The state of college football — and indeed the world — looks a lot different now than it did a year ago heading into the start of a new season. As a result of the COIVD-19 pandemic, we don't really know what to expect on the gridiron this fall nor how, exactly, things might play out both between the lines and outside of them.
Given such uncertainty surrounding the upcoming campaign, it will be more important than ever for teams to have a quarterback they can rely on to deliver the big play and secure those crucial wins. There's no position more important on the field and a good signal-caller can certainly be the difference between a conference title and trip to the playoff or being on the wrong end of an upset.
No league may have quite the claim to depth that the Big Ten does under center, with high-end talent that could go No. 1 overall in the draft all the way down to a promising new wave of starters. With that in mind, here are the best matchups between quarterbacks in the league as the Big Ten intends to play a conference-only schedule in 2020:
Note: Games listed below are subject to change.
1. Justin Fields (Ohio State) at Sean Clifford (Penn State)
While we don't know how the season will play out, this meeting between the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions has always had high stakes and could once again carry division, conference, and College Football Playoff implications come kickoff in Happy Valley. Fields is among the Heisman Trophy front-runners after such an incredible effort last year in his first campaign in Columbus and you can bet he'll be energized to keep showcasing his pinpoint passing and dangerous dual-threat ability. Clifford has plenty of experience under his belt in big games too and should benefit greatly from new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca's new offense.
2. Adrian Martinez (Nebraska) at Justin Fields (Ohio State)
Scott Frost's tenure in Lincoln hasn't quite gone as planned but at a minimum, he's firmly found a quarterback to build around in Martinez, who has had to battle to stay completely healthy but is one of the more dynamic players at the position. The only one who might be able to best him that category in the Big Ten is undoubtedly Fields, who is one of the best in the sport and rightfully on every award's shortlist with the Buckeyes. Expect plenty of explosive plays on every series when the two clash at the Horseshoe.
3. Tanner Morgan (Minnesota) at Adrian Martinez (Nebraska)
A knee injury knocked Martinez out of this one last year and Morgan took a back seat to his backfield in the Golden Gophers' eventual thrashing of the Cornhuskers. Expect both QBs to play a more central role in the 2020 go-around, which could play a role in the Big Ten West race. The 6-foot-2 signal-callers can beat you in different ways but should combine to create a fun back-and-forth to end the regular season this time around.
4. Michael Penix Jr. (Indiana) at Justin Fields (Ohio State)
The Hoosiers were 5-1 in games Penix played in a year ago and there's a lot riding on him helping the program take the next step in conference play. IU has had their close calls in taking down some of the Big Ten's best teams but hasn't gotten over the hump. Could 2020 be a different case? We'll see if Penix can get the job done at the 'Shoe against Fields and company.
5. Sean Clifford (Penn State) at Adrian Martinez (Nebraska)
Both players have been around the block in the Big Ten and will face off in what should be a critical tilt in Lincoln. If the Nittany Lions want to keep pace in the conference race, they'll need their A-game out of Clifford on the road while Martinez' dual-threat nature could lend the Cornhuskers a big assist in delivering a signature win at home.
Best of the rest:
- Dylan McCaffrey (Michigan) vs. Justin Fields (Ohio State)
- Peyton Ramsey (Northwestern) at Sean Clifford (Penn State)
- Sean Clifford (Penn State) at Dylan McCaffrey (Michigan)
- Tanner Morgan (Minnesota) at Jack Coan (Wisconsin)
- Adrian Martinez (Nebraska) at Noah Vedral (Rutgers)
- Justin Fields (Ohio State) at Josh Jackson (Maryland)
- Peyton Ramsey (Northwestern) at Tanner Morgan (Minnesota)
Will be missed due to COVID-19:
- Justin Fields (Ohio State) at Tyler Shough (Oregon)
- Justin Fields (Ohio State) at Sean Clifford (Penn State)
- Sean Clifford (Penn State) at Hendon Hooker (Virginia Tech)
- Jack Coan (Wisconsin) vs. Ian Book (Notre Dame) at Lambeau Field)
- Tanner Morgan (Minnesota) vs. Chris Robison (FAU)
- Sean Clifford (Penn State) vs. Dustin Crum (Kent State)
- Rocky Lombardi (Michigan State) at D'Eriq King (Miami)
- Adrian Martinez (Nebraska) vs. Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati)
- Tanner Morgan (Minnesota) vs. Zach Wilson (BYU)
— 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.