The 2023 NFL draft and rookie fever dominated our timelines in late April. It was headlined by heavyweight (and lightweight) quarterbacks from the SEC.
The media speculated daily about who would win the quarterback battle to be selected first overall?
When the dust settled, Bryce Young from Alabama was selected first overall, whilst Anthony Richardson went to the Colts with the fourth pick.
Hendon Hooker and Will Levis were touted as first round prospects but they were eventually selected on day two.
On day three, two time national champion Stetson Bennett from Georgia, was a fourth round pick of the LA Rams.
Meanwhile college football hasn’t stopped. The cyclical nature of college football means as athletes move on, the teams are busy rebuilding for the coming season. Spring camps have been and gone and the summer off season programs are around the corner.
With so many openings at Quarterback in this 2 part post let’s look at the SEC’s most interesting Quarterback battles.
*Update* – Since this story was originally written Alabama have added former Notre Dame QB Tyler Buchner to their quarterback battle via the transfer portal.
Alabama Crimson Tide*
Jalen Milroe vs Ty Simpson
The Crimson Tide have a wide open quarterback battle to replace the Heisman Trophy winning Young. So far it’s been an up and down competition with neither Milroe or Simpson able to take a clear advantage. Alabama also have Eli Holstein and Dylan Lonegran on the roster. Both are true freshmen and not expected to push for snaps this year.
Jalen Milroe played in 8 games last season usually in garbage time. He did fill in as the starter when Young went down with an AC joint sprain. He completed 31/53 passes for 297 yards and 5 TD’s whilst rushing for 263 yards on 31 carries and 1 TD. He’s a physically gifted athlete who offers a dynamic rushing threat.
His decision making has been patchy at times and his throwing mechanics leave something to be desired. Milroe’s body of work in the spring game was a mixed success. He completed 19/37 passes for 245 yards and 2 TD’s but also threw two interceptions.
A red shirt freshman, Ty Simpson is a former five star recruit. He only threw 5 passes last season. He is a pocket passer who has good footwork. As a runner has good mobility when required. He also struggled in the spring game rushing for 58 yards on six carries, with a worrying 12-of-26 passing with no touchdowns and one interception.
Nick Saban delivered a strong message to his full team after the A Day, spring practice game;
“Everybody needs to ask themselves: Are they playing winning football?.” “We’ve tried to build this program here with the guys that we recruit and the people in the program.” Saban said.
“but we have had a few guys that have come in and made real impacts on the team, and if we see an opportunity to do that, we’re always looking for a way to make our team better.”
This seemed a very clear message to his Quarterbacks.
Verdict… Advantage Milroe but there’s a real prospect that the winner of this quarterback battle isn’t on the roster yet.
Joe Milton III vs Nico Iamaleava
When Josh Heupel took the reins in 2021 he brought with him Hendon Hooker and Joe Milton III.
Both transferred from their previous schools after both being benched for poor performances.
The pair battled it out before the the job was given to Milton. It was an injury to Milton that allowed Hooker to start.
Unfortunately for Milton, Hooker played to a level that meant he never gave the job back. In the last two seasons the Tennessee offense has boomed.
When Hooker went down with a season ending injury it was Joe Milton who took the baton and closed the season out leading the team to a 14-31 Orange Bowl victory over Clemson. He finished the season with a final stat line of 53 completions on 82 attempts for 971 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also ran for 77 yards on 18 carries.
Watching him carve up Clemson left many thinking that this season would be Milton’s chance to shine. The off-season hype has ramped up and social media clips of Milton launching balls 70+ yards have people declaring him “the next Anthony Richardson”.
Enter Nico Iamaleava, the mercurially talented true freshman. Iamaleava is the number 2 QB and number 3 overall recruit from the 2023 recruiting class. The 6’6” ace chose Tennessee over Alabama amongst others. His height and strong arm has already drawn comparisons to Justin Herbert and he has wowed with spectacular moments in camp and in the spring game.
So who is winning this quarterback battle?
Experience and size favour Milton. His raw tools have some scouts declaring him a future first rounder, seemingly ignoring his previous issues with accuracy and decision making.
He may be an inch shorter but he’s currently around 45 pounds heavier than Iamaleava.
Milton does seem to have the bigger arm but Iamaleava has displayed better touch and accuracy particularly on deeper passes.
This one is close… Milton has the experience but Iamaleava is deemed a generational prospect and he’s made a flying start in Tennessee.
i expect Milton to get the start. However, if Iamaleava continues his hot start and Milton wobbles, the noise will become louder for him to be the guy. I think that noise will become impossible for Josh Heupel to ignore.
Brady Cook vs Jake Garcia vs Sam Horn
Having reached bowl games in back to back seasons, there’s a feeling in Missouri that they are ready to take that next step in their programs development.
Brady Cook was last years starter but mediocre offensive performances were a major talking point. He even became a target for some of the fan base online.
Head coach Eli Drinkwitz has made it clear that he wants his team to take the next step.
“The only thing better than a little competition is a lot of competition and we just know that Brady [Cook] did a really solid job for us, but we have to play better at a lot of different places in order to get to where we want to be. We are not satisfied with being a .500 football team. We’ve got to improve and everybody has to raise their level of play.” Drinkwitz said.
“Brady missed the spring with an injury, so Jake [Garcia] was able to get accustomed, Sam [Horn] missed the spring with a baseball injury and he finished the last few weeks at full speed.”
In spite of missing time this spring recovering from a labrum injury which required surgery, Cook may start as the favourite for the job when you weigh up his overall performance last year.
Cook passed for 14 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, and 2,724 yards in 13 games.
It would be fair to say his season was a rollercoaster. An awful performance against Florida had many asking if the right decision had been made. He did get better as the season went on.
His best performance was probably in the defeat to Tennessee. He threw for 217 yards for two TD’s whilst adding over 100 yards on the ground.
Jake Garcia has transferred from Miami and due to injuries to his peers he has benefitted by taking the majority of first team reps this spring. This has been vital to his development and push to be the starter. He wouldn’t have transferred simply to be a back up.
A four star recruit, he was a top 50 recruit in his class. He won his only start for Miami against against Virginia.
With three years of eligibility remaining he will have his eyes firmly fixed on the starting job. He will need to tidy up accuracy and decision making issues which were a criticism in his time as a hurricane.
Then there’s Sam Horn, dubbed “the chosen one” and “saviour of Mizzou football”.
Horn is a dual sport athlete and was a phenom at the high school level in Georgia. He was also a top MLB prospect coming out of high school.
He was a huge recruiting coup for the Tigers and the jewel in the crown of their 2022 class. They pipped Tennessee to signing him, a school where he has several legacy and family ties.
When Cook struggled last year, there were calls for Horn to step in, but coaches ultimately deemed he wasn’t quite ready.
This seemed a sensible choice given the quality of their offensive line play. This year he has every chance of winning the starting job.
I think this is the most exciting quarterback battle in the SEC this off season and it isn’t clear yet which way they could go. What is clear is whilst Cook has the safe floor and starting experience, the team wants to progress. This leads me to believe Garcia is the lead candidate right now to start week 1 but he’ll be on a short leash with “The Saviour” Sam Horn waiting in the wings if he doesn’t tidy up those accuracy issues.