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Mailbag - Who is the Best Quarterback in the Big Ten West?

Best QB in the West? It isn’t who you think...

Nebraska v Wisconsin isn’t him
Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Your November 10, 2016 Mailbag:

Is there any chance Nebraska could play Texas in a bowl game? Best case scenario for finishing the season is we manage to win out but so does Wisconsin so we don’t have to get stomped in Indy. Most likely scenario (assuming Tommy does not start all 3 remaining games) is 1-2 limp down the stretch. This leaves me very little hope for the season unless we can catch Texas in a bowl and get that monkey off our back. - Exiled in VT

LPW: I would love to see that happen, but I don't think it's likely.

MNW: Seeing as how there aren’t Big Ten-Big XII bowl matchups out there, I’d say not very good. You could catch someone like Colorado in the Holiday Bowl, if that’s more your jam, or even A&M in a matchup with the SEC out east, but I’m afraid that’s as "Gettin’ the band back together" as this bowl season’s gonna be.

Even for as much as the Big Ten rotates some of its lower bowl pairings, that’s super weird, right? We have matchups with the Pac-12 (Holiday, Foster Farms), the ACC (Music City, Quick Lane, Pinstripe), and the SEC (Outback, Citrus, Gator) and even the C-USA (Heart’o’Dallas)! But no Big XII. Having had to go to Texas two straight years and watch virtual home games for Texas A&M (in Houston) and Texas Tech (in Dallas), I’m a little bitter about that.

Jesse: Pretty much what MNW said above, but I might add that I don’t find myself completely convinced Texas is a good matchup. And as a sidenote, regardless of the end of the season, I feel good about what’s been accomplished. We’re showing progression across the board and the obliteration by OSU notwithstanding, I have hope for the talent infusion and growth moving forward.

BRT: Wait, why do we want to play Texas? Let’s just leave them in the past, shall we?

Townie: Texas is currently 5-4 with games against WVU, Kansas, and TCU left to play. They could conceivably win two more games and finish 7-5 with a crappy bowl birth. While it would be satisfying to see Nebraska curb stomp the long-horns...we are above that, right?

WTF is up with Northwestern getting two Friday night games in conference play for 2017 (and no byes before either, so six days prep)? Does Jim Delany truly hate the ’Cats, or does he have absolutely no commitment to competitive balance (kind of like when 3-4 teams got byes before playing the ’Cats a few years ago)? - GTom

LPW: it's absolute fucking bullshit. NU President Morton Schapiro needs to heatedly question both Delany and AD Jim Phillips on this. Delany works for the Presidents, so what the fuck was going on here Morty?!

I'm completely _thrilled_ at having to haul ass up to Evanston after a day of work on the CTA. Good luck convincing suburban NU fans to drive in rush hour to get to the game. Maybe we will set a record for low attendance. Also, good job pissing on high school games.

MNW: I don’t think the byes thing (especially not a couple years ago) was maliciously done, but when Jimmy’s got those green eyes--and I mean dolla dolla bills, not envy--there’s no logic, rhyme, or reason to scheduling.

I shouldn’t say there’s no logic, rhyme, or reasoning. Three conference games are set to take place on Friday night; Northwestern plays two of those. I suppose I should just be down on my knees (instead of bending over like we did, natch) thanking Jim for all those extra eyeballs on the teevee, tuned in to watch Northwestern take on Maryland in RED HOT B1G-ACC CHALLENGE CONFERENCE PLAY on a Friday night. Never mind that I wanted to make my first visit to Byrd Stadium or whatever it is. And never mind that I’ll probably have to give up a tailgate when we host Michigan State, too, because LOL GET TO EVANSTON ON A FRIDAY NIGHT. Like, conference HQ is in Rosemont. They know driving anywhere in that hellscape metropolis is like an erythrocyte trying to make its way back to Charlie Weis’ heart, right? Ain’t happening.

But, cool, almighty dollar and all that. Just be ready, if your team is not Michigan/Ohio State/Penn State, to get told your team doesn’t matter (and no, deigning to play one game every three years doesn’t even come motherfucking close).

Jesse: I like the part where we have a sellout stadium - 90,000 people - every game for essentially forever, a large fanbase, and a traveling radius of forever, and we’re not cool enough to bitch about this. Thanks Delaney. Moreover, no, this isn’t about competitive balance. Nobody in HQ cares about anything more than dollars.

babaoreally: I agree, Northwestern only getting two Friday night conference games next year is silly. Jimbo should’ve made them play all of their games on Fridays, so that Northwestern could become Chicago’s Friday Night B1G Team.

BRT: Is this the same question-asker who accused us all of being in the Big Ten conference’s pocket the other day? Because I have to tell you, I’ve had it up to HERE with paranoid conspiracy types this week… Anyway, I understand why Northwestern fans are upset. On the other hand, perhaps Delany looked at Northwestern’s stadium and figured that while real fans might offer some blowback, the tarps were unlikely to offer too much lip, which does carry a certain amount of logic. I don’t know. I don’t hate Friday night football, because unless you’ve got a kid in high school, who really cares about high school football? If you need to see it that badly, watch the Coach Taylor version. (#TeamSaracen) But I don’t really want it to happen to my team, nor does anyone else, so probably not the greatest idea Delany’s ever had. (Less bad than Legends and Leaders though.)

Townie: Stop playing like a high school team (Illinois State says, "Hey") and it won’t happen to you.

Before the Huskers went on their road stretch of Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio State, I asked If Riley and crew only manage to win one of three, would you declare same old Huskers can’t beat the top competition, or have they already shown that the program has made improvements in year 2 since the Peilini era?. After squeaking by Indiana, losing to Wisconsin in OT, and getting BTFO by Ohio State, do you still have the same opinions as before? - rzor

MNW: I think there were glimmers of hope on that trip, especially the OT loss to wisconsin. The BTFO by Ohio State is a terrible look and not even Armstrong’s injury does much about that, but if Nebraska can limp to the finish with a couple wins I think they’ll be just fine.

babaoreally: Nebraska is fine, but not great. Pretty much right back where they were in the BoPa days, except their coach isn’t a huge jerk. So they are actually in much better shape.

WSR: Can I let you know on Sunday what my opinion of Nebraska is?

Jesse: So interesting thought. What if TA leads Nebraska to a TD and we’re suddenly down 24-10. It’s sort of competitive, and maybe the defense - with a little bit of life from the offense - keeps OSU off the board. Does that game stay off the BTFO train? Maybe. Probably not, but I’m willing to guess that this team looked absolutely shook after that moment.

Anyhow, I think that Nebraska has legitimately looked like the Nebraska of old. That’s good and bad. They’re winning the 50/50 more, but they’re also still a 50/50 team. Neat. In general, the defense has looked better (Ohio notwithstanding) and I think there are some glimmers of hope for the offense in 2017. For now, let’s just say I think this team is above average, but not probably all that ‘good’.

LPW: the jury is still out IMHO on Riley’s stewardship of the Huskers.

BRT: I think they’re in better shape. The OSU thing was very bad, but I don’t feel that it was a very accurate representation of this team. I think it was just kind of a game where nothing went right and it snowballed on them. While that was a notable blowout, it was still Riley’s first blowout since he became coach--and that is a departure from Bo’s teams. I’m a pretty realistic Husker (or a "bad fan" as some might call it) in that I realize the 90s are gone and they aren’t coming back. I really have no great qualms with my team winning 9-10 games per year--I mean come on, that’s really pretty good as a fan--I get to see my team win far more often than it loses, and be ranked sometimes. Not everyone can be an Alabama or OSU--especially not in a state of 1.5 million people.

I will say, however, that I have increasingly grown to admire Riley as a human and coach of young men, trite as that sounds. Sure, we all knew he was super nice. But from inviting a sexual assault victim he had wronged to speak to his team (and talking with her and apologizing to her), to leading his team through grief this summer, to supporting his players against the state’s governor in their right to peaceful protest, I’m just really impressed with him in that respect so far. I know that gets kind of laughed off in CFB and I realize that it’s a business and success is important, but...given the developments at Baylor and the current climate of the country, I kind of just love that he seems to be a decent human being. Admittedly, it would also be nice if he could win out. ;)

Townie: The next three games will make up my mind. There are three winnable games against the meat of the division. Minnesota put together a solid season. Want respect? Beat them. Then get the job done against Maryland and a bad Iowa team. That would leave the two losses as Wisconsin and Ohio State. While Pelini-esque, it’s still far better than last year.

Northwestern needs 2 more wins for bowl eligibility. The next three games are at Purdue, at Minnesota, and vs Illinois. Do we get to relax and just have fun against the Fightin’ Lovies, or are we going to have to sweat this thing out all the way to the bitter end? - vaudvillian

MNW: You know there’s no such thing as relaxing and having fun when the ‘Cats are playing. It is a goddamn rollercoaster death slog (if that’s somehow a thing) to the finish, because they’ll probably get Harbored this week then blow Minnesota the fuck out because things just don’t make sense this season. Why is Clayton Thorson throwing a Kafkaesque number of times? How many of our cornerbacks have died? Why the fuck did they get rid of Put Your Hands Up in the Air?

So no, even if the ‘Cats are somehow 6-5 going into the Illinois game, we will be sweating it out until the very end because that is the kind of season this has been.

Let’s also take a brief moment to laugh (if you stopped...why?) at Illinois, who has now backed out of their next two appearances at Soldier Field with Northwestern. Apparently we’re moving on from Our State, Our Team? Or just ceding Chicago to the Nerds, tucking our tails, and running back to the Bulldozer Burial Grounds? Look, it was mockable when Illinois shifted the three-game series up there because my goddddd the insecurity. It was mockable when about 20 Illinois fans showed up last fall and barely had the heart to play their call-and-response spelling bee game (which our reply of "N!-O!-R!" [and then hurriedly] "t-h-w-e-s-t-e-r-n!" was way better than). And now it’s mockable because Illinois didn’t even have the balls to stick it out. They cut and ran, like the sad little clown-show of a program they are, because having 5000 sad fans watching your game in Champaign is better than having 5000 sad fans watching your game along with 5000 "visiting" fans in Chicago. I hope Lovie takes the Jacksonville job and they try Brad Childress next. From bad-man defense to kick-ass offense!

babaoreally: Northwestern will coast through the next two weeks against Purdue and Minnesota without a problem. Then they will be overconfident and Lovie’s Lovable Losers will keep them at 6-6, which is more than enough to go to the Pizza Bowl or whatever it is these days.

WSR: Don’t get Harbor’d, Northwestern. I could see very bad things happening if you don’t get a win Saturday. Well, other than getting into a bowl game because you’re good at school.

LPW: we will win the next three games.

Townie: Harbor! Harbor! Harbor!

Is Wilton Speight the best QB in the B1G? - bigbluebear83

MNW: He might be the best pro-style QB, but I’m getting more and more curious if, say, David Blough wouldn’t be as good or better behind Michigan’s O-line. I think stats-wise Speight’s got it hands down, though in terms of general ability I still give it to Barrett.

By the way, who at the start of the year would have thought we’d be talking about Speight, Barrett, and...Blough as the best three QBs in the conference? Now put your hand down, you goddamn liar.

babaoreally: No, it’s Captain Comeback himself, Jim Harbaugh.

Townie: I said this in the comments and I’ll say it again here...if you put Blough on this Michigan team, he puts up better numbers than Speight. By a mile. Speight is 149 of 231 for 2,053 yards. He has 15 TDs and 3 Ints. Blough is 236 of 406 for 2,737 yards. He has 20 TDs and 13 Ints.

When you look at who Speight has to throw to...Butt, Darboh, preseason Heisman winner™ Peppers, and Chesson...they make him look good. Really good. I’m not knocking Speight, he isn’t turning the ball over. He’s making big throws and winning games. But I"m not ready to anoint him, just because he’s surrounded with talent.

Yes, MU/aOSU will be a slobberknocker. So is there a chance that the West champ can win the CCG after MU and aOSU have pounded each other into a lifeless glob of goo? Which West team would be most likely to do so? - theguyfromy-wega

MNW: Oh my goodness that’s funny, because before looking at the Mailbag questions I wrote my exact answer to this question in our recap of the newest playoff rankings!

It’s Wisconsin, and yes, they will do it if they have two losses but beat Michigan or Ohio State in the conference championship game. Unless Auburn beats ‘Bama and rockets up the rankings, it’s happening.

WSR: Is there a chance? Certainly. It requires quite a bit of help from outside the B1G for it to happen, like ACC teams losing, and Auburn getting some ugly Ls, and Washington losing. Actually, it would require all of those things.

babaoreally: If Penn State can beat Ohio State, then certainly Wisconsin can beat Michigan.

LPW: what baba said

Townie: I love that left handed compliment, baba. Nope. Wisconsin is the only hope and they can’t do it.

Who should be more concerned: Indiana for trying to give the game away to Rutgers so many times. Or Rutgers for not being able to capitalize on Indiana’s gifts? - ICEICETHATGUY13

Candystripes: Considering how much Indiana gave away last year’s game, they should be happy they came back to win this year.

MNW: You, that you cared enough about the results of Indiana-Rutgers to ask a question requiring some knowledge of the game.

I don’t mean this in the standard "LOL LET’S MAKE FUN OF EACH OTHER’S TEAMS" way or the "HAHA STUPID WRITER DOESN’T WATCH THE GAMES" way...but just the "Oh God, I have a legitimate question about Indiana and Rutgers playing a football game, what the fuck am I doing with my life?" way.

That said, I don’t think either should be any more concerned than usual. This...this is Indiana’s way of playing football: just one big stupid derpy rollercoaster to the finish in which if they score lots of points, they occasionally win! This is also Rutgers’ way of playing football: be not very good but swear you’ll get better the next time. I see nothing out of the ordinary here and as such do not think anyone is "more" concerned.

babaoreally: I don’t know about concerned, but Rutger should be ashamed of themselves for losing when I wanted them to win.

LPW: I think Rutgers has bottomed out here.

Jesse: I don’t know why I’m writing responses. MNW is on fire.

BRT: I think both teams likely have a lot of bald fans, because I cannot imagine the hair-pulling-out that happens if you’re invested in a game like that.

Townie: Indiana should be mortified. If you struggle to put rutger away? Come on man.

Seriously Townie, How is "mandatory fun" Illinois not in the bottom tier? While they have two wins, those wins are against Rutgers and MSU. Plus, they lost to Purdue while Hazell was still in charge. - HoustonBoiler

MNW: I wish there was a set rule for how many "tiers" we were allowed to create in these sorts of scenarios. Like, in a 14-team conference, how many is too many? I think 5 is too many. If a tier is so narrowly-defined that you can only have one, maybe two teams in it, you’ve got too many tiers.

As such:

Good Teams (Michigan, OSU, wisconsin);

Not-As-Good-But-Yes-You’re-Still-Good-Please-Don’t-@-Me (Penn State, Nebraska); Mediocre-but-Bowling (Minnesota, Iowa, Northwestern, Indiana, Maryland);

Bad (Illinois, Michigan State, Purdue, Rutgers).

I hope this has settled the debate.

WSR: They are. And the only problem with the esteemed MNW’s tiers is that he has a team from the west in the Good Teams tier that belong in the 2nd tier.

babaoreally: There are only two tiers in the Big Ten, the Leaders tier and the Legends tier. I’ll let the so-called "experts" in the "sports media" figure out who belongs in which tier, thank you very much.

BRT: I move we have 14 tiers. We shall call it a "Power Poll" and it will be divine.

Townie: The typo that launched a mailbag question...of course Illinois is bottom tier. My bad. #loviegonetonfl

Better Defense: 2013 Michigan State Spartans or 2016 Michigan Wolverines? - rzor

babaoreally: 2013 Michigan State. 2013 MSU didn’t let a terrible team like 2016 MSU score 23 points on them.

Townie: Michigan 2016 has an offense, so the defense doesn’t have to be on the field as much. Tough comparison. But MSU 2013 didn’t have Preseason Heisman™ Peppers.

How would you rank the West Quarterbacks? - Badgers & Bruins

MNW: Most of the snappy one-liners got taken in the MQR thread, so my original thought of doing a Yogi Berra reply just isn’t as fun anymore. Instead, I’ll offer you this: One of them is a good runner and decent passer (Armstrong), one of them is a complete product of his system just like the last decade of actually-recruited products to play for his school (whichever one wisconsin started on Saturday), two of them are decent runners who spray the ball all over the place but occasionally make you say "Huh, he’s not that bad" (Thorson and Leidner), and the other three are virtual statues who nonetheless spray the ball all over the place but occasionally make you say "Huh, he’s not that bad" (Blough, Beathard, and Lunt).

So if I were asked to rank them, I’d say Armstrong on results, Blough on promise, and then Thorson/Leidner/Beathard/Lunt in some miasma of mediocrity. I don’t believe in ranking QBs who play in a system that asks them to hand the ball off 4000 times behind five hulking white galoots.

WSR: By height.

MNW: That was one of the jokes that was taken, you hulking white galoot.

Townie: I’m going to take this in the spirit that it was ranking are a simple 1 to 8 points in six categories: Completions, Yards, Completion %, TDs, Ints (reverse), Sacks (reverse), Rating. Then I took the average. Here’s the result:




David Blough

Purdue Boilermakers


CJ Beathard

Iowa Hawkeyes


Wes Lunt

Illinois Fighting Illini


Clayton Thorson

Northwestern Wildcats


Tommy Armstrong

Nebraska Cornhuskers


Mitch Leidner

Minnesota Golden Gophers


Alex Hornibrook

Wisconsin Badgers


Jeff George Jr.

Illinois Fighting Illini


I added Junior in there to demonstrate the bottom tier. My results tell me that it’s a fucking miracle Wisconsin is as good as they are this year.

Which loss is more demoralizing to nebby fans: 62-3 to 2016 aosu or 76-39 to 2007 kansas? -ziowa9

MNW: It’s gotta be Kansas, right? I mean, even if that was a once-in-a-lifetime season for the Jayhawks and you’ve got a disturbingly creepy boner for Mark Mangino, getting a 70-burger dropped on you by a team that usually resembles something Mater Dei shits out on a Friday night can’t be fun.

At least, in the long run, you can look back at this game and say you lost to a really good team, even if you only managed three points. I don’t know. My team’s never ranked highly enough to be demoralized in ways like that.

WSR: I’m sorry, I refuse to give consideration to any answer to this question other than TEXAS TECH 2004.

babaoreally: I think the worst is 55-45 to 2015 Purdue.

LPW: getting their asses handed to them by mike leach and his pirate ship

Jesse: Oh… Oh god… Are we doing this? Really? Okay, let’s talk about the most demoralizing losses. Fine.

  1. Texas Big XII Championship 0:01… Turns out being that close and yet that far away is demoralizing in the worst way.
  2. Texas Tech 70-10… There was literally no gameplan. And that was without a lot of issues midgame
  3. Kansas 76-39… Although I might add that we all saw that game turning into what it did. I’d argue that we had that coming for a while and KU was never going to miss that chance to humiliate us.
  4. OSU 62-3… Again, I think this is one where the shock complicated matters as we went forward in the game. I’ve not seen a more rattled team in my life. We were going to lose, but that game got away fast.
  5. Wisconsin pick ‘em… All of them suck

BRT: Agree with Jesse that the infamous 0:01 was the most demoralizing of all time. That game literally reduced me to the fetal position on the floor for a solid five or ten minutes. No other game has come close to doing that to me (although I did have to go lay down for a bit after we lost to Illinois 14-13 last year). Between the two you picked, it was definitely the Kansas game. It’s KANSAS. Humiliation to the max. OSU is at least almost always really good. Although, the Kansas game, I think, really signed Callahan’s walking papers, so it did have an upside. (Also, fun fact: Nebraska lost that game to Kansas 76-39...and the next week, Nebraska randomly beat Kansas State 73-31. Is that a schizophrenic team or what?)

Townie: /looks up. Laughs.

Will Greg Davis be the OC at Iowa next year? If not, will he actually be fired (i.e. Kirk admitting that there was a problem with the offense) or will he just happen to retire. And even if he is replaced, will it make a difference? (no.) - Chitownhawkeye

MNW: Well if you’re going to answer your own questions and deny us all the fun, then fine. I didn’t want to answer your stupid, smelly question anyways.

babaoreally: He’ll be back and they’ll win 10 games, followed by another losing season in which Hawk Eyes fans go nuts. Repeat ad infinitum.

LPW: nope

Jesse: Does Greg Davis have a transcendent talent in a skill position? No? Then good luck with him. And no, I just don’t think he’s going anywhere. He likes to say yes too much for him to disappear.

Creighton: You know who the only person with hiring/firing power over Greg Davis is? Kirk Ferentz. Kirk has already shown that with his job locked down, he doesn’t feel like he needs to make any changes. Gerg is going down with the ship.

BRT: He’s not getting fired. He’s probably Kirk’s lake house interior decorator on the side. Indispensable to the Hawkeye program.

Townie: Something needs to change. The team looks like they’ve quit playing football at this point.