When the game is on the line, quarterbacks need to take control. And an exciting Week 6 slate in college football will thrust signal-callers into the spotlight.
Heading into the weekend, our eyes are focused on the signal-callers in the most impactful clashes. There are battles between Top 25 teams, rivalry games and conference tilts to highlight an exciting schedule.
And we’ve picked out the quarterbacks who will most define Saturday’s results.
If their respective teams don’t win, it’ll have a considerable negative effect on the team’s ability to contend for a conference or national title this season.
Joe Burrow, LSU
Week 5 brought a brilliant day from Joe Burrow, who enjoyed a Saturday of wide-open receivers and no pass-rush pressure. Sure is fun to play that horrid Ole Miss defense! But it’s back to a challenging matchup this weekend as LSU travels to rival Florida. Though the Gators were horrendous in a loss at Kentucky, they’ve since recovered in excellent fashion. The last three opponents have trudged to four yards per snap combined, also completing only 47.8 percent of their passes. LSU’s defense is outstanding, but Burrow needs to give the Tigers some breathing room.
Taylor Cornelius, Oklahoma State
Despite holding a 1-3 record, Iowa State is a tremendously stingy team. The defense has surrendered only 3.2 yards per carry, and Oklahoma is the only passing attack to average more than 6.5 per pass attempt. Moving the ball against the Cyclones is a real challenge. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, has a Taylor Cornelius dilemma. He played well in a beatdown of Boise State, disappeared during an ugly loss to Texas Tech and obliterated Kansas. There’s been no consistency to his play, and another letdown would send the Cowboys to their second Big 12 loss already.
KJ Costello, Stanford
After struggling during the second half of a loss at Notre Dame, KJ Costello isn’t catching a break in Week 6. Utah ranks No. 9 nationally with only 5.4 yards allowed per pass attempt. The Utes had a few horrible breakdowns opposite Gardner Minshew and Washington State, though. Stanford won’t spread out its receivers and attack like a Mike Leach offense, but there is clear value in putting stress on the Utah secondary. Costello must take advantage of those opportunities to push the ball downfield, especially because it’s unlikely a struggling Bryce Love finds space against the Utes.
Sam Ehlinger, Texas
Oklahoma isn’t an impenetrable force stopping the run, but the Sooners do an excellent job preventing big plays on the ground. Only nine schools have ceded fewer gains of 20-plus yards than Oklahoma’s two, and the defense hasn’t surrendered a run of 30 yards or more. Between that strength and Texas’ mediocre rushing attack, the Red River Rivalry will hinge on Sam Ehlinger’s performance. He’s rarely a dominant presence, but efficient passing and timely short-yardage conversions as a runner will help Ehlinger buoy the underdogs opposite Kyler Murray and OU.
Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
It appears the offense’s torrid three-game stretch to open the season was fool’s gold. After posting eight-plus yards per play in those outings, Mississippi State averaged a porous 3.4 per snap in losses to Kentucky and Florida. In total, Nick Fitzgerald and Co. mustered just 403 yards and 13 points. An upcoming date with Auburn — the 15th-stingiest defense in the country — is probably not what the Bulldogs wanted to see. Nevertheless, this is their reality. While receivers need to avoid critical drops, Fitzgerald must be more consistently accurate. Only then will his mobility be a threat.
Brian Lewerke, Michigan State
Brian Lewerke hasn’t progressed as anticipated, and a loss at Arizona State significantly hurt Michigan State’s primary goal. Since that was a nonconference loss, however, the Spartans remain squarely in the Big Ten race. After this weekend’s date with Northwestern, MSU travels to Penn State and hosts Michigan. Lewerke, who has thrown at least one interception in every game, both cannot afford those mistakes against Northwestern and needs to correct the glaring trend before the two pivotal games. Otherwise, the Spartans won’t be a factor for long.
Steven Montez, Colorado
One of the quietest stars early in 2018 is Steven Montez, who has guided Colorado to a 4-0 record while racking up impressive numbers. He’s posted 9.1 yards per attempt and is responsible for 12 touchdowns compared to two interceptions. Arizona State’s secondary hasn’t been consistent this year, so it’s a little difficult to predict which unit will actually show up. While most of the pressure production has happened opposite weaker teams, the Sun Devils have showed an ability to get after the quarterback. Montez must ensure it doesn’t matter anyway.
N’Kosi Perry, Miami
Based on a spread of 13.5 points, per OddsShark, Miami is expected to earn a relatively comfortable win over rival Florida State. But it’s not safe to assume a freshman quarterback making his second career start will thrive. N’Kosi Perry has mostly played well in three appearances, but he’s tossed one interception in each of those games and lost a fumble. Florida State, despite its struggles on offense, still has a formidable pass rush and decent secondary. Perry is bound to make a couple of mistakes, so the question is whether the Seminoles can turn those into game-shaping plays.
Ryan Willis, Virginia Tech
In his first game as the replacement for an injured Josh Jackson, Ryan Willis picked apart a quality Duke defense. He finished 17-of-27 with 332 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. The combination of Virginia Tech’s defense and a noisy Lane Stadium crowd should help the offense, but Willis cannot expect to breeze past Notre Dame with quick-hitters and checkdowns. If the Irish don’t need to respect the aerial attack, they’ll happily stack the box and dare Willis to throw. The more those passes fall incomplete, the less likely the Hokies win.
Terry Wilson, Kentucky
The bandwagon is starting to get full, but Kentucky faces a challenging trip to Texas A&M this weekend. Through five games, the Aggies rank 28th nationally allowing only 3.3 yards per rushing attempt. Conversely, the Wildcats boast the 14th-highest average per carry. If they’re unable to ride standout back Benny Snell Jr., the pressure will quickly shift to dual-threat quarterback Terry Wilson. So far, he’s only mustered 6.4 yards per pass with two touchdowns to five interceptions. Wilson simply must be more efficient, but the environment won’t be friendly.