I, like the rest of the college football world, love it when elite quarterbacks face off. There’s just something about watching two talented signal-callers trade touchdowns that anyone can appreciate.
Sometimes those matchups don’t live up to the billing. Georgia-Auburn was a good example of that.
But other times, we get a thrilling quarterback battle. That’s what happened in Starkville, where Jalen Hurts and Nick Fitzgerald played in what was, for my money, the most entertaining contest of the weekend. We saw two guys who were determined to will their teams to victory. That’s quarterbacking at its finest. That game showed me why they were appropriately ranked as the conference’s top 2 quarterbacks.
As for the rest of the SEC, that’s anyone’s guess.
14. Will McBride, Tennessee
On the bright side, at least McBride was pretty mobile. That’s at least one dimension that the new Tennessee quarterback can provide. After having zero dimensions, that’s a start. McBride won’t have offensive guru Butch Jones around anymore, so we’ll see how that impacts him if he starts the rest of the season.
13. Feleipe Zaire, Florida
I really hope that Doug Nussmeier refers to his rotating quarterbacks as “Feleipe Zaire.” After all, it’s not like either of them can finish a whole game anymore. Save time, save money and combine their names. Well, at least until one of them plays like a Power 5 quarterback.
12. Austin Allen, Arkansas
Who would’ve thought that we’d be talking about whether Allen or Cole Kelley would be Arkansas’ best option in Week 12? It’s been that kind of year for the Hogs, who scored one touchdown Saturday. Kelley came on late and didn’t exactly assert his dominance (his Sunday morning DWI arrest didn’t earn him any favors, either). On the season, Allen has just 8 scores and he completed 56 percent of his passes in 6 games. The Arkansas passing game is still searching for answers.
11. Nick Starkel, Texas A&M
Starkel had a monster showing on Saturday … against New Mexico. Interestingly enough, the Aggies couldn’t get anything rolling in the running game. They were content to throw the ball all afternoon, which is something they haven’t been able to do with Kellen Mond under center. Starkel makes the Aggies a more potent offense, and one that could give that LSU defense a run for its money in the season finale.
10. Jordan Ta’amu, Ole Miss
The Rebels can flat out score. We’ve known that for a while. Ta’amu certainly did that all Saturday afternoon, connecting with A.J. Brown a school record 14 times. Against Louisiana, that’s what the Ole Miss offense is supposed to do.
When the protection holds against these weaker foes, Ole Miss isn’t going to lose that matchup on the outside. Ta’amu knows that. In 4 games, he completed 74 percent of his passes for an average of 10.7 yards per attempt. Not too shabby.
9. Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt
As I’ve said the last month about Shurmur, I feel bad that he has to deal with the Vanderbilt defense. He’s put in obvious passing situations week in, week out. Against a competent Kentucky defense, that wasn’t a good formula for success. Four of his 43 (!) passes were picked off in yet another lopsided loss. On the season, the Commodores are allowing 46.2 points per SEC game. How’s a quarterback supposed to thrive with that?
8. Stephen Johnson, Kentucky
Johnson isn’t necessarily the main reason Kentucky is 7-3. The running game has been tremendous, the defense has stepped up and the schedule has been extremely favorable. But Johnson completed 63 percent of his passes, and he has just 4 interceptions all year. Combine his decision-making with his ability to make plays with his legs and that’s not a bad formula for Kentucky. But that’ll be put to the test against an angry Georgia defense.
7. Danny Etling, LSU
I know Etling catches a lot of heat for not being a game-changing quarterback. I said I thought that the Alabama game could’ve been different with a better deep-ball passer. But despite those limitations, Etling has actually put together a pretty respectable 2017 season. He’s up to 9.2 yards per attempt on 59 percent passing and he’s only thrown 2 picks all year. He’s definitely not shooting the Tigers in the foot.
6. Jake Bentley, South Carolina
How bad is Florida? Bentley threw 3 interceptions and the Gamecocks still covered. Two rushing touchdowns covered up what was an otherwise forgettable day for Bentley. A week after Drew Lock lit up the Florida secondary, Bentley struggled to do the same.
After going over a month without an interception, Bentley has now produced consecutive games of multiple picks. Bentley faced Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Florida in the last month and he has just 2 touchdown passes to show for it. That’s not an ideal late-season trend.
5. Jake Fromm, Georgia
Fromm was put in the spot many feared he would falter in. That is, Georgia couldn’t get anything rolling in the running game, and it was up to the true freshman to throw the Dawgs back into the game. That didn’t work out so well. Against a lights out Auburn defense, Fromm struggled. He completed just 46 percent of his passes and he was sacked a season-high 4 times. Fromm’s pocket presence must improve, but the Dawgs won’t stand must of a chance in the SEC Championship if they can’t win the battle at the line of scrimmage.
4. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
That game was what every Auburn fan envisioned when Stidham announced he was joining the Tigers. Gus Malzahn drew up a perfect game plan, and Stidham thrived. Sure, Kerryon Johnson did the heavy lifting, but Auburn isn’t up big if Stidham doesn’t gash the Georgia secondary.
Darius Slayton, this is a ridiculous catch. pic.twitter.com/rxbEK1ltk9
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 11, 2017
That’s an unreal catch by Darius Slayton, too.
In what was easily his best game of the season, the Stidham completed 70 percent of his passes and he threw for 3 scores and no interceptions. Want a crazy stat? In his past 164 attempts, Stidham has been picked off once. No wonder the Tigers have been so dangerous lately.
3. Drew Lock, Missouri
Is Tennessee an SEC team? Or should we lump the Vols into the Missouri State/UConn distinction on Missouri’s schedule? Either way, Lock played well yet again. He racked up 4 touchdown passes, which marked his seventh consecutive game with multiple touchdown passes. In that stretch, he has a 27-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Against the SEC foes, Lock has a 16-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. That’s a winning formula for a Mizzou squad that’s clearly playing its best football down the stretch.
2. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
I credit Dan Mullen for putting Fitzgerald in position to succeed against that vaunted Alabama defense. The Bulldogs coach did a tremendous job of that. But I thought MSU got too conservative when it needed to put its foot on the gas late. Part of that was on Fitzgerald, who still racked up 224 yards from scrimmage and a score against Alabama. He didn’t turn the ball over, either. In a matchup of the league’s two best quarterbacks, it was Jalen Hurts who shined brighter, but one had to be impressed with the improved play of Fitzgerald.
1. Jalen Hurts, Alabama
I really hope that Hurts haters watched that game Saturday night. That told you everything you needed to know about the Alabama quarterback. The Tide are staring at a loss if not for Hurts’ play late. He did it with his arm, his legs and his brain down the stretch. I always say that these rankings are based on which guy I’d want to lead my team in a do-or-die game played tomorrow. How could one not think that after watching Hurts on Saturday night?
Source: Saturday Down South