Rivals QB Week: Ranking the Big Ten
MORE: Rivals.com QB Week
Part of Rivals.com Quarterback Week is a look at the QB situations at each program across the Power Five conferences. On Monday, we start with the Big Ten, ranked in order of which program has the best situations heading into the season.
1. OHIO STATE
Review: Rated as the seventh-best dual-threat quarterback in the 2013 class, Barrett picked the Buckeyes over Baylor, LSU, Texas Tech and many others shortly after an unofficial visit to Columbus. Ohio State only returns three starters on offense this season, but unlike last season, Barrett won’t be involved in a complicated QB situation. The team is his to run, and that could open up Barrett’s dual-threat abilities even more.
Farrell’s take: Barrett was a four-star out of high school and likely would have been ranked higher than No. 152 in the nation if he didn’t suffer an injury late in his high school career. He’s proven to be a dominant offensive weapon and makes good decisions between passing and tucking and running.
Review: Beathard had been committed to Ole Miss since May of his junior season but after a coaching change brought in Hugh Freeze and the presumed zone-read offense, the three-star quarterback de-committed and started to look around in January. Iowa aggressively pounced since the Hawkeyes needed a quarterback, Beathard visited in late January and found his new home. He threw for 2,809 yards with 17 touchdowns and rushed for six scores, leading Iowa to the Rose Bowl last season.
Farrell’s take: Beathard had good bloodlines as the grandson of longtime NFL executive Bobby Beathard, and you have to think he could sing being the son of country songwriter Casey Beathard. As a quarterback he wasn’t prolific, but he did show a strong arm and a pocket presence. He has shown a little more mobility than we expected and the coaches at Iowa have really improved his decision-making ability. He should be one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the conference.
Review: Rated as the ninth-best dual-threat QB in the 2012 class, Armstrong picked Nebraska over his other finalist, Southern Miss, after an official visit weekend in Lincoln. The former Cibolo (Texas) Steele standout rushed for a team-high seven touchdowns and threw for 3,030 yards with 22 touchdowns but 16 interceptions last season for the Huskers.
Farrell’s take: Armstrong was a high three-star out of high school who had a strong arm, good mobility but lacked accuracy. He improved his accuracy, especially downfield, late in his high school career, but it’s still been an issue in college, as has consistent decision-making. He’s a solid dual-threat but needs to take the next step this season.
Review: Leidner committed to Minnesota in the summer before his senior season with his only other offer from Northern Iowa. He has developed into one of the conference’s best quarterbacks. Last season, the former Lakeville (Minn.) South prospect battled through ligament damage in his feet to throw for 2,701 yards with 14 touchdowns but 11 picks.
Farrell’s take: A rare two-star starter in the conference, Leidner was a big, strong home-state grab for the Gophers who had a solid but not spectacular prep career and has emerged as one of the surprises of the Big Ten. He’s improved each season and his accuracy has been the largest improvement to go with a strong arm and that massive size. This was a kid who wowed Jerry Kill with a flawless 7-on-7 performance and always had that potential, but took a bit to put it together in pads.
5. MICHIGAN STATE
Review: The former Lima (Ohio) Lima Central Catholic standout picked Michigan State over Northwestern in June before his senior season. O’Connor won a preseason quarterback battle over Damion Terry to take over the Spartans’ offense and he led Michigan State to a shocking win over Ohio State last season. He was rated as the No. 18 pro-style QB in the 2012 class.
Farrell’s Take: O’Connor was a kid with good size out of high school who made smart decisions with the ball and saw the field well. He was a high three-star and based on what Michigan State has done with other three-stars like Brian Hoyer, Kirk Cousins and Connor Cook, I expect big things from him as a great fit for this offense.
Review: Rated as the No. 31 pro-style quarterback in the 2013 class, O’Korn picked Houston over North Carolina, USF, UCF and others after a visit there in June before his senior season. He was the AAC rookie of the year in 2013 when he threw for 3,118 yards with 28 touchdowns before transferring. Speight was an unranked three-star in the 2014 class who committed early to Michigan and also had offers from Miami and NC State.
Farrell’s take: A couple of three stars here, O’Korn was surpassed by Greg Ward Jr. at Houston but was just shy of being a top 30 dual-threat out of high school, so we liked his size and mobility combination. I was never as high on Speight as others were since his injury in 2011 as I didn’t feel his arm strength fully came back. He did have good size and put up nice numbers, showing off mobility for a bigger quarterback, but this isn’t an ideal combination for Michigan. However, we all saw what Jim Harbaugh did last season with Jake Rudock, ironically a three-star from the same winning program as O’Korn out of high school, so all bets are off. The highest-rated of the group, Shane Morris, is apparently an afterthought barring injury or a surprise and was once a five-star quarterback (dropped to a four-star after his senior year).
7. PENN STATE
Review: The former Vanderbilt commit flipped to Penn State – following coach James Franklin from the Commodores to the Nittany Lions – after a January visit to the school. The three-star athlete beat out former three-star dual-threat QB Tommy Stevens to run Penn State’s new fast-paced offense, which will be directed by first-year coordinator Joe Moorhead.
Farrell’s take: I would have never expected this a few years ago as we had McSorley as a mid-range three-star athlete. I didn’t think he was a college quarterback based on size for the most part and his potential to play other positions. McSorley has always been an accurate and athletic passer, so it will be interesting to see if he can fit into an offense where big, immobile but strong-armed Christian Hackenberg couldn’t. (Though, as noted, expect the Nittany Lions to cater their attack to McSorley's strengths under Moorhead's direction.)
Review: Rated as the seventh-best pro-style QB in the 2012 class, Lunt originally committed to Oklahoma State in the summer before his senior season. Last season during a tumultuous year at Illinois, Lunt threw for 2,761 yards with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. Lunt could be considered one of the top pro-style quarterbacks eligible for the NFL Draft after this season.
Farrell’s Take: I was a huge fan of Lunt, a four-star in 2012, out of high school and felt he should have been ranked even higher because he was such a good decision-maker on the field. When he committed to Oklahoma State I thought it was a match made in heaven and he would put up ridiculous numbers. Now at Illinois after transferring back home, he’s still showing that high school accuracy and decision-making ability but he regressed a bit this past season, so a big 2016 is needed. He had some big games last year, but against North Carolina, Penn State, Ohio State and Northwestern he was just off his game.
Review: In his first season, Thorson learned on the go, tying for the team lead with five rushing touchdowns, but he only completed 51 percent of his passes for 1,522 yards with seven touchdowns and nine picks. Rated as the sixth-best dual-threat QB in the 2014 class behind the likes of Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and LSU’s Brandon Harris, Thorson has reportedly worked on his mechanics this offseason, so a big season could be ahead. The four-star picked Northwestern over Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Penn State and others.
Farrell’s take: Thorson is a rare four-star quarterback starting in the Big Ten. He got his feet wet as a redshirt freshman last year. Ranked nationally as a top-150 prospect, he was an excellent dual-threat with a great frame to fill out and he was an accomplished passer. He was a perfect fit for what Northwestern wants to do on offense and could emerge as a star in the conference with added experience.
Review: There was some drama heading into preseason camp, but Blough was named the starter after playing in 10 games last season and throwing for 1,574 yards with 10 touchdowns and eight picks. He also rushed for four scores. Rated as the No. 19 pro-style QB in the 2014 class, Blough picked Purdue over Memphis in the summer before his senior year.
Farrell’s take: A high three-star out of high school, Blough wasn’t very tall nor did he have a cannon, but his accuracy was on point. It improved so much during his final two seasons of high school that he marched up the rankings a bit. He was on point as a sleeper at the Elite 11 and had a great Texas 7-on-7 tournament where he hit every target. He can sling it and hits receivers in stride when he has time and is a sleeper now at the college level.
Review: Lagow was involved in a competitive quarterback battle with two others through preseason camp, but it appears the former JUCO standout has been taking the majority of reps for weeks with the Hoosiers. The three-star standout from Cisco (Texas) Cisco CC picked Indiana over Colorado State, UNLV and others. In two seasons at Cisco, Lagow threw for 4,506 yards with 38 scores and 17 interceptions.
Farrell’s take: A three-star quarterback out of high school and this past season out of JUCO, Lagow has great size and a powerful arm. He wasn’t heavily recruited, but Kevin Wilson knows a thing or two about quarterbacks, so I would expect him to have a solid season at the least. His ceiling is very high despite few offers, and he does remind me a bit of Nate Sudfeld at the same stage.
Review: Laviano had to win basically two quarterback battles, fending off backup Hayden Rettig and then TCU transfer Zach Allen for the job. He still has his work cut out for him after throwing for 2,247 yards with 16 touchdowns but 12 picks last season. Rated as the No. 35 pro-style quarterback in the 2013 class, Laviano picked Rutgers over Boston College in the summer before his senior season.
Farrell’s Take: Another three-star out of high school, this time a mid-range three, Laviano always showed flashes of taking his game to the next level but never really put it all together in high school when compared to other quarterbacks in the class. His decision-making and willingness to put the ball into traffic concerned us a bit and is still a work in progress.
Review: Rated as the No. 12 pro-style quarterback in the 2012 class, Houston picked Wisconsin in May before his senior season and never looked back even though a bunch of Pac-12 schools had coaching staff changes in the months before Signing Day. Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, UCLA, Utah, Washington and others were all involved. The fifth-year senior will start his first game in the season opener against LSU, beating out former three-star Alex Hornibrook in preseason camp.
Farrell’s take: Houston, who played at legendary high school De la Salle in California, was a four-star who dropped to a high three-star during his prep career. He had good size and was a system quarterback in high school who didn’t make many mistakes, but he also ran a non-traditional veer offense and never became an accomplished passer. We saw flashes of arm strength and athleticism, but he was a bit of an enigma in high school and we were especially curious how he’d fit at Wisconsin.
Review: Hills, a three-star from Pittsburgh Central Catholic, beat out fellow three-star Caleb Rowe in a preseason quarterback competition for the starting job. Last season, both quarterbacks played a good amount and Hills, who picked the Terrapins over a bunch of MAC offers, completed just 50 percent of his passes for 1,001 yards with eight touchdowns and 13 picks. He was second on the team with 535 rushing yards.
Farrell’s Take: A lower-rated three star out of Western Pennsylvania, Hills had good size and was mobile but lacked tremendous arm strength and was much better in the short and intermediate passing game. Decision-making, especially when throwing the ball past 15 yards, was always an issue, so he will need to improve upon that TD-INT ratio from last season.