Ranking the SEC’s 2024 quarterbacks: Whither OU’s Jackson Arnold?

Ranking the SEC’s 2024 quarterbacks: Whither OU’s Jackson Arnold?

The Sooners are accustomed to having the best or one of the best quarterbacks in their conference, but that might not happen in the SEC in 2024.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Mar 17, 2024, 6:00am CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Mar 17, 2024, 6:00am CDT

(This story originally appeared in Berry Tramel’s newsletter. Subscribe here.)

OU football is quite accustomed to having the best or one of the best quarterbacks in its conference. Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts, you know all about.

But Spencer Rattler made first-team all-Big 12 in 2020, and Caleb Williams was a freshman sensation in 2021.

Dillon Gabriel made first-team all-Big 12 in 2023, so only in 2022, when Gabriel was honorable mention all-conference, were the Sooners ever outclassed at that position in the Big 12.

But if OU has one of the Southeastern Conference’s best quarterbacks in 2024, it will be a surprise outside Sooner Nation. Around these parts, Jackson Arnold is considered a strength of the Oklahoma football program. With good reason.

The ballyhooed quarterback from Denton, Texas, checked all the boxes as a high-school recruit and virtually all the boxes as Gabriel’s apprentice last season. Then came an Alamo Bowl in which Arnold threw three interceptions and lost a fumble, as OU lost to Arizona 38-24.

Brent Venables last week offered a quick assessment of Arnold: “The growth has to happen everywhere. Small sample size from where he was a year ago. Some good, some not so good. Having good self-awareness, taking ownership and all the things … to get better at.

“Getting comfortable, leading, decision making, timing aspect of it. The mechanics, footwork, eyes, the trust in the guys around him, all those kinds of things. He’ll have to get better at all those things. There’s no one particular area that he needs to improve over the other. Certainly, in the 2024 season, he hasn’t taken any snaps. But he’ll be the first one to tell you he’s going to go right down that checklist.

“You feel really good about the type of leader, type of athlete and type of quarterback he’s capable of being. At the end of the day, your real judgment is on the type of teammate and leader and worker he’s been. He’s been fantastic in those areas since he’s been here.”

So Arnold still looks like the total package. But mostly internally. Externally, there are questions.

And here’s how we know. As the Sooners enter the Southeastern Conference for the 2024 season, Arnold is not considered among the SEC’s better quarterbacks.

When I ranked Big 12 QBs earlier this week, I used my judgment. I had seen most of the quarterbacks and knew quite well most of the teams, despite the conference realignment upheaval. Not so with the SEC; I don’t claim to be an expert yet on Texas A&M’s Conner Weigman or Missouri’s Brady Cook. For now, I’ll defer to others.

In recent weeks, Athlon, Yahoo, 247 Sports and Saturday Down South all have ranked SEC quarterbacks. I used a composite of those lists to determine my SEC quarterback rankings as spring practices get rolling.

Spoiler alert: Arnold does not rank high.

16. Taylen Green, Arkansas: Started 22 games over the last two seasons at Boise State, but he split time for many of those games. At Boise State, Green completed 59.5% of his passes, with 25 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

15. LaNorris Sellers, South Carolina: The Gamecocks flipped Sellers from Syracuse in December 2022, and he ended up backing up Spencer Rattler last season but threw only five passes.
14. Brock Vandagriff, Kentucky: Once committed to OU, Vandagriff instead ended up at Georgia, where he has been a three-year backup and has thrown just 21 passes. Now he’s at Kentucky, with lots of potential but little experience.
13. Payton Thorne, Auburn: Struggled after transferring from Michigan State last season. In SEC play, Thorne completed just 58.3% of his passes, with 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

12. Diego Pavia, Vanderbilt: Went from junior-college star at New Mexico Military before remarkably quarterbacking New Mexico State to back-to-back bowl games. Now he’s at Vandy, where the defenses are different from New Mexico State’s foes. But Pavia was a run-pass threat with the Aggies, rushing for 1,431 yards in two years while completing 57.9% of his passes, with 39 TD passes and 15 interceptions.

11. Blake Shapen, Mississippi State: A familiar face, having quarterbacked Baylor most of the last 2½ seasons. Shapen was solid, not spectacular, at Baylor, having completed 63.7% of his passes with the Bears, with 36 touchdowns and 13 interceptions

10. Jackson Arnold, Oklahoma: Against Arizona, Arnold completed 26 of 45 passes for 361 yards with two touchdowns, but with three interceptions and a fumble. He shows signs of greatness, but major mistakes can’t continue.

9. Graham Mertz, Florida: Didn’t arrive with a great reputation after transferring from Wisconsin, but Mertz played rather well for the Gators, completing 71.4% of his passes in SEC play, with 17 TDs and two interceptions.

8. Conner Weigman, Texas A&M: Has made four starts in each of his two Aggie seasons, after being a five-star recruit. His numbers are OK; 56.4% completions vs. five power-conference opponents, with nine TDs and two interceptions.

7. Garrett Nussmeier, LSU: In three previous seasons in Baton Rouge, Nussmeier has made only a few starts, in place of Max Johnson and Jayden Daniels. Nussmeier started the ReliaQuest Bowl victory over Wisconsin in January, completing 31 of 45 passes for 395 yards, three TDs and one interception.

6. Nico Iamaleava, Tennessee: Joe Milton’s backup last season as a true freshman, after arriving as one of the nation’s top quarterback prospects. Iamaleava quarterbacked the Vols in a Citrus Bowl victory over Iowa and played well, completing 12 of 19 for 151 yards, one TD and no interceptions.

5. Brady Cook, Missouri: Back for his fifth season at Mizzou and third as a starter, Cook completed 64.1% of his passes in SEC play, with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions.

4. Jaxson Dart, Ole Miss: What was OSU expatriate Spencer Sanders thinking, when he went to Oxford last season and tried to beat out Dart? Dart played superbly last season, his second quarterbacking the Rebels after transferring from Southern Cal. Dart completed 63.5% of his passes in SEC games, with 10 TDs and four interceptions.

3. Jalen Milroe, Alabama: Lost his job midway through last season but regained it and played well in taking ‘Bama to the national semifinals. Milroe completed 66.7% of his passes in SEC games, with 13 TDs and four interceptions. He rushed for 535 yards in all games.

2. Quinn Ewers, Texas: Made second-team all-Big 12 last season (media vote) after a rough 2022. In ‘23, Ewers completed 69% of his passes, with 22 TDs and six interceptions.

1. Carson Beck, Georgia: Played near-flawless football last season in leading the Bulldogs to a 13-1 season; 73.5% completions in SEC games, with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions.

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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