Big Ten spotlight: Five biggest quarterback battles
Spring practices have ended at some Big Ten schools while others are still in the midst of their 15 allotted practices. Quarterbacks tend to generated the biggest storylines in the off-season, and that is the case at several schools around the conference. Here are the five biggest quarterback battles in the Big Ten for 2017.
Replacing: Wes Lunt Jr.
Breakdown: Illinois is one of those schools that has finished its spring practices already – in fact, the program conducted their 15 practices during the month of February – but the answer to who will start the season at quarterback did not progress much. The main reason is junior Chayce Crouch has still not fully recovered from the shoulder surgery that ended his 2016 season. Crouch participated in spring practices, but was limited to running because he was still unable to throw. That meant sophomore Jeff George Jr., was the only one in this competition who got full repetitions. Concerns still exist about his accuracy and penchant for throwing the football to the defense. With Crouch being the dual-threat that offensive coordinator Garrick McGee prefers, he still looks likely to be the starter to open next season. JUCO transfer Dwayne Lawson could make this a three-man race, but he is still at Garden City Community College working to qualify.
Replacing: C.J. Beathard
Breakdown: Beathard departs after throwing for 1,929 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, but Iowa is feeling good about the situation heading into the 2017 season. This is a two-man race between junior Tyler Wiegers and sophomore Nathan Stanley. Head coach Kirk Ferentz has said this is an open competition, but Stanley did leapfrog Wiegers last season to be Beathard’s back-up as a true freshman. Some of that may have been to get Stanley experience – he ended up seeing action in six games – and it would seem to make him the odds on-favorite to earn the starting nod. He came to Iowa City and immediately impressed with the way he carried himself, along with showing a big arm and picking up the offense quickly. Wiegers is a former four-star from Detroit Country Day who was known as a pinpoint passer coming out of high school.
Replacing: Perry Hills
Breakdown: Maryland had a quarterback competition last year also, with Hills winning the battle to start in D.J. Durkin’s first season at the helm of the Terrapins program. This year the battle will be to replace Hills, whose stop-and-start career in College Park actually finished better than most give him credit for as he topped the conference in completion percentage as a senior. The future of the position appears to be in the hands of highly-touted incoming freshman Kasim Hill, a Rivals100 prospect from the 2017 class, but he does not arrive until the summer and his time may not be this season. North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson appears to have the inside track. Durkin praised the junior’s “competitiveness,” as well as his dual-threat abilities this spring. Sophomores Max Bortenschlager and Tyrrell Pigrome were the competition in the spring, with Bortenschlager being the pro-style passer and Pigrome the diminutive dual-threat.
Replacing: Mitch Leidner
Breakdown: This is arguably the biggest question mark at the quarterback position in the Big Ten. The recently departed Leidner started 41 games in his Gophers career, so while there are a lot of potential candidates to fill his shoes, there is very little experience. Fifth-year senior Conor Rhoda was the only quarterback besides Leidner to attempt a pass last season. Third year sophomore Demry Croft attempted 17 passes as a true freshman two seasons ago, but redshirted last year. Joining Rhoda and Croft in the quarterback competition is redshirt freshman Seth Green, JUCO transfer Neil McLaurin and true freshman Tanner Morgan, who followed first-year head coach P.J. Fleck to Minneapolis after committing to him at Western Michigan and is enrolled in school this semester. Reading between the lines of Fleck’s comments this spring, it appears Croft and Rhoda are the top two contenders, though Morgan has also gotten his share of praise.
Replacing: Tommy Armstrong
Breakdown: Nebraska gets to find out what life is like in the wake of arguably the most prolific passer in program history. Over 44 games started, Armstrong compiled the most passing yards and the most total offense by a quarterback in team history. The battle to replace him is really coming down to Tanner Lee and Patrick O’Brien. True freshman Tristan Gebbia is on campus and earning rave reviews for how polished he is at such an early age, but Lee and O’Brien have been splitting reps with the first team while Gebbia is expected to redshirt. Head coach Mike Riley has not elaborated on who might be the favorite to start, saying he likes the competition, but the common thought around Lincoln is Lee will be the guy under center to start the 2017 season.