With fall camps set to open in August for all 128 college football teams, the 2015 season is officially around the corner. There’s no shortage of position battles or schemes to work on this fall, but quarterback competitions will steal the spotlight in August.
The Big Ten has a solid group of quarterbacks returning in 2015, starting with the Cardale Jones-J.T. Barrett duo at Ohio State. While it’s uncertain which quarterback will take the first snap, this duo is the top quarterback depth chart in college football. Michigan State’s Connor Cook and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg round out the top three passers in the Big Ten this fall.
To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2015. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors - pure talent, supporting cast, 2015 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the Big Ten for 2015.
Big Ten Quarterback Rankings for 2015
1. J.T. Barrett/Cardale Jones, Ohio State
Regardless of whether Barrett or Jones takes the first snap for Ohio State in 2015, the Buckeyes will have the Big Ten’s top quarterback. Jones delivered under pressure last season, guiding Ohio State to three consecutive victories to end 2014 after Barrett suffered a season-ending leg injury. Prior to his leg injury, Barrett averaged 314.3 total yards per game last year.
2. Connor Cook, Michigan State
Cook enters 2015 with a stellar 23-3 career record as Michigan State’s starter. After passing for 2,755 yards and 22 scores in his first year as the No. 1 quarterback, Cook topped those numbers in 2014 with 3,214 yards and 24 touchdown tosses. Cook is a big reason why Michigan State will be in the mix to play in one of college football’s top bowl games this postseason.
3. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
Hackenberg didn’t have the most productive 2014 campaign, but the Virginia native’s performance was tough to evaluate with a shaky offensive line. Talent certainly isn’t an issue for Hackenberg, as he’s regarded as one of the top quarterback prospects for next year’s draft. As a freshman, Hackenberg threw for 2,955 yards and 20 scores. However, despite exceeding his 2013 yardage total (2,977) in 2014, Hackenberg tossed 15 interceptions to only 12 touchdowns. Assuming the offensive line is better in 2015, Hackenberg should show marked improvement in coach James Franklin’s second year.
Related: Big Ten 2015 Predictions
4. Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska
It’s a close call for the No. 4 spot on this list. A case could be made for Armstrong, Lunt or Sudfeld. Armstrong gets the nod before fall practices open, but the junior has to adapt to a new offense and play-caller this season. Armstrong recorded 3,400 total yards in 2014 and 28 overall scores. Increasing his completion percentage (53.3 percent in 2014) is a priority in the new offense.
5. Wes Lunt, Illinois
If Lunt stays healthy, the junior should post huge numbers in coach Bill Cubit’s offense. However, keeping Lunt’s jersey clean will be a challenge for Cubit, as Illinois gave up 37 sacks in 2014, and this unit remains a concern headed into fall camp. Lunt played in only eight games last season due to a leg injury and finished with 1,763 yards and 14 scores.
6. Nate Sudfeld, Indiana
Similar to Illinois’ Wes Lunt, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Sudfeld climb a couple of spots on this list in 2015. A shoulder injury limited Sudfeld to just six games last season, but he threw for 2,523 yards and 21 scores as Indiana’s starter in 2013. Finding Sudfeld help at receiver is a priority for coach Kevin Wilson, especially after J-Shun Harris was lost for the year with a torn ACL.
7. Jake Rudock, Michigan
With Jim Harbaugh taking over in Ann Arbor, expect Michigan’s offense to take a step forward in 2015. Harbaugh won’t elevate this attack into one of the best in the Big Ten in one year, but improvement should be noticeable. Rudock transferred from Iowa after throwing for 2,436 yards and 16 scores in 2014. Shane Morris is expected to push Rudock for the starting job in fall camp.
8. Mitch Leidner, Minnesota
Minnesota’s strengths are no secret. Coach Jerry Kill plans to lean on the rushing attack and defense to contend in the Big Ten’s West Division. But if the Golden Gophers want to take the next step, improving the passing attack is a must. Leidner threw for 1,798 yards and 11 scores last season and added 452 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. Minnesota doesn’t need 300 passing yards a game, but Leidner has to improve in 2015.
9. C.J. Beathard, Iowa
The Iowa coaching staff handed the keys to the offense to Beathard after the TaxSlayer Bowl loss against Tennessee. As a result of Beathard promoted into the starting role, Jake Rudock transferred to Michigan. The Hawkeyes hope Beathard adds more big-play ability to the offense, and the junior has played well in limited action, completing 52 of 92 throws for 645 yards and five scores in 2014.
10. Joel Stave, Wisconsin
Stave might be the biggest beneficiary of Paul Chryst’s return to Madison. Chryst is regarded for his work as an offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, and the Badgers hope the new coaching staff helps to spark a passing attack that averaged only 148.7 yards per game in 2014. Stave doesn’t have to be overly prolific with Wisconsin’s defense and rushing attack in place, but the senior has room to improve after completing only 53.4 percent of his passes and tossing 10 picks in 2014.
11. Caleb Rowe, Maryland
Rowe suffered a torn ACL last season but is on track to return at full strength by the opener. The junior has 12 touchdown passes over the last three years and completed 63 percent of his throws (34 of 54) in 2014. He will be pushed for time by Oklahoma State graduate transfer Daxx Garman and junior Perry Hills.
12. Zack Oliver/Clayton Thorson/Matt Alviti, Northwestern
The Wildcats have a three-way battle for the starting job entering fall camp. Oliver has the most experience (61 career pass attempts), but the upside in this battle rests with Alviti and Thorson. Will Northwestern finish the fall with a clear starter? Or will this battle continue into the year? The guess here is Alviti or Thorson takes the first snap of 2015.
13. Austin Appleby, Purdue
Some clarity to Purdue’s quarterback battle was provided after Danny Etling transferred to LSU at the end of spring ball. With Etling out of the picture, the Boilermakers are down to Appleby, redshirt freshman David Blough and true freshman Elijah Sindelar. Appleby is the favorite to start after completing 144 of 272 passes for 1,449 yards and 10 scores last season. However, if Appleby struggles, Blough is an intriguing option for coach Darrell Hazell.
14. Chris Laviano, Rutgers
Laviano isn’t guaranteed to start, as LSU transfer Hayden Rettig will push for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart in the fall. Laviano worked as Gary Nova’s backup last season and completed 11 of 28 passes for 107 yards and one interception. The sophomore finished spring with a slight edge over Rettig, and both quarterbacks have to adjust to a new play-caller in Ben McDaniels.