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 College Football Playoff or being on the wrong end of an upset.
Down in the SEC, the big names like Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa are gone but a host of other prolific QBs remain. That makes for an intriguing mix of veterans and newcomers alike meeting up in a league where it truly does mean more. The schedule will look a little different based on the decisions the Big Ten and Pac-12 have already made in regards to canceling all non-conference games, but plenty of intriguing contests remain. With that in mind, here's a look at some of the top matchups between signal-callers in the SEC this fall:
Note: Games listed below are subject to change.
1. Jamie Newman (Georgia) vs. Kyle Trask (Florida) — Oct. 31 (Jacksonville, Fla.)
This has been the biggest game in the SEC East for years and there's nothing to suggest that won't be the case again even with some new blood involved. This won't be Newman's first test of the season but it could be the most pivotal and a good look at the dividends a new offensive system could play out. Trask might enter 2020 as the SEC's best signal-caller given how improved he was as last year went on but will need to really dial things up if the Gators are to end their three-game losing streak to their rivals in Athens.
2. Bo Nix (Auburn) vs. Sam Howell (North Carolina) — Sept. 12 (Atlanta)
Another game that should showcase just how strong the sophomore class of QBs is in college football, this ACC-SEC clash will put a premium on taking care of the ball and using some of that moxie in big moments both players showcased early in their careers. Howell certainly has garnered more national attention for the way he slings the ball around but Nix has the edge in taking down the big-name opponents, helping knock off Oregon and Alabama among others to add to his family's legacy on the Plains. There may be bigger non-conference outings involving top-25 programs but few will be able to match the kind of firepower these two bring to the table in what promises to be a game you can't turn away from.
3. Myles Brennan (LSU) vs. Sam Ehlinger (Texas) — Sept. 12
LSU's magical national title run was sparked in large part because of their win in Austin a year ago. That played a big role in Brennan's predecessor Joe Burrow cobbling together one of the (or is it simply the) best seasons a quarterback has ever put together. So no pressure for the return outing in Death Valley for the presumed successor to the offense to follow, eh? Looking to make sure the tables are turned, Ehlinger no doubt will be looking to go into Tiger Stadium and notch the win he came close to in last year's duel.
4. Bo Nix (Auburn) at Jamie Newman (Georgia) — Oct. 10
The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry once again looks like one of the biggest games of the year in the SEC as Nix hopes to reverse the result from 2019, when the Bulldogs clinched the East title. The two respective teams each sport a new offensive coordinator, adding to the intrigue with Chad Morris providing input for the Tigers and Todd Monken running the show for the Bulldogs. Defense has typically been the name of the game in this series but things could be shifting to the other end given the QBs involved now.
5. Kellen Mond (Texas A&M) at Bo Nix (Auburn) — Oct. 17
Is this the year Mond and head coach Jimbo Fisher make the leap in the SEC? We should find out when the Aggies head to the Plains for their biggest test in the first half of the season against Nix and company. Consistency out of both signal-callers has been an issue at times but when they're in the zone, each guy can be hard to stop no matter what the defense is doing across the line of scrimmage.
6. Jamie Newman (Georgia) at Mac Jones/Bryce Young (Alabama) — Sept. 19
As if Georgia meeting Alabama early in the season wasn't enough, the intrigue over the glamour position for these two teams will be at an all-time high. The track record for those involved is a bit mixed so this won't exactly be rehashing what Jake Fromm or Tua Tagovailoa did in previous meetings between the rivals but also underscores that we could be in for something unexpected at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game also presents a big test for UGA's new offensive system and whether Nick Saban will go with a veteran under center or the higher upside youngster for such a key test.
7. K.J. Costello (Mississippi State) at John Rhys Plumlee (Ole Miss) — Nov. 26
It's going to be ever so hard for last year's Egg Bowl to be topped but, if anything, it did give us a now annual occurrence of Mike Leach against Lane Kiffin. While the coaching one-on-one garners the headlines, this rivalry also will be a fascinating meeting of two very different-styled QBs. Costello should be well adjusted to the Air Raid by late November but still will be fresh-faced when it comes to this wild rivalry game — something Plumlee can very well explain to his opposite number.
8. Jamie Newman (Georgia) at Terry Wilson (Kentucky) — Nov. 21
Fun little SEC East tilt between these two near the end of the season in what should be a meeting of two of the better veterans in the league who can get first downs through the air or on the ground. Wilson will hopefully be healthy for the go-around against the Bulldogs, who will keep trying to stay atop the division behind the play of their transfer quarterback.
9. Bo Nix (Auburn) at Mac Jones/Bryce Young (Alabama) — Nov. 28
Jones put up some big numbers in last year's wild Iron Bowl shootout but it was Nix who secured the win in the end. We could see a similar aerial assault in Tuscaloosa for the 2020 version but it will be fascinating to see if Young has fully taken over as the starter by this point or if Jones has firmly established himself as the guy post-Tua. This game is a must-see every single time and that will continue to be the case thanks to the QBs leading the charge.
10. John Rhys Plumlee (Ole Miss) vs. Charlie Brewer (Baylor) — Sept. 6 (Houston)
Plumlee led the SEC in rushing yards per game last season while Brewer threw for more than 3,000 and chipped in 11 rushing touchdowns. Both quarterbacks are capable of making something happen with their arm or their legs and there could be plenty of offensive fireworks in this season opener at NRG Stadium considering Baylor is returning just two starters on defense while Ole Miss gave up nearly 420 yards and 27 points per game last season.
Best of the rest:
- Terry Wilson (Kentucky) at Kyle Trask (Florida) — Sept. 12
- Jarrett Guarantano (Tennessee) at Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma) — Sept. 12
- Feleipe Franks (Arkansas) at Ian Book (Notre Dame) — Sept. 12
- Bo Nix (Auburn) at John Rhys Plumlee (Ole Miss) — Sept. 19
- Mac Jones/Bryce Young (Alabama) vs. Dustin Crum (Kent State) — Sept. 26
- Kellen Mond (Texas A&M) at K.J. Costello (Mississippi State) — Oct. 3
- Mac Jones/Bryce Young (Alabama) at John Rhys Plumlee (Ole Miss) — Oct. 3
- Mac Jones/Bryce Young (Alabama) at Feleipe Franks (Arkansas) — Oct. 10
- Myles Brennan (LSU) at Kyle Trask (Florida) — Oct. 10
- K.J. Costello (Mississippi State) at Mac Jones/Bryce Young (Alabama) — Oct. 17
- K.J. Costello (Mississippi State) at Bo Nix (Auburn) — Oct. 31
- Kellen Mond (Texas A&M) at Mac Jones/Bryce Young (Alabama) — Nov. 21
- Ryan Hillinski (South Carolina) at Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) — Nov. 28
- Terry Wilson (Kentucky) at Micale Cunningham (Louisville) — Nov. 28
— 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.