Southeastern Conference teams are searching for the next Kyle Trask or Mac Jones, quarterbacks who emerged as stars in their first full season as starters.
Maybe it will be Alabama’s Bryce Young or Georgia’s JT Daniels, or some other young passer.
There are plenty of battles that appear to be ongoing since more than half the league teams ended spring practices with the quarterback competition continuing — or at least no announced starter.
Alabama’s Jones and Florida’s Trask shined once they took over the starting jobs during the 2019 season and were even better in their lone full season as starters, becoming Heisman Trophy finalists and leading their teams into the SEC championship game.
Both are waiting to hear their names called in the NFL draft this week.
Young, Jones’ backup as a freshman, is the front-runner in Tuscaloosa over Paul Tyson and freshman Jalen Milroe. But coach Nick Saban, like many of his peers, always waits until at least preseason camp to let things shake out before making a public declaration.
He called the nation’s top-rated passer in the 2020 class “the quarterback for right now,” meaning he’d be the first-teamer in the spring game.
“I think he’s showed good leadership,” Saban said during the spring. “He’s made good progress. I think he understands the offense. He’s worked hard.”
Georgia’s Daniels appears firmly entrenched as the Bulldogs’ starter after starting four games last season. His spring game performance — 324 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions — certainly didn’t hurt his cause. But the Southern Cal transfer was even better in the Peach Bowl win over Cincinnati.
Quarterback competitions around the SEC will remain a hot topic through preseason camps. A look at some of the most intriguing battles:
— Florida’s Dan Mullen has been stronger in proclaiming junior Emory Jones as the heir apparent to Trask. He has been the Gators’ primary backup the past two seasons and is more of a dual threat than Trask.
— LSU has three quarterbacks who started multiple games last season, though Myles Brennan would appear to be the favorite again. He replaced Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrows last season and was off to a good start before a torn abdominal muscle ended his season three games in.
TJ Finley logged five starts but Max Johnson replaced him for the final two games and won both in the Tigers’ disappointing follow-up to a national championship season. Freshman Garrett Nussmeier joins the group.
“There is no starting quarterback,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “They’re all competing and all four of them are very, very talented.”
— Tennessee left spring camp with another intriguing situation. Hendon Hooker, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, could face additional competition with former Michigan passer Joe Milton expected to arrive as a summer enrollee.
That would give first-year Volunteers coach Josh Heupel five scholarship quarterbacks, provided they all stick around.
— At Mississippi State, coach Mike Leach has insisted the quarterback battle was “wide open,” though Will Rogers started the final six games as a freshman. Southern Miss transfer Jack Abraham also appears to be in the mix and freshman Sawyer Robertson arrives in the summer.
— Texas A&M must replace career passing leader Kellen Mond, with sophomores Zach Calzada and Haynes King topping the list of possible successors. Coach Jimbo Fisher wouldn’t provide any clarity on the situation after the final spring scrimmage.
“Everybody’s worried about the quarterback,” Fisher said. “That’s the last thing I’m worried about. I’m not worried about the quarterback. I’m worried about the pieces around him.”
— At Arkansas, former backup KJ Jefferson is the front-runner to replace Feleipe Franks, ahead of redshirt freshman Malik Hornsby. Jefferson passed for 274 yards and three touchdowns against Missouri when Franks was out with a rib injury.
Sophomore Luke Doty is the front-runner at South Carolina, where he’s the only quarterback on the roster with experience. Ryan Hilinksi transferred to Northwestern.
— Kentucky’s battle appears to be between Beau Allen and Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood.
___ AP Sports Writers Teresa Walker, Brett Martel, Kristie Rieken and Pete Iacobelli contributed to this report.
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