Is Kyle Trask vs. Mac Jones the best QB showdown in SEC Championship history? Let's explore
In a year unlike any other, perhaps it’s only fitting that we’re about to get an SEC Championship unlike any other. That has nothing to do with the reduced capacity crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, nor is it related to the coaches who will be wearing masks on the sidelines.
That has everything to do with the quarterbacks on display.
Kyle Trask vs. Mac Jones might not be the matchup we originally expected with Florida losing to LSU and putting a major damper on the former’s Heisman hopes. Still, though. Could Trask hypothetically throw for 5 touchdowns in a stunning Florida upset of Alabama en route to a Heisman? It’s possible.
Some, or many, might’ve had the preseason prediction of a Florida-Alabama SEC Championship (again), but nobody could’ve predicted that we’d be legitimately asking another question.
Is this the best quarterback matchup we’ve seen in SEC Championship history?
Think about it. Since the SEC Championship began in 1992, 2013 was the only season in which the SEC had 2 quarterbacks finish in the top 5 of the Heisman voting. That was AJ McCarron and Johnny Manziel. Ironically enough, neither even reached the SEC Championship that year.
Sure, we’ve seen Heisman-winning quarterbacks who won the SEC Championship in the same season. Here’s that list:
- 2019 — Joe Burrow, LSU
- 2010 — Cam Newton, Auburn
- 1996 — Danny Wuerffel, Florida
Much smaller list than you thought? Yeah, me too (remember that Tim Tebow didn’t even play for the SEC Championship during his 2007 Heisman season).
In all likelihood, another name will be added to that list this season. That’s how good Trask and Jones have been.
One thing is for sure. We’ve never seen 2 quarterbacks in the Heisman Trophy race face off in the SEC Championship.
I went back and found every matchup of SEC Championship quarterbacks:
- 1992 — Shane Matthews (Florida) vs. Jay Barker (Alabama)
- 1993 — Terry Dean (Florida) vs. Brian Burgdorf/David Palmer (Alabama)
- 1994 – Danny Wuerffel (Florida)vs. Jay Barker (Alabama)
- 1995 — Danny Wuerffel (Florida) vs. Barry Lunney Jr. (Arkansas)
- 1996 — Danny Wuerffel (Florida) vs. Freddie Kitchens (Alabama)
- 1997 — Peyton Manning (Tennessee) vs. Dameyune Craig (Auburn)
- 1998 — Tee Martin (Tennessee) vs. Wayne Madkin (MSU)
- 1999 — Jesse Palmer (Florida) vs. Andrew Zow (Alabama) …
… Real quick before we dig into the 21st century. Manning and Wuerffel were obviously great, though they didn’t have world-beater counterparts. Barker had his moments, too, but he was lifted by a dominant defense more than some care to admit. You’re out of your mind if you think that any of those matchups had 2 quarterbacks playing to the level of Trask and Jones.
OK, back to the SEC Championship quarterback matchups:
- 2000 — Rex Grossman (Florida) vs. Ben Leard (Auburn)
- 2001 — Matt Mauck (LSU) vs. Casey Clausen (Tennessee)
- 2002 — Matt Mauck/Rohan Davey (LSU) vs. Casey Clausen (Tennessee)
- 2003 — Matt Mauck (LSU) vs. David Greene (Georgia)
- 2004 — Jason Campbell (Auburn) vs. Rick Clausen (Tennessee)
- 2005 — D.J. Shockley (Georgia) vs. JaMarcus Russell (LSU)
- 2006 — Chris Leak (Florida) vs. Casey Dick (Alabama)
- 2007 — Ryan Perrilloux (LSU) vs. Erik Ainge (Tennessee)
- 2008 — Tim Tebow (Florida) vs. John Parker Wilson (Alabama)
- 2009 — Tim Tebow (Florida) vs. Greg McElroy (Alabama) …
… Nothing yet with 2 truly elite quarterbacks, right? Didn’t think so. And no, don’t tell me Jones is another McElroy. With all due respect to McElroy, that’s a slap in the face to a guy who hit 350 passing yards in half of his games this year. Let’s keep going.
- 2010 — Cam Newton (Auburn) vs. Stephen Garcia (South Carolina)
- 2011 — Aaron Murray (Georgia) vs. Jordan Jefferson (LSU)
- 2012 — AJ McCarron (Alabama) vs. Aaron Murray (Georgia)
- 2013 — Nick Marshall (Auburn) vs. James Franklin (Mizzou)
- 2014 — Blake Sims (Alabama) vs. Maty Mauk (Mizzou)
- 2015 — Jake Coker (Alabama) vs. Treon Harris (Florida)
- 2016 — Jalen Hurts (Alabama) vs. Austin Appleby (Florida)
- 2017 — Jarrett Stidham (Auburn) vs. Jake Fromm (Georgia)
- 2018 — Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) vs. Jake Fromm (Georgia)
- 2019 — Joe Burrow (LSU) vs. Jake Fromm (Georgia)
See what I’m saying? It’s rare that 2 elite SEC quarterbacks faced off in the conference title game.
I’d say 2012 with McCarron vs. Murray was a fantastic matchup, and it lived up to the billing. But neither finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting, and Murray didn’t have much of a shot at All-SEC honors with Manziel and McCarron ahead of him. I love Garcia, but he’d be the first person to tell you he didn’t spin it like Jones and Trask.
I think 2013 is a pretty underrated matchup with Marshall and Franklin, neither of whom got the credit they deserved. But neither even sniffed All-SEC honors that season.
The default is probably to say that either 2018 or 2019 was the best year in terms of a legitimate Heisman front-runner (Tagovailoa and Burrow) alongside the accomplished Fromm. But did Fromm play at the level of Jones or Trask? Nope.
Compare the side-by-side from Fromm’s best statistical season of 2018:
By the way, Fromm had 14 games to get those numbers. Jones and Trask each had 10.
There’s no question that both have been better than peak-Fromm. You can say that Jones and Trask have talented receivers to work with, but didn’t we spend all offseason talking about what they lost? Alabama lost 2 receivers in the first half of Round 1 of the NFL Draft, and Jaylen Waddle went down midseason. Florida had 4 (!) receivers from the 2019 team who earned NFL roster spots to start 2020.
Yet here we are, talking about the Heisman credentials of Trask and Jones. It’s remarkable.
It’s remarkable to think that this is the 29th time that the SEC Championship will be played, and Trask vs. Jones will be the best quarterback matchup of them all. Frankly, I’m not even sure it’s really that close. That’s not to say either undoubtedly played better than Burrow, Newton or Wuerffel, but what Trask and Jones have accomplished this year will be talked about for decades just like that trio.
A condensed season won’t make the cumulative numbers as gaudy as they could’ve been. On a per-game basis, though, this is indeed unique. And sure, it might’ve helped that both Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields lost games because of different COVID-related reasons. It still shouldn’t take away what Jones and Trask have done to get to this point.
We’re fortunate that in this season that almost wasn’t, we’re getting a dream quarterback matchup to decide the SEC. It’ll be consumed by millions of people, both inside and outside the SEC’s geographical footprint.
It’s too bad that only a fraction of a normal crowd will be there to witness it. They’re in for a treat.