Ole Miss Football: An in-depth look at the quarterback battle entering spring practice

OXFORD, MISSISSIPPI - NOVEMBER 12: Jaxson Dart #2 of the Mississippi Rebels during the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on November 12, 2022 in Oxford, Mississippi. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
OXFORD, MISSISSIPPI - NOVEMBER 12: Jaxson Dart #2 of the Mississippi Rebels during the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on November 12, 2022 in Oxford, Mississippi. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images) /

Tuesday kicked off spring practice for Ole Miss football and we are outlining some storylines to watch for the Rebels ahead of the Grove Bowl.

There has been no shortage of news around the Ole Miss football program since the season came to a disappointing end on December 28 in the Texas Bowl where the Rebels were embarrassed 42-25 at the hands of Texas Tech.

That bowl loss was just the cherry on top of a disappointing season finish where the Rebels started hot and fizzled out down the stretch. Ole Miss started the season 7-0 and looked like they were on track to compete for the SEC west title.

They then lost in blowout fashion to LSU, turned around, and beat Texas A&M and at 8-1 there still seemed to be hope that this season could be special after a 10-win finish in 2021. That was followed by three losses in a row to end the regular season and a 1-5 finish in the back half of the year.

Lane Kiffin clearly wasn’t happy with the state of his team following the season finale and changes began to be made immediately after. Kiffin overhauled the entire defensive staff and brought in multiple players via the transfer portal including two highly touted quarterbacks to compete with current QB Jaxson Dart.

This Ole Miss football team going into spring practice could look very different come next season. Over the next couple of weeks, we will detail some storylines that we will be watching ahead of the Grove Bowl on April 15th, starting with the crowded quarterback room.

Quarterback controversy: A good thing to have or disrespect to Dart?

Jaxson Dart was the starting quarterback for the Rebels this past season. He himself was a transfer portal addition a year ago and with the addition of two other talented quarterbacks he will try to avoid becoming a victim of the system that brought him to Oxford.

Dart wasn’t perfect this past season, but he was effective, especially as an added component of the Rebels’ strong ground game along with the two-headed monster in Judkins and Evans. He threw for 2,974 yards and 20 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. He rushed for 614 more yards and a touchdown.

By all means, most Ole Miss football fans seemed content with Dart’s play and looked forward to seeing the quarterback improve in Lane Kiffin’s offense next year. Kiffin seemed to have other plans.

First came LSU transfer Walker Howard. Howard played sparingly as a freshman last year for LSU but was a very highly touted high school recruit. The former 4-star was named the Gatorade Player of the Year for Louisiana where he racked up 3,430 passing yards and 39 touchdowns in his final season.

Talented LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels kept Howard on the bench last year so Howard decided to bring his talents to Oxford and instead compete for the job with Jaxson Dart.

Next came Oklahoma State commit Spencer Sanders, just two days after Howard announced his intent to play for Ole Miss football, a move that came as a surprise to many mostly because he was a four-year starter for the Cowboys from 2019-2022 where he started a total of 44 games throwing for 9,553 yards, 67 touchdowns, and 40 interceptions in his time at Oklahoma State.

With varying levels of college football experience, any of these quarterbacks seem capable of winning the starting job and a case could be made as to why each of them should have it.

Dart is the incumbent starter in Oxford which means that he’s already had a year of experience in Lane Kiffin’s offense and he had some success running it last year. Even in some of the losses the Rebels were moving the ball and putting up points.

Only one year into his college career, Howard still has four possible years of eligibility and could be a long-term answer at quarterback for the Rebels if he wins the Job.

Sanders is the most experienced of the three quarterbacks. He’s had four years of starting experience in a power conference and brings a dual-threat skill set that Lane Kiffin loves to use. With only one year of eligibility left, Sanders seemingly wouldn’t transfer somewhere he didn’t think he would be the starting quarterback.

This will likely be the most intriguing position battle in all of college football. We will have to wait and see over the next few weeks just how it starts to play out, but even following the conclusion of the Grove Bowl we may still not have an answer as to who the quarterback of the Rebels will be entering the 2023 season as they will still have all summer and fall camp to compete for the job.