Ranking the Big Ten quarterback situations entering the 2018 college football season

Dr. Saturday

With spring practice in the books and preseason camp still weeks away, we’re really in the doldrums of the college football offseason.

But it’s never too early to look ahead to next season, don’t you think? Quarterback is the most important position on the field, so let’s see how things are stacking up at the position across the country.

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We’ll continue with the quarterback situations for each Big Ten team.

Previously: ACC

14. Minnesota – Tanner Morgan, Vic Viramontes, Zack Annexstad

Most reports coming out of spring practice had Tanner Morgan working with the first team for the Gophers. Morgan, a three-star recruit in the class of 2017, took a redshirt last year in P.J. Fleck’s first season as head coach. He impressed in the spring game, completing 18-of-28 passes for 272 yards and two scores, but still needs to hold off two competitors, junior college transfer Vic Viramontes and true freshman Zack Annexstad, to win the job. Viramontes was once committed to Michigan but signed with Cal. Annexstad, a Minnesota native, was the starting quarterback at IMG Academy. He got more reps than Viramontes in the spring game.

13. Illinois – Cam Thomas, A.J. Bush

Cam Thomas got his feet wet last year. And while he showed some positive flashes, it was largely tough sledding for the true freshman. In four games (two starts), Thomas threw for 375 yards and no touchdowns with five interceptions. He completed just 42.4 percent of his passes in the process. But he’ll enter the 2018 with a full offseason under his belt, including 15 spring practices where he was the Illini’s only scholarship quarterback. Provided he holds off graduate transfer A.J. Bush (via Nebraska and Virginia Tech), he’ll have the chance to lead the Illini for the long haul.

12. Rutgers – Artur Sitkowski, Giovanni Rescigno, Johnathan Lewis

Quarterback has been a revolving door at Rutgers pretty much since the days of Mike Teel. But when New Jersey native Artur Sitkowski flipped from Miami and enrolled early, fans got a glimpse of the future. And the future may be now. Coming out of spring, it looks like the freshman has a pretty good shot to begin the year as the Scarlet Knights’ starting quarterback. Sitkowski threw for 280 yards and three scores (albeit on 11-for-24 passing with two INTs) in the team’s spring game, but still needs to fend off Gio Rescigno, a fifth-year senior with 12 career starts under his belt. Johnathan Lewis, another New Jersey recruit, is also in the mix. He played in seven games last fall.

11. Nebraska – Adrian Martinez, Tristan Gebbia

The quarterback competition for year one of Scott Frost in Lincoln will likely come down to two suitors, and it would not be a surprise if both see the field when the season rolls around. Tristan Gebbia, a four-star recruit, is a 6-foot-3 redshirt freshman with a big arm. He looked pretty good throwing the ball in the spring game, but does not have the mobility of true freshman early enrollee Adrian Martinez. Landing Martinez, a former Tennessee commit, was one of Frost’s first priorities when he took the job. Martinez ran for three scores in the spring game, though it was against mostly backups. Frost likes mobility in his quarterbacks. Gebbia isn’t a statue in the pocket, but Martinez’s quickness in the RPO game could give him an edge.

Nebraska red team quarterback Adrian Martinez (2) runs the ball for a touchdown during the Red/White spring football game in Lincoln. (AP Photo/John Peterson)
Nebraska red team quarterback Adrian Martinez (2) runs the ball for a touchdown during the Red/White spring football game in Lincoln. (AP Photo/John Peterson)

10. Maryland – Kasim Hill, Tyrrell Pigrome

Maryland’s injury luck at quarterback has been terrible in recent years. In 2017, the Terps lost their top two QBs, Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill, to torn ACLs in September. Both sat out the spring, leaving Max Bortenschlager, an eight-game starter last year, leading the offense in the spring. That won’t last. Hill and Pigrome, both dual threat QBs, are more talented, Hill especially. Hill was a top 100 recruit out of Washington D.C. who looked the part in his three games of action. He completed 18-of-21 passes for 230 yards and two scores. He also rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown. Pigrome has more playing time under his belt, but has struggled with accuracy (55.4 career completion percentage).

9. Indiana – Peyton Ramsey, Brandon Dawkins

Peyton Ramsey got significant playing time (nine games, four starts) last year as a redshirt freshman, but he’ll have a serious competition on his hands when preseason camp rolls around. That’s when Indiana will welcome Brandon Dawkins, a graduate transfer from Arizona. Dawkins was injured early last year, opening the door for Khalil Tate’s breakout season. With Tate entrenched in Tucson, Dawkins looked for another opportunity and found one in Bloomington. Like Ramsey, he can beat you with his legs (1,582 yards in 22 games). However, he has struggled with accuracy, completing 56.3 percent of his passes for his career (compared to 65.4 for Ramsey). But having two options is better than one. It wouldn’t be a surprise if we see both Dawkins and Ramsey see the field for IU in 2018.

8. Northwestern – Clayton Thorson (Andrew Marty, TJ Green)

With 38 starts under his belt, Clayton Thorson is the most-experienced quarterback in the Big Ten. But will he be ready for the start of the season? Thorson suffered a torn ACL in the Music City Bowl and the program has been tight-lipped about his progress. If he returns to the field, Thorson won’t necessarily wow you, but he can pull some really impressive throws out of his back pocket from time to time. He has thrown for 7,548 yards and 44 touchdowns in his career, but needs to improve his decision-making and cut down on the sacks and interceptions (30 for his career, 12 last year) in the process. And if Thorson isn’t healthy (if he was he would be in a better spot on this list), you’ll likely see either junior TJ Green or redshirt freshman Andrew Marty get the nod.

7. Wisconsin – Alex Hornibrook

It doesn’t always look pretty, but Alex Hornibrook has found a way to get the job done more often than not throughout his Wisconsin career. The junior lefty enters 2018 with 23 career starts under his belt. He threw too many interceptions (15) in 2018 and really struggled in the Big Ten title game against Ohio State, but played the best game of his career against Miami in the Orange Bowl. In a 34-23 win, Hornibrook went 23-of-34 for 258 yards and four touchdowns. With a stellar offensive line and a potential Heisman candidate, Jonathan Taylor, returning at running back, Hornibrook is in a great situation to help the Badgers win the Big Ten West for the third year in a row.

Alex Hornibrook had four touchdown passes in Wisconsin’s Orange Bowl win over Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)
Alex Hornibrook had four touchdown passes in Wisconsin’s Orange Bowl win over Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

6. Purdue – David Blough, Elijah Sindelar

The good news for Purdue is it has two quarterbacks with plenty of experience. The bad news is both are coming off significant injuries. David Blough suffered a serious ankle injury while Elijah Sindelar played the team’s last four games on a torn ACL. Blough recovered quickly and was on the field for spring practice while Sindelar continues to rehab following surgery. When the two were healthy, they split snaps. Blough played in nine games with five starts, completed 65 percent of his passes for 1,103 yards and nine touchdowns before the injury vs. Illinois. Sindelar injured the knee in the very next game, but somehow stayed on the field all the way through the end of the year, including a 396-yard, four-touchdown performance in the Foster Farms Bowl win over Arizona. Based on health alone, it looks like Blough, a senior with 25 career starts, will be under center for the opener.

5. Iowa – Nate Stanley

It didn’t take long for Nate Stanley to quell fears that there could be a dropoff at quarterback for Iowa after C.J. Beathard graduated. In his second career start, Stanley threw for 333 yards and five touchdowns in a win over Iowa State. He had a similar output — 226 yards and five touchdowns — in the Hawkeyes’ big upset over Ohio State. When the season ended, Stanley finished with 26 touchdowns and only six interceptions, but he completed only 55.8 percent of his passes. With two years left, Stanley, who has prototypical NFL size, has room to improve and could become one of the top passers in the conference before his career is over.

4. Michigan – Shea Patterson

Now that Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson is eligible to play in 2018, expectations are through the roof at Michigan. Quarterback stability has been fleeting since Jim Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor, and UM fans are hoping Patterson, the former five-star recruit, will solve that problem and be the savior. He’s supremely talented, but fans and media alike could be underestimating the transition of learning Harbaugh’s pro-style system. Patterson threw for a lot of yards (3,139 in 10 starts) at Ole Miss, but also threw a lot of interceptions (12). He had a propensity to take risks, and that is something Harbaugh will need to curtail if the Wolverines are going to rise to the top of the Big Ten East. Even with that said, Patterson is an undeniable upgrade to the likes of Wilton Speight and Brandon Peters.

3. Ohio State – Dwayne Haskins, Tate Martell

Once Joe Burrow decided to pursue a graduate transfer, Urban Meyer conceded what would have likely been true even if Burrow stuck around: redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins was going to enter the season as Ohio State’s top quarterback. Whenever he was pressed into action last fall, Haskins looked pretty good. He had his shining moment when J.T. Barrett got hurt against rival Michigan. Haskins came in and performed admirably, completing 6-of-7 passes for 94 yards in a come-from-behind 31-20 win in Ann Arbor. For the season as a whole, Haskins completed 40-of-57 passes for 565 yards and four touchdowns. If Meyer’s track record of developing quarterbacks is any indication, the Buckeyes should be in good hands with Haskins and highly-touted Tate Martell as his backup.

2. Michigan State – Brian Lewerke

It flew under the radar a bit, but Brian Lewerke had a pretty good first season as a starter in 2017 for the Spartans. He threw for 2,793 yards and 20 touchdowns while putting up 559 yards and five scores on the ground. He put up 400 yards through the air in back-to-back games, including the team’s upset win over Penn State. If Lewerke plays more consistently, especially with his accuracy, he could emerge as one of the conference’s best signal callers and a breakout player on a national scale in 2018 as a junior.

1. Penn State – Trace McSorley

Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki and DaeSean Hamilton are all in the NFL now, but Penn State still has Trace McSorley, who will start for the third year in a row. McSorley fought off the perception of 50-50 deep ball chucker last fall by upping his completion percentage from 57.9 to 66.5 percent to go along with his 3,570 yards and 28 touchdowns (plus 491 yards and 11 TDs rushing). On top of the talent PSU lost, McSorley will have to run the offense without offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, who’s now the head coach at Mississippi State. His first game without Moorhead, PSU’s Fiesta Bowl win over Washington, went pretty well. McSorley was 32-of-41 for 342 yards and two scores and was a perfect 12-for-12 on third down. Oh, and if something happens to McSorley, PSU has Tommy Stevens, who lined up all over place last year and combined for nine touchdowns, as a backup. Not too shabby.

Trace McSorley (9) led Penn State to a Big Ten title in 2016 and a Fiesta Bowl win in 2017. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Trace McSorley (9) led Penn State to a Big Ten title in 2016 and a Fiesta Bowl win in 2017. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

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Sam Cooper is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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