Ah, we’ve come to the quarterbacks portion of this series. The great thing about last season in the Big Ten is that there was some good quarterback play, but no one was so good that they don’t have anything to improve upon this season. In fact, no starting quarterback threw fewer than six interception this season, and three of them threw 11! Compared to 2019, the last time we played a full 12 to 13 game season, Justin Fields only threw 3 interceptions that year, and only one quarterback, Brian Lewerke of Michigan State, threw more than nine (13).
Without further ado, onto the rankings!
14. Northwestern Wildcats | Ryan Hilinski
2021: 95-176 (54%), 978 yards, 3 TDs, 4 INTs
Ryan Hilinski didn’t start the whole season, but the time he did spend commandeering the Northwestern offense could have, uh, been better. His 3:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio is not ideal, and if he is to spend the whole of 2022 at the helm, he’s going to need to improve on both that and his 54 percent completion rate if Northwestern wants to be able to move the ball effectively. That, or they can run the triple option.
T13. Iowa Hawkeyes | Spencer Petras
2021: 165-288 (57.3%), 1,880 yards, 10 TDs, 9 INTs
When you have a formula, and the formula works, you don’t mess with the formula. That is in essence what Iowa is. The Hawkeyes made it all the way to the Big Ten Championship game by getting the bare minimum from Petras, and relying solely on their defense, hurting opposing quarterbacks, and booing anyone who had the audacity to actually be hurt. 2023 is right around the corner.
T13. Illinois Fighting Illini | Artur Sitowski OR Tommy DeVito
2021 (Sitowski): 74-148 (50%), 704 yards, 6 TDs, 2 INTs
Sitowski is another quarterback who didn’t spend the full season at the helm, and instead split time with now-departed Brandon Peters. The former Rutgers quarterback, Sitowski is low on this list for the same reason as his peers: Low accuracy, trouble moving the offense, and an inability to really do much for Illinois whenever he did get a chance to play. Syracuse transfer Tommy DeVito looks to supplant Sitowski as the starter, so we’ll see how that all turns out this summer.
T11: Indiana Hoosiers | Donaven McCulley OR Connor Bazelak
2021 (McCulley): 35-82 (42.7%), 475 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
The fact that Jack Tuttle, the person who took over for Michael Penix Jr. when the latter went down, didn’t even make the cut on this list, should tell you all you need to know about Indiana. They did get a commitment from Texas prospect Brendan Sorsby, so someone on this list is bound to work out for Indiana. This is especially true now that Penix Jr. is out west throwing passes for the Washington Huskies.
T11: Wisconsin Badgers | Graham Mertz
2021: 169-284 (59.5%), 1,958 yards, 10 TDs, 11 INTs
The first of our three “most interceptions on the season” honorees makes the list in Graham Mertz, who, to his credit, didn’t throw half his interceptions in just one game (more on that later). More worrisome than his interceptions were his costly fumbles, a couple of which directly led to the Badgers losing some games. Wisconsin finished the season strong, but if they want to do more than just “finish the season strong” in 2022, they’re going to need Mertz to clean up the turnovers.
9: Rutgers Scarlet Knights | Noah Vedral OR Gavin Wimsatt
2021 (Vedral): 180-303 (59.4%), 1,813 yards, 7 TDs, 7 INTs
We’re starting to get to the part of the rankings where the quarterbacks, who played most or all of the season, don’t have a negative touchdown to interception ratio. Congratulations Noah Vedral, you’re the dividing line! Rutgers had a couple of moments of brilliance on offense, and a couple more where they couldn’t get out f their own way. None of these moments was bigger than the second half against Michigan, where, if they’d turned the ball over one fewer time, maybe things would be different right now. Alas. Same as everyone else to this point, if Rutgers wants success in 2022, it’ll need Vedral to be more consistent.
8: Nebraska Cornhuskers | Casey Thompson
2021 (Texas): 165-261 (63.2%), 2,113 yards, 24 TDs, 9 INTs
While not in the Big Ten, Casey Thompson had a pretty good season with Texas, and were it not for Quin Ewers transferring to the Longhorns, maybe he’s still there. Regardless, Thompson is now a Husker, and should provide the same, if not more, firepower the departed Adrian Martinez did. And, if somehow Nebraska figures out to rely on more than Thompson himself on most of the snaps, their offense might be pretty good to boot!
7: Minnesota Golden Gophers | Tanner Morgan
2021: 149-249 (59.8%), 2,044 yards, 10 TDs, 9 INTs
Tanner Morgan had a tremendous 2019 season, a pretty bad 2020 (who can blame him?), and a so-so, by comparison, 2021. The silver lining in this sixth year quarterback’s journey is that the offensive coordinator that led to his 2019 season is back, and the expectation is that his return to form will follow. With a stable of running backs ready to carry the load as well, Morgan will be right at home doing what he did best in 2019.
T6: Maryland Terrapins | Taulia Tagovailoa
2021: 328-474 (69.2%), 3,860 yards, 26 TDs, 11 INTs
The second of our “most interceptions on the season” honoree, Mr. Tagovailoa, was doing pretty well on the season, until he me the buzz saw that is the Iowa Hawkeyes. Five of his 11 total interceptions came against the Hawkeyes, with the rest coming against the Big Four in the East, and Kent State. Even with his turnover tendencies, quarterback is not the reason Maryland finds themselves at or near the bottom of the Big Ten standings year after year. If they can figure out everything else, the Terrapins could be good.
T6: Penn State Nittany Lions | Sean Clifford
2021: 261-428 (61%), 3,107 yards, 21 TDs, 8 INTs
The Sean Clifford story in 2021 was pretty simple: Pre-injury, he was on his way to having one of the most efficient seasons in the country through five games. Post-injury, things derailed out of control. Like Maryland, Clifford himself is not the reason the Nittany Lions struggled down the stretch. In fact, Clifford may have been the reason they won seven games altogether. The lack of running game did them in plenty of times, and unfortunately, Clifford and the defense couldn’t bail the Lions out every time. A bit of trivia for 2022: Clifford, on his sixth year with Penn State, will have the same offensive coordinator two years in a row for the first time in his career.
4: Michigan State Spartans | Payton Thorne
2021: 235-389 (60.4%), 3,204 yards, 27 TDs, 10 INTs
Thorne had quite the year for the Spartans last season, leading them to an 11-win campaign and a Peach Bowl victory. It stands to reason that the offense will rely more on his talents now that Kenneth Walker III is out cashing checks in the NFL, but if he can maintain the level of performance he did in 2021, that should be no problem at all. For Michigan State to take the next step, however, Thorne will need to cut down on his turnovers, as the 10 interceptions nearly puts him in the “most in the Big Ten” club.
3: Michigan Wolverines | Cade McNamara (featuring J.J. McCarthy)
2021: 210-327 (64.2%), 2,576 yards, 15 TDs, 6 INTs
Let’s be realistic. Cade McNamara is not the third best quarterback in the Big Ten. But, Michigan won the conference, thus we give him and J.J the benefit of the doubt. Besides, Michigan is going to continue to try and run the ball eight times out of 10 in 2022, and it will be up to the opponents to force McNamara to actually win the Wolverines some games. If he doesn’t have to do that, Michigan may find itself in pretty good shape once again.
2: Purdue Boilermakers | Aidan O’Connell
2021: 315-440 (71.6%), 3,712 yards, 28 TDs, 11 INTs
The third and final honoree in the “most interceptions in the Big Ten” category is none other than No. 2 on this list, Mr. Aidan O’Connell! It is undeniable that once O’Connell took over the offense for good, Purdue was nearly unstoppable. Under his guidance, the Boilers knocked off No. 2 Iowa and No. 3 Michigan State, on their way to a 9-win season, their first since 2003. David Bell is off to the NFL, so O’Connell will need to continue to spread the ball around without the all-everything receiver, but given who the offensive mind behind the operation is, this shouldn’t be too much trouble.
1: Ohio State Buckeyes | C.J. Stroud
2021: 317-441 (71.9%), 4,435 yards, 44 TDs, 6 INTs
You knew it, I knew it, everyone knew it. C.J. Stroud is by far the best quarterback in the Big Ten coming into 2022. And, if not for the suspect defense the Buckeyes put out last season, he would have hoisted the Big Ten trophy for the first time in his career. There really isn’t much to say here other than, if your team is facing Ohio State, hope it’s a bad defensive day for the Buckeyes.