Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield will be at the forefront of the Big 12's most intriguing QB pairings this fall
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.
With the league’s emphasis on high-flying offense, the Big 12 in particular cranks out numerous quality quarterbacks every season so here are the top 10 matchups involving the conference’s teams for 2017:
1. Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) vs. J.T. Barrett (Ohio State) – Sept. 9 (Columbus, Ohio)
It seems like Mayfield and Barrett have been on the national college football scene forever but thankfully for fans of both sides everybody will be able to take in one last meeting between the two star quarterbacks this year in Columbus. Last season’s meeting resulted in a victory for Barrett behind his four touchdown passes so Mayfield will no doubt be looking for a little revenge and even better numbers when the rematch rolls around in September.
2. Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) vs. Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State) – Nov. 4 (Stillwater, Okla.)
The Big 12 has returned to having a championship game at the end of the year but for several seasons it wasn’t an issue for the conference as the Bedlam game acted as a de facto one at the end of the regular season. That won’t exactly be the case once again in 2017 but the thrilling annual rivalry contest will still bring the goods when it comes to a top-tier quarterback matchup between the flashy Mayfield and the strong-armed Rudolph.
3. Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) vs. Shane Buechele (Texas) – Oct. 14 (Dallas)
The Red River Showdown is annually one of the must-see games on the Big 12 slate and more often than not comes with some serious national expectations. That will likely be the case once again this year with the addition of Tom Herman to spice things up on the Longhorns’ side but don’t overlook the fun battle under center between Austin native Mayfield and his opposite number in burnt orange who had an impressive freshman year in 2016.
4. Shane Buechele (Texas) vs. Sam Darnold (USC) – Sept. 16 (Los Angeles)
You would have to search far and wide to find a college football fan who doesn’t have fond memories of the epic national title game that Texas and USC staged over a decade ago and their rematch in 2017 will no doubt be one of the highlights of the non-conference slate. Darnold is considered by many to be a future No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft after a stellar debut for the Trojans a year ago that was capped off with a thrilling Rose Bowl comeback. Buechele is no slouch in this meeting though having thrown for more than 3,000 yards as a freshman himself.
5. Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State) vs. Will Grier (West Virginia) – Oct. 28 (Morgantown, W.Va.)
In terms of pure throwing ability, these two might just be tops in the Big 12 and we’ll find out who can get the better of who when they meet in Morgantown late in the season. Rudolph is a top-tier NFL prospect at the position and gets the benefit of one of the best receiving corps in the country to throw to. Grier flashed plenty of talent as a true freshman at Florida (10 touchdowns in six games) and should operate a really dynamic offense under Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital.
6. Nic Shimonek (Texas Tech) vs. Blake Barnett (Arizona State) – Sept. 16 (Lubbock, Texas)
Shimonek will have big shoes to fill in replacing Patrick Mahomes but it goes without saying that Texas Tech’s starting quarterbacks are safe bets to put up big numbers and he’s next in line. The Red Raiders’ big non-conference test will come in Lubbock this year as they host the Sun Devils and that means a visit from Barnett, a former top recruit who started for Alabama last year before transferring. Neither team has sported much of a defense the past few years so be prepared for some big numbers from each QB in this one.
7. Will Grier (West Virginia) vs. Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) – Nov. 25 (Norman, Okla.)
The regular season ends with a bang in the Big 12 thanks to these two quarterbacks squaring off in Norman for a game that very well could determine who’s going to the conference title game. Mayfield has been the league’s best player the past two seasons in leading the Sooners to a pair of titles but he’ll need to outplay Grier, who is one of the most intriguing players in the conference coming into the year.
8. Kenny Hill (TCU) vs. Jesse Ertz (Kansas State) – Oct. 14 (Manhattan, Kan.)
The days of Kenny Trill are long gone in Fort Worth but the TCU starter has a chance to close out his college career by putting up some big numbers once again for the Horned Frogs as they are set to make big strides on offense in 2017. Ertz likewise holds the keys to the Wildcats’ offense and played a huge role in leading K-State to that surprising 9-4 record last year while throwing and rushing for more than 1,000 yards. Neither one of these quarterbacks are your conventional pro-style signal-callers but each’s skill set means this will be one entertaining Big 12 game through the air and on the ground.
9. Nic Shimonek (Texas Tech) vs. Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) – Oct. 28 (Norman, Okla.)
In last year’s meeting, the Red Raiders and Sooners put up video game numbers left and right in a 66-59 game that featured an NCAA record for offensive yards. While it would be crazy to suggest a repeat of that kind of offense again, it’s not truly out of the question considering Mayfield is back for another season and Shimonek threw four touchdown passes in a little over a quarter when he had to jump into action last year.
10. Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) vs. Anu Solomon/Zach Smith (Baylor) – Sept. 23 (Waco, Texas)
Baylor’s on-field performance will be one of the more interesting storylines in the Big 12 this year as they make a stark break from the past under Matt Rhule. The new head coach will open conference play at home against one of the league’s best players in Mayfield and will have an interesting decision to make in terms of which QB will oppose him under center for the Bears. Smith showed flashes of a high ceiling last year at BU while Solomon has the legs and the arm to beat plenty of teams when he’s fully healthy. Don’t discount the different approaches to the passing game each team will bring to this matchup either.
— 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.