Fans have had LSU vs. Alabama circled since last season ended, but few could have expected how either team’s quarterback situation would work out. Jalen Hurts and Danny Etling unseated opening day starters and changed the landscape of the conference.
Now, both players will face off in the biggest game of their careers. Arkansas QB Austin Allen also has to lead his team against one of the best defenses in the country at home, while Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald will be praying for help against a couple of dominant defensive linemen on Saturday.
Here are four quarterbacks with the toughest tasks in Week 10:
Danny Etling, LSU
Season stats: 89-147 for 1,129 yards 7 TDs, 3 INTs
Etling is certainly a braver man than all of us. He is tasked with facing off against one of the most fearsome defenses in the history of college football. No. 1 Alabama is obliterating teams on both sides of the ball, but defensive end Jonathan Allen and linebacker Tim Williams have ensured opposing quarterbacks leave in pieces.
LSU obviously has plenty of surrounding talent, namely running backs Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. However, Alabama managed to hold Fournette to just 1.6 yards per carry last season in a dominant, 30-16 win. Etling has to be a factor for LSU to stand any chance at beating the Crimson Tide.
Austin Allen, Arkansas
Season stats: 155-249 for 2,048 yards, 18 TDs, 7 INTs
Allen is the best quarterback in the SEC. Unfortunately, he has not received any kind of help from the rest of his offense this season. The running game has been uncharacteristically inconsistent, while the offensive line is going to get him killed. Playing against Florida might be worst-case scenario.
The Gators have perhaps the most dominant defensive backfield in the nation, featuring future NFL players Teez Tabor, Quincy Wilson and Marcus Maye. Florida can balance things up front with playmakers like Bryan Cox and breakout freshman Jabari Zuniga. It’s no wonder the Gators rank No. 2 nationally in passing yards. Allen has his work cut out, even with his talented wide receiver group. The offensive line has to get him some protection, or he could be leaving on a stretcher in the third quarter.
Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
Season stats: 124-221 for 1,496 yards, 14 TDs, 7 INTs; 115 carries for 657 yards, 6 TDs
It’s become exceptionally clear this season just how much the Mississippi State program was built around Dak Prescott. Fitzgerald has been fine, but his performance has been the difference between a nine-win season last year and a missed bowl game this year. Things won’t get any easier now that Fitzgerald is facing off against Texas A&M’s defensive line.
The Aggies are ranked No. 4 in the College Football Playoff ranking, and for good reason. Texas A&M’s only loss this year is to No. 1 Alabama. Defensive end Myles Garrett is one of the best in the world, while Daeshon Hall and Daylon Mack add to the disruption. Safeties Armani Watts and Justin Evans have quietly been one of the best pairings in the country. Fitzgerald needed 7 touchdowns to beat Samford — he won’t get that many this weekend.
Jalen Hurts, Alabama
Season stats: 129-204 for 1,578 yards, 12 TDs, 5 INTs; 95 carries for 521 yards, 9 TDs
The only way to believe Hurts is a true freshman is to not watch his games. It’s mind-blowing to think this player was lacing his cleats to play high schoolers for Channelview in Texas this time last year. While other quarterbacks might have better numbers, it’s hard to find a quarterback more poised at this point of the year than Hurts.
However, his freshman season will be judged on two games: against Auburn in the final week’s Iron Bowl and traveling to Death Valley to take on the LSU Tigers. Ed Orgeron’s team has great defensive backs and enough talent up front to be incredibly disruptive. Edge rusher Arden Key is one of the best in the SEC. Coach O has said he wants to make Hurts beat the Tigers with his arm — is he ready to do that against an attacking secondary?