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The 2019 Big Ten Position Breakdowns: Quarterbacks

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Middle Tennessee v Georgia
All red uniforms are the same I guess...
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

In general, there are two arguments that truly usher in the beginning of Spring in the Midwest.

1) Are peeps good? To which the answer is unambiguously no, but with a caveat that I will still eat at least four.

-and-

2) Who is the best Quarterback in the conference?

Now, I know what you all are thinking right now, “Jesse, we have only had one Spring ‘game’ so why would we start ranking Quarterbacks already?” While that’s a fair argument, I would also point out that this is probably six years in a row that we have done this and I am not one to let tradition die.

That in mind, 2019 is a really interesting year when you look at the Quarterback landscape. Dwayne Haskins and Trace McSorley are off to the NFL, Clayton Thorson and David Blough will try to join them, Alex Hornibrook is transferring to Florida State Seminoles - because that makes a ton of sense I guess - and Maryland Terrapins have a new coach who has a bevy of Quarterbacks that may or may not be good. Add in the fact that we have two former 5* transfers who will play this year, and you have a lot of guesswork in determining the rankings team by team.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, unknowns have never stopped us from trying. With input from my fellow colleagues, I’ve split the teams/QB into varying tiers to try and get a handle on who is the best, worst, and unknown.

The “I know who our starting QB is and I’m not super excited” Tier

14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights - Artur Sitkowski

It’s probably not entirely fair to throw ol’ Artur under the bus here. He was thrown into an untenable situation with almost no protection, skill players, coaching, or experience. Unfortunately, he took that and threw for under 50% completion, a 4/18 TD/INT split, and the lowest Big Ten QB Rating - 76.35 - since 2010, when Purdue’s Sean Robinson played in five games and put up a 70.20. So, while I’m sure the trial-by-fire thing is going to play out better than last year, I’m not sure anyone is excited for the year of Sitkowski.

The “I really hope our Quarterback is not on the roster” Tier

13. Illinois Fighting Illini - Unknown, but it better not be MJ Rivers II

According to resident Illini fan - and maybe Illini sadist - thumpasaurus, Illinois will most likely be in a situation where they will hopefully not be handing the ball to currently rostered QB MJ Rivers II. While certainly not as dire as the Rutgers situation, it can be understood that a 5.4 YPA and 3/3 TD/INT split is not exactly a huge confidence builder.

Thumpasaurus: The problem with Rivers is that he’s not a threat to break a big run. The Illini offense is built on read-option concepts that require the defense to respect every option. He’s no Wes Lunt and he’ll pick up some yards if you leave him all alone, but he’s the quarterback with the skill set least suited to this offense. I trust Rod Smith to start the best quarterback, but if that’s MJ Rivers then there’s a low ceiling for the Illini offense.

The “I have no idea who is starting at Quarterback and won’t know until Fall” Tier

12. Maryland Terrapins - Josh Jackson -or- Lance Legendre

I honestly don’t have much to say about the next tier of teams because they aren’t sure where they stand. Josh Jackson was a starter at Virginia Tech and transferred in with two years to play immediately. Lance Legendre is a 4* recruit who new coach Mike Locksley would very much like to develop. There’s talent here, but first year coach and an entirely new system will be a tough sell.

11. Minnesota Golden Gophers - The Morgannextad

With both Tanner Morgan and Zack Annexstad fighting as now-Sophomores for the starting job after going back and forth in PJ Fleck’s offense last year, there is some hope in Minneapolis for growth at the position. Statistically, they look nearly identical, and while I don’t think either scares a defensive coordinator on their own, Fleck’s offense seems to be getting better. Worth noting, noted Minnesota enthusiast WhiteSpeedReceiver ranked the Morgannexstad sixth overall so... yeah.

10. Penn State Nittany Lions - Tommy Stevens, probably

This is going to be an interesting one to watch as the Nittany Lions need to replace both the leadership and production of Trace McSorley. Who better to do that than fifth year Senior Tommy Stevens? Coach James Franklin named Stevens the presumed starter coming into Spring, but there are options out there. Early enrollee Taquan Roberson is a 4* recruit who could turn heads in the Fall, but replacing a multi-year starter is never easy.

9. Wisconsin Badgers - Jack Coan, probably

Jack Coan looks to be the starter currently, especially with Alex Hornibrook taking his talents to Tallahassee, but that does not instill confidence either. Coan is okay? His stat line is roughly a fringe starter, and their currently shiny 4* QB recruit Graham Mertz might get a look early. Our Wisconsin contingent tells me this is a battle between everyone on the roster right now, so we won’t know much until the Fall, but we’re going to keep Coan here and pretend it’s cool for the Big Ten that this is the 9th best QB.

8. Indiana Hoosiers - Peyton Ramsey, probably

You would think a guy who accounted for 24 TDs (19 passing, 5 rushing), 2875 passing yards, and a 66% completion percentage would be more than a probably, but here we are. Utah transfer - a former 4* recruit - Jack Tuttle got immediate eligibility to compete and returning-from-injury Michael Penix are both ready to go. Ramsey has the current inside track but there are options in Bloomington.

The “Transfer that was not to Ohio State” Tier

7. Northwestern Wildcats - Hunter Johnson

Look, he has yet to throw a pass at Northwestern, but he is arguably the best prospect to ever step foot in Evanston. Clemson transfer - and former 5* recruit - Hunter Johnson has some hype. Being ‘ not better than Trevor Lawrence’ is literally the only reason he finds himself in the Big Ten West, but he looks the part. If this were at Ohio State or Michigan, Johnson is probably a Top three QB on this list, but we’re not sure what he’ll do at Northwestern. That’s why he’s here I guess.

The “I’m not sure where to rank him so middle sounds good” Tier

6. Michigan State Spartans - Brian Lewerke

As our resident Spartan, Andrew Kraszewski puts it, “Brian Lewerke gets to show if his true self is his pretty good sophomore version or his injured and also not very good junior version.” Lewerke went from a 20/7 TD/INT split in 2017 to an 8/11 split in 2018. I’m guessing his talent level is somewhere in the middle of that.

The “It’s because Brohm, isn’t it” Tier

5. Purdue Boilermakers - Elijah Sindelar

I admit that I ranked Sindelar here so I cannot even fault my fellow writers on this one, but uh... this is a weird one. Coach Jeff Brohm proved last year that he is a great offensive coach and any system that has Rondale Moore will probably make a QB look good, but Sindelar has to prove it. He has experience starting, which means he could be really good. Is he the fifth best QB in the conference? Not sure, but that’s where we we are with QBs in the Big Ten right now.

The “I actually think these guys are good” Tier

4. Iowa Hawkeyes - Nate Stanley

There was a little bit of debate on where to put Stanley on this list. On one hand, he had the second most TDs of all QBs in the Big Ten last year. On the other, he completed under 60% of his throws, is losing his two best receiving threats by a longshot, and had a good not great 7.2 YPA. Do you believe that this is the year Brian Ferentz unleashes the offensive juggernaut lurking beneath the surface of Iowa City? No? Well, then you see how Stanley is fourth.

3. Nebraska Cornhuskers - Adrian Martinez

I admit I had him one slot higher, but after a True Freshman season that saw him put up 17 TDs through the air and 8 on the ground, you can see why I’m finally excited for a QB in Lincoln. Again, some of this is probably the Scott Frost effect + Martinez looking good his Freshman season, especially in the back half as he got healthy, but there’s a reason there is some darkhorse Heisman hype behind his name. I don’t think he gets there yet, especially with unknowns at WR, but he deserves the ranking.

2. Michigan Wolverines - Shea Patterson

Lots of people will hate this ranking, but Shea Patterson was low-key good last year. Despite playing in an offense where he only averaged 25 passes a game, Patterson went 22/7 with 8 YPA and a QB rating of 149.85 which was second in the conference. Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan offense may be anemic these days, but Patterson is the best QB they’ve seen for a while. I think he has the inside track for QB of the year right now in the conference, but that means Michigan probably has to beat the Buckeyes, right?

The “Because it’s Ohio State, you see” Tier

  1. Ohio State Buckeyes - Justin Fields

I don’t know what to tell you about this one friends. Justin Fields is a Georgia transfer who was a 5* recruit. He’s probably about as good a talent as any out there, and was actually the #2 overall recruit in 2018. He looks the part of the best dual threat QB in the conference and Ryan Day is no stranger to using a weapon like that. He has also not played a snap for the Buckeyes and has pretty much an identical profile to Hunter Johnson who is decidedly not #1 on this list. That said, Fields is probably going to be in NYC at the end of the year and the machine keeps keeping on.

Poll

The best QB in the Big Ten in 2019 will be...

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    Justin Fields
    (75 votes)
  • 7%
    Shea Patterson
    (43 votes)
  • 29%
    Adrian Martinez
    (157 votes)
  • 9%
    Nate Stanley
    (49 votes)
  • 8%
    Hunter Johnson
    (44 votes)
  • 31%
    Someone else
    (170 votes)
538 votes total Vote Now