Alabama’s Jacob Coker and Mississippi’s Chad Kelly differ in size, classification and scheme, but both share two things in common, an ACC background and a need for a signature win.
Kelly, who is the nephew of NFL legend Jim Kelly, started his career at Clemson.
He saw action in five games as a redshirt freshman in 2013, totaling 58 passing yards, 117 rushing yards and a touchdown. Frustration with the coaching staff and off-field issues led to Kelly’s dismissal.
He took the junior college route and found his niche at East Mississippi Community College under head coach Buddy Stephens. Kelly made a name for himself as an efficient passer, recording 3,906 yards with 46 touchdowns to eight interceptions on a 66.9 percent mark.
He navigated East Mississippi to a 12-0 season, culminating in a National Junior College Athletics Association championship in 2014. Alabama is known for reeling in sought after junior college players. It brought in Jarran Reed and D.J. Pettway (East Mississippi) last season, but had no success with Kelly. He committed to Ole Miss in December 2014 and enrolled in January 2015. Kelly has been on a tear this season, posting 557 yards with six touchdowns.
Coker’s path to Alabama started much like former Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron.
Coker received an education and was a two-sport athlete at St. Paul’s Episcopal High School in Mobile, Ala. He was tabbed a three-star upon his arrival to Florida State in 2011.
Coker sat behind EJ Manuel in 2011 and 2012. He went toe-to-toe with Jameis Winston in 2013 for the starting job in fall camp, but alas came up empty handed.
A knee injury sidelined Coker for the remainder of the year, as he watched Winston guide the Seminoles to a conference title and a national championship. His career at FSU ended with 295 passing yards.
A journey to Alabama would follow, after Coker finished up his undergraduate degree in May 2014. Preseason hype pinned Alabama as a national champion with Coker at quarterback, yet it was Blake Sims that won the job. Lack of knowledge in Alabama’s system and team chemistry directed Coker to the bench last season. He watched Sims carry the team to a conference title. How many chances can one have to make a solid first impression?
Two is the limit for most, but Coker stares at his fourth opportunity this season. Head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin both believe he’s the guy; however, Coker must deliver against Mississippi. Consistency and execution are expected from him.
Both quarterbacks will face two of the best defenses in college football this weekend.
Ole Miss looks to rattle Coker and force mistakes early. The Rebels have forced four interceptions this season, three of which have been returned for touchdowns.
Kelly comes into Bryant-Denny Stadium red hot, but Alabama fans will look to create a hostile atmosphere for him. The Crimson Tide’s defensive line will try to avenge itself Saturday, after not registering a single sack last week against Middle Tennessee State. Kelly is known for throwing erratic passes when consistently pressured. Alabama wants to limit big plays.
The path to a solid NFL Draft stock starts Saturday for Coker and Kelly.
A win for Ole Miss puts the Rebels on the map, and possibly makes it a lock to win the SEC West. A victory would confirm Kelly’s stance on an opportunity to be successful in a power five conference. A win for Mississippi makes the Hugh Freeze-Nick Saban rivalry a marquee one.
A win for Alabama would restore the swagger and grit that’s its lost in the last couple of seasons. A victory would get the Crimson Tide past its first SEC test and give Coker some confidence. Most importantly, a win tells national media that Alabama still has a leg up on competition. Two different quarterbacks with a similar ACC background will meet up Saturday.
Who will emerge a champion? ESPN will air the matchup at 8:15 pm CT.