The next group in our list are the guys who are definitely on team and will play football. These groups can’t be described as complete garbage, at least not yet. They may even be giving their fans a little tingle below the belt. But there are also some major question marks or in some cases, no clear answer on who is even playing.
11. Illinois Fighting Illini
Starter: Luke Altmyer
Backups: John Paddock, Donovan Leary, Cal Swanson
Illinois gets the benefit of the doubt a bit, as this room isn’t all that different from Rutgers’ or Indiana’s. Illinois was kind of good last year, mostly on the strength of the defense and running game, but still, kind of good. Tommy Devito has ridden into the sunset, so Bert took a spin on the portal wheel.
Out of the portal spits Luke Altmyer, a former top 200 recruit formerly of Ole Miss. He never quite got established for Lane Kiffin, and only got a bit of spot duty in his two seasons there. No big shame in that - he played behind a third round draft pick in Matt Corral his first year, and couldn’t beat out Jaxson Dart last season. He only played significant time in two games - a bowl game against Baylor as a freshman and a blowout over Central Arkansas last year. Neither performance was particularly awe inspiring.
He seems like a pretty safe bet to start. Bert did add Ball State’s starting QB last year, John Paddock, as a grad transfer. They also return Donovan Leary as a redshirt freshman and added Cal Swanson as a recruit. Paddock seems like the safer option to see time if Altmyer gets hurt or just sucks, given he started 12 games last season of actual football.
10. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Starter: Athan Kaliakmanis
Backups: Cole Kramer, Jacob Knuth, Drew Viotto
Long live Tanner Morgan. The 19 year starter for the Gophs is finally gone, and the era of the Greek Rifle has begun. Former four star recruit Athan Kaliakmanis did get some run last year when Morgan got hurt, and showed enough to get Gopher fans excited. While the game plan was pretty conservative in most of the games he played, he did torch Wisconsin for 319 yards and two touchdowns.
Behind him is longtime backup Kramer, as well as the young guys in Knuth and Viotto. To be honest, this was a tough call. The Greek Rifle did show something last season, enough to make fans justifiably excited. On the other hand, his OC, Kirk Ciarrocca, went to Rutgers. Incoming is Greg Harbaugh, who is definitely not related to Jim Harbaugh. In fact, he doesn’t even pronounce it the same, going with “Har-boe” like Greta Garbo. Can off-brand Harbaugh keep the Gopher train rolling? We’ll see, but we have enough question marks to keep the Gophs in double digits in these rankings.
9. Michigan State Spartans
Starter: Payton Thorne
Backups: Noah Kim, Katin Houser
This is somewhat akin to the Northwestern situation. Payton Thorne is a two year starter for Sparty and that kind of experience ain’t cheap. In 2021, Thorne threw for 27 touchdowns and was one of the better quarterbacks in the conference. 2022 was a different story, as it was for the whole team. That opened the door for challengers. Redshirt freshman Katin Houser was thought to be the main challenger given his four star pedigree. However, it appears junior Noah Kim is the real competition. He played nearly as much as Thorne in their Spring Game and made some “impressive” throws.
MSU dropped from 39th in scoring to 91st last year. Jayden Reed is looking to get drafted next week. This isn’t Wildcat levels of despondence, but it’s a fair question to ask if there is any reason to expect improvement here. It says something that the Spartans may bench or go to a timeshare with their veteran quarterback, and probably nothing too positive about the direction of the offense.
8. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Starter: Casey Thompson
Backups: Jeff Sims, Logan Smothers, Heinrich Haarberg, Chubba Purdy, Richard Torres
Uncertainty rules the day to start the, er, Rhule era. On one hand, Matt Rhule currently has six scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, four of them former four star prospects. On the other, it’s unclear if any of them can actually play. Casey Thompson played the bulk last year for Nebraska in a season that got Scott Frost shot into the cornfield of the sky. His overall stats were actually pretty fair: 240 yards a game, a QBR of 150, and almost 9 yards an attempt. The offense, though, was not great efficiency-wise and finished 102nd in scoring. Thompson also has had a shoulder injury this spring and hasn’t practiced much.
His main competition is thought to be Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Sims. Sims also started at QB and saw his coach get thrown into the sun. His passing stats were pretty bleak, though he is unquestionably a strong runner. Hard to say what Rhule is likely to go with - he did start Charlie Brewer for four years. Brewer, after playing for four years at Baylor, transferred to Utah. But then he was beat out by Cam Rising and only played in three games. Then he transferred to Liberty and broke his hand in the first game. Anyways, Nebraska is definitely going to start a quarterback. But probably not Brewer.