Four best QBs Auburn will face in 2016
An SEC schedule is usually loaded with great talent, and this season’s slate is no exception. Plus, exceptional quarterbacks have a lot to do with making a grueling gauntlet of games as tough as they are.
A glance at Auburn’s 2016 schedule reveals some intriguing matchups against some of the most highly regarded signal-callers in the conference and the country. Here’s a look at the four best quarterbacks the Tigers will face in the upcoming season in order of when they meet.
1. Deshaun Watson, Clemson: Right off the bat, Auburn faces arguably the best quarterback in the country. For starters, Watson finished third in last year’s Heisman Trophy voting behind Alabama’s Derrick Henry and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey.
Watson also became the first player in FBS history to throw for more than 4,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 in the same season during the top-ranked Tigers’ 45-40 loss to No. 2 Alabama in the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship game. Against the top defense in the SEC – and arguably the best in the country – Watson completed 30 of 47 passes for 405 yards and 4 TDs and rushed for a team-high 73 yards.
Watson’s passing yards broke a championship-game record set by USC’s Matt Leinart, who threw for 365 yards in the 2005 Rose Bowl. In addition, Watson’s 478 total yards broke Vince Young’s record for a title game, which the Texas QB set with 467 against Leinart and the Trojans in the same matchup, a 41-38 victory by the Longhorns.
That’s who the Tigers will open against this year at home on Sept. 3.
2. Trevor Knight, Texas A&M: After losing Oklahoma’s starting QB battle to Baker Mayfield, Knight completed 22 of 40 passes for 305 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in six games as the Sooners’ backup last season. The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder jumped at the chance to take over at Texas A&M, which had both of its starting signal-callers in 2015 — Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray — transfer to Houston and Oklahoma, respectively.
Knight was the Sooners’ starter in 2014, when he completed 56.6 percent of his passes for 2,300 yards, 14 TDs and 12 interceptions in 10 games. He was also a fairly decent runner as he rushed 68 times for 339 yards — nearly five yards a carry — and 5 scores.
Knight and the Aggies visit Jordan-Hare on Saturday, Sept. 17.
3. Brandon Harris, LSU: We considered others for this spot but decided to go with the Tigers’ signal-caller because he’s a dual threat and has such good weapons around him. Harris has plenty to prove as a passer, but with a full season as a starter behind him, the rising junior is showing signs of improvement throwing the ball.
Harris completed only 53.6 percent of his passes last year, but he did throw for 2,158 yards, 13 TDs and just 6 interceptions. Another indication of his progress is the fact that he tied the LSU record for passes without a pick. Alan Risher set the record when he completed 137 in a row during the 1982 season.
Harris and LSU visit Auburn on Saturday, Sept. 24.
4. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss: Kelly made quite an impact last year in his first full season at the helm of the Rebels offense. He was the first QB to lead Ole Miss to wins over Alabama, Auburn and LSU in the same season.
He tied or broke 14 Ole Miss single-season records. His 4,542 total yards and 4,042 passing yards are both third-most in a season in SEC history.
Kelly was among the top 20 quarterbacks nationally in passing efficiency (155.9), completion percentage (65.1), completions per game (22.9) and yards per pass attempt (8.8). Kelly also led the Rebels with 10 rushing touchdowns, the most by an Ole Miss QB since Archie Manning had 14 in 1969.
While breaking Bo Wallace’s school record with 298 completions, Kelly was also the first QB to lead the Rebels to five victories over top 25-ranked teams. He led the SEC — and finished 10th in the FBS — in average passing yards per game (310.9). He also led the conference in total offense (349.4 yards per game), passing touchdowns (31) – which tied Eli Manning’s single-season school record — and points responsible for (246).
The rising senior also has the chance to become the first quarterback in SEC history to throw for 4,000 yards twice in a career. Auburn visits Kelly and Ole Miss on Saturday, Oct. 29.
That’s a quality quartet of quarterbacks the Tigers defense must contend with as another challenging SEC slate awaits.