With a new decade upon us, we have an opportunity to look back at the last one and reflect on some of the great individual performances during that time. I've done the research to identify the top single season efforts by players of the Big Ten from 2010-2019.
Read more: Best Seasons by Big Ten Running Backs, 2010s
How do you judge performances?
I am not judging players by a single metric. Instead, I looked at most stats and identified players who may have excelled in their own particular way. I tried not to be biased, but I'm still human. For this edition, I've hand picked the quarterbacks I felt merited evaluation (I reviewed 38 seasons from 29 QBs representing 11 teams). Full disclosure, this list sucks.
"But where's _______?"
Chances are, he wasn't as good as you remember. In fact, what started all of this was pointing out that Saquon Barkley was never really as good a pure running back (statistically speaking) as people remembered. In fact, his best year running the ball ranks 22nd in yards per game in the Big Ten during the last decade. And that's why I looked at more than just one metric...
"Then why'd he get drafted so high?" or "He's way better in the pros than these other jabronis."
As beezer07 pointed out, Jamarcus Russell was a high draft pick too. I don't care where they went in the draft or what their production has been in the NFL.
Two of _______'s seasons should be on here.
I've decided to limit each player to just his best season.
So, let's get to it.
Nate Sudfeld, Indiana Hoosiers, 2015 (SR)
3,573 p.yds (4th) | 60% comp. | 8.7 Y/A (10th) | 297.8 PYPG (2nd) | 27 TD:7 INT (8th) | 32 Total TDs | 151.0 Rat.
First of all, I can't make every player an honorable mention. You're going to name somebody I missed, and I'm going to tell you that everything they did, somebody else did better. But at the same time, this is surprisingly nuanced as many of the top performers I identified accounted for the lowest percentages of total offense. Does that make Ben Chappell's 2010 performance better than J.T. Barrett's in 2017, since Ben accounted for a whopping 71.2% of total offense and J.T. only accounted for 54.4%, even though both were at 275 total yards per game? Suffice it to say, there are no right answers, except mine, because I took the time to write this.
In any event, Nate Sudfeld is my first honorable mention because I wrote Tanner Morgan's name first, but put all of Sudfeld's stats. Nate was part of one of the better offenses the Big Ten has seen in the last decade by a team that isn't Ohio State. To my surprise, they were one of only three Big Ten teams that year to average over 200 rushing yards per game, while also leading the conference in passing yards per game. Did you know they had two 1000-yard rushers that year (Howard and Redding)?
As party to a prolific offense, Sudfeld threw for 3,573 passing yards, the fourth most by a Big Ten QB in the last decade, but he did it in 12 games, giving him the second best YPG average. That, coupled with a slightly net positive run game, makes him one of only six Big Ten players in the last decade to average over 300 yards per game. He was also fairly safe with the ball, throwing only 7 INTs, or 58.9 attempts per INT (6th best). All in all, a solid year.
Tanner Morgan, Minnesota Golden Gophers, 2019 (SO)
3,253 p.yds | 66% comp. (7th) | 10.2 Y/A (2nd) | 250.2 PYPG | 30 TD:7 INT (5th) | 31 Total TDs | 178.7 Rat. (3rd)
Passer rating is a tricky thing to use for evaluating a QB. What you'll come to find is that yards per attempt ends up being the best indicator of how high the rating will be, and Morgan had the second best yards per attempt of the QBs I looked at--one of only two in the double digits. As we saw in the Wide Receivers article, Bateman and Johnson were a major reason for Morgan's success. But it's a two way street.
In terms of total yards per game though, Morgan falls pretty far down the list, acting more as game manager than gunslinger. And he was effective in that role. He was safe with the ball and got it to his receivers downfield. As such, I felt he was worthy of a mention.
Dan Persa, Northwestern Wildcats, 2010 (JR)
2,581 p.yds | 519 r.yds | 73.5% comp. (1st) | 8.5 Y/A | 310.0 TYPG (5th) | 15 TD:4 INT (9th) | 24 Total TDs (4th) | 159 Rat. (7th)
Persa's story is one of a promising future cut short by injury. If you just look at the total numbers, his 2010 season wasn't too crazy, except that he accomplished those numbers in just 10 games. In his first year as a starter, Persa would break the Big Ten record for completion percentage in a single season at 73.5%. Unfortunately, in a heroic effort against #13 Iowa, Persa tore his Achilles after throwing the game winning pass. Persa would return in 2011, but the injury severely hurt his ability to run, and he once again was only able to play in 10 games. And his completion percentage fell to a paltry 73.4%. In those two seasons, his worst single game performance was completing just 62.1% of his passes. He was deceivingly shifty and quick, and exciting to watch.
But alas, Persa never won his Heisman.
J.T. Barrett, Ohio State Buckeyes, 2014 (FR)
2,834 p.yds | 938 r.yds (5th) | 64.6% comp. | 9.0 Y/A (6th) | 314.3 TYPG (3rd) | 34 TD:10 INT | 45 Total TDs (4th) | 169.8 Rat. (5th)
Sorry, J.T. You were #5 and got bumped to an Honorable Mention. I realized that my biggest complaint of now #5 was also true of you, but he just accounted for a much bigger portion of the offensive pie. But here's the other thing, I don't care that Ohio State won the national championship with Barrett at the helm for most of the year. It was Cardale Jones who led them in those final three games (although Barrett probably would have done a better job--hell, all Jones had to do was hand the ball off to Zeke). Even if he hadn't gotten injured and they won I wouldn't care--I'm not a Heisman voter. There are more players on the field than just the QB.
All the same, Barrett put up a stellar year and as a freshman no less. He was very effective in the passing game, while still running for nearly 1,000 yards on the season. But as I mentioned, he was only a part of the offensive juggernaut Ohio State was that year. Even though he had the 3rd most total yards per game of all the players I looked at, he accounted for the second lowest percentage of total offense at just 49.2%. Only 2013 Braxton Miller accounted for less. Anybody could have put up numbers in that offense. Joel Stave could have been a legend at Ohio State that year.
Amendment: I realized that his % of offense was unfair since I was comparing his total yards accumulated over 12 games with the team's total yards over 15 games. If you look at just the games he played in, he was a much more respectable 62.4% of the offense. But I'm not switching them again. Deal with it, OSU fans. You get enough recognition.
#5 - Trace McSorley, Penn State Nittany Lions, 2017
3,570 p.yds (5th) | 66.5% comp. (6th) | 8.4 Y/A | 312.4 TYPG (4th) | 28 TD:10 INT | 39 Total TDs (T-5th) | 153.7 Rat.
Before you throw a fit, he's my #6, just on the cusp of being #5. I wrote this in the honorable mention section, as I felt that while he was very good, he didn't stand out in any one area. But neither did J.T. and I decided McSorley's value to the team should win the day. You're welcome. Of my top 6, McSorley accounted for the highest percentage of total offense at 67.9%, the 6th highest total of any QB I evaluated.
On top of being a prolific passer, McSorley was surprisingly effective running the ball. While 2017 wasn't his best year for rushing, it was his best year in terms of offensive output per game. He was middle of the pack with respect to ball security, neither great nor terrible, but overall he was fairly accurate with his passes. All of this sums up to create the 5th best season by my measure. Love him or hate him (probably gonna be mostly hate in here), he was a big time producer at Penn State.
#4 - Denard Robinson, Michigan Wolverines, 2010 (SO)
2,270 p.yds | 1,702 r.yds (1st) | 62.5% comp. | 8.8 Y/A (7th) | 6.6 YPC (1st) | 328.6 TYPG (3rd) | 18 TD:11 INT | 32 Total TDs | 149.6 Rat.
Denard Robinson was an incredible running back who was asked to throw the ball occasionally. He didn't have the fewest attempts by a QB (Braxton Miller #1 and #2), but he was close. And most of his success in the passing game was because of how dangerous he was running the ball. The result was wide open receivers as defenders cheated up to stop the run and bit on the play action. Go watch highlights of him. It's 60% runs, 35% play action/read option passes, and 5% drop back throws.
That said, damn was he fast. His 130.9 rushing yards per game ranks better than Mikel Leshoure, Ameer Abdullah, Saquon Barkley, and so many more great running backs. He had the most rushing touchdowns by a Big Ten QB in the last decade. His 6.6 yards per carry was best among Big Ten QBs, and would rank in the top 15 among running backs. Combine an ok passing game with a stellar running game (431 yards more than any other QB), and you have a guy who put up more yards per game than all but one other QB in the conference this past decade.
If you're a purist, you'll probably say that he belongs as an honorable mention so that pure passers like legend Matt McGloin could take their rightful place in the top 5. But really, he's the closest we've seen to a player from the first half of the 20th century, a sentiment sure to make the Michigan fans positively warm.
#3 - Justin Fields, Ohio State, 2019 (SO)
3,273 p.yds (10th) | 67.2% comp. (4th) | 9.2 Y/A (4th) | 268.4 TYPG | 41 TD:3 INT (1st) | 51 Total TDs (2nd) | 181.4 Rat. (2nd)
Fields' legacy is hurt for the same reason Barrett's* was. The offense was just too damn good. The real reason Fields appears at #3 is that touchdown to interception ratio. Hot damn. That ratio (13.7) is far and away the best among the QBs I reviewed, the next best being 8.3. And he's the only QB with over 100 attempts per interception (118), with the next closest coming from Matt McGloin at 89.2 attempts per INT. Throw in another 10 rushing touchdowns and the guy was out of this world.
Add to that his very good completion percentage, yards per attempt, and QB rating, and you've got an excellent season. 484 rushing yards isn't a ton, but he didn't need to do all that much running. I'm starting to think that the reason some Ohio State QBs rank low for % of offense is that the games were out of hand so early that they just had to hand the ball off for 90% of the second half. Somebody should do the research to see the change in Pass:Run ratio between halves/quarters for every Big Ten team in 2019... (Note: it's not going to be me.)
*See above for amendment on Barrett.
#2 - Russell Wilson, Wisconsin Badgers, 2011 (SR)
3,175 p.yds | 72.8% comp. (2nd) | 10.3 Y/A (1st) | 250.9 TYPG | 33 TD:4 INT (2nd) | 39 Total TDs (5th) | 191.8 Rat. (1st)
First, let's get the important facts out of the way. Lewis was pushed into the punter. Michigan State was robbed. Ok, now that we're all agreed on that, we can get to the fact that Wilson is responsible for ushering in the new age of rent-a-QB grad transfers all over the country.
If Wilson doesn't go to Wisconsin from NC State and proceed to rip the Big Ten apart, maybe we don't have a situation of musical chairs with top end QBs, for better or worse. 191.8 is a high passer rating. In fact, it was an NCAA record passer rating for 5 years. (Until 2016 when a new QB each year decided to break that record: Mayfield, Mayfield again, Tua, and Burrow this year.)
Wilson wasn't carrying the offense on his back. 250 yards per game is 29th among the 38 seasons I checked out. But Wilson was the ultimate game manager combined with the ability to make stupidly good plays at the most clutch moments (freaking Duckworth). His 4 interceptions on the year is 2nd best behind only Fields' 3, and he similarly scored in droves. Wilson had good receivers, but let's be honest, they weren't Bateman and Johnson good. And he still averaged the most yards per attempt of any QB I evaluated. Simply put, Wilson was phenomenal in 2011. Shame he didn't add a Rose Bowl win to his list of accolades...
#1 - Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State, 2018 (SO)
4,831 p.yds (1st) | 70.0% comp. (3rd) | 9.1 Y/A (5th) | 352.8 TYPG (1st) | 50 TD:8 INT (3rd) | 54 Total TDs (1st) | 174.1 Rat. (4th)
The numbers really speak for themselves. But that's not the point of this, so I'll do it. 4,939 total yards of offense from Haskins. 65.9% of the entire offense (10th best). That was more total yards than Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan State, and Rutgers put up as teams in 2018. Or in 2019 terms, that's more than MSU, Iowa, Purdue, Illinois, Maryland, Northwestern, and Rutgers.
Here's some more stuff: 4,831 passing yards was nearly 1,000 yards more than the previous Big Ten single season record (Curtis Painter, 3,895). 50 passing touchdowns is 11 more than the record Drew Brees set at 39; he was just the 5th NCAA QB to throw for at least 50. He threw for 499 passing yards against Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship. (A fact he's likely thankful for as he had previously set the Ohio State record with 470 yards in their 49-20 loss to Purdue--remember that?) And who knows how his arm didn't fall off after he attempted 533 passes on the season, 4th most in conference history, behind Brees (twice) and Painter as you might have guessed.
No other Big Ten QB in the last decade threw for over 300 yards per game, Haskins threw for 345. And he did it while still keeping interceptions at a reasonable level (5th best attempts per INT). I had Wilson at #1 until I started working my way through this article. But you just can't look at these numbers and not be blown away.
Next Time on "You're Wrong. Who Front-Paged This? We Want Answers."
And there you have it. The top 5 seasons by quarterbacks of the last decade as voted upon by me. Next I'll take a look at defensive players all in one go because I don't want to write a half dozen more articles.