Georgia's Beck, Alabama's Milroe lead teams to SEC title game after replacing big-name QBs

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Georgia quarterback Carson Beck (15) throws to a receiver as he's pressured by Tennessee defensive back Brandon Turnage (8) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Carson Beck and Jalen Milroe had to replace big-name quarterbacks at programs with national title-or-bust expectations.

No sweat, right?

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Beck has kept No. 1 Georgia rolling after replacing two-time national champion quarterback Stetson Bennett. Milroe and No. 8 Alabama rebounded strongly from a rocky start in replacing No. 1 NFL draft pick and 2021 Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young.

Both quarterbacks have been good enough to help set up a meeting Saturday in the Southeastern Conference championship game, with playoff hopes potentially on the line. Milroe's own resurgence after a Week 3 benching for the South Florida game played a major role in helping the Crimson Tide rally from an early loss to No. 7 Texas to win 10 straight.

“I think his transformation at the quarterback position has helped us transform our entire offensive team,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "The confidence that he’s playing with, the confidence that our players have in him. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of trying to utilize the skill set that he has.

“He’s learned that the most important thing at his position is to distribute the ball. He’s done a really, really good job of that.”

That includes delivering one of the most improbable plays of the season. Milroe's fourth-and-31 touchdown pass to Isaiah Bond with 32 seconds left lifted Alabama to a 27-24 victory over Auburn in the Iron Bowl, preserving the Tide's still-shaky playoff chances.

“Absolutely insane,” Beck said. “Just a crazy play.”

Beck and the Bulldogs, meanwhile, have preserved a winning streak that has stretched to 29 games. His turning point may have come in the SEC opener against South Carolina, when Beck rallied Georgia from a 14-3 halftime deficit to win 24-14.

“I think our confidence kind of shot up from there," Beck said. "We’ve been able to pick up steam as the season has gone along.”

Beck has thrown for 3,495 yards and 22 touchdowns against six interceptions, while completing 72.4% of his passes.

Milroe has thrown for 2,526 yards and 21 touchdowns, also with six interceptions. He has run for 439 yards and 12 TDs. Milroe is third in passing efficiency and Beck eighth.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart compared Beck to "a bigger, physical version" of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.

"He is playing in a different speed than anybody else when you watch it,” Smart said.

Most importantly, they've both won. And Milroe has done something even Young couldn't do last season: lead the Tide to the SEC title game.

First, he had to spend the South Florida game watching backups Tyler Buchner and Ty Simpson share the snaps. The offense sputtered badly in a 17-3 win.

Then Milroe was back, leading the Tide to a perfect SEC season and making their biggest play in the Iron Bowl.

Milroe's exuberant postgame celebration was also notable, when he yelled in part: “Give me the Heisman!” Milroe tried to downplay his words a couple of days later.

“That was an emotional moment, so things came out that was all through emotion,” he said. “But the biggest thing was I was just so proud to be in the moment.”

Beck and Milroe are considered long shots for the Heisman, but they’re both at least in the conversation for getting to New York as a finalist. Like Bennett did last season and Young the year before.

Besides the similarities of replacing star passers, Beck and Milroe share another common ground. Beck initially committed to Alabama and switched to Georgia. Milroe had pledged to his home state Texas before flipping to 'Bama.

Now, Beck gets to face a team led by Saban, who could have been his own coach.

“I mean, that was a long time ago, but obviously a great coach, one of the greatest of all time,” Beck said. “Just stern with it, sets a standard. It’s a very similar program to Georgia and the things that we believe in, the ideals.”

And the results.

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football