A new group of quarterbacks is taking the SEC by storm, but several of them will face their toughest tests on Saturday.
While Austin Allen has been good all year, Nick Fitzgerald and Jake Bentley have emerged as surprisingly efficient performers. Each will play the top defenses in the SEC, while Allen plays another that could be considered in that tier.
Ole Miss will have to break in a new quarterback in a vital spot at Kyle Field, which will make the transition only tougher.
Here are four quarterbacks with the toughest tasks in Week 11:
Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
Season stats: 142-for-252 for 1,705 yards, 16 TDs, 9 INTs; 135 carries for 839 yards, 8 TDs
Fitzgerald played one of the best games of his career against Texas A&M, compiling 391 total yards and 4 touchdowns in perhaps the biggest upset of the College Football Playoff era. However, the first-year starter will be counted on to replicate that performance against maybe the best defense in college football.
Alabama has a loaded front line, including defensive end Jonathan Allen and rushing linebacker Tim Williams. A bevy of other defensive players in the front seven will make rushing that much harder, especially considering Fitzgerald is the team’s top runner as well. Fitzgerald has shown tremendous growth this season, but it could come to a screeching halt on Saturday.
Austin Allen, Arkansas
Season stats: 170-for-275 for 2,291 yards, 19 TDs, 8 INTs
After weeks of inconsistency, the offense is finally starting to come together with Allen at the helm. Running back Rawleigh Williams has recorded five 100-yard games and the offensive line is starting to produce at least a passable performance. However, Allen now has to face off against one of the best defenses he will face this season.
He may not lead the conference in sacks anymore, but Arden Key is one of the most fearsome pass rushers in the conference. The pressure he brings, along with the rest of a stacked front seven, opens up opportunities for cornerback Tre’Davious White and safety Jamal Adams to wreak havoc. To beat LSU, Allen has to throw the ball, and do it effectively and efficiently. The pressure will approach critical mass on Saturday.
Shea Patterson, Ole Miss
Season stats: None
Until Friday, it was unclear whether Pellerin or blue-chip freshman Shea Patterson would start at quarterback for the Rebels to close out the year. Pellerin is the guy with experience, while Patterson is obviously the quarterback of the future. Then it was reported that Ole Miss would burn Patterson’s redshirt against the Aggies. He’ll face a daunting test in his first career start.
Texas A&M also will be breaking in a new quarterback, but Jake Hubenak has started a game in his career and thrown way more passes. Texas A&M’s defensive line is also fearsome, featuring All-American Myles Garrett and supporting pieces Daeshon Hall and Daylon Mack. Ole Miss has to win two of its three final games just to make a bowl game, which amplifies the pressure on Patterson.
Jake Bentley, South Carolina
Season stats: 54-for-74 for 622 yards, 6 TDs
Bentley has been tremendously successful to start his young career. The true freshman is 3-0 in his starts and has thrown zero interceptions, with wins over both Missouri and No. 18 Tennessee. However, Saturday will be much bigger, as Will Muschamp returns to his old locale in Gainesville.
Florida has one of the best secondaries in the nation, including future top draft picks Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor at cornerback. The Gators have no problem shutting down star wide receivers. The front seven also has been able to get consistent pressure, averaging just under 3 sacks per game. This will be the first real test of Bentley’s young career.