Head and Shoulders Above
College football season is inching nearer, meaning the college football debates are heating up.
With the on-campus activities ban being lifted last week and student-athletes allowed to return to their schools, the NCAA Football Oversight Committee has set a course for getting everyone ready to go:
And with that, the pundits are beginning to take a closer look at the best teams and players that will take the field in September, barring any setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Where better to start than at the quarterback position, and answer the question, who will be the top gunslinger in the land for the 2020 season?
However, we're just not sure the answer is that debatable...
Last week, Urban Meyer, Reggie Bush, Joel Klatt, Matt Leinart, Brady Quinn and Rob Stone – our Big Noon Kickoff crew – sat down for a special "Offseason" edition of the show to share their top five quarterbacks heading into the 2020 season.
Meyer began the discussion with an outline of the importance of the quarterback position, and how teams with an established signal-caller will have a distinct advantage this season.
"It's often said in the NFL that 'the NFL is a quarterback league.' And every time I hear that I kinda laugh because so is college and so is high school. It's a quarterback sport is what it is. So those returning with experienced quarterbacks will have a big time advantage over everyone else ... If you're trying to break in a new quarterback without spring football, I don't want to say it's impossible, but it's impossible ... The quarterback position is the most that I've ever coached, been around and witnessed."
Meyer's thoughts on the importance of experience essentially served as a segue into his top five, a list that was headlined by arguably the college game's most experienced quarterback, Clemson's Trevor Lawrence.
"I had Fields and Trevor right next to each other. I picked Trevor Lawrence for one reason – he played one more year ... To me, what dictates the best quarterback in the land is, are you a winner and can you win a championship? ... [The way I pick] the best quarterback is, who can lead his team to a championship? That's why I have Justin and Trevor [at the top]."
For the sake of context, Meyer is the former Ohio State head coach, and even though he didn't coach Fields, Meyer has a close relationship with Ohio State's current coach Ryan Day, who served as Meyer's offensive coordinator in 2017 and 2018.
Still, despite his connection to the Buckeyes, Meyer couldn't deny that Lawrence was the choice for best quarterback.
Since arriving at Clemson, Lawrence has been remarkable. In 15 games as a freshman, he passed for 3,280 yards (218.7 per game), 30 TDs and only 4 INTs, while completing 65.2% of his passes. Then, in his sophomore year, Lawrence took it up a notch. He passed for 3,665 yards (244.3 per game), 36 TDs and 8 INTs in 15 games.
He also has 10 rushing TDs during his 2-year Clemson career.
The Tigers lost to Joe Burrow and LSU in the championship game last season, amounting to Lawrence's first loss in his college career.
Klatt, too, had Lawrence in the top spot by the narrowest of margins, and for him, it came down to the lone head-to-head matchup we've seen between Clemson and Ohio State, which took place in the CFP Semifinals last season.
"I don't think it's clear-cut. That was a tough ranking at the top between Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence for me. These two guys have separated themselves in college football. They're phenomenal players ... But Trevor Lawrence led his team back and beat Justin Fields on the field of play, so that's why I ranked Lawrence No. 1 and Fields No. 2. I will say, it would not shock me at all if Fields had a better season because he's gonna have a little bit better wide receiver corps to throw to."
On that night, the Tigers defeated the Buckeyes 29-23, behind Lawrence's 259 passing yards and 2 passing TDs, as well as his 107 yards on the ground and 1 rushing TD.
It was the first 100-yard rushing game of his career.
Fields finished the day with 320 passing yards and 1 TD, but threw 2 INTs, his first double-digit INT performance of the season.
Meyer and Klatt – along with, Leinart, Quinn and Stone – all ranked Lawrence at No. 1 and Fields at No. 2, meaning Lawrence won the popular vote among the Big Noon Kickoff team.
But Bush, the USC legend, reversed course and put Fields at No. 1 and Lawrence at No. 2.
And he wasn't the only one – so did the fans.
Bush landed on Fields as the top pick because of his ability to be a dual-threat quarterback, as well as the opportunities to shine that await Fields as he navigates the Big Ten schedule.
"I think Trevor Lawrence has the benefit of playing on a great team in a very weak conference. I think Justin Fields has the benefit of playing on a great team in a really tough conference. By that, I think he's gonna have more opportunities, on a bigger stage, against tougher teams ... I think Justin Fields is shifty. He's big, he's solid ... He accounted for  touchdowns in his first year at Ohio State ... To me, Justin Fields is the total package and he will have a better year than Trevor Lawrence this year."
Last season – his first at Ohio State after transferring from Georgia – Fields put together a number of monster games in leading the Buckeyes to a 13-0 regular season record, a Big Ten title, and a berth in the College Football Playoff.
In 14 games, Fields passed for 3,273 yards (233.8 per game), 41 TDs and a paltry 3 INTs. He also rushed for 484 yards and 10 TDs.
While it seems the Big Noon Kickoff team gives Lawrence a slight edge over Fields coming into the 2020 season – mainly based on Lawrence's championship experience and his head-to-head win over Fields and the Buckeyes – the conversation regarding who is the better of the two will undoubtedly continue throughout the season and more than likely into the 2021 NFL Draft, where both will have an opportunity to be the top pick in the draft.
Catch the entire Big Noon Kickoff Show debating the best quarterbacks bel0w:
And check back tomorrow, as the Big Noon Kickoff team debates the best running backs in college football.