This fall marks a transition year for SEC quarterbacks. Four of the conference’s top six passers are gone, while a couple of incumbent starters look poised to lose their jobs.
All of the new faces has already made for what should be an exciting year of quarterback battles, especially when considering that several of the nation’s most touted passers will face SEC opponents in this year’s non-conference tilts.
Here are five of the best SEC quarterback matchups for the 2016 season:
UCLA vs. Texas A&M (Sept. 3)
The SEC season kicks off with one of the most intriguing non-conference quarterback battles of the year. UCLA’s Josh Rosen impressed as a freshman, throwing for 3,669 yards and 23 touchdowns with the Bruins. For his efforts, he earned Freshman All-America honors and was named the Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year.
On the other sideline, Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight will hope he can recapture the magic that he flashed earlier on in his career. Knight threw for 3,424 yards with the Sooners but lost his starting job at Oklahoma to Baker Mayfield. With a fresh start, Knight could be a star for the Aggies.
Georgia at Ole Miss (Sept. 24)
This exciting matchup not only will feature a pair of SEC contenders, but it could possibly pit the best quarterback in the SEC against its most touted newcomer.
In his first season as a starter, Ole Miss signal caller Chad Kelly threw for 4,042 yards and 31 touchdowns. He also became the first quarterback in Ole Miss history to lead the Rebels to wins over Alabama, Auburn and LSU.
Georgia’s blue-chip true freshman, Jacob Eason, enrolled in January as a consensus 5-star recruit. Whether Eason can wrest the job from incumbent Greyson Lambert this quickly might be a long shot, but there can be no denying the young passer’s talent. During Georgia’s spring game, Eason threw for 244 yards and a touchdown in a performance that excited Bulldogs fans everywhere.
Clemson at Auburn (Sept. 3)
Auburn is somewhat lost and confused when it comes to finding a quarterback, but it’s not every day a quarterback battle features arguably the nation’s best. Clemson star Deshaun Watson was a Heisman Trophy finalist as a true sophomore after accumulating the ridiculous offensive total of 5,209 yards and 47 touchdowns. Even facing Alabama’s vaunted defense in the national championship game, Watson still threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns.
Auburn’s platoon of quarterbacks barely combined for the half the passing yards Watson posted last season, but there is hope. The Tigers are have added 3-star junior college quarterback John Franklin III to the mix, and his talent could allow Auburn to regain its dynamic offense. If Watson and Franklin are on the same field, yards should follow.
Ole Miss at Texas A&M (Nov. 12)
This matchup features Kelly and Knight, both of whom are previously mentioned on this list. However, if both teams still have plenty to play for at this point in the season, the quarterbacks would be taking center stage in a marquee game.
Kelly is a traditional quarterback who did the majority of his damage from the pocket. But with a brand new offensive line in the fall, the Rebels senior may have to make plays with his feet to avoid the Aggie defensive line, led by freak athlete Myles Garrett. Texas A&M also has some questions on the offensive line, but Knight is more used to making those kinds of plays.
Alabama at Tennessee (Oct. 15)
Though Alabama has yet to name a starting quarterback, the Crimson Tide have three talented quarterbacks on the roster. Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell and Blake Barnett boast a combined 13 recruiting stars coming out of high school. That said, the three players also posted a combined 291 yards passing last season — all accumulated by Bateman.
While Alabama has an embarrassment of talent at the position, Tennessee has one of the steadiest signal-callers in the conference. Joshua Dobbs threw for 2,291 yards and 15 touchdowns in his first full season as a starter. For his career, Dobbs has a 13-5 record as a starter. Dobbs is more of a game-manager, but he’s athletic and makes the right decisions with the football.