The SEC absolutely dominated college football in 2019. The LSU Tigers couldn’t have achieved its magical national championship season without Joe Burrow under center. Tua Tagovailoa left the Alabama Crimson Tide for the NFL instead of returning to the fanbase in Tuscaloosa. Even Georgia Bulldogs’ Jake Fromm cleaned out his dorm room to head to the league after last season.
The Southeastern Conference will look like a totally new league come Fall 2020. An injection of transfer quarterbacks like Mississippi State’s K.J. Costello and Georgia’s Jamie Newman as well as some new faces on the sidelines — MSU’s Mike Leach and Ole Miss Rebels’ Lane Kiffin — will spice up the league where it just means more.
Many conference teams are all but set on their day-one signal caller. Auburn’s Bo Nix will look to build upon his impressive true freshman season. Florida Gators’ Kyle Trask is a sneaky Heisman Trophy pick. Texas A&M Aggies’ Kellen Mond could be better than both of them. The Arkansas Razorbacks won the Feleipe Franks sweepstakes. Tennessee’s Jarrett Guarantano is back in Knoxville for his redshirt senior season and Missouri is set to start former TCU transfer Shawn Robinson.
However, the holes left by players like Burrow, Tagovailoa and Fromm mean one thing: Quarterback battles. Who eventually takes over as starter for each of these SEC football programs has huge ramifications for the SEC and NCAA football.
Let’s take a look at some of the best quarterback battles heading into the 2020-21 season. I’m omitting teams like the South Carolina Gamecocks and Vanderbilt Commodores because, well, I’m not sure it’ll matter who wins those jobs.
Alabama: Mac Jones vs. Bryce Young
Mac Jones may not be the prospect Tua Tagovailoa is, but he doesn’t have to be for the Crimson Tide to stay elite. Think how good Alabama was under A.J. McCarron. That’s what Nick Saban should hope for out of the redshirt junior.
Jones took over after Tagovailoa’s season-ending injury last year and threw for 1,503 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions in 12 games. He showed his ability to lead the passing game against top-tier defenses like Auburn (335 yards, four touchdowns) and Michigan (327 yards, three touchdowns).
Where Jones has the edge is experience. Saban typically prefers players with snaps under their belts, which means true freshman Bryce Young likely will be in the wings to start the season.
However, Young was the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2020 class out of California’s Mater Dei High School. He’s a dual-threat quarterback with a much higher ceiling than Jones. If Young turns heads in spring practice and Jones stumbles, then who knows?
Tua’s little brother, Taulia Tagovailoa, is also in the mix here. I wouldn’t anticipate him earning the starting role, however.
LSU: Myles Brennan vs. Three Freshmen
Joe Burrow is gone. Wipe away the tears, LSU fans. On deck is junior Myles Brennan, or is he?
Brennan looks like the favorite to take over as the starting quarterback in Baton Rouge. He won’t be Burrow, and head coach Ed Orgeron knows that, but he could still be an excellent player under center and lead the Tigers back to the College Football Playoff.
The 6-foot-4 cannon-armed quarterback is the only one on LSU’s roster with collegiate game experience. In 17 career games, he’s completed 42 of 70 passes for 600 yards and two touchdowns.
Brennan still has a dominant offensive line and plenty of passing weapons to use, so it’s up to him how far the Tigers go.
“It’s Myles Brennan time and he’s gotta step up,” Orgeron told Sports Illustrated. “All of the pieces are in place, there’s a lot of people that want to come to LSU, recruiting’s going great and I’m excited about it.”
The three freshmen hoping to out-duel Brennan are Peter Parrish, Max Johnson and TJ Finley. Finley stands a ridiculous 6-foot-6 and 257 pounds and has a monster arm. Johnson was a four-star recruit and a left-handed pro-style quarterback. Parrish was on the roster in 2019 and is considered a dual-threat quarterback.
Georgia: Jamie Newman vs. Carson Beck
All signs point to Jamie Newman taking the first-team reps for the Bulldogs in Athens. The Wake Forest transfer posted a breakout season for the Demon Deacons last year and was the ACC’s best passer not named Trevor Lawrence.
The 6-foot-4 dual-threat quarterback threw for 2,868 passing yards and 26 touchdowns while running for another 574 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. Pro Football Focus ranked him the No. 3 returning college football quarterback behind only Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields.
Beck is just a freshman, but he was considered the favorite to take over before Newman’s arrival. The 6-foot-4 signal caller was a four-star prospect and ranked the No. 9 pro quarterback prospect in the 2020 class.
From Jacksonville, Florida, Beck led his high school team to a state championship as a junior as was named Florida’s “Mr. Football.”
Kentucky: Terry Wilson vs. Joey Gatewood
Terry Wilson returns from a knee injury that cost him most of last season, and he should be the starter to begin the season. However, he’ll have competition.
The dual-threat Wilson is one of five quarterbacks in Wildcats history to total more than 2,000 passing yards and 500 career rushing yards. As a junior in 2018, he threw for more than 1,800 yards and rushed for more than 500.
Gatewood transferred from Auburn after losing the starting job to Bo Nix. Rated a four-star prospect out of high school in the 2018 class, the 6-foot-5 has the wheels and arm to slot in nicely in Kentucky’s offense.
If Kentucky hopes to get back to 10 wins under Mark Stoops like it did in 2018, one of these quarterbacks will have to step up.