a two-time national champion.

That makes for some intriguing preseason camps around the league starting this week, especially with transfers who have already all but claimed the starting jobs or are trying to win them. Two-time national champion Georgia must replace Stetson Bennett. Perennial contender Alabama is seeking a successor to No. 1 pick Bryce Young, and Florida moves on without fourth overall selection Anthony Richardson.

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Plus, Kentucky is replacing second-round pick Will Levis and Tennessee is replacing Hendon Hooker, the SEC offensive player of the year who was a third-rounder. Bennett went in the fourth round.

The league has a handful of entrenched returning starters, led by LSU's Jayden Daniels, Arkansas' KJ Jefferson, Mississippi State's Will Rogers and South Carolina's Spencer Rattler. Others are right where Daniels was a year ago: Transfers trying to earn their stripes in a new program.

“I say just to be a successful SEC quarterback you have to go in there and just really prepare, prepare like a pro,” said Daniels, a former Arizona State player who led LSU to a Western Division title. “If not, you know, you might get exposed in this league because there are some great players out there playing against you.”

Kentucky brought in Devin Leary from North Carolina State to replace Levis and Florida scooped up ex-Wisconsin starter Graham Mertz as Richardson's likely successor. Mississippi's returning starter, Jaxson Dart, faces renewed competition from veteran Big 12 passer Spencer Sanders.

Tennessee went a more traditional route with strong-armed Joe Milton poised for a promotion from backup. And AJ Swann returns at Vanderbilt.

The big competitions entering preseason camps:

—Georgia. Coach Kirby Smart has made it clear that Carson Beck is the quarterback to beat. Beck has attempted 58 passes over the past three seasons. Third-year player Brock Vandagriff was a five-star recruit.

—Alabama. Onetime Notre Dame starter Tyler Buchner rejoined his old offensive coordinator, newly hired Tommy Rees, to challenge 2022 backup Jalen Milroe and former five-star recruit Ty Simpson. Buchner announced his decision after spring practice, when neither Crimson Tide quarterback was able to separate themselves.

—Ole Miss. This is one of the more intriguing QB scenarios in the league. Even with Dart, himself a USC transfer, coach Lane Kiffin brought in Sanders, who was a four-year starter at Oklahoma State and a 2021 first-team All-Big 12 performer. Plus, he landed LSU transfer Walker Howard. It makes for an enviable quarterback room, whoever wins the job for Kiffin.

—Florida. Mertz was a three-year starter at Wisconsin. Jack Miller passed for 180 yards and was sacked four times in a 30-3 bowl loss to Oregon State.

“This guy has an incredible motor and work ethic,” Gators coach Billy Napier said of Mertz. "He is in the building and he is fanatical about his preparation. That’s helped the competition. I think that’s caused Jack to respond. Jack has had an incredible off-season and he’s in position for a great camp.”

—Missouri. Brady Cook has started the last 14 games for the Tigers, going back to the 2022 Armed Forces Bowl. But, said coach Eliah Drinkwitz, “he's going to have his hands full holding onto that position with Sam Horn and Jake Garcia.”

Garcia played in eight games at Miami last season, and like Horn is a former four-star recruit.

—Texas A&M. Conner Weigman started four late-season games, passing for eight touchdowns without an interception. But former LSU starter Max Johnson is back after his season was cut short by a broken hand.

—Auburn. Robby Ashford was a dual-threat player last season for Auburn, but only threw seven touchdown passes. Enter Michigan State graduate transfer Payton Thorne, a 29-game starter and two-time team captain for the Spartans.

Milton, a sixth-year player who spent his first three seasons at Michigan, said there is an adjustment to joining the SEC.

“Guys, they may be 200-plus, but they’re running. Those guys are running,” the 6-foot-5, 235-pounder said. "For example, my first let’s say big SEC game, I won’t mention who it was, but I was running, and I saw the goal line. I was so happy. I’m thinking that I’m going to score, right?

“I just feel a big old hand come across my visor. I just went with it. At the same time I was thinking, This game is real. Those guys in the SEC can run and they’re fast.”


AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this report in Nashville, Tennessee.


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