Memphis' hopes of earning the Group of 5's New Year's Six bowl bid again hinge largely on the play of Brady White
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.
This is especially true for Group of 5 teams, which can rise and fall based on just how good their QB is with the ball in their hands. Though their Power 5 peers may get a little more attention, the 2020 crop from the AAC, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt features some really established names that have a chance to put up some eye-popping numbers in 2020. With that in mind, here's a look at the best matchups between field generals involving a field general from the Group of 5. Keep in mind some Group of 5 teams' schedules have already been impacted due to the Big Ten and Pac-12 already announcing the will play conference-only schedules this fall.
Note: Games listed below are subject to change.
1. Dillon Gabriel (UCF) vs. Sam Howell (North Carolina) — Sept. 4
Talk about an enticing early-season matchup between two of the brightest young signal-callers in the game. Howell is already earning attention from NFL scouts after cobbling together a 3,641-yard, 38-touchdown effort as a fresh face in Tar Heel blue. Such numbers were nearly matched by fellow freshman Gabriel, who followed in the footsteps of fellow Hawaiian McKenzie Milton in leading the Knights to success. If the latter can cut down on the turnovers, this meeting between youngsters could play a huge role in the Group of 5 race and the perception of the ACC.
2. Brady White (Memphis) at Shane Buechele (SMU) — Oct. 1
White is wise beyond his years given the time he's spent on campus and it's paying off for the Tigers as they hope to repeat as AAC champions and nab the Group of 5 New Year's Six bid again. Standing in their way in the new round-robin format in the league may be none other than Buechele, who has sparked an impressive turnaround on the Hilltop under Sonny Dykes. Both teams feature offenses that love the big play and whoever can connect on more in this one could notch a massive early strike in the conference race.
3. Dillon Gabriel (UCF) at Brady White (Memphis) — Oct. 16
Each of these AAC stars is coming off double-digit wins and finally gets their chance to face off against each other for the first time in mid-October. Gabriel has the edge when you factor in the ability to pick up yards on the ground but White isn't to be overlooked as a veteran who can move around the pocket as well. This might wind up just being a preview of the conference title game given how good each side is set to be in 2020.
4. Shane Buechele (SMU) at Holton Ahlers (East Carolina) — Nov. 28
Buechele threw for five touchdowns and 414 yards in a wild shootout win over ECU last year. Those are good numbers but were bettered by Ahlers thanks to a 498-yard, six-TD effort in one of the craziest back-and-forth AAC affairs. It's going to be hard to top all that in the sequel but if anybody can light up the scoreboard again, it's these two gunslingers.
5. Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati) at Dillon Gabriel (UCF) — Nov. 21
Ridder helped propel the Bearcats last October when they ended UCF's 19-game conference win streak, getting the best of his counterpart in a game where he didn't play his best. The rematch should carry similar stakes again in 2020 as both sides are pegged to be one of the best Group of 5 teams in the country. Each defense better be buttoned up tightly though as each QB is as slippery as they come in the pocket and able to create plays from all over the field.
Best of the rest:
- Levi Lewis (Louisiana) at Zac Thomas (Appalachian State) — Oct. 7
- Shane Buechele (SMU) vs. Max Duggan (TCU) — Sept. 12
- Shai Werts (Georgia Southern) at Hank Bachmeier (Boise State) — Sept. 5
- Zac Thomas (Appalachian State) at Sam Hartman (Wake Forest) — Sept. 11
- Holton Ahlers (East Carolina) at Ryan Hillinski (South Carolina) — Sept. 12
- Chris Robison (FAU) at Shai Werts (Georgia Southern) — Sept. 19
- Clayton Tune (Houston) at Brady White (Memphis) — Sept. 19
- Hank Bachmeier (Boise State) vs. James Blackman (Florida State) — Sept. 19
- Dillon Gabriel (UCF) at Holton Ahlers (East Carolina) — Sept. 24
- Dustin Crum (Kent State) at Mac Jones/Bryce Young (Alabama) — Sept. 26
- Zac Thomas (Appalachian State) at Shai Werts (Georgia Southern) — Oct. 14
- Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati) at Shane Buechele (SMU) — Oct. 24
- Hank Bachmeier (Boise State) at Chevan Cordeiro (Hawaii) — Oct. 24
- Brady White (Memphis) at Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati) — Oct. 31
- Dustin Crum (Kent State) at Brett Gabbert (Miami, Ohio) — Nov. 17
- Clayton Tune (Houston) at Shane Buechele (SMU) — Nov. 21
— 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.