Jarrett Stidham will be front and under center for some of the SEC's biggest games
If you want to win big in college football, it's no secret that you're going to need some quality play out of the most important position on the field -- quarterback. If there's any doubt about it, just look up recent Heisman Trophy winners and note how tilted the list is toward the position.
While the SEC has trended up and down when it comes to play under center, the league is experiencing a bit of a renaissance at the spot and might be deeper than any conference given the number of big names returning for 2018. That includes a quarterback who has started a title game but might not start on his own team (Jalen Hurts) and the early name for the first signal-caller taken in the 2019 NFL Draft (Drew Lock).
As a result, it should be another exciting year around the conference given how easy it is to throw it around. With that in mind, here are the top 10 matchups involving SEC quarterbacks:
1. Jarrett Stidham (Auburn) vs. Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) - Nov. 24 (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
Let's face it, the Iron Bowl is a must-watch game no matter what given how the rivalry is gone the past few years but the added layer of the quarterback matchup makes it even better. Stidham's debut campaign for the Tigers included the second-best passing mark in school history, a memorable win over the Tide and an SEC West title. Perhaps if Tagovailoa (above, right) had been inserted in that game on the Plains the result would have been different but no matter as he's got the ring that matters after last year.
2. Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State) vs. Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) - Nov 10 (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
Fitzgerald has already established himself as one of the SEC's best dual-threats (29 total touchdowns last year) and he should only be able to grow as a passer in new head coach Joe Moorhead's system. The senior knows that if the Bulldogs are to make noise in the SEC West though, it will mean a big performance at Bryant-Denny and topping the talented Tagovailoa.
3. Jarrett Stidham (Auburn) vs. Jake Browning (Washington) - Sept. 1 (Atlanta)
One of the best non-conference games of the year is in Atlanta with massive College Football Playoff implications. Stidham will be looking to avoid a third straight loss at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (after the SEC title game and Peach Bowl) while Browning will be looking to get a win there after a sub-par outing two years ago in the team's semifinal in the city. The winner may make the early jump to the top of the Heisman race.
4. Jake Fromm (Georgia) vs. Drew Lock (Missouri) - Sept. 22 (Columbia, Mo.)
All Fromm has to do is follow up a tremendous freshman season under center in which he threw for 24 touchdowns and led his team to the national title game. He'll have a big test going head-to-head against the Tigers' star (right), who was the first-team All-SEC pick after throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and 44 touchdowns last year and is being discussed as the No. 1 pick next spring.
5. Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State) vs. Jordan Ta'amu (Ole Miss) - Nov. 22 (Oxford, Miss.)
Ole Miss pulled off the upset in the Egg Bowl last year thanks in part to Fitzgerald leaving with a leg injury early in the first quarter. When he was fully healthy the year before that, he accounted for five scores in a blowout of the Rebels and will be looking to close out his senior year in similar fashion. Ta'amu may not get the recognition nationally but those in the SEC know how good he is after keeping the offense rolling when taking over as the starter.
6. Jake Fromm (Georgia) vs. Jake Bentley (South Carolina) - Sept. 8 (Columbia, S.C.)
The SEC East battle might be decided in Week 2 as two of the top teams on that side of the league battle it out. While both defenses are filled with plenty of talent, they'll have their hands full trying to contain the big arms of these two quarterbacks as Fromm was terrific as a freshman and will shoulder more of the load for the Bulldogs while Bentley is the strong-armed QB who could make the jump to a top-tier guy as a junior.
7. Jarrett Stidham (Auburn) vs. Jake Fromm (Georgia) - Nov. 10 (Athens, Ga.)
The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry got two editions of this quarterback matchup and each had momentous stakes in both. The two signal-callers split the series in 2017 so the rubber match in early November will not only play a factor in the SEC division races, but the College Football Playoff race and Heisman as well. Both Fromm and Stidham have two of the stronger arms in the league and should be able to make some big plays downfield when they need to.
8. Drew Lock (Missouri) vs. Jake Bentley (South Carolina) - Oct. 6 (Columbia, S.C.)
Lock checks off a lot of the boxes scouts have at the next level given his size, overall numbers and strong arm but he'll need to beef up his production against the top-tier teams in the SEC to really keep that conversation going about being the first QB taken in the 2019 NFL Draft. He'll have an opportunity against a fellow signal-caller who scouts enjoy watching in Bentley, who will benefit from an increased tempo on offense this season.
9. Jarrett Stidham (Auburn) vs. Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State) - Oct. 6 (Starkville, Miss.)
Pick your poison with these two quarterbacks, who can certainly beat you with their legs just as much as they can launch it with their arms. Stidham will be the guy everybody in the SEC West is gunning for after a stellar debut season with the Tigers while Fitzgerald (right) is the senior who can still make a big jump from good to great in the much more structured offense of his new head coach.
10. Kyle Shurmur (Vanderbilt) vs. Brent Stockstill (Middle Tennessee) - Sept. 1 (Nashville, Tenn.)
The state of Tennessee is no doubt juiced for this matchup but it should deserve plenty of attention regionally and nationally given how good the two QBs are. Shurmur was second in the SEC in touchdown passes and closed 2017 strong while Stockstill is one of the top Group of 5 signal-callers if he's healthy. Take away the names on the front of the jersey to focus on the names on the back for this one.
-- 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.