Big Ten Spotlight: Breaking down QB situations across the league
More than half of the Big Ten had quarterback competitions to wade through at the start of spring football. With spring football now complete at most campuses around the conference, a few of those questions got answers. Let’s take a look at the quarterback situations for each program in the Big Ten.
Head coach Lovie Smith did not get the answers he was hoping for during spring football. A quartet of passers, all with minimal experience, tried to stake their names to the starting spot in the spring, but left as many questions as answers. For Illinois fans, the optimism comes in the form of true freshman Isaiah Williams, who will arrive on campus this summer. A Rivals100 athlete prospect, Williams will come in as a quarterback and Smith stated in his post-spring game press conference that the four-star will get every opportunity to be the guy for the Illini this fall.
New offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer will kick of his Indiana tenure by marshaling a quarterback competition heading into the 2019 season. The good news for DeBoer, however, is that he has several strong candidates eager to win the job. Redshirt junior Peyton Ramsey started all 12 games for the Hoosiers during the 2018 season, and is trying to hold off a pair of former four-stars in Michael Penix Jr. and Jack Tuttle, the latter of whom was ruled immediately eligible after transferring from Utah this winter. Ramsey was the only one of the trio healthy enough to play in the Hoosiers' spring game, so this competition will continue in the summer.
Starter: Nathan Stanley
While many of his colleagues wring their hands over who will be manning the most important position on the field next fall, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz is likely a picture of serenity. Stanley enters his third season in Iowa City as the full-time starter for the Hawkeyes, looking to build on a career that already has seen him throw for 5,351 total yards and 26 touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. Stanley’s experience and command of the playbook allowed Iowa to get younger quarterbacks more reps in spring football, including freshman Alex Padilla who enrolled in January.
First-year head coach Mike Locksley walks into a quarterback position that has been in flux for the last several years due, primarily, to injuries. Last year’s starter, Kasim Hill, put his name into the NCAA transfer portal this past winter after tearing his ACL for the second-straight season. His back-up,Pigrome started the 2017 season before suffering a season-ending injury in Game 1. The Terrapins will have to wait until this summer to welcome Virginia Tech grad transfer Josh Jackson to College Park, but he could steady the ship under center, at least for one year.
Starter: Shea Patterson
First-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis arrives in Ann Arbor with plenty of talented arms on the Michigan roster, including a returning starter in Patterson. No starting spot is safe at Michigan under Jim Harbaugh, who cautioned Patterson not to “put his feet up,” this off-season and assume he had the starting job locked down. There is no indication Patterson did that, and even with strong springs from former four-stars McCaffrey and Milton, Patterson goes into summer camp as the team’s starter after throwing for 2,600 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2018.
Starter: Brian Lewerke
Now recovered from a shoulder injury sustained midway through the 2018 season, Lewerke is set to enter his third season as the Spartans' starting quarterback. The former four-star prospect out of Phoenix has started 25 games in his Michigan State career, completing 56.7 percent of his passes for 5,214 yards and 30 touchdowns. One new change for the quarterback position in East Lansing this season will be the move of former quarterbacks coach Brad Salem to offensive coordinator and former running backs coach Dave Warner now taking over the quarterbacks.
One of the Big Ten’s biggest storylines of last off-season was Annexstad, a true freshman walk-on, winning Minnesota’s starting quarterback competition. The IMG Academy graduate would go on to start the first seven games of the season before being injured in an Oct. 20 contest against Nebraska. Morgan started the remainder of Minnesota’s games that season, and led the Gophers to big wins over Wisconsin and Georgia Tech to end the season. Both quarterbacks played well this spring, and their competition to lead Minnesota’s offense in 2019 will continue into the summer.
Starter: Adrian Martinez
Going into Year 2 as the head coach of his alma mater, Scott Frost is feeling much better about the depth in his quarterback room than he was one year ago. A pair of players who came to Lincoln as walk-ons in Bunch and Vedral are competing with early enrollee Luke McCaffrey to be the back-up to Martinez, but each of them looked solid during the spring. The potential of the position in 2019, though, will be on Martinez, who accounted for 3,246 yards of total offense and 25 total touchdowns as a true freshman starter for the Cornhuskers in 2018.
Northwestern says goodbye to four-year starter Clayton Thorson, who hopes to hear his name called in this week's NFL Draft. The concern over the future of the quarterback position in Evanston was eased, however, when former five-star Hunter Johnson transferred in from Clemson last off-season. After sitting due to transfer rules in 2018, Johnson was expected to quickly assume control of the Wildcat’s offense. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has still refused to name a starter, however, with fifth year senior Green providing the primary competition to Johnson.
The musical chairs at quarterback for Ohio State in the wake of Dwayne Haskins’ departure to the NFL continued last week, when redshirt freshman Matthew Baldwin entered his name into the NCAA’s transfer portal. The transfer machine for Ohio State kicked into gear early this past winter when former five-star Justin Fields transferred to the Buckeyes from Georgia. That sent freshman Tate Martell packing off to Miami. Fields’ waiver to play immediately in Columbus was approved, and he went into the spring battling Baldwin, a former four-star for the job. If Baldwin leaves, Ohio State will have just two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster for 2019.
Starter: Sean Clifford
The quarterback situation at Penn State was in the spotlight last week when it was learned fifth-year senior Tommy Stevens had entered the transfer portal. Stevens, who had waited his turn behind Trace McSorley the last several years, will not be returning to State College, according to his father. He entered the spring in a battle with Clifford for the right to lead the Nittany Lions' offense in 2019. Head coach James Franklin did not declare a starter coming out of spring football, but the departure of Stevens means this is Clifford’s job, with Levis expected to be his back-up.
Starter: Elijah Sindelar
Back-up: Jack Plummer
Purdue has been known as the Cradle of Quarterbacks. Sindelar hopes to keep that moniker alive as a fifth-year senior in 2019. With David Blough having exhausted his eligibility, Sindelar will be handed the reins of the Boilermakers' offense after sharing it with Blough during the 2018 season. It has been an injury-plagued career for Sindelar thus far – something the NCAA recognized by granting him a sixth year of eligibility last week – and those concerns were reignited when he had to miss several days of spring practice earlier this month due to a knee injury. Sindelar has called the injury minor, however, and expects to be 100 percent for summer camp.
Starter: Artur Sitkowski
Being the reigning starter at quarterback did not afford second-year player Artur Sitkowski a pass to that role again in 2019. It was a rough first season for Sitkowski under center for the 1-11 Scarlet Knights. He completed less than 50 percent of his passes for 1,158 yards and threw just four touchdowns passes to 18 interceptions. Head coach Chris Ash made Sitkowski re-earn the job, but did name him the “No. 1 quarterback coming out of spring.” Competition came in the form of Snyder, who early enrolled after graduating from high school this winter, and Boston College transfer Johnny Langan, who has not yet been ruled eligible for the 2019 season.
Wisconsin’s quarterback competition this spring is not necessarily a cause for concern with Badgers fans because the wealth of talent at the position promises whoever emerges will be ready for the rigors of the Big Ten. In the immediate aftermath of Alex Hornibrook’s decision to transfer this winter after starting 32 games for the Badgers, it looked like the job was there for Coan to take. Coan started four games last season in relief of Hornibrook, but true freshman Graham Mertz, a Rivals100 prospect who early enrolled in January, has created a lot of positive buzz with his play.