Starting QBs return for SEC's top 4 from last season as other teams turn to backups, transfers

Fri, Apr 26, 2024
NCAAF News (AP)

Starting QBs return for SEC's top 4 from last season as other teams turn to backups, transfers

All four of the Southeastern Conference's top 10 teams in last season's final AP Top 25 return established starting quarterbacks.

Beyond that top group, there is plenty of competition and new starters, either via the transfer portal or with backups moving into the top job.

At least seven SEC teams figure to have new starting quarterbacks going into next season. It just so happens that none of them include the teams ranked between fourth and ninth to end last season: Georgia, Alabama, Missouri and Mississippi (those numbers don't count Oklahoma and Texas, who join the SEC on July 1).

The Crimson Tide no longer have Nick Saban prowling the sidelines, but they do have Jalen Milroe leading the offense. Milroe rebounded from a shaky early season to lead Alabama to the Southeastern Conference championship and into the College Football Playoff.

"I'm starving. There's some things I can get better from last year, so each and every day I'm trying to be my best me, every single time I come into the facility," said Milroe, who was sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting. "I'm challenged to do that each and every day with myself. I have goals I set for myself, short-term goals and long-term goals that I need to do to be the best quarterback in the country this season."

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Georgia has Carson Beck back at the reins for a team that fell short of getting a shot at a third straight national title last season.

Brady Cook is back at Missouri, which finished eighth for its highest final ranking in a decade, and Jaxson Dart returns to Ole Miss after leading the Rebels to their first 11-win season and a No. 9 final landing spot.

Florida got Graham Mertz back for a sixth college season. Conner Weigman returns at Texas A&M after playing in only four games because of injury. Payton Thorne is fighting to retain his starting job at Auburn.

SIGNAL CALLERS

Other teams playing catch-up have less experience at the position, at least with their current program.

Tennessee is elevating backup Nico Iamaleava, a former five-star recruit, to replace Joe Milton. He was solid in five outings, including one start as a freshman.

"Obviously, I think I have a little bit more of a grasp of the offense and what we're trying to do," Iamaleava said.

LSU turns to Garrett Nussmeier after Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels headed to the NFL. Nussmeier has played in 18 games over the past two seasons and was impressive in his last start, winning MVP honors in a bowl win over Wisconsin after Daniels opted out.

That's the traditional route. Other SEC coaches dipped into the transfer portal for new quarterbacks.

Mississippi State has to replace the SEC's No. 2 all-time passer Will Rogers, who transferred to Washington. Newcomer Blake Shapen started 23 games at Baylor.

Arkansas brought in Taylen Green from Boise State, with three-year starter KJ Jefferson leaving for UCF.

South Carolina has Robby Ashford (Auburn) competing with LaNorris Sellers to replace Spencer Rattler.

Vanderbilt nabbed Utah's Nate Johnson and former New Mexico State starter Diego Pavia.

Beck's backup at Georgia, Brock Vandagriff, transferred to Kentucky.

Georgia must replace some of Beck's biggest playmakers, including their top two rushers and tight end Brock Bowers.

"Keeping him healthy and protected is important, but also surrounding him with playmakers that can capitalize on his strengths will make us a better offense," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.

NEW COACHES

No first-year SEC coach in recent memory faces more scrutiny than Alabama's Kalen DeBoer, who led Washington to the national championship game last season. It would be the case with any coach who replaces Saban, who won six national championships in 17 seasons in Tuscaloosa.

Mike Elko takes over at Texas A&M after the Aggies fired Jimbo Fisher. Jeff Lebby, a former offensive coordinator at Oklahoma and Mississippi State rival Ole Miss, takes over the Bulldogs program.

KEY TRANSFERS

The quarterbacks get much of the attention, but plenty of teams have added key players at other positions. Ole Miss and Texas A&M topped the 247Sports transfer rankings while Alabama was fourth.

Ole Miss got former Texas A&M defensive lineman Walter Nolen. Auburn recently landed former Penn State receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith.

Alabama reclaimed left tackle Kadyn Procter, who had left for Iowa after last season. Kentucky picked up ex-Georgia linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson. The Aggies got a top pass rusher in former Purdue standout Nic Scourton. Former Oklahoma offensive lineman Cayden Green headed back to his home state at Missouri.

SEASON OPENERS

Aug. 29: Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Arkansas; Murray State at Missouri. Aug. 30: Temple at Oklahoma. Aug. 31: Notre Dame at Texas A&M, Old Dominion at South Carolina; Clemson at Georgia; Furman at Ole Miss; Eastern Kentucky at Mississippi State; Southern Miss at Kentucky; Virginia Tech at Vanderbilt; Alabama A&M at Auburn; Colorado State at Texas; Tennessee-Chattanooga at Tennessee; Miami (Florida) at Florida; Western Kentucky at Alabama. Sept. 1: USC at LSU.

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AP Sports Writers Teresa Walker and Charles Odum contributed to this report.

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More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football

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