Most teams are expected to begin spring training this month, and there will be plenty of hotly contested position battles involving transfer players. Today, Rivals.com takes a look at five SEC competitions involving transfers.
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Ole Miss starting quarterback
Competitors: Jaxson Dart (return starter) vs. spencer sander (transfer from Oklahoma State) vs. Walker Howard (LSU transfer)
The battle: You’ll be hard pressed to find a more interesting quarterback battle than the one Lane Kiffin has in hand at Oxford, Miss. The Rebels will have a three-way competition for the starting role this spring as they bring back returning starter Jaxton Dart while adding Oklahoma State transfer Spencer Sanders and LSU transfer Walker Howard.
Dart, a former transfer from Southern California, is coming off a strong second season in which he threw for 2,974 yards and 20 touchdowns with 11 interceptions while adding 614 yards and one rushing score. Despite his production, he will struggle to hold off Sanders, who has racked up 9,553 yards through the air and another 1,956 on the ground for a total of 85 touchdowns over the past four seasons. Howard, the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in last year’s class, appeared in just two games for LSU last season but could be a dark horse in battle.
Prediction: Sanders. The Oklahoma State transfer was one of the most sought after quarterbacks on the portal and joins Ole Miss with only one season of eligibility remaining. That says a lot about his confidence in winning the starting job.
Florida Starting Quarterback
Competitors: Jack Miller III (return) vs. Graham Mertz (Wisconsin Transfer)
The battle: Offseason starts have depleted Florida’s quarterback room this offseason as a starter Anthony Richardson left for NFL during save Jalen Kitna was fired from the team and a four-star signer Jalen Rashada secured his release following a failed NIL venture. That left rising second redshirt student Jack Miller III to rival Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz.
After being traded from Ohio State last offseason, Miller’s only appearance came as he filled the starting role in the Las Vegas Bowl against Oregon State. He completed 13 of 22 passes for 180 yards without a touchdown or interception.
Mertz joins Florida after starting 32 games at Wisconsin over the past three seasons. The former Rivals100 member has yet to live up to his hype out of high school, throwing for 5,332 yards and 38 touchdowns with 26 interceptions while posting a 19-13 record as a starter.
Prediction: Mertz. Although Wisconsin’s transfer was unconvincing in his three seasons as a starter, his experience should earn him the first-team role.
Auburn starting RB
Competitors: Jarquez Hunter (return) vs. Brian Batty (transfer from South Florida)
The battle: Auburn loses starter Bigsby Reservoir but will still feature a busy backfield this fall. Most expect the junior to come up Jarquez Hunter to take on Bigsby’s role as top fullback. However, he will have to earn the transfer job Brain Battie, who just completed a 1,000-yard season in South Florida.
Hunter broke at the end of last season under the interim head coach carnal williams, hitting the century mark in each of its last three games. That included a career-high 134 yards on 11 carries against Alabama. The 5-foot-10, 202-pound fullback should benefit from Williams’ return to the team as well as an improved offensive line this season.
Listed at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, Battie provides a nice change of pace out of the backfield. That being said, the fastball carrier is capable of getting his head down and breaking tackles when needed.
Earlier this month, Williams said he was “ecstatic” to have Battie in his backfield next season. It’s easy to see why. Last season, Battie averaged 6.74 yards per carry, leading South Florida with 1,186 yards and eight rushing touchdowns. He also proved he was capable of producing against SEC competition, rushing for 150 yards and a touchdown in a tight Florida loss.
Prediction: Hunter. Battie will be a big part of Auburn’s offense, but Hunter has all the momentum in the race for the starting spot before the spring.
LSU starting nickel back
Competitors: Wise Ryan (return) vs. Duce Chestnut (Transfer from Syracuse)
The battle: LSU’s secondary will look very different this fall due to some major additions through the transfer portal. While the Tigers’ starting unit may shake up in many ways, we’re going to assume the transfer from Texas A&M Denver Harris and transfer from Southeast Louisiana Alexandre Zy lock the two outer roles. In this scenario, the two most likely candidates for the starting nickel role are Sage Ryan and Syracuse transfer Duce Chestnut.
Ryan, a former five-star recruit to the Class of 2021, started three games in 18 appearances during his two years with the Tigers. The second student in the rising red shirt saw a lot of reps while stepping back Neighborhood Jay in the slot last season and would be the favorite to return to the starting inside role if it weren’t for his inconsistency in coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, Ryan had a 58.8 coverage rating last season, allowing 23 receptions on 34 balls thrown his way.
That could open the door for Chestnut, assuming he doesn’t earn one of the two starting roles on the outside. The 6-foot, 198-pound defensive back started out as an outside cornerback for Syracuse the past two years, but he has the physicality to make open-field tackles and fend off bigger receivers in the middle.
In 24 starts at Syracuse, Chestnut compiled 83 tackles, including five for a loss, to go with four interceptions and nine pass breakups. He also earned a respectable 75.6 PFF coverage rating last season.
Prediction: Chestnut. A lot can happen depending on how the rest of LSU’s high school comes together. But if I choose between Chestnut or Ryan, the consistency of Syracuse’s transfer coverage gives him the edge.
Texas A&M starting cornerbacks
Competitors: Tyreek Chappell (return starter), Tony Grimes (North Carolina), Sam McCall (Florida State Transfer)
The battle: The Texas A&M secondary has been ravaged by the Portal as it has seen six defensive backs transferred from the program this offseason. Luckily for the Aggies, they were able to fire a starter in Tyreek Chappell while adding two of the top 20 players in the Rivals Transfer Ranking in Florida State’s Sam McCall (#13) and North Carolina’s Tony Grimes (#17).
Chappell was one of the Aggies’ best covering corners, allowing just 20 receptions on 42 balls thrown, according to Pro Football Focus. He led the Aggies with eight pass breakups in 11 starts.
Grimes comes to the Aggies having started 28 games for North Carolina over the past three years. The 6-foot, 195-pound defensive back has worked out and in the slot during his time with the Tar Heels but is expected to play perimeter for the Aggies.
McCall signed with Florida State as the No. 68 player overall in the class last year, but moved to Texas A&M this offseason after failing to find a home at safety or cornerback in the high school of the Seminoles. Listed at 6-foot-1, 187 pounds, he has great athleticism for his size and could be a major weapon if the Aggies can get him to play to his potential.
Prediction of Tsoukalas: Chappell and Grimes. McCall may be the most talented of the bunch, but Chappell and Grimes have the experience Texas A&M needs to rebuild its secondary.