Ranking The Big 10 Quarterbacks

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After months away, hundreds of hours of spring and summer practices, and new head coaches hired, the Big Ten is just days away from kicking off its 2017 season. The first Big Ten team in action will be P.J. Fleck’s Minnesota Golden Gophers, as the former Western Michigan coach will attempt to “Row the Boats” against Buffalo Thursday night. The marquee Big Ten matchup this weekend is a 3:30 kick Saturday, as the Michigan Wolverines will go down to Gainesville to take on the Florida Gators. Only two Big Ten teams will square off against one another, as Indiana and Ohio State will do battle Thursday night.

With all that being said, there’s just enough time remaining in the offseason to go through the conference and rank the 14 starting quarterbacks. At the top two of the list, there won’t be any surprises, but if you had the chance to tune into my Facebook Live last week, you’ll know number three is a bit of a different choice. With that, let’s get started with number 14.

 

14. Redshirt Junior, Giovanni Rescigno, Rutgers University

Rescigno falls to the bottom spot for a few reasons this 2017 season. The first, of course, is that his Rutgers offense around him won’t do him many favors this season. A consensus pick to finish toward the bottom of the conference again this year, Rutgers doesn’t have the skills position players around Rescigno like some other conference quarterbacks do. Rescigno started the last seven games of the season for the Scarlet Knights in 2016 with mixed results. He completed 53 percent of his passes, and threw exactly five touchdowns to five interceptions. This will be the first time he’s handed the reigns to the offense from the onset, and it won’t be an easy start for Rescigno, as he’ll have to face the defending Pac-12 champions Washington University in week one. This is the second half of a home and home series between the two teams. Last year, Washington trounced Rutgers 48-13 at home. Now the game shifts to New Jersey, but I can’t imagine the outcome to be too much different. Rescigno didn’t win a single game last year, so he’ll have to prove to Head Coach Chris Ash he can be the true starter for this team.

 

13. Sophomore Nathan Stanley, University of Iowa

With C.J. Beathard now vying for a roster spot with the San Francisco 49ers, it’s time for the Hawkeyes to find their next heir to the quarterback throne. First one up: Nathan Stanley. Stanley will have big shoes to fill, as Beathard threw for 34 touchdowns and over 4700 yards his final two seasons at Iowa. With those numbers and Beathard rarely missing any time, Stanley has the least experience of all the Big Ten quarterbacks this season. The Hawkeye skill position players struggled with injury bugs all last season, so Stanley may be able to quell inexperience concerns with a good start and healthy receivers. The team’s top target last season, Riley McCarron is now trying to make the Houston Texans roster, but Stanley may be okay if he can work with his targets early and often.  Head Coach Kirk Ferentz has been doing this thing a long time now, and always gets the best out of his quarterbacks, who generally aren’t asked to do much more than game manage, as Iowa has always been a run first attack. He’ll start the season against perhaps the best quarterback in college football, as the Hawkeyes take on Jake Allen and Wyoming University.

 

12. Redshirt Junior Chayce Crouch,University of Illinois

Now that Wes Lunt is no longer in the fold, Head Coach Lovie Smith has decided to hand over the offense to redshirt junior Chayce Crouch. Crouch was chosen over fellow competitor Jeff George Jr. to open the season as the Illini’s starting quarterback. Crouch provides Smith with a balanced attack using both a strong arm and his mobile ability to succeed. He won’t be on the move as much as former Illini quarterback Nate Scheelhaase was, who ran the ball over 600 times in his four years at Illinois, but he will be far more active outside the pocket that Wes Lunt, the stone footed quarterback with a huge arm. For the first time in their respected tenures as members of the football team, a healthy Mikey Dudek and the athletic Crouch will get to join forces on the field. Dudek was a sensation for the Illini in 2015 before an ACL injury in Spring practice last year sidelined for the entire 2016 season. What plagues Crouch is his lack of experience. In sitting much of his first two seasons, Crouch threw just 32 passes last season, connecting on 18 of them. He’ll get to shine in the first weekend of the season, as the Illini will take on Ball State to begin the year.

 

11. Redshirt Sophomore Demry Croft, University of Minnesota

While the starting quarterback could be shuffled many times this season, the first crack at it appears to be going to redshirt sophomore Demry Croft. Croft is your intangibles type quarterback. 6’5″, 205 pound, can move outside the pocket and has a strong arm. While he was redshirted last season, he is a guy that could rise up this list if he avoids the turnovers. He was the number 18 dual threat quarterback coming out of high school and the number 29 overall quarterback. Of course, high school is a different world compared to the defenses in the Big Ten, he’ll have at least a start or two to prove he’s worth the gamble. His inexperience is even more significant than that of Rescigno or Crouch, but his athletic ability makes up for that in a big way. He’s higher on this list for one reason: his Head Coach. The Golden Gophers hired P.J. Fleck after a nearly perfect season at Western Michigan, where he took the Broncos to the Cotton Bowl, losing 24-16 to the Wisconsin Badgers. Fleck was able to get the best out of his players in the MAC, and you would assume that Minnesota’s players will buy in as well. With what SHOULD be a better talent pool, Fleck and Croft could thrive together in a big way this season.

 

10. Redshirt Sophomore Brian Lewerke, Michigan State University

Another guy who wasn’t the starting quarterback of his team last seaosn, Lewerke will take over for Tyler O’Connor who struggled after stepping into the Shaq sized shoes left void by Spartan hero Connor Cook. O’Connor threw for 16 touchdowns and 1970 yards last season, but the Spartans were a shell of their usual selves in 2016, finishing the season 3-9 after starting with two consecutive wins. Lewerke will now take on Mark Dantonio’s offense. He’ll be needed in a big way this year if Michigan State wants to get back into the elite level of college football that the school has reached in recent years. Lewerke threw the ball 57 times last year, completing 31 of those passes. He threw two touchdowns and one interception on the season. He played little last year because of a season ending tibia injury in a game against Michigan last season, but is ready to go after being a full participant in the spring and summer practices. He has the size and arm strength to be very successful for the Spartans this season. The word of the article so far seems to be inexperience, and Lewerke is ripe with it, but there’s something about him that stands out that propels him higher up this list. It’s likely his Head Coach, Mike Dantonio, who has owned “big brother” Michigan and much of the Big Te in recent years. The Spartans will open up with high scoring Bowling Green, out of the MAC. While I expect the Spartans to win, it could be a thrilling game. It’ll be a good test for Lewerke early.

 

9.Redshirt Junior Caleb Henderson, University of Maryland

In recent years, Maryland seemed to have one of those quarterbacks where you look at him and say, “Man, he’s been on the team FOREVER!” At least that’s how it felt to me with Perry Hills. But Hill’s time at College Park has come to an end , and a new era is set to take over for Head Coach D.J. Durkin in 2017. Caleb Henderson originally committed to play at North Carolina in 2015 as the number 10 ranked quarterback in the country. Of course, Mitch Trubisky had others plans for the Tar Heels and started every game for the team in 2016. With the knowledge that Trubisky would be starting last season, Henderson decided to transfer and sit the season out at Maryland. Now, he’s ready to go in 2017. The former four star recruit will take control of the Terps’ offense with very little experience at the collegiate ranks, having thrown just one pass in 2015 for UNC. The difference between Henderson and the group of inexperienced players below him on this list is raw talent. Henderson is 6’3″ and 215 pounds and has the stature of a prototypical NFL caliber quarterback. He has a cannon attached to his arm. In his high school senior year, what seems like an eternity ago for Henderson, I’m sure, the righty threw for 2100 yards with 20 touchdowns, compared to just three interceptions. He also ran for almost 1000 yards and scored 18 times. The Terps won’t ask Henderson to be a mobile quarterback, but it should give Durkin some confidence knowing that Henderson has the ability to escape or climb the pocket when pressed. The Terps go on the road to take on Texas in Week 1 in what will be a great early test for their newest starting quarterback. While Texas isn’t the powerhouse it once was, the program is still more difficult to compete against than most Week 1 opponents. Henderson could become the one quarterback that shoots up this chart with his play in 2017.

 

8.Redshirt Junior Tanner Lee, University of Nebraska

Much like Caleb Henderson, Tanner Lee is in a similar situation at Nebraska. Long-time starter Tommy Armstrong is no longer in the fold, and Head Coach Mike Riley is going with redshirt junior Tanner Lee for the 2017 season. Lee will make his Big Ten debut this weekend after playing two season at Tulane University. Lee is 6’4″ and 220 pounds with a lively arm. That same arm sometimes gets him into trouble, though, as he threw 21 interceptions to just 23 touchdowns in his previous two seasons at Tulane. He sat out the required transfer year last season, and is now 22-years-old, so Riley and the Husker are hoping with age comes maturity. They expect Lee to sling the ball over the field, but hope that he can limit the turnovers to allow the offense to work efficiently. Lee has a ton of experience from his time at Tulane, but the question remains if he’ll be able to make the leap from the competition he was facing there to the stout defenses of the Big Ten. Lee is expected to shine quickly, or will be forced to face the stiff competition staring at the back of his helmet in redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien and true freshman Tristan Gebbia, a four star recruit who chose Nebraska over Ole Miss, Utah and South Carolina. The Huskers get an Arkansas State team, that despite not winning a non-conference game last season, finished the year 8-5 and won a bowl game, to begin the 2017 season. While they’re not world beaters, it will be a decent test to start the year for Tanner Lee and Nebraska.

 

7. Redshirt Sophomore Alex Hornibrook, University of Wisconsin

This is where the transition begins. There’s a simple reason that Hornibrook and the remaining players on the list haven’t been mentioned until now: playing time. Every one of the guys previously mentioned has had little to no game time experience at the Big Ten level. Some have transferred in, while others have been backups to this point. But not Alex Hornibrook, the quarterback of the Wisconsin Badgers. Hornibrook took over the offense from Joel Stave last season and never relinquished it. He led the Badgers to a Big Ten West championship and came ever so close to winning the conference title game against Penn State last season. What Hornibrook does well is protect the football. He’s not asked to do a ton in an offense that relies heavily on the run game, but he also can’t be careless with the football. Last season, he was 106-181 with nine touchdowns to seven interceptions. The offense leaned heavily on Corey Clement to run the football most times, as he carried the ball 314 times. This year, Clement, and backup Dare Ogunbowale, are both trying to cut it on NFL roster, and the Badgers will feature three running backs as co-starters in Bradrick Shaw, Taiwan Deal and true freshman Jonathan Taylor to make up for the 400 carries lost by Clement and Ogunbowale. This leads me to believe that Head Coach Paul Chryst will lean more heavily on Hornibrook this season. He may still only throw the ball 200 or so times, but he’s going to have to be willing to take a few shots down field to open up the young running attack. Wisconsin starts the season with Utah State at home, a very winnable game, and one that Hornibrook could showcase his improved arm and give the coaching staff some confidence in him moving forward.

 

6. Redshirt Senior Richard Lagow, Indiana University

I’m a bit higher on Lagow than some around the Big Ten are, but there’s something there that I truly like about this guy. Last season, Lagow took over the quarterback duties from departing Nate Sudfeld and Zander Diamont (who terrorized the Penn State defense with his ability to run the ball) and shined. In his first full season at the helms, Lagow finished second in the Big Ten in passing yards with 3362. He threw for 19 touchdowns but also killed 17 Hoosier drives with interceptions. Of Lagow’s 17 interceptions, though, he threw five in one game against Wake Forest. With those elminated for a moment, he threw 12 picks in 12 games. While that’s still not a sterling number, it’s certainly much more acceptable. Lagow will have to be more careful with the football if the Hoosiers want to continue to make improvements for Head Coach Tom Allen in his first full season. Just six years ago, the Hoosiers won a lone game. Since then, the team has matched or improved it’s record in four seasons. They look to take the next jump and finish a season over .500 for the first time since 2007. Lagow is going to be a big part of that upward climb. If he can continue to throw the ball at a productive rate and limit the turnovers, Indiana could be a team that surprises some people this season. They’ll likely be forced to work from an 0-1 start, as they take on #2 Ohio State to begin the season. They’ve got UVA and FIU the next two weeks after playing the Buckeyes, so it’ll be a good chance for Lagow to pad his stats and help the Hoosiers start 2-1.

 

5. Senior Wilton Speight, University of Michigan

It’s not very often that a preseason Maxwell and Davey O’Brien award watch list member sits fifth in a rankings within a conference, but that’s where Speight finds himself here. Speight is consistent, but not very flashy. He’s does everything well, but nothing spectacular. That’s why he’s below four other Big Ten quarterbacks here. What you get from Speight every single week is consistency. He’s dangerously accurate, having completed 62 percent of his passes last season. He doesn’t turn the ball over, either. He threw seven picks last year to 18 touchdowns and finished the season with 2500 yards. He doesn’t take too many shots down field, as he prefers high percentage shorter passes to sustain drives. Speight has no ability to run the football, as he may be the slowest quarterback in the Big Ten, but has tremendous size and strength. At 6’6″, he may be the biggest quarterback in the conference. What Speight brings is leadership and stability to the Wolverine offense that is going to need it this season. Of his 204 completions last season, 135 of them went to receivers who are no longer on the roster. Amare Darboh, Jehu Chesson and Jake Butt are all trying to secure spots on NFL rosters, and the turnover could hurt Speight this season. He’ll have to find other trustworthy weapons in a hurry if he wants to give Michigan a chance to shine in 2017. This unknown scares me a bit, and that’s why I put Speight down at five on this list despite having some of the most experience in the conference. I’ll be keeping a close eye on Saturday’s game against Air Force to see who Speight creates a connection with early in the season.

 

4. Redshirt Junior Clayton Thorson, Northwestern University

Into his third season as starting quarterback, Clayton Thorson has given the Wildcats something that I’ve seldom seen in my lifetime: a consistent and dynamic quarterback. In 2015, Thorson took over as starting quarterback, throwing for 1500 yards and leading Northwestern to a ten win season. His second season saw amplified success, as Thorson threw for a school record 22 touchdowns in 2016. He added 3182 yards through the air, good for fourth most in a season in school history. He’s already ranked seventh in touchdowns and tenth in passing yards in school history despite having two full seasons of eligibility left. He’ll likely break the record this season, as well, as he only heeds 16 to become the school’s all-time leader in touchdowns. Thorson allows Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald to worry about the rest of his offensive unit because he knows the junior will make the plays he’s supposed to. Thorson doesn’t turn the ball over, throwing just nine interceptions last season. What worries me about Thorson heading into 2017 is the rapport he’s going to have with his receivers. It will be exceptionally difficult to replaces 2016 leading receiver Austin Carr, who caught 90 balls for 1247 yards and 12 touchdowns. This season’s success will hinge on Thorson finding a new go to wideout quickly. The Wildcats open the season against the Nevada Wolfpack, which gives Thorson a middle-of-the-road opponent to test out his new arsenal on. If he can get things rolling early, I’d expect Northwestern to factor into the conference mix deep into the season. I’m truly concerned about that game in Evanston against Penn State in early October.

 

3. Junior David Blough, Purude University

If the Big Ten was the Wild West, David Blough would be the fastest gunslinger in town. The legend of Blough grows by the game, and it’s no surprise he’s being touted as one of the breakout quarterbacks in the country this year. Everything about Blough screams Brett Favre. From his rocket cannon arm to his thought process that he’s never seen a window he can’t fit a football through, the comparisons are real. Last season, Blough threw for over 3300 yards and 25 touchdowns. He averaged the most passing yards per game in the Big Ten. That’s the good. And with gunslingers, you take the good with the bad. The bad is the 21 interceptions and 57 percent completion percentage from a year ago. Regardless of his turnover prone play, I’m extremely high on Blough this season, as evidence by his third ranking, for a few reasons. The most important being his new head coach. Jeff Brohm leaves behind a Western Kentucky Hilltoppers offense that averaged better than 40 points per game in each of the last three seasons. While the defenses in the Big Ten are remarkably better than those in Conference USA, I’d love to see what Brohm can do for a quarterback of Blough’s natural ability. If Blough can knock out five to seven interceptions this season and get down into the 14-16 range, it stands to reason that Purdue will be better than the team’s 3-9 record last season. The season will come down to the defense, however, that was gashed for 40 points r more six times last year. If they can improve, so will the offense that averaged just over 23 points a game last year. I’m placing some blind faith in Blough over established quarterbacks like Speight and Thorson, but I have a gut feeling. And as a writer, when you have a gut feeling, you go with it. Because just like Hollywood celebrities, all publicity is good publicity. The Boilermakers have a rough start to the season, as they host Louisville and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. Blough is going to come out firing to win this one.

 

2. Redshirt Junior Trace McSorley, Penn State University

Go ahead, rain the boos down on me now. Trace McSorley isn’t the number one quarterback in the conference, and by now, through process of elimination, you know who is. And it isn’t an easy pill to swallow for Nittany Lion fans. But here’s the good news: Trace McSorley is one heck of a quarterback. He’s, without question, the biggest homerun threat in the conference. McSorley combined for 36 total touchdowns last season as the Nittany Lions took a massive step forward by winning the Big Ten Conference. McSorley broke the Penn State records, which, honestly, aren’t all that impressive since Penn State has historically been a running program, passing yards, total yards and passing touchdowns in a single season in 2016. He’s able to draw defenses in with his read option ability that hit you over the top for a big gain. Having Saquon Barkley in the backfield doesn’t hurt McSorley’s play, either, as it gives the Nittany Lions, quite possibly, the best play action duo in the country. I wonder if having that luxury of Barkley on his hip will hinder McSorley’s chances at a Heisman trophy this season. Will the two cancel each other out? Only time will tell.

McSorley has the big play ability, but my worry is that he falls in love with it 2017. After seeing such escalated success last season, he could end up trying to force too many throws deep to electrify the crowd. Another concern is the replacement of Chris Godwin. For the first time since Allen Robinson’s departure, Penn State had a legitimate receiving option in Godwin. He’s now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. McSorley will have to find his next man up in the coming weeks to replace 59 catches and 11 touchdowns. I’d assume the first shot at the role would go to Juwan Johnson, who was quoted as having a fantastic spring and summer. The Nittany Lions open the season with Akron at Beaver Stadium. I predicted a 41-13 win, which should give ample time for McSorley to get his reps, rack up some stats, and get Tommy Stevens into the game.

 

1. Senior J.T. Barrett, Ohio State University

I’m not regretting this decision despite the presumed hatred you have right now. J.T. Barrett, in all estimates, is the best quarterback in the Big Ten. Let’s start with the accolades. He owns the Big Ten record for total touchdowns in a season with 45. He also has claim to the career Ohio State record of passing touchdowns, total touchdowns and completions. Finally, he owns single season Ohio State records for completions, passing touchdowns, total touchdowns, 200 yard games, and quarterback rating. In total, he holds 23 Ohio State records. He needs just five yards to get record number 24, the most total yards in school history. When all is said and done this season, he’ll likely be the school’s all-time passers and the Big Ten’s record holder for total touchdowns, breaking Drew Bree’s record. He’s 26-4 as the Buckeyes starting quarterback, and is gunning for one last shot at a National Championship.

While not the tallest quarterback in the league, his 22- pound frame makes him the most physical runner from the quarterback position in the conference. In years past, teams had to gameplan for read options with the likes of Ezekiel Elliot and Curtis Samuel in the back field. This year, it’ll be Mike Weber joining Barrett’s side. Whatever combination of Barrett and running back that Urban Meyer puts under center, one thing is certain, and that is Barrett is a great quarterback. He, unequivocally, has the most experience of any quarterback on this list, and is set to become the first three time captain in Ohio State history.

Barrett protects the football well through the air, as he’s thrown just 19 interceptions in over 800 attempts. He is prone to put the ball on the ground, however, as he’s fumbled seven times over the last two season, losing two of them. If he can sure up his hands a bit in the running game, you’re looking at a Heisman trophy candidate. The Buckeyes have a legitimate shot, just as Penn State does, to go to the college football playoff this year. They’ll need Barrett near perfection to do so.

 

Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

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