Let's take a comprehensive look at each team's quarterback situation.
My rankings are based on talent, experience with the current system, and of course many all-nighters' worth of prolific research into everything that makes a quarterback great. I do, however, value leadership and experience. So let's get started.
Projected Starter: J.T. Barrett (RS-JR)
Backups: Joe Burrow (RS-FR), Stephen Collier (RS-JR)
The last of the Holy Trinity of quarterbacks, JT Barrett is nonetheless in the driver's seat to be the most prolific quarterback in the conference. Though the Buckeye offense will be replacing key members such as Ezekiel Elliot, talent is in high supply in Columbus, and with most of two years starting under his belt, this speedy dual-threat quarterback will be on many people's preseason Heisman watch lists.
Based on what's happened every time Urban Meyer's starter in Columbus has gone down, I can only assume those backups are dual-threat quarterbacks with great arms and two of the greatest athletes in the history of sports.
Projected Starter: C.J. Beathard (SR)
Backups: Tyler Wiegers (RS-SO), Ryan Boyle (SO), Drew Cook (SO)
The Hawkeyes will return All Big Ten Second Teamer CJ Beathard, who showed an ability (and willingness) to go deep along with decent maneuverability while doing the unthinkable and making Iowa's offense occasionally exciting to watch. I narrowly gave the nod to the OSU quarterback situation simply because Barrett is a bigger threat on the ground and OSU has this infuriating ability to replace quarterbacks effortlessly. Nevertheless, Iowegians should feel confident with a senior leader under center. I will continue to pronounce his name "Beat Hard."
Projected Starter: Tommy Armstrong (SR)
Backups: Ryker Fyfe (SR), AJ Bush (RS-SO), Zack Darlington (RS-SO)
Redshirts: Tanner Lee (JR)
There's a lot riding on Tommy Armstrong in his senior year. Perhaps there's no player so singularly important to their team's success in the Big Ten. With Armstrong, the Huskers upset Michigan State. Without Armstrong, they lost to Purdue. Armstrong should get better in his second year with Mike Riley, and Riley's future in Lincoln may depend on what he can get out of his quarterback. The offense got better as the season progressed, so hopefully for Big Red faithful everywhere they've gotten beyond the point of throwing incomplete with a lead and under a minute remaining.
Should Armstrong go down, the offensive line will be responsible for establishing Ryker's Yslynd, the protective barrier that prevents Ryker Fyfe from turning the ball over five times against the Boilermakers. Mike Riley seems to have all intentions of stockpiling pro-style quarterbacks, as Tulane's Tanner Lee transferred to Nebraska and will be redshirting the upcoming season.
Projected Starter: Mitch Leidner (RS-SR)
Backups: Demry Croft (SO)
No, the offense is not a thing of beauty, but Minnesota will return the quarterback from the best Minnesota team since Glen Mason. Unfortunately, that was not last year's team, but Leidner will enter his third year firmly entrenched as the starter. He is becoming more accurate and is the leader of the Golden Gopher offense. Watch his game-winning drive from the opening week of last year and pretend the opponent isn't Ohio.
Demry Croft is, presumably, a person. Leidner has proven to be very durable, but Minnesota may not be able to withstand losing him unexpectedly. Nevertheless, continuity and experience are important, and Leidner has had that going for him. Ask Adam Weber what it's like when you don't have continuity in your coaching staff.
Projected Starter: Trace McSorley (RS-SO)
Backups: Tommy Stevens (RS-FR), Jake Zembiec (FR)
With the departure of future NFL Hall of Famer Christian Hackenberg, the Nittany Lions will move on to a collection of dual-threat quarterbacks more compatible with James Franklin's vision. A new offensive coordinator won't be a system shock, as these quarterbacks are still underclassmen. McSorley played well in relief of Hackenberg in their bowl game against Georgia and showed enough promise that I'm going to put PSU all the way up at #5.
Starter: Bart Houston (RS-SR)
Backups: Alex Hornibrook (SO)
The Badgers will have to replace four-year starter Joel Stave, but Bart Houston has shown himself to be a capable stunt double. Filling in for an injured Stave, Houston was able to move the ball effectively against a quietly solid Illinois defense last year. I have no idea who Alex Hornibrook is.
Projected Starter: Tyler O'Connor (RS-SR)
Backups: Damion Terry (RS-JR)
Please note that these rankings assume perfect weather conditions. MSU moves way up the list in the event of a monsoon.
I know very little about these quarterbacks other than that they combined with LJ Scott to form a makeshift Voltron that ran effectively enough in the rain to deal Ohio State their only loss of the season last year.
"When I look across the line,
I can see the D is drained,
But when we have to pass block,
Don't you know we feel the same?
Nothin' lasts forever,
Even offenses can change,
'Cause it's hard to score a touchdown,
In the cold November rain."
-Mark Dantonio, speaking through Axl Rose, explains the decision to drastically alter the offensive look for the Ohio State game. Ezekiel Elliot and Cardale Jones were overheard asking each other, "Do you need some time, on your own? Do you need some time, all alone? Oooooh everybody needs some time, on their own. Ooooooh, don't you know you need some time....all aloooooone." Michael Geiger's guitar solo dominated media attention after this conversation.
That being said, I didn't really see that much on display in that game. Connor Cook was 1st team All Big Ten, and though O'Connor and Terry are both fairly mobile quarterbacks, it will be a struggle to replace the experience of Cook. Those two are, however, upperclassmen in one of the most stable programs anywhere.
Projected Starter: John O'Korn (RS-JR)
Backups: Shane Morris (SR), Zach Gentry(RS-FR), Wilton Speight (JR), Alex Malzone (RS-FR), Brandon Peters (FR)
Harbaugh has landed another transfer in former Houston QB John O'Korn, who started the 2013 season for the Cougars under Tony Levine. However, he lost his starting job to Greg Ward, Jr. in 2014 and Levine was fired by the end of the year. O'Korn is a pro-style quarterback, and based on what Harbaugh did with Jake Rudock I should probably have the Wolverines higher on this list. However, between O'Korn's inability to sustain success at Houston, his name (let's be honest...John O'Korn is kind of a silly name) and the fact that the top backup is known solely for the Brady Hoke concussion management incident, Michigan enters another year with nobody having ever taken particularly good snaps for them.
Projected Starter: Wes Lunt (RS-SR)
Backups: Chayce Crouch (RS-SO), Jimmy Fitzgerald (RS-FR), Jeff George Jr (RS-FR), Eli Peters (FR)
Third-year starter Wes Lunt would be higher on this list if I had any reason to believe he would improve for 2016. He hasn't gotten any better since transferring from Oklahoma State, and for that I blame Bill and Ryan Cubit. Lunt was a highly-touted recruit out of downstate Illinois, a 6'5" pro passer who could really sling the ball but specialized in dropping it in over the top of the defense 40 yards downfield. Roughly once a game, he'll make an absolutely beautiful throw that shows you what the hype was all about.
Unfortunately, though his pocket presence has improved, he's still not a mobile quarterback and struggles massively to throw on the run. He throws smart incompletions where only his guys can get it, but that is often at the expense of trying to thread the needle. Pre-snap reads appear to be a problem, and Lunt has been averse to throwing over the middle. He had a reputation for being injury-prone in 2014, but has shaken that label, partially due to improved pass protection. I want to believe that this is the year Wes Lunt puts it all together and breaks all kinds of passing records, but lo and behold, his coaching staff is the same. It's really a shame. If given the chance to work with a great offensive staff or quarterback coach, I believe Lunt would have developed into an all-conference quarterback. But with the Cubits in charge of his development, expect a lot of beautiful incompletions.
Unless of course we put Chayce Crouch in the game in short-yardage situations. Cubit might as well hold up a neon sign that says "IT'S A QB DRAW!"
Behind Lunt, there's some undeveloped talent. Crouch saw some action in 2015 and didn't look remotely ready. The second coming of Jeff George does not appear to be the second coming of Jeff George at this point.
All-MVFC quarterback Aaron Bailey would have been a good piece to add. The Northern Iowa QB was a four-star dual-threat prospect out of Bolingbrook. How'd the Illini miss on him?
Projected Starter: Clayton Thorson (RS-SO)
Backups: Matt Alviti (RS-JR)
Offensive mastermind Mick McCall will continue to work with the young Thorson, who threw a touchdown roughly once every 42 attempts in 2015. Expect him to do a lot of handing off to Justin Jackson. Though he is allegedly a ton of clay and the son of Thor, he was quite thunderstruck against Tennessee on New Year's Day. Nobody puts the "student" in "student-athlete" quite like Thorson if our resident Northwestern faction's predictable "he's learning" is to be believed.
Clayton Thorson: He's Learning™
Projected Starter: Chris Laviano (RS-JR)
Backups Hayden Rettig (RS-JR), Gio Rescigno (RS-SO), Michael Sorrentino (RS-SR)
A battle is expected to take place in spring ball among these four. Laviano is the frontrunner for me based solely on his starting experience, but I wonder to what extent experience chucking it towards Carroo translates to experience with the Rutgers 2016 offense. Rettig, a transfer from LSU, started in Week 1 but lost his job to Laviano afterwards. Rescigno probably has the most Rutgers name of these quarterbacks and should thus be kept in mind. The experience of Sorrentino will make the situation well worth keeping an eye on.
12. Indiana Hoosiers
Projected Starter: Zander Diamont (JR)
Backups Danny Cameron (RS-SO), Richard Lagow (JR?)
Indiana lost star QB Nate Sudfeld to graduation and at this point Zander Diamont appears to be the heir apparent. Despite his unheralded status outside of his family's soap opera legacy, he nearly took Indiana all the way back against the Buckeyes after Sudfeld left the game. Danny Cameron will make Hoosier fans fondly recall Cam Cameron, who somehow failed to go to a bowl with Antwaan Randle El at quarterback. The wild card is Richard Lagow, the #1 JUCO quarterback in the country, signed by Indiana this winter. The 6'6" pro-style passer could very well win the starting job and put up some big numbers, as he is much more similar to Sudfeld than Diamont or Cameron are.
Projected Starter: David Blough (RS-JR)
Backups: Austin Appleby (SR)
Oh dear. Purdue will probably waffle between these quarterbacks all year. Writing about Purdue Football is very sad, and I am an Illinois fan. Both have experience being called called in for relief purposes, looking decent, starting the next game, making viewers think "hey, you know, this kid might just have it" and then proving otherwise.
Projected Starter: Perry Hills (RS-SR)
Backups: Caleb Rowe (RS-SR), Shane Cockerille (RS-JR)
This position is cursed. It's not that Maryland didn't try. Former Oklahoma State quarterback Daxx Garman was added last year but couldn't play his way into the starting job in his one season. Local 5-star QB Dwayne Haskins was going to be the present and future starting in 2016, until Urban Meyer got that lusty look in his eyes and Haskins was gone in a flash. This is what virtually every basketball recruitment is like for Illini fans, in case you're wondering how it feels.
Thus, here we are with Perry Thrills and Caleb Throwe, with some competition from Insane Shane Cockerille.
Many, many interceptions will be thrown.
And there you have it. Feel free to correct anything factually inaccurate, and also to highjack the comment section to talk about how good Christian Hackenberg was or wasn't.