Contenders cannot afford a loss in Week 9. Underdogs want to ruin someone’s day. And every college football team will be looking toward their quarterback for guidance.
Some of them are leading championship-caliber teams — both conference and national — and know their margin for error is slim or zero. Others are trying to propel their program to a signature win in 2018.
The scale is different. But it’s always important.
Looking ahead to Week 9, we’ve identified the quarterbacks that will shape the most impactful showdowns. Each one highlighted plays for a top-25 team, is slated to face a ranked opponent or leads a program still alive in a conference race.
Malik Rosier, Miami
In fairness to Malik Rosier, the criticism is probably too extreme for a college kid. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong to be concerned about the senior in an unfriendly environment. Miami is headed to Boston College, which will feature a rowdy crowd and weather that will seem frigid to the ‘Canes. N’Kosi Perry’s struggles against Virginia led Mark Richt to turn back to Rosier, but he was objectively ineffective until it was too late. Although he’ll start against the Eagles, Rosier may constantly be worried about getting benched with any mistake. His job security is tied to an encouraging first quarter.
Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Literally speaking, Florida State’s Deondre Francois will face more pressure. Clemson’s defensive line should constantly harass him. Trevor Lawrence, however, is preparing for his first serious road test as the Tigers’ starter. Since taking the job from Kelly Bryant, Lawrence’s only contest away from Clemson resulted in a 63-3 victory at Wake Forest. It’s safe to say FSU’s 17th-ranked defense will put up more resistance. Lawrence, who threw for a career-high 308 yards to crush NC State, must be able to atone for minimal rushing production and keep Clemson’s record perfect.
Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
This isn’t a typical Wisconsin defense. After holding top-20 rankings in pass defense during each of the last three seasons, the Badgers are 64th this year. It’s not a coincidence there’s a four-way tie atop the Big Ten West Division that includes Northwestern. But does anyone trust the Wildcats? They took Michigan to the wire, upended Michigan State on the road, then nearly lost to both Nebraska and Rutgers. Clayton Thorson has thrown for 380-plus yards three times in 2018 but couldn’t crack 200 in the other four games. He could thrive against Wisconsin. He might fail miserably.
Feleipe Franks, Florida
Dan Mullen has helped bring out a much-improved version of Feleipe Franks, but he’s still a dangerously average quarterback. Franks has thrown at least one interception in five games, and he’s completed less than 60 percent of his attempts four times. Plus, the Gators lack explosiveness through the air. Florida ranks 107th nationally in passes of 20-plus yards with 17, while Week 9 opponent Georgia has surrendered the second-fewest such gains at 11. Unless the Gators play an absolutely perfect defensive game, Franks must find a way to attack the Dawgs downfield.
Trace McSorley, Penn State
Through seven games, Iowa has held six opponents below three yards per carry. Running the ball against the Hawkeyes is typically a futile effort. Without question, Penn State will (and should) try anyway because it’s an important part of the offense. No matter the effectiveness, though, Trace McSorley will be in the spotlight. If the rushing attack excels, he’s probably a key reason. But if not, McSorley must be prepared to lead the Nittany Lions through the air. Unlike last season, he can’t rely on Saquon Barkley to pick up crucial yards. Fair or not, this result is contingent on McSorley’s play.
Drew Lock, Missouri
He’s garnered praise as a potential first-round NFL draft pick. However, Drew Lock has rarely showed that ability opposite quality SEC competition while leading Missouri to a win. This year alone, he’s averaging a paltry 5.2 yards per attempt with one touchdown and five interceptions in three conference games — all losses. In Week 9, he’ll take on a Kentucky defense that is 15th nationally in yards allowed (5.9) per pass. Lock’s arm talent is undeniable, but he desperately needs a strong showing against a terrific Wildcats defense to quiet some critics.
Jake Browning, Washington
While Cal is nowhere close to a Pac-12 contender, the defense is quietly one of the conference’s best units. Only Utah and Washington have surrendered fewer yards per snap than the Golden Bears. The secondary ranks 20th in the country and also has 10 interceptions compared to only six passing scores allowed. Cal isn’t an easy matchup for Jake Browning, who’s tossed at least one interception in six of eight games. Washington should be able to control Cal’s offense, but Browning must avoid turnovers in field position that basically give the Bears free points.
Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
Mississippi State knows it has a problem at quarterback. Nick Fitzgerald isn’t getting the job done, and Keytaon Thompson was awesome in Week 1. But the Bulldogs aren’t necessarily in a rush to change anything because their defense is so good. Mississippi State won’t object to playing a low-scoring, run-first game. Kellen Mond can force the Bulldogs out of their comfort zone if he excels in scoring territory. Texas A&M has the 12th-most red-zone drives in the country but ranks 77th in touchdown rate. Change that, and the Aggies can run away on the scoreboard.
Gardner Minshew, Washington State
Gardner Minshew tallied 323 yards and four touchdowns during Washington State’s 34-20 triumph over Oregon. That’s the positive part. He also threw two interceptions and was exceptionally fortunate to avoid a third pick at a costly moment in the fourth quarter. Nevertheless, the Cougs won. At 6-1, they’re actually the Pac-12’s last viable College Football Playoff threat. Stanford’s defense is average at best, but the secondary has a trio of two-interception games. If Minshew is reckless with the ball, the Cardinal will bounce Wazzu from the fringe of the CFP discussion.
Sam Ehlinger, Texas
Oklahoma State’s secondary has struggled mightily in Big 12 play, considering Kansas is the only defense allowing a higher completion percentage or more touchdowns. The Cowboys have snagged just three interceptions, too. Although the numbers suggest Sam Ehlinger is headed for a big day, an ailing throwing shoulder caused him to exit a victory over Baylor and has limited him in practice. The Longhorns might not call as many designed runs for the dual-threat quarterback, so Ehlinger must be productive through the air to avoid an upset.