Quarterback play should be a strength in the Big Ten for the 2019 season. Michigan's Shea Patterson takes the top spot in Athlon's Big Ten quarterback rankings, but Ohio State's Justin Fields and Nebraska's Adrian Martinez aren't too far behind. Iowa's Nate Stanley and Michigan State's Brian Lewerke round out the next tier of options, with Northwestern's Hunter Johnson and Penn State's Sean Clifford looking to deliver a breakout year in 2019.
Ranking the quarterbacks by conference or nationally is no easy task. To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2019. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors - pure talent, supporting cast, having a clear hold on the No. 1 position, previous production, 2019 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the Big Ten for 2019.
Ranking the Big Ten's Quarterbacks for 2019
14. Isaiah Williams, Illinois
Uncertainty surrounds the quarterback position for coach Lovie Smith. MJ Rivers – the projected starter – left as a transfer after spring practice. The Fighting Illini are in pursuit of a graduate transfer to add depth and competition to this position for the upcoming season. However, if no other quarterbacks are added to the roster, freshmen Coran Taylor, Matt Robinson and Williams will battle for the starting job in fall practice.
13. Artur Sitkowski, Rutgers
Sitkowski was a big pickup on the recruiting trail for coach Chris Ash, as the New Jersey native ranked as the No. 395 prospect and No. 18 pro-style quarterback by the 247Sports Composite for the 2018 signing class. Sitkowski started 11 games in his debut with the Scarlet Knights but tossed 18 picks to just four touchdowns. He also connected on 49.1 percent of his throws for 1,158 yards. Sitkowski’s development is crucial for Rutgers to show progress in the win column in 2019.
12. Jack Coan, Wisconsin
Due to an injury to Alex Hornibrook, Coan stepped into the starting role in four out of Wisconsin’s last six games of 2018. The New York native never topped 160 passing yards in a contest but was efficient (60.2 percent) and threw for 515 yards and five scores to just three picks. Coan enters 2019 as the favorite to start, but true freshman Graham Mertz – a four-star prospect – enrolled in time to compete in spring practice and will push for the job in the fall.
11. Zack Annexstad, Minnesota
Minnesota left spring practice without a clear answer under center. Annexstad and Tanner Morgan will continue their battle into the fall, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see both quarterbacks receive significant snaps in 2019. Annexstad won the job as a freshman walk-on last season, starting the first seven games for coach P.J. Fleck. The Minnesota native was limited to eight appearances due to injury and threw for nine touchdowns and 1,277 yards. Morgan edged Annexstad (1,401 to 1,277) in passing yards and also tossed nine scores last season.
10. Sean Clifford, Penn State
With Tommy Stevens transferring, the starting job in Happy Valley is Clifford’s to lose. The Ohio native inherits big shoes to fill with Trace McSorley out of eligibility, but he garnered valuable experience working as the No. 1 quarterback in the spring. Clifford used a redshirt year (2017) in his first year on campus and played in four games last fall, connecting on five of seven throws for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Clifford isn’t likely to match McSorley’s production (798 yards and 12 TDs) on the ground, but the sophomore should be able to make enough plays with his legs to threaten opposing defenses.
9. Hunter Johnson, Northwestern
Johnson committed to Clemson as one of the top quarterback recruits in the 2017 signing class and spent a season in Death Valley as the backup to Kelly Bryant. The Indiana native was impressive in limited action, connecting on 21 of 27 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns to just one pick. He transferred to Northwestern following the 2017 season and sat out last year due to NCAA rules. Johnson has a ton of potential and should be a breakout candidate for coach Pat Fitzgerald in 2019.
8. Peyton Ramsey, Indiana
Indiana has quietly assembled a deep and talented quarterback room for new play-caller Kalen DeBoer to deploy in 2019. In addition to Ramsey, Michael Penix is back after playing in three games as a true freshman last fall, and the Hoosiers added Jack Tuttle – a four-star prospect in the 2018 signing class – as a transfer from Utah. Ramsey finished ’18 with 2,875 passing yards and 19 touchdowns to 13 picks and added 354 yards and five scores on the ground. Additionally, Ramsey’s completion percentage (66.0) tied for second among Big Ten quarterbacks last season.
7. Josh Jackson, Maryland
Jackson’s arrival in College Park solidifies a position that has been hit hard by injuries in recent years. The Michigan native took a redshirt year in 2016 and delivered a standout debut in ’17. Jackson accounted for 2,991 yards and 20 passing scores and rushed for 324 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. He was poised to contend for All-ACC honors last fall but suffered a season-ending injury in the third game of the year. New coach Mike Locksley coordinated one of the nation’s top offenses at Alabama and should have no trouble building a successful group around Jackson in 2019.
6. Elijah Sindelar, Purdue
With David Blough out of eligibility, Sindelar is set to regain the starting role in 2019. As a sophomore in 2017, Sindelar started eight games for coach Jeff Brohm, throwing for 2,099 yards and 18 touchdowns to seven picks. While those numbers were solid, that wasn’t the most-impressive part of Sindelar’s 2017 campaign. The Kentucky native suffered a torn ACL in the Nov. 11 win over Northwestern but started the final three contests of the year, including a 396-yard performance in the Foster Farms Bowl against Arizona. Sindelar played in just two games in 2018 and was able to get an additional year of eligibility for ’20. With Sindelar back to full strength, along with a high-powered offense in place, he should easily exceed his production from the 2017 season.
5. Brian Lewerke, Michigan State
After throwing for 2,793 yards and 20 touchdowns to seven picks in 2017, Lewerke seemed poised to claim a place among the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks last season. Instead, a shoulder injury suffered in the first half of the year derailed his 2018 campaign. Lewerke tossed 2,793 yards and 20 touchdowns in his first season as the starter in ’17 but regressed to 2,040 yards and eight touchdowns to 11 picks last fall. Additionally, Lewerke’s completion percentage dropped from 59 percent (2017) to 54.3 in ’18. With a full offseason to recover, the senior’s production and overall performance should rebound in 2019.
4. Nate Stanley, Iowa
Stanley enters his third year as the starter with a chance to etch his name into Iowa’s record book. The Wisconsin native set a new school record with 52 touchdown passes over a two-year span and needs 23 more to pass Chuck Long for the most in a career. Stanley has passed for 5,351 yards over the last three seasons and improved his completion percentage to 59.3 (up from 55.8) last fall. The senior should help Iowa push for the Big Ten West Division title in 2019.
3. Adrian Martinez, Nebraska
The continued development of Martinez is a big reason why coach Scott Frost’s team should take a big step forward in 2019. Martinez did not play as a high school senior due to injury but showed no rust in his freshman season. The California native connected on 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,617 yards and 17 touchdowns to just eight picks. Martinez finished second on the team with 629 rushing yards and chipped in eight scores on the ground. With a full offseason to develop under Frost, look for Martinez to contend for All-Big Ten honors this fall.
Just how far can Martinez climb in the Big Ten quarterback rankings this season?Athlon Sports' Steven Lassan joined the @HighMotorPod to discuss that and more. Listen here.
2. Justin Fields, Ohio State
Not only does new coach Ryan Day have to maintain Ohio State’s dominance in the Big Ten, the first-year coach starts his career in Columbus having to replace a first-round pick at quarterback (Dwayne Haskins). However, Day’s quarterback room isn’t hurting for talent despite the transfers of Tate Martell and Matthew Baldwin this offseason. Fields signed with Georgia as a five-star prospect during the 2018 recruiting class and received playing time in 12 games. The Georgia native flashed potential in his limited snaps, completing 27 of 39 throws for 328 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 266 yards and four scores on the ground. With Jake Fromm entrenched as the starter, Fields decided to transfer following the 2018 season. Talent certainly isn’t an issue for Fields. How quickly will Day get the sophomore playing up to his potential in 2019?
1. Shea Patterson, Michigan
After Michigan’s offense cycled through three quarterbacks in 2017, Patterson provided stability and an upgrade at the position in his first year on campus. The Ole Miss transfer completed 64.6 percent of his throws for 2,600 yards and 22 touchdowns to only seven picks. Patterson also added 273 yards and two scores on the ground. Coach Jim Harbaugh plans to hand over the play-calling duties to coordinator Josh Gattis this season, and Michigan’s spring game provided a small peek into what’s in store for 2019. Patterson should benefit from an approach that uses more tempo and spread looks, especially with a receiving corps that ranks among the best in college football.