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A Quarterback Matchup for the Ages

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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In a fitting spotlight given the setting, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and LSU’s Joe Burrow will soon square off in a matchup for the ages.

When framing the historical relevancy of Saturday’s Alabama-LSU showdown, the rankings are merely the beginning. Currently slotted one-two in the AP poll, the Crimson Tide and Tigers have met with both teams ranked in the top three just three times before: last year, in the 2011 regular season and, months later, in the BCS National Championship Game. This weekend isn’t just a pairing of two of the top football programs in the country, but two of the top players in all of college football as well. This awaits as a meeting to remember. 

In a fitting spotlight given the setting, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and LSU’s Joe Burrow will soon square off in a matchup for the ages. Beyond a spot in the College Football Playoff, a chance at both history and the Heisman Trophy are on the line. It’s a boundary that Burrow and Tagovailoa continue to push. 

The two catalysts for two of the clear title frontrunners, Tagovailoa and Burrow are racing to the SEC record books; their only competition, at this point, is each other. In terms of a pairing of unprecedented production, Alabama vs LSU, namely Tagovailoa vs Burrow, is the best quarterback matchup the league has ever seen. They, at powerhouse programs, are among those shifting the passing game paradigm in today’s game.

Together, Tagovailoa and Burrow have combined to complete over 77% of their passes for 4,971 yards with 57 touchdown passes compared to just six interceptions. All for two of college football’s most dominant and undefeated teams. A year after Tagovailoa set a new single-season FBS passer rating record at 199.4, he and Burrow are currently at 212.4 and 204.5, respectively. This status quo, in college football’s toughest conference, or anywhere for that matter, has never before been seen. With the nation watching, these two two superstars will soon take center stage.     

Paths to prominence, for Tagovailoa and Burrow, have been different and dynamic. After emerging as Alabama’s national championship game hero as a true freshman, then setting new all-time national marks as a sophomore, Tagovailoa, somehow, has continued to improve. His resume, already, is one of the best college football has ever seen. One x-factor, for Saturday, could be Tagovailoa’s health, as he is still recovering from a high ankle sprain. Burrow, transferring south from Ohio State, truly settled in late last season, momentum which has turned into a meteoric rise. Burrow, ushering in a new era of passing proficiency, is leading a new-look LSU. Here in November, Tagovailoa and Burrow are the sport’s biggest names. 

Most pundits are also projecting that Tagovailoa and Burrow will be the first two quarterbacks selected in the upcoming NFL Draft. Tagovailoa’s stock remains incredibly high, with multiple professional teams allegedly “tanking for Tua” in an attempt to acquire the number one overall pick. Burrow has emerged as a lock for the top-half of the first round lock and there are some discussions regarding him actually being the number one overall choice. Expect the competition between Tagovailoa and Burrow to continue off the field, well into next spring and, in terms of the next level, beyond.  

What happens next in Tuscaloosa will first shape this season. The winner of the highly-anticipated Alabama-LSU contest, college football’s latest “game of the century”, will have the signature victory entering the stretch run, arguably emerging as the singular playoff favorite. The number one overall seed in the final four is obviously in play. Furthermore, Tagovailoa and Burrow, individually, will vie for the most famous individual award in all of sports. While the Heisman Trophy won’t be awarded until early December, it may very likely be decided a full month prior. 

Tagovailoa and Burrow both have titles and trophies on the horizon, notable given that these are the nation’s two most accurate passers. 

The first time Alabama and LSU met in the spotlight of the national top three, the end result was an iconic 9-6 overtime slugfest won by the Tigers back in 2011. A near-decade later, Tagovailoa and Burrow headline a clash where the two passing games are sudden principles. LSU ranks second nationally with 377.6 yards passing per game, with the Crimson Tide slot three spots back with 338.6; the two offenses, for point of reference, fill out the statistical top five alongside Washington State, Hawai’i and Oklahoma.

Tagovailoa and Burrow aren’t just record producers, they are, in some ways, pioneers. There is a new passing game standard in the SEC.         

Individually, one of Tagovailoa or Burrow will likely join a very rare fraternity of SEC signal callers to win the Heisman Trophy. Johnny Manziel, Cam Newton, Tim Tebow, Danny Wuerffel, Pat Sullivan and Steve Spurrier, all legends, are the lone league quarterbacks to have claimed the heralded honor. Newton and Wuerffel are the only two to have won the Heisman and the national championship in the same season. To date, just Newton has pulled off the personal trifecta of the Heisman, the national title and becoming the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft. Remarkably, Tagovailoa and Burrow are very much in position.      

Even in a conference with an unparalleled legacy, Saturday is a showcase to bookmark. From Sullivan vs Joe Namath and Wuerffel vs Peyton Manning to Newton vs Aaron Murray and Manziel vs A.J. McCarron, Tagovailoa vs Burrow comes with a place in history.

A podium in New York City and party in New Orleans await.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports