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Ole Miss Football Position Group Outlook: Quarterbacks

Spoiler: the outlook is good

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 TaxAct Texas Bowl Logan Hannigan-Downs/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Big Picture:

Lane Kiffin changed the outlook of the 2022 football season with the acquisition of Southern Cal freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart from the transfer portal. Dart won a drawn-out battle with returners Luke Altmeyer and Kinkead Dent to become the starter last season, and led a successful 8-4 campaign, generally putting the Rebs in position to win and getting better as the season progressed. Dart continues to receive a lot of criticism for his play, most of which I think is unfair. As a first year starter with a mediocre receiving corps, an unfathomably terrible pass-blocking offensive line, and no consistent presence at tight end, Dart managed to finish seventh in the SEC in QB rating, behind four NFL draft picks and two locks for the 2024 draft. In addition, Dart provided more than enough running ability to keep defenses honest while trying to contain Quinshon Judkins and Zach Evans, finishing 22nd in the SEC in rushing yards, and 19th in yards per carry.

In other words, the quarterback position at Ole Miss was already in pretty good hands headed into the offseason. But with Altmeyer and Dent both transferring out in search of a better playing time situation, Lane Kiffin needed bodies in the QB room. Well… he got a lot more than just bodies, transforming the Ole Miss QB room from one with a solid starter to perhaps the deepest unit in the country.

The addition of LSU freshman Walker Howard was an enormous coup for Kiffin; Howard came in with the expectation of sitting behind Dart, but throughout Spring football, showed tremendous promise and arm talent, and absolutely shredded the secondary in the Grove Bowl.

The next addition to the QB room was as head-scratching as it was impressive. Four-year Oklahoma State starter Spencer Sanders, a former all-conference first-team QB in the Big XII, chose Ole Miss as his landing spot after electing to leave Stillwater after an apparent falling out with coach Mike Gundy. Sanders showed up in Oxford with a shoulder injury that limited him a bit during Spring practices, but still showed enough to push Jaxson Dart. Sanders also showed out in the Grove Bowl. While Dart appeared to hold onto the starting job throughout the Spring, Sanders will continue to push him through Fall camp. There had been rampant speculation that Sanders might try to leave Oxford as a grad transfer if he didn’t win the starting job, but it kinda seems too late for that now? Regardless, as long as he’s in Oxford, Sanders gives Ole Miss the ability to win big games even if Dart were to go out with injury.

Finally, Ole Miss may have signed the very last member of the entire 2023 class in Pahokee, Florida QB Austin Simmons. As we detailed in a post earlier this month, Simmons was a class of 2025 prospect, but I guess is also very good at school (?), so was able to reclassify to graduate in 2023 and report to Oxford this Fall. The former Florida commit has been re-ranked as a 2023 prospect by some of the recruiting services, and now sits as the #15 QB for the class (ahead of Marcel Reed, the long-time Rebel commit who flipped to Texas A&M at the last minute). Simmons has incredible potential, with one of the most aesthetically-pleasing throwing motions you’ll ever see, and good athleticism to boot. In a year or two, Simmons and Walker Howard could square off in one of the more interesting QB battles in all of college football.

Overall position outlook: As previously stated, Ole Miss might have the deepest QB group in the country. Jaxson Dart appears poised to take a step forward as a second-year starter, building on an already solid 2022 campaign. He’ll also have a better overall supporting cast of pass-catchers, and hopefully better pass protection. Behind him, Spencer Sanders will be easily the most experienced QB in the country who isn’t currently starting. He brings a gunslinger mentality and aggressive running style that would give the Rebels a chance to win most games on the schedule, were he called on to lead the offense. Walker Howard could definitely provide some fireworks if needed.

Biggest questions:

  1. Will Jaxson Dart make enough of a year two leap to make a difference with the Rebels’ brutal schedule? He might have to be A LOT better just to win 8 games again.
  2. Will the presence of Spencer Sanders create any locker room issues? If Dart ever has a rough patch, there will be calls to turn the keys over to the four-year Big XII starter.
  3. Will Lane Kiffin and Charlie Weiss jr. lean harder on the passing game in 2023? The Rebels were one of the most run-heavy teams in the country last year. With more experience at QB and a thin running back room behind superstar Quinshon Judkins, Ole Miss might air it out quite a bit more in 2023… or not? Trying to predict what Lane Kiffin will do is always a fool’s errand.

RCR hot taeks:

  1. Jaxson Dart will be a top-3 SEC QB in terms of QBR, likely just behind Jayden Daniels and KJ Jefferson. Dart has proved that he has the talent, the work effort, and mental toughness to be a top-tier SEC passer, and Lane Kiffin’s QB track record is unquestioned.
  2. Spencer Sanders will be called upon at some point. Look, Jaxson Dart got absolutely demolished several times last year, and the only factor likely to improve his protection in the pocket is the addition of offensive line coach John Garrison; the cast of characters on the O-line is mostly the same. Whoever is under center for Ole Miss is most likely going to take a beating this year; and with the depth at quarterback, it makes a lot of sense to give Dart a breather to clear out the cobwebs, even in a big games (Looking at you vs. Texas Tech, Lane).

Offseason overhaul grade: A+ I can’t really imagine doing a better job with a position group than Lane Kiffin did with the quarterbacks. Adding maybe the best backup QB in the country, and two future superstars, all while having a good returning starter… most programs couldn’t dream of a QB room like this.