Jalen Hurts will be one of the SEC's signal-callers in the spotlight quite a bit 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.
While the SEC has been criticized for quarterback play in recent years that may not be the case in 2017 with a strong group involved in the top 10 matchups this season:
1. Jalen Hurts (Alabama) vs. Deondre Francois (Florida State) – Sept. 2 (Atlanta)
Easily the non-conference game of the year, this battle between top-five teams should lay the early ground work for one or both runs at the College Football Playoff. Hurts burst onto the scene as a freshman in nearly leading Alabama to the national title and he seems to be even better based on flashes this offseason. Francois won’t be any pushover and will be looking to launch his Heisman Trophy campaign with a win in this one.
2. Jalen Hurts (Alabama) vs. Jarrett Stidham (Auburn) – Nov. 25 (Auburn, Ala.)
The Iron Bowl might be the SEC’s fiercest rivalry and the quarterback battle in this one could be the best in some time thanks to the arrival of Stidham, who has buoyed the hopes of those on the Plains quite a bit. The talented Baylor transfer would certainly go down in Auburn history if he’s able to end Alabama’s dominance in the series and top Hurts for a victory.
3. Jalen Hurts (Alabama) vs. Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State) – Nov. 11 (Starkville, Miss.)
If you’re in the mood to catch two of the SEC’s best dual-threat quarterbacks, feel free to tune in for this meeting of West rivals. Hurts and Fitzgerald each were solid last year but are looking to take their all-around games to the next level this season and this will be a big test in proving they can threaten teams equally with their arms as much as their legs.
4. Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State) vs. Tanner Mangum (BYU) – Oct. 14 (Starkville, Miss.)
Fitzgerald pushed a tough BYU defense to double overtime out in Provo and will be looking for a bit of revenge this time around at home. Standing in his way will be one of the more electrifying quarterbacks from west of the Mississippi in Mangum, who has saved some of his most thrilling moments for meetings with schools from Power Five conferences.
5. Austin Allen (Arkansas) vs. Jalen Hurts (Alabama) – Oct. 14 (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
Allen was one of the big surprises in the SEC last season and really put the team on his back with strong performances through the air with the Razorbacks. He was one of only a handful of QBs to put up big numbers on Alabama’s secondary (400 yards, three TDs to go along with three INTs) during their meeting in 2016 and will be hoping for more of the same when he faces off against Hurts again in Tuscaloosa.
6. Jacob Eason (Georgia) vs. Jarrett Stidham (Auburn) – Nov. 11 (Auburn, Ala.)
The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry might be a quarterback showcase in this season’s edition as both sides in this one are hoping for big strides being made behind center after last year’s offensive debacle. In beating the Tigers as a freshman, Eason delivered his signature SEC victory but will find things much tougher this time around in trying to out-duel the equally talented Stidham.
7. Austin Allen (Arkansas) vs. Jake Bentley (South Carolina) – Oct. 7 (Columbia, S.C.)
Bentley really jumpstarted the Gamecocks when he was inserted into the lineup as a true freshman and that spark is one reason there’s plenty of optimism around the program offensively. He’ll take on one of the league’s more established passers in Allen for a critical cross-division game for both teams.
8. Shea Patterson (Ole Miss) vs. Jarrett Stidham (Auburn) – Oct. 7 (Auburn, Ala.)
Patterson is probably the chief reason to watch the Rebels this season as they navigate the tricky issue of self-imposed sanctions. He showed plenty of potential in the team’s final three games as the starter and has a chance to really make a jump by making some noise in the SEC West and pulling an upset or two along the way.
9. Kenny Hill (TCU) vs. Austin Allen (Arkansas) – Sept. 9 (Fayetteville, Ark.)
The last time these two old SWC rivals hooked up, they played an absolutely bonkers double-overtime game that was one of the more entertaining ones in the entire non-conference slate. Both signal-callers played a big role in keeping their team in the game and the second meeting could be even better than the first with Allen even more established under center and Hill looking to showcase his trill skills one more time against an SEC foe.
10. Shea Patterson (Ole Miss) vs. Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State) – Nov. 23 (Starkville, Miss.)
The Egg Bowl will have an even bigger meaning for Ole Miss in 2017 as the Rebels deal with a postseason ban and nothing would be better for Patterson’s place in the program than beating the school rival in the final game of the season for a bit of revenge. Fitzgerald got the last laugh a year ago with five total touchdowns and more than 250 rushing yards and will be looking for a repeat performance.
— 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.