Predicting college football's top QB competitions entering the 2023 season

For most college football programs, preseason camp is right around the corner or began this week.

Every program has competition for starting spots, but the quarterback position will always attract the most attention. Some teams have already named replacements for stars who have departed for the NFL, while others have obvious incumbents even if the head coach has not explicitly named a starter.

In other camps, though, the battle for the starting quarterback job is wide open. Here’s a look at some of the quarterback competitions we’re closely monitoring across the country.

Alabama: Tyler Buchner vs. Jalen Milroe vs. Ty Simpson

Tyler Buchner: Buchner is a late addition to the competition to replace Bryce Young in Tuscaloosa. Buchner opened 2022 as Notre Dame’s starter but he missed most of the season due to injury. He transferred to Alabama after spring practice, rejoining Tommy Rees. Rees was Buchner’s offensive coordinator at Notre Dame who helped recruit Buchner to South Bend, but it also should be noted that Rees was still on the Notre Dame staff when it pursued and landed Sam Hartman out of the transfer portal. What does that say about Buchner?

Jalen Milroe: Milroe was Young’s backup last fall who saw significant playing time versus Arkansas and Texas A&M when Young had a shoulder injury. In those games, Milroe showcased his upside but also had issues with ball security, particularly the three turnovers in his lone start versus A&M. Milroe is electric with the ball in his hands, as evidenced by his 77-yard run versus Arkansas. But he’s still evolving as a passer and an overall decision-maker.

Ty Simpson: A top-40 prospect in the 2022 class, Simpson is entering his second on the Alabama campus. He saw brief action as a freshman, but was No. 3 on the depth chart behind Young and Milroe. He brings different skills to the table than Milroe, but has not separated himself from the pack throughout the offseason.

Prediction: Buchner. This is absolutely a guess, and I think we'll see multiple quarterbacks in Alabama’s Week 1 game versus Middle Tennessee. With Rees putting his own spin on the offense, Buchner could get the nod to start. If not, Milroe makes a lot of sense too. Based on the strengths of the personnel and how Rees has called games at Notre Dame, the Tide could lean on the running game with the quarterbacks having a part in that. There were a lot of designed runs for Buchner when he was at Notre Dame. Those plays would work for Milroe, too. In the end, Nick Saban will likely roll with the guy who avoids mistakes.

Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner (12) in action against Toledo in an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Notre Dame won 32-29. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Tyler Buchner is competing for the starting quarterback job at Alabama after transferring from Notre Dame. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Arizona State: Trenton Bourguet vs. Drew Pyne vs. Jaden Rashada

Trenton Bourguet: A former walk-on, Bourguet has been with the ASU program since 2019 and has worked his way up the depth chart. As things were crumbling at ASU last fall, Bourguet got his chance to start and showed flashes. In seven games overall with five starts, Bourguet threw for 1,490 yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions while completing 71.1% of his attempts. He won’t wow you with his physical tools, but he generally knows where to go with the ball.

Drew Pyne: Pyne started 10 games at Notre Dame last year after Buchner was injured. His numbers were respectable, but there were plenty of underwhelming outings. Pyne had a lot of uneven performances where he struggled with accuracy and decision-making. Nonetheless, he has the most experience on the roster and was quickly brought to Tempe by new ASU head coach Kenny Dillingham.

Jaden Rashada: Rashada is most-known for his tumultuous recruitment where he backed out of his commitment to Florida amid an apparent NIL deal gone bad. Rashada was released from his national letter of intent with UF and signed with ASU. He participated in spring practice and could be ASU’s quarterback of the future. A redshirt feels likely.

Prediction: Bourguet. The Sun Devils need a steady veteran presence as Dillingham looks to put his imprint on the program in Year 1. ASU has a pretty good group of skill position players but the offensive line may struggle. Bourguet can make quick, simple decisions and protect the ball. That’ll give ASU a chance to win some games.

Auburn: Robby Ashford vs. Payton Thorne

Robby Ashford: Ashford was the main QB holdover from the Bryan Harsin era as Hugh Freeze takes over at Auburn. Ashford is a dynamic athlete who rushed for 709 yards and seven touchdowns as the Tigers’ starter for most of the 2022 season, but he struggled as a passer. Ashford completed only 49.2% of his passes, and Freeze pursued QB help via the portal throughout the offseason.

Payton Thorne: Thorne was a post-spring portal entry who quickly landed at Auburn. Thorne was the starter at Michigan State in 2021 and 2022, so he has plenty of experience. His play was up-and-down and he has thrown too many interceptions at times. For his career, Thorne has thrown for 6,493 yards, 49 touchdowns and 24 interceptions.

Prediction: Thorne. Thorne is a far superior passer to Ashford. Granted, Ashford did not have many weapons to work with last year, but Freeze’s long pursuit of QB help in the portal shows he was looking for an upgrade. Thorne may not wow anyone, but Freeze and offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery know how to scheme receivers open. There will be some growing pains as he learns a new offense in a short period of time, but Thorne will likely be the Tigers' best option.

Georgia: Carson Beck vs. Gunner Stockton vs. Brock Vandagriff

Carson Beck: Beck was Stetson Bennett’s backup last season and worked with the first-team offense throughout the spring, including the spring game. Head coach Kirby Smart has not officially named a starter but he has been clear that Beck has a leg up as the Bulldogs enter preseason camp. Beck appeared in seven games last fall, completing 26 of 35 passes for 310 yards and four touchdowns.

Gunner Stockton: Stockton was a four-star recruit in the 2022 class. He redshirted last fall and is projected to be the third-string quarterback as he enters his second season with the Georgia program.

Brock Vandagriff: Vandagriff was a five-star recruit in the class of 2021. A Georgia native, he was originally committed to Oklahoma but he signed with his in-state program. Vandagriff was the third-stringer behind Bennett and Beck last fall and is expected to be Beck's backup. He’ll get his chance to make a move during fall camp.

Prediction: Beck. Georgia’s roster is so strong that a strong emphasis will be placed on overall command of the offense and simply getting the ball to play-makers. Beck, now in his fourth season with the Bulldogs, knows this offense. As long as he makes the plays needed in high-leverage situations — particularly red zone and third downs — Smart will trust him to operate the offense as UGA tries to win a third consecutive national title.

Georgia quarterback Carson Beck (15) passes in the pocket against TCU during the second half of the national championship NCAA College Football Playoff game, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
Quarterback Carson Beck saw some playing time in the national title game, a Georgia blowout of TCU. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Missouri: Brady Cook vs. Jake Garcia vs. Sam Horn

Brady Cook: Cook became Missouri’s starter in 2022, his third season with the program. His play was mixed as he dealt with a shoulder injury for the majority of the season. He threw for 2,739 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions on the year, and Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz began to utilize Cook’s running ability down the stretch. He ended up rushing for 585 yards and seven TDs on the year, including 100-yard efforts versus Tennessee and Arkansas.

Jake Garcia: Garcia was a top-50 recruit in the class of 2021 who spent his first two seasons at Miami. Garcia redshirted his first season with the Hurricanes before playing in eight games last season as the struggling Miami offense tried to find a rhythm. For the year, Garcia threw for 803 yards, five touchdowns and four INTs while completing 59.6% of his attempts.

Sam Horn: Horn was a top-100 recruit in 2022 who redshirted his first season at Missouri while also playing for the Tigers’ baseball team. He has a year in Drinkwitz’s system and will be given a legitimate chance to win the job along with Garcia.

Prediction: Cook. Cook sat out all of spring practice after having offseason shoulder surgery, but he has the most experience of this group and should have the leg up on the competition. Missouri has an underrated collection of skill players and a healthy Cook has the chance to make the offense more dynamic now that his ability to run has been unlocked. Missouri could be a sneaky good team in the SEC in 2023.

COLUMBUS, OH - APRIL 15: Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day talks with Kyle McCord #6 of the Ohio State Buckeyes during the LiFEsports Spring Game, presented by Union Home Mortgage at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on April 15, 2023. (Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day has a chat with QB Kyle McCord during the Buckeyes' spring game in April. (Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Ohio State: Kyle McCord vs. Devin Brown

Kyle McCord: McCord is entering his third season at Ohio State and was C.J. Stroud’s primary backup the past two seasons. He has appeared in 12 games during his OSU career and started versus Akron in 2021. For his career, McCord has completed 41 of 58 passes for 606 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Notably, he was a high school teammate of star receiver Marvin Harrison Jr.

Devin Brown: Brown is a year behind McCord in class as he arrived last season as a top-40 recruit who was verbally committed to USC for more than a year. Brown was OSU’s third-stringer during his true freshman season and is considered more of a running threat than McCord.

Prediction: McCord. While he isn’t as mobile as the Ohio State quarterbacks of recent memory, he has plenty of experience in Ryan Day’s system. It’s also worth noting that the Ohio State staff did not pursue any of the high-end quarterbacks in the transfer portal. Day and company know what they have in McCord and they’re ready for him to take the reins, just like Stroud after Justin Fields left for the NFL.

Ole Miss: Jaxson Dart vs. Spencer Sanders vs. Walker Howard

Jaxson Dart: Dart started three games at USC as a freshman in 2021 before transferring to Ole Miss. He won the starting job during camp last fall and had an up-and-down first year in the SEC. Lane Kiffin leaned heavily on the running game but Dart threw for 2,974 yards and 20 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. He also rushed for 614 yards and a score.

Spencer Sanders: Sanders started for four seasons at Oklahoma State and will spend his final season of college football in the SEC. Sanders threw for 9,553 yards, 67 touchdowns and 40 interceptions in his Cowboys career. He also rushed for 1,956 yards and 18 TDs at OSU. Sanders was banged up throughout the 2022 season and finished the year with a career-low completion percentage of 57.6.

Walker Howard: Howard was a five-star recruit who spent his first season redshirting at LSU. He transferred and stayed in the SEC West by choosing to play for Kiffin at Ole Miss. Kiffin has not ruled out Howard from the competition to start, but he’s viewed more as Ole Miss’ quarterback of the future.

Prediction: Dart. Dart had his struggles in his first year at Ole Miss, but said this past spring that he is far more comfortable and has seen improvements in his game. That bodes well for his ability to keep the job with Sanders as an uber-experienced backup. Media reports out of spring practice had Dart ahead of Sanders in the pecking order. Sanders was still dealing with a shoulder injury from last season, so maybe he’ll enter preseason practice in a healthier place to compete.

Mississippi quarterback Jaxson Dart (2) looks to pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)
Mississippi quarterback Jaxson Dart looks to pass during the first half against Kentucky in Oxford, Miss., on Oct. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)

Oregon State: DJ Uiagalelei vs. Ben Gulbranson vs. Aidan Chiles

Ben Gulbranson: Gulbranson started the 2022 season as Oregon State’s backup behind Chance Nolan, but Gulbranson was thrust into the starting role when Nolan was injured. The Beavers were a heavy running team, so they did not ask Gulbranson to do much. He only once attempted more than 25 passes in a game and only twice topped 200 yards passing, but he largely was effective running the offense. In all, he threw for 1,455 yards, nine touchdowns and five INTs.

DJ Uiagalelei: The No. 3 overall recruit in the class of 2020, Uiagalelei was supposed to be the heir apparent to Trevor Lawrence at Clemson. For a time, he looked like he would live up to his five-star billing, especially in his first career start at Notre Dame. But in his two seasons as the full-time starter, he was just OK as the Tigers’ offense routinely floundered. Uiagalelei eventually lost his job to Cade Klubnik and decided to transfer.

Aidan Chiles: Chiles was a four-star 2023 recruit who enrolled early at Oregon State to participate in spring practice. Behind the scenes, Chiles has made a very positive impression and is viewed as Oregon State’s quarterback of the future.

Prediction: Uiagalelei. There was a limited upside for Oregon State when Gulbranson was playing. The Beavers have a stellar running game but couldn’t really throw much. Uiagalelei struggled at Clemson, but he has the talent to open up the offense. Whether Uiagalelei will be the upgrade Oregon State needs to compete for a Pac-12 title remains to be seen, but it’d be a surprise if he wasn’t given the chance.

Texas A&M: Conner Weigman vs. Max Johnson

Max Johnson: Johnson saw extensive playing time at LSU, starting twice as a freshman in 2020 and then 12 games in 2021 before transferring to Texas A&M. He began his first season with the Aggies as a backup and then ended up starting three games before missing the rest of the season with an injury.

Conner Weigman: Weigman was a top-40 recruit in the 2022 class who ended up taking over the starting role down the stretch for the Aggies last fall. There were some freshman struggles, but he also showed some flashes of brilliance, including in a four-touchdown performance versus Ole Miss and a few stellar throws in the win over LSU.

Prediction: Weigman. Johnson has the edge in experience but he’s going to have a hard time unseating Weigman after his strong close to his freshman season. It’s a big season at A&M after the program was such a major disappointment last fall. Weigman is the higher upside player and he’ll have a deep receiving corps to work with. And if Weigman doesn’t work out, Johnson is one of the top backups in the country.

UCLA: Ethan Garbers vs. Dante Moore vs. Collin Schlee

Ethan Garbers: After beginning his career at Washington, Garbers transferred to UCLA and was the top backup to Dorian Thompson-Robinson in 2021 and 2022. Now he is looking to take over as the starter in his third season in Chip Kelly’s offense. Garbers has thrown for 599 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions over the past two seasons.

Dante Moore: A longtime Oregon commit, Moore ended up signing with UCLA and enrolling early. It was a major recruiting win for Kelly and the Bruins as Moore finished as the No. 4 overall recruit in the 2023 class at Rivals. He has the talent to see the field as a freshman and his participation in spring practice should help him get up to speed learning the UCLA offense.

Collin Schlee: Schlee comes to UCLA after four seasons at Kent State. He was a backup for most of his time with the Golden Flashes before emerging as the starter in 2022. He had a strong season, throwing for 2,109 yards and 13 touchdowns while rushing for 492 yards and four scores.

Prediction: Garbers. Garbers’ experience and comfort with the coaching staff and the offense gives him the leg up in the short term. The Bruins have an early non-conference schedule that should allow Moore to get some live reps before the Pac-12 gauntlet begins. UCLA’s first conference game is at Utah, and that would be a very tough environment for a freshman, so it may serve UCLA best to let the veteran run the offense before turning things over to Moore.