Ohio State's Justin Fields will get several chances to shine this fall
If you want to win big in college football, your first item of business is finding a quarterback who can make all the plays. There's no position more important on the field and a good one can be the difference between a conference title and trip to the playoff or being on the wrong end of an upset.
That's truer than ever nowadays with offenses throwing the football all over, all the time. While we've seen some good ones under center depart via graduation or the NFL draft, the 2019 crop has a chance to be one of the best in years as a result of both quantity and quality.
With that in mind, here are the top 25 matchups between signal-callers from coast-to-coast in college football this season:
1. Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) vs. Kellen Mond (Texas A&M) — Sept. 7
Fresh off leading the Tigers to the national title as a true freshman, everybody in the country will be interested in seeing what Lawrence, already the easy favorite to win the Heisman Trophy this year, will do for an encore. His biggest test of 2019 may come early on when the Aggies come to town. Mond should be even better in his second year being developed by Jimbo Fisher — and he was pretty dang good in the first, especially after nearly leading an upset of Clemson in College Station.
2. Shea Patterson (Michigan) vs. Justin Fields (Ohio State) — Nov. 30
There will be no shortage of storylines for this year's edition of The Game when the two signal-callers take the field at the Big House. For Patterson, erasing the pain of the last two outings against the Buckeyes and finally delivering a win in the rivalry is going to be looming over the entire 2019 campaign in Ann Arbor. This will be Fields' first introduction to playing against “That School Up North” and he'll have a high bar to clear given what his predecessors have accomplished at OSU.
3. Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma) vs. Sam Ehlinger (Texas) — Oct. 12
With all due respect to all other college football rivalries, none come close to the unique nature of Red River. From the even split down the middle of the Cotton Bowl to the terrific setting inside the Texas state fair, it's hard to top it when two likely top-10 teams clash for Big 12 dominance. Hurts is no stranger having grown up in Texas but this will be his first time taking the field for the Sooners against the Longhorns. It goes without saying that the winner has the early leg up in the conference title race and likely an inside track to the playoff too.
4. Kellen Mond (Texas A&M) vs. Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) — Oct. 12
Mond will have no shortage of opportunities to go head-to-head against some of the best of the best at his position this year and those might go a long way in determining the Heisman Trophy race given how well he plays and how well his opponents play against him. Tagovailoa needs no introduction and will be looking to finish what he started earlier in 2018 by beating the Aggies and getting back to the national title game.
5. Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma) vs. D'Eriq King (Houston) — Sept. 1
Hurts was this offseason's most interesting player with his transfer from Alabama and it will be fascinating to see what he can do in Lincoln Riley's offense — no doubt eyeing to make it three Heismans in a row for the Sooners. The opener represents a fascinating one as King was one of the most dynamic QBs in the country last year and could benefit from a coaching change of his own.
6. Jake Fromm (Georgia) vs. Kellen Mond (Texas A&M) — Nov. 23
It's way too early for NFL mock drafts to be super accurate but there is a growing consensus that Fromm has what it takes to be a first-rounder in 2020. It's not hard to see why given his arm and prototypical size but what can really separate him from others on this list will be his big game performance. He's stepped up in the past and will need to again when the Aggies come between the Hedges for a huge end of the year clash.
7. Shea Patterson (Michigan) vs. Ian Book (Notre Dame) — Oct. 26
When these two historic powerhouses meet, it's possible one of the biggest non-conference games of the year could go a long ways in determining who makes the College Football Playoff. Book is fresh off leading the Irish to a semifinal but knows more can be done to make the offense even more dangerous while Patterson is hoping to really take off under new OC Josh Gattis' up-tempo attack. It should make for a thrilling matchup as two veteran QBs face off in the Big House.
8. Adrian Martinez (Nebraska) vs. Justin Fields (Ohio State) — Sept. 28
In terms of the ability to make a "blink or you'll miss it" play, these two might be near the top of the list in the Big Ten using either their legs or their big arms. This early-season matchup also gives us a great look at the development each has had this offseason, Fields in his first under the Ryan Day coaching staff and Martinez coming off a sensational freshman campaign. Who knows, this might even be a Big Ten title game preview if things go right the rest of the year.
9. K.J. Costello (Stanford) vs. Justin Herbert (Oregon) — Sept. 21
The Ducks and Cardinal have annually combined for some of the biggest Pac-12 games over the years and this season's meeting is bound to draw a ton of NFL scouts to the Farm. While Herbert had a statistically good game the last time the two met in Eugene, it was Costello who helped engineer a thrilling OT comeback. Both will have to shoulder the load offensively for their respective squads in a game that will go a long way in determining the Pac-12 front-runner.
10. Brock Purdy (Iowa State) vs. Sam Ehlinger (Texas) — Nov. 16
Purdy was a revelation for the Cyclones under center and helped engineer an impressive run as a true freshman. His lone stumbling block in conference play came on the trip to Austin however, a game in which Ehlinger got the win but had to leave with an injury. Ames late in the year is no fun place to play for visitors and that's especially true when a game features two of the best signal-callers in the conference going head-to-head.
11. Khalil Tate (Arizona) vs. Alan Bowman (Texas Tech) — Sep. 14
Tate is as explosive as they come when healthy and a threat to make you pay for 80 yards with his legs or his arm. Bowman is one of the best young passers in the country and we should have a real shootout in the desert with two contrasting styles.
12. Shea Patterson (Michigan) vs. Nate Stanley (Iowa) — Oct. 5
Both the Wolverines and the Hawkeyes have the look of Big Ten divisional contenders and this meeting between two of the league's best passers could be an early October preview of what's to come in Indy.
13. Justin Herbert (Oregon) vs. Khalil Tate (Arizona) — Nov. 16
Herbert had an outing to forget last year against the Wildcats while Tate showed a glimpse of what he could do through injuries in a one-sided affair. Both are at opposite sides of the size spectrum for the position but can beat you any number of ways on any given snap.
14. Jake Fromm (Georgia) vs. Feleipe Franks (Florida) — Nov. 2
Fromm reasserted himself as the starter to the fan base last year in Jacksonville while Franks had one of his poorer outings against the Bulldogs. The SEC East could well be decided again when these two meet with a heavy offensive load on both guys' shoulders in a game where each has to take care of the football.
15. Jake Bentley (South Carolina) vs. Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) — Nov. 30
Bentley put up monster numbers against his in-state rival last season but it still wasn't enough to come close to a win against the Tigers. He'll have one last shot to be Clemson but will need to overcome a sophomore adversary who could be looking to put the finishing touches on a Heisman campaign.
16. Jake Fromm (Georgia) vs. Ian Book (Notre Dame) — Sept. 21
Fromm ventured into South Bend to secure a huge, season-defining win for the Bulldogs. Book will be looking to do much the same between the Hedges in a meeting of CFP-caliber quarterbacks.
17. Mason Fine (North Texas) vs. D'Eriq King (Houston) — Sept. 28
This pair combined for a whopping 79 touchdowns last season through a variety of plays on the ground and, naturally, through the air. The early favorites for their respective conference players of the year will bring plenty of ways to score in this intriguing Texas-sized matchup of QBs.
18. Sam Ehlinger (Texas) vs. Joe Burrow (LSU) — Sept. 7
Ehlinger and Burrow can both take plenty of credit for leading their programs back into a prominent place among the nation's elite after the year they had in 2018. Their meeting in Austin this season could be the start of an early Heisman campaign and CFP run for whichever of the hard-nosed quarterbacks can emerge with a win.
19. Brock Purdy (Iowa State) vs. Nate Stanley (Iowa) — Sep. 14
The battle of the Cy-Hawk has probably never seen as good of a quarterback matchup as this year's edition given the kind of play both guys are capable of putting together. Purdy wasn't in action for last year's loss and will be looking to ruin Stanley's perfect record against the in-state rival.
20. Dorian Thompson-Robinson (UCLA) vs. Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma) — Sept. 14
Thompson-Robinson was thrown into the fire on the road last year against the Sooners but will be much more prepared for what is thrown at him after another offseason to learn from Chip Kelly. Only issue is that the guy on the opposite sideline is 26-2 as a starter and looking for a big win out west.
21. Jacob Eason (Washington) vs. Justin Herbert (Oregon) — Oct. 19
The Huskies and Ducks have had some great quarterbacks through the years but rarely has the matchup been one highly-touted local kid against another. Eason transferred back home to play in big games like this and go toe-to-toe with a potential No. 1 pick like Herbert for division supremacy.
22. K.J. Costello (Stanford) vs. Ian Book (Notre Dame) — Nov. 30
There's not much Book would love more than to beat a school rival in his native NorCal in front of a ton of friends and family. Costello didn't have his most productive game against the Irish last time out and will be hoping to go out on top in his likely final home game.
23. Shea Patterson (Michigan) vs. Brian Lewerke (Michigan State) — Nov. 16
The UM-MSU rivalry hasn't been marked by great offensive play the last few years but both of these quarterbacks are imminently capable of changing that. Don't discount either guy making big plays running the football either as they are deceptively quick for their size.
24. Jake Fromm (Georgia) vs. Kelly Bryant (Missouri) — Nov. 9
Bryant was one of the more notable graduate transfers this offseason and with the Tigers potentially not going to a bowl in 2019, this late trip between the Hedges to face off against Fromm and company could be a huge game towards the end of the year.
25. Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati) at Justin Fields (Ohio State) — Sept. 7
Ridder was a great surprise for the Bearcats in leading the team to 11 wins as a freshman. The marquee non-conference game for the team will be a lot tougher this time around as he faces another talented dual-threat looking to make a jump in play as a sophomore.
Best of the rest:
Charlie Brewer (Baylor) vs. Sam Ehlinger (Texas)— Nov. 23
Cole McDonald (Hawaii) vs. Khalil Tate (Arizona) — Aug. 24
Adrian Martinez (Nebraska) vs. Nate Stanley (Iowa) — Nov. 29
Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) at Tommy DeVito (Syracuse) — Sept. 14
Jordan Love (Utah State) at Joe Burrow (LSU) — Oct. 5
Steven Montez (Colorado) vs. Adrian Martinez (Nebraska) — Sept. 7
K.J. Costello (Stanford) vs. Hunter Johnson (Northwestern) — Aug. 31
Jamie Newman/Sam Hartman (Wake Forest) vs. Jordan Love (Utah State) — Aug. 30
Quentin Harris (Duke) vs. Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) — Aug. 31 (Atlanta)
Bryce Perkins (Virginia) at Ian Book (Notre Dame) — Sept. 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.
(Top photo courtesy of Ohio State Department of Athletics.)