Ranking the Top 10 nonconference quarterbacks SEC teams will face in 2021
When you come from what’s usually considered the top conference in the land, the word “nonconference” can evoke a sort of superiority complex.
Take one glance at the SEC’s composite schedule for 2021, and you’ll see a swath of games in the “should be an easy win” column.
But every college football season has at least one or two out-of-league upsets. One reason: quarterback play.
The game’s most important position is churning out more high-level recruits than ever. And they can’t all land at a Power 5 spot.
It’s why the 2021 NFL Draft featured QBs Zach Wilson and Trey Lance in the top 3. And it’s why SEC teams will see a handful of gamers when they go out of conference this fall — both from the likes of Clemson and Miami but also Kent State and East Carolina.
We rank the top 10 of ’em here.
10. Dustin Crum, Kent State | Texas A&M, Week 1
Crum was FBS’ No. 14 passer last season, throwing for 295 yards per game. That’s a little misleading, though, because the Golden Flashes played only 4 games. Still, season-openers can be tricky for defenses, especially when an experienced, accurate quarterback is on the opposite side.
9. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh | Tennessee, Week 2
Pitt seems to be forgotten in ACC race conversations these days, but the Panthers have a 3-year starter in “super senior” Pickett. The New Jersey native completed over 60%8 of his passes last season but is a bit interception prone.
8. Holton Ahlers, East Carolina | South Carolina, Week 2
Keep an eye on Ahlers — even if the Gamecocks aren’t your squad. The senior threw almost as many touchdowns (18) in 8 games last season as he did in 12 games the season prior (21). A Greenville native, he enters his third year as ECU’s starter.
7. Cornelious Brown IV, Georgia State | Auburn, Week 4
The youngster they call “Quad” — he wears No. 4 for the Panthers — appears to have a bright future after throwing for over 2,200 yards and rushing for 300 as a redshirt freshman. He’s the type of dual-threat that can cause even seasoned defenses problems.
6. Phil Jurkovec, Boston College | Mizzou, Week 4
The junior’s 255.8 passing yards per game in 2020 ranked 26th nationally. Jurkovec began his career at Notre Dame before transferring to BC.
5. Sean Clifford, Penn State | Auburn, Week 3
Clifford gets a bum rap in Big Ten circles sometimes, but when he’s on, he’s on. He’s currently the Nittany Lions’ all-time leader in passing efficiency.
4. Malik Cunningham, Louisville | Ole Miss, Week 1 and Kentucky, Week 13
The Cardinals open and close a taxing slate with SEC squads, but Cunningham is capable of beating them both. Another third-year starter with loads of big games under his belt. He also has good genes — perhaps you’ve heard he’s the son of former NFLer Randall Cunningham.
3. Malik Willis, Liberty | Ole Miss, Week 10
Alas, there is life after the SEC. For Willis, an Auburn transfer, and his coach, Hugh Freeze. Together, they led Liberty to a top-25 finish in 2020. Willis is another freak athlete under center who’s as dangerous in the RPO with his arm as he is with his legs. Willis was FBS’ top rushing quarterback last season, carrying 141 times for 944 yards. That’s almost 7 yards per tote (!).
2. D.J. Uiagalelei, Clemson | Georgia, Week 1 and South Carolina, Week 13
Is there a tastier matchup than Clemson-Georgia to kick off a season that we all hope will represent a return to normalcy? Uiagalelei, the heir to Trevor Lawrence, has an early chance to meet the incredibly high expectations attached to his name. Pro Football Focus already tabs him as the No. 8 QB in the country after his impressive performances in Lawrence’s stead last year.
1. D’Eriq King, Miami | Alabama, Week 1
Wait a minute. This could actually end up being the tastiest matchup. We give King the slight edge based on experience; PFF’s No. 3 signal-caller completed 64% of his passes, threw for 2,686 yards and rushed for 538 more in 2020.
The only hiccup: He tore an ACL in Miami’s bowl game, but he reportedly is aggressively rehabbing the injury in time for this season.