It goes without saying that you need a good quarterback in order to be a successful college football team. While it may not wholly determine a team’s success each season if they have a quality signal-caller behind center, one doesn’t become a consistent winner without a quarterback making all the throws and executing the right decisions on offense.
That’s why the position is so important across college football and a big reason why each quarterback matchup is highlighted on the schedule each week of the season. Heading into 2017, a strong group of returning starters and a handful of big-time transfers across the country make for some extremely enticing meetings that are worth circling on the calendar. We made life a little easy on you and did just that for most major conferences so you know just what to watch for when teams hit the field this year.
The ACC has really been a league that has elevated itself thanks to strong quarterback play in recent years and this season’s crop will once again be an impressive one at the top with some quality depth to boot. With that in mind, here are the top 10 signal-caller matchups involving conference teams for 2017:
1. Lamar Jackson (Louisville) vs. Deondre Francois (Florida State) – Oct. 21 (Tallahassee, Fla.)
You don’t have to look too hard to find the early candidate for game of the year in the ACC, as Louisville’s trip to Florida State could very well determine who winds up in Charlotte later in the year. This matchup was one that contributed heavily to Jackson winning the Heisman Trophy last season and he’ll need an equally impressive outing if he wants to make history and defend that title. Francois had a really impressive debut in taking over for a Heisman winner himself and could insert himself into the award conversation if he can come up with a big performance in this one.
2. Deondre Francois (Florida State) vs. Jalen Hurts (Alabama) – Sept. 2 (Atlanta)
The non-conference game of the year pits two top-five teams against each other in a fantastic opener at the future home of this season’s national title game. While all the attention will likely be on the two head coaches, this will also be a fascinating meeting between two rising young signal-callers under center as well. Given the caliber of defenses involved, the winner between Hurts and Francois could emerge as the favorite to eventually wind up with the Heisman.
3. Kelly Bryant (Clemson) vs. Jarrett Stidham (Auburn) – Sept. 9 (Clemson, S.C.)
The defenses ran the show during last year’s meeting between these two but something says that the offenses might have the last laugh this September. At Auburn, that optimism is buoyed by the arrival of Stidham, the highly touted transfer from Baylor. He’ll be watched closely as he gets to run Gus Malzahn’s offense and might be the most talented passer on the Plains since Cam Newton. Bryant figures to be the guy to replace departed star Deshaun Watson and will be tested right away in this one.
4. Max Browne (Pitt) vs. Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State) – Sept. 16 (Pittsburgh)
NFL scouts will surely be interested in this meeting of quality quarterbacks who both have the tools to make the jump to the next level down the road. Rudolph has a big arm and gets the benefit of launching bombs to one of the most talented receiving groups in the country. Browne is a fresh face at Pitt after transferring from USC but the former five-star recruit has a chance to thrive under center for the Panthers.
5. Max Browne (Pitt) vs. Trace McSorley (Penn State) – Sept. 9 (University Park, Pa.)
McSorley put up some very impressive numbers in leading Penn State to a Big Ten championship a year ago and will once again be one of the conference’s top signal-callers in 2017. Browne will get his first taste of this in-state rivalry game in the difficult environment of Beaver Stadium but has a chance to win over Panthers fans early.
6. Deondre Francois (Florida State) vs. Kelly Bryant (Clemson) – Nov. 11 (Clemson, S.C.)
Clemson and Florida State have annually locked into the conference’s biggest game of the season for several years now and it’s possible they will again this year despite the departure of Deshuan Watson for the Tigers. Either way, this can become a statement win on the ledger for either Francois or Bryant. Both have plenty of talent and could turn some heads around the ACC with a victory.
7. Kelly Bryant (Clemson) vs. Lamar Jackson (Louisville) – Sept. 16 (Louisville, Ky.)
Jackson dazzled in leading a near-comeback against Clemson last season and is hoping that this time around he won’t need those late game heroics in order to secure a win. The Heisman winner will be the star in this matchup but that doesn’t mean likely Tigers starter Kelly Bryant should be overlooked as he could prove to be a capable replacement for Deshaun Watson by leading his team to a victory in this one.
8. Eric Dungey (Syracuse) vs. Ryan Finley (NC State) – Sept. 30 (Raleigh, N.C.)
A meeting between Syracuse and NC State will be overlooked by all but the most ardent of ACC supporters but it presents a sneaky-good pairing of quality quarterbacks. Dungey, when healthy, was impressive running Dino Babers’ high-flying offensive system and threw for nearly 2,700 yards and 15 touchdowns despite missing the final month of the season. Finley came to Raleigh from Boise State and posted an impressive 18:8 TD-to-INT ratio to help save his new head coach’s job in 2016.
9. Lamar Jackson (Louisville) vs. David Blough (Purdue) – Sept. 2 (Indianapolis)
A lot of the attention in this one will be paid to former Louisville quarterback-turned Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm but this meeting between area rivals also will be pretty fun behind center too. Jackson will rightfully be the guy folks will tune in to see given how dazzling he is with the ball in his hands but don’t sleep on what Brohm’s system can do for Blough, who had some big numbers on a bad team a year ago.
10. Daniel Jones (Duke) vs. Clayton Thorson (Northwestern) – Sept. 9 (Durham, N.C.)
Jones is primed to make a big leap in 2017 after impressively jumping onto the scene as a freshman and throwing for nearly 2,900 yards and 16 touchdowns. The next star pupil under David Cutcliffe will be one to watch, as will his opposite number in this non-conference meeting of academic powerhouses. Thorson topped the 3,000-yard mark a season ago and could help lead the Wildcats to even greater heights in 2017.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.