The vaunted Alabama Crimson Tide hadn’t started a true freshman quarterback since 2007, the year before Nick Saban got to town. Georgia hadn’t since 2006.
But now, the two top programs in the SEC are both running out talented true freshmen signal callers in Jalen Hurts and Jacob Eason, respectively. Both starters beat out more experienced upperclassmen to win the jobs, but both must now travel for big games and their first road starts.
Here are five quarterbacks with the toughest tasks in Week 3:
Jalen Hurts, Alabama
Season stats: 29-47 for 405 yards, 4 TDs, INT; 20 carries for 51 yards, 2 TDs
Hurts played well against USC when subbed in and followed up with a strong performance against Western Kentucky. However, playing on the road in front of 60,000 fans in his first SEC start is different.
Ole Miss has a strong defensive line that features star defensive end Marquis Haynes, who poses a nightmare mismatch for opposing offensive lines. The rest of the front seven is young, but extremely talented. Ole Miss forced five turnovers in the win last year, so causing havoc will be a top priority.
Hurts will need to find windows consistently against a depleted secondary. Having a standout offensive line and a pair of the top receivers in the country (Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart) helps, but Hurts must avoid mistakes. That’s a lot to ask of a true freshman.
Danny Etling, LSU
Season stats: 6-14 for 100 yards, TD, INT; 3 carries for 6 yards, TD
It took just two 3-and-outs for Brandon Harris to get pulled and the Purdue transfer Etling to get a crack under center. His numbers were average, but the offense moved consistently and fluidly as soon as Etling entered the game.
Now, the man no one thought would get a chance prepares to start his first game since 2014, when he played his last game for the Boilermakers. Starting against Mississippi State’s strong SEC defensive line isn’t ideal.
Defensive end A.J Jefferson and linebacker Richie Brown help man and underrated front seven for the Bulldogs. Safety Brandon Bryant leads a secondary that can cause havoc against inexperienced players. Mississippi State is still mad after losing to South Alabama in Week 1, but harassing Etling could get them back on track.
Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
Season stats: 41-66 for 532 yards, 7 TDs, 3 INTs
Not long ago, Alabama had won 10 straight games against Ole Miss as the Rebels remained one of the worst teams in the SEC West. No more. Hugh Freeze has changed the culture and fortunes of the entire program.
Kelly helped contribute to some of this, especially when he led the Rebels to back-to-back wins over Alabama for the first time in the history of the rivalry – that’s 63 games and 124 years of history!
But while this game means plenty to Ole Miss, Alabama is hungry to silence Rebels fans. Safety Eddie Jackson leads one of the most talented secondaries in the country, while linebacker Tim Williams and defensive end Johnathan Allen lead what is likely the best front seven in college football.
Jacob Eason, Georgia
Season stats: 19-32 for 335 yards, 2 TDs, INT
Eason was shaky in his first career start, as drives fell apart and the Bulldogs nearly allowed Nicholls State to beat them. While it wasn’t all his fault, Eason has to know that team performances like that will lead to failure in the SEC.
Now, Eason heads to Columbia, Mo., for his first road start. The Tigers have struggled defensively early in the year, but talented defensive linemen are a given. Defensive end Charles Harris was All-SEC last season and there are several others who could join him this year.
Eason will have to learn to spread the ball around and try to create running lanes for star running back Nick Chubb. Playing in front of a hostile crowd is a new experience – and unfortunately the opener in Atlanta against North Carolina didn’t quite qualify as that.
Drew Lock, Missouri
Season stats: 47-88 for 730 yards, 6 TDs
Lock played fine in his first game against West Virginia, but broke out against Eastern Michigan. The sophomore threw for 450 yards and five touchdowns, the best numbers posted by any Mizzou quarterback since Chase Daniel.
However, Georgia provides a unique test. The Bulldogs have one of the top pass defenses in the SEC, led by star safety Dominick Sanders and Alabama transfer Maurice Smith. It will be a vast change from playing against West Virginia and Eastern Michigan.
Lock has plenty of weapons around the field, as four different wide receivers have posted 100-yard games already this season. However, all of Mizzou’s chances are on his young shoulders.