ATHENS — It just wouldn’t be Georgia football without a degree of a quarterback controversy, it seems. This upcoming spring session is no different.
JT Daniels is the clear-cut leader and projected starter in 2021, there’s no debating that.
But the competition for the No. 2 job between returning redshirt junior Stetson Bennett, returning freshman Carson Beck and incoming freshman Brock Vandagriff is intriguing.
Daniels, a former 5-star prospect who transferred in from Southern Cal last May, went 4-0 as the Bulldogs’ starter and rallied UGA to a last-second Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl win and fourth-straight Top 10 finish.
Georgia ranks among the preseason SEC and College Football Playoffs with Daniels expected to light up the scoreboard in Todd Monken’s second year as offensive coordinator.
But there will be plenty of competition in the quarterback’s room, to the extent it’s possible Georgia could have some attrition at the position.
Neither Bennett nor Beck has said anything or given any indication of leaving UGA.
But with the proliferation of quarterbacks in the NCAA transfer portal, it’s not an unreasonable concept.
Consider that Georgia had four scholarship quarterbacks in the QB room at this juncture last year, and only two of them were still around by the end of the 2020 season.
It’s possible none of the current Georgia quarterbacks leave prematurely after Mac Jones reminded college football that sticking around and waiting for your opportunity remains a viable option.
RELATED: Kirby Smart says Carson Beck is ‘growing, getting better’
But before last season the three previous Heisman Trophy winners were transfer quarterbacks, and the nature of the position is more conducive to transfers than any other spot.
“Quarterback is unique because there’s only one, you can only have one on the field,” Smart said last December. “You go to DB, if I’m not the best corner, then I need to go play safety, or I might play nickel, or I might play dime, so many other places to play and grow as a player and develop, where you can be patient.
“Quarterback, it’s hard, because there isn’t but one of them on the field.”
Once last season started, Georgia practices often didn’t have but one running the first-team offense and one working with the second team.
Bennett has already transferred out of UGA once, to Jones (Miss.) Junior College, before transferring back before the 2019 season to join Jake Fromm and 2019 signee D’Wan Mathis in the quarterback room.
Bennett, having earned Smart’s trust and praise last season, would seem less likely to transfer out again after the relative success he enjoyed last season in Monken’s offense.
But there’s also reason to believe Beck will stick it out. Beck comes in with a lower floor but offers a higher ceiling than Bennett with his size (6-4, 215), youth and arm strength.
Beck, like Bennett, is a stubborn competitor. Both stayed true to Georgia even as UGA added transfer Jamie Newman (less than a month after Beck signed in December), and brought in transfer Daniels last May.
Beck then sat and watched as D’Wan Mathis started the opening game at Arkansas, and Bennett was the next man up to replace Mathis when things went awry against the Razorbacks.
Beck didn’t see any action until what proved to be the final game of the regular season at Missouri. He was the third quarterback in the game, entering on the final series, and handing off five times as the Bulldogs worked to run time off the clock.
It’s hard to draw any conclusions based on last season.
The limitations brought about by COVID-19 — the elimination of the 15 spring practices — affected Beck more than any other quarterback on the roster because of his inexperience.
A bigger, better and stronger Beck than a year ago is expected to be ready to compete at UGA when spring drills begin in a few weeks on March 16.
Here are three things to consider about where Beck stands:
Beck’s athleticism has never been questioned, but he wasn’t the thickest of the QB options when he reported to the Bulldogs. It’s likely a year in the weight program and eating at the training table has done him some good.
Beck is listed at 6-4, 215, just as he was last season. But this time, he’s probably closer to the 200-plus pounds he is listed at.
There’s no question that after a year of being coached up by Monken and learning from Buster Faulkner that Beck has grown as a quarterback and a potential leader.
RELATED: Carson Beck brings unmistakable confidence to QB room
Beck has had confidence since arriving, having won the Class 8A state championship in Florida as a junior, and learning to be more of a playmaker on a rebuilding team his senior season.
2. Aaron Murray’s comments
All-time SEC passing leader Aaron Murray made one of the more interesting observations last fall after watching a closed Georgia practice.
RELATED: Aaron Murray observations of Scrimmage Two
“I thought to me the guy that looked the best of all the quarterbacks yesterday was Carson Beck,” Murray said last August. “Lucky for him he was going against the No. 2 defense, not that vaunted No. 1 defense that UGA is going to be able to put there this fall.
“Big, strong arm, he, just like D’Wan, made plays inside and outside the pocket. So he’s someone I’m interested in watching these next couple of years, how his development takes off within the system.”
3. Beck in demand
Some are concerned that if Beck does leave he could end up playing for a team that would encounter the Bulldogs down the road.
Florida, Beck’s self-proclaimed childhood favorite, is the nightmare scenario some have voiced. Not only would Beck be taking his talents to a rival school, but the UGA playbook would travel with him, as well.
Then there’s Beck’s history with Lane Kiffin. His first public offer, per his 247Sports timeline, was from Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic program on May 1, 2018.
Beck’s first commitment was to Alabama in 2018, when current Maryland head coach Mike Locksley was the offensive coordinator. Locksley is now the Maryland head coach.
There were other offers: From Miami, South Florida, Georgia Tech, Penn State and Purdue.
For now, it’s all conjecture. It’s expected to play out behind those closed gates on the practice fields behind Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, and in the Sanford Stadium scrimmages.