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2022 Big Ten Quarterback Rankings

C.J. Stroud, Ohio State Buckeyes in 2022 Rose Bowl vs. Utah Utes

A quick scan of the quarterback rooms in the Big Ten for the 2022 college football seasons shows a mix of uncertainty, a few question marks and standouts, but there's little doubt as to which player ranks No. 1 in the league for '22 – Ohio State's C.J. Stroud. The California native is firmly entrenched as one of the best signal-callers in college football and should have the Buckeyes in the mix for a trip to the national title. Purdue's Aidan O'Connell, Maryland's Taulia Tagovailoa, Michigan's Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy, and Michigan State's Payton Thorne round out the top five for '22.

Ranking the quarterbacks by conference or nationally is no easy task. To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2022. 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, 2022 projection, and scheme changes (just to name a few) — were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the Big Ten for 2022.

Ranking the Big Ten Quarterbacks for 2022

14. Ryan Hilinski, Northwestern
Northwestern’s offense did not score more than 14 points in seven out of its last eight games and ended the year by averaging only 4.4 yards per play in Big Ten contests. Yikes. The passing game was a primary culprit in the offensive struggles (just 16.6 points a game for the season), as quarterbacks for the Wildcats managed to average only 57.9 in completion percentage and tossed 10 picks to 10 interceptions in Big Ten play. Also, Northwestern averaged only 5.8 yards per attempt for the season and had less than 200 passing yards in five out of the team’s final six games. Hilinski – a transfer from South Carolina – paced the offense with 978 yards in his first season and added three touchdowns to four picks in his first year with the Wildcats. The former four-star prospect will face competition from Brendan Sullivan and Carl Richardson this fall.

Related: Big Ten Football Predictions for 2022 

13. Gavin Wimsatt, Rutgers
A Rutgers quarterback hasn’t passed for more than 10 touchdowns in a season since Chris Laviano eclipsed that mark (16) in 2015. Although inconsistency and up-and-down play have marred this quarterback room, the Scarlet Knights have at least one reason for optimism for ’22. Noah Vedral returns after starting 20 games for Rutgers the last two years, and Wimsatt’s continued development could help this offense take a big step forward after averaging only 19.7 points a game and 4.5 yards per play in ’21. Wimsatt was originally a ’23 prospect but reclassified to ’22 and arrived on campus last September. The Kentucky native ranked as a four-star recruit and was regarded as one of the top dual-threat signal-callers in the nation. A late arrival to campus, along with the leap in competition, ensured ’21 was essentially a learning or redshirt year for Wimsatt. However, he did record snaps in four games, throwing for 45 yards (completing 9 of 21 passes) and rushing for 68 yards on nine attempts. With a full offseason to work under play-caller Sean Gleeson, Wimsatt should be much more comfortable and ready to push for the starting nod. And if he's not ready to win the job yet, Vedral is a more-than-capable option to start in '22.

12. Tommy DeVito, Illinois
The unquestioned strength of Illinois’ 2022 offense is its ground game, but coach Bret Bielema will need a little more out of his passing attack to get to a bowl game. After averaging only 20.2 points a game and 4.9 yards per play in Big Ten games, Bielema took steps to jumpstart this group, hiring Barry Lunney Jr. from UTSA to call plays and securing DeVito’s commitment from the transfer portal. The New Jersey native threw for 19 touchdowns and 2,360 yards in ’19 for Syracuse but missed most of ’20 due to injury. After returning last season, DeVito threw for 388 yards and a touchdown before he lost the starting job in favor of Garrett Shrader. Talent (a former four-star prospect) and arm strength are two strengths for DeVito. Can he put everything together at Illinois this fall?

11. Spencer Petras, Iowa
It’s no secret Iowa’s offense struggled last season and heads into 2022 as a concern once again. Although the Hawkeyes won the Big Ten’s West Division, this unit averaged only 23 points and 4.5 yards per play in conference action. Both Petras and Alex Padilla saw significant snaps under center last fall, but neither played well enough to stake a clear claim for the job. Petras held an edge in completion percentage (57.3 to 49.1) and led the team with 1,880 passing yards and 10 touchdowns. However, both quarterbacks averaged under 6.6 yards per attempt, and as a team, Iowa ranked 12th in Big Ten matchups in quarterback rating. Petras did miss two games due to injury but never eclipsed more than 259 passing yards in a game and threw just one touchdown in his last six appearances.

Related: Big Ten 2022 All-Conference Team

10. Connor Bazelak, Indiana
Significant changes were made on offense after the Hoosiers managed only 10.4 points a game and 3.9 yards per play in Big Ten games last fall. Coach Tom Allen hired a new play-caller (Walt Bell), and brought in help to the skill positions through the transfer ranks, while also dipping into the portal for a new signal-caller. As a team, Indiana threw just nine touchdown passes to 15 interceptions and averaged only 5.4 yards per attempt last fall. Bazelak’s arrival should help stabilize the play under center and provide a needed spark for this offense. The Ohio native played in 24 games at Missouri from 2019-21 and threw for 5,084 yards and 23 touchdowns to 17 picks in that span. Bazelak wasn’t much of a runner with the Tigers (-23 yards in ’21), but he connected on 66 percent of his passes and delivered 12 completions of 40-plus yards last fall. The only downside to Bazelak’s performance at Missouri was that he didn't exactly stretch defenses with his arm. Just 51 of his 246 completions came beyond nine-plus yards downfield according to PFF.

9. Graham Mertz, Wisconsin
After a promising debut against Illinois in 2020, Mertz’s play has been up-and-down and a better ’22 season is needed if Wisconsin is going to return to the Big Ten title game. The Kansas native ranked ninth in the conference in quarterback rating (121.3), yards per attempt (6.9), and completion percentage (59.5) while throwing for 1,958 yards and 10 touchdowns to 11 picks over 13 games last fall. Over the last two seasons, Mertz has passed for 19 scores. However, 10 of those came in three games – Illinois (2020), Northwestern (’21) and Rutgers (’21). The junior also had only one completion of 40-plus yards in Big Ten play last season, and in 12 matchups against teams with a winning mark over the last two years, Mertz is averaging 154.8 passing yards a contest and tossed five touchdowns to 13 picks. The former four-star prospect is talented, and perhaps the addition of new coordinator Bobby Engram can help the junior show improvement in his third year as the starter.

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8. Casey Thompson, Nebraska
Despite Nebraska’s offense averaging 6.4 yards per play and ranking second in the conference in total yardage (447.6), change was needed after a 3-9 mark in Lincoln. Coach Scott Frost revamped nearly all of his offensive staff and hired veteran Mark Whipple to call plays in ’22. In addition to the scheme tweaks and coordinator switch, the ‘Huskers have a change under center after Adrian Martinez transferred to Kansas State. Thompson – a transfer from Texas and the son of former Oklahoma quarterback Charles Thompson – left spring as the front-runner to start and should be a good fit for Whipple’s attack. Over 12 appearances (10 starts), Thompson led the Big 12 with 24 touchdown passes and threw for 2,113 yards while completing 63.2 percent of his throws. The Oklahoma native suffered a thumb injury in the Red River Rivalry matchup against the Sooners, which hindered his play in the second half of the year but is not expected to be an issue at Nebraska. With all of the changes and new faces expected to step up for the ‘Huskers this fall, how quickly all of those pieces can mesh will determine just how high Thompson can climb on this list by December.

Related: Ranking All 131 College Football Teams for 2022

7. Tanner Morgan, Minnesota
The return of Kirk Ciarrocca as play-caller is good news for a Minnesota offense looking to get back on track after a sluggish performance (25.5 points a game) in 2021. With Ciarrocca as the offensive coordinator in ’19, the Golden Gophers ranked third in the Big Ten in scoring (34.1 points a game) and second in yards per play (6.4). Also, Morgan had the best season of his career, throwing for 3,253 yards and 30 touchdowns to just seven picks. In that prolific ’19 campaign, Morgan led the Big Ten in yards per attempt (10.2), completions of 40-plus yards (14) and ranked second in quarterback rating (178.7). However, since that season, Morgan has completed 58.9 percent of his throws for 3,418 yards and 17 touchdowns to 14 picks. Can he get back on track in his final year with the Golden Gophers?

6. Sean Clifford, Penn State
The Nittany Lions need Clifford to play better after a disappointing 7-6 finish last season, but not all of what hindered the offense was on the quarterback. Penn State struggled up front (34 sacks allowed), while the ground game managed only 3.2 yards per carry and 96.6 rushing yards in Big Ten contests last fall. Improving the supporting cast would boost Clifford’s performance, but the senior could also be pushed by talented freshmen Drew Allar (true) and Christian Veilleux (redshirt) if he struggles early on. After throwing for 2,654 yards and 23 touchdowns in his first season as the starter in ’19, Clifford recorded 1,883 yards and 16 scores in the abbreviated ’20 campaign. Last year, Clifford posted career-best marks in passing yardage (3,107) and completion percentage (61), while also tossing 21 touchdown passes over 13 games. However, Clifford’s yards per attempt dipped to 6.5 and his completion percentage (57.9) in Big Ten games ranked ninth among Big Ten signal-callers. Another offseason to work under play-caller Mike Yurcich, along with a talented receiving corps led by Parker Washington, should help Clifford’s odds of closing out his career on a high note in Happy Valley.

5. Payton Thorne, Michigan State
Thorne’s first year at the controls of Michigan State’s offense resulted in a record-setting season. The Illinois native set a new school record for most touchdown passes in a single season (27) and posted the third-most passing yards (3,233). Back-to-back efforts of four-touchdown tosses against Youngstown State and Miami in September were a good sign of what was to come from Thorne, as he later tossed four scores against Maryland and finished the season by posting 354 yards and three touchdowns against Pitt in the Peach Bowl. Over 13 games, Thorne threw for 3,233 yards and 27 touchdowns to 10 picks and ran for 181 yards and four scores. Also, his eight completions of 50-plus yards tied for second among Big Ten quarterbacks. With Kenneth Walker III off to the NFL, the focal point of Michigan State’s offense is likely to shift more to Thorne’s right arm. And based on the ’21 season, he’s more than ready to handle more of the offensive focus this fall.

Related: College Football 2022 All-America Team

4. Cade McNamara/J.J. McCarthy, Michigan
We are going to cheat a bit and list both Michigan quarterbacks here. Although there’s a battle between McNamara and McCarthy in fall practice to start, both are likely going to play a lot in 2022. Essentially, we are ranking the quarterback room here, but if one starts and plays the bulk of the season snaps, the guess here is that signal-caller ends up earning second-team All-Big Ten honors (and ranks higher on this list). The combination of McNamara and McCarthy worked well for Michigan’s offense last fall, as the two signal-callers combined to guide coach Jim Harbaugh’s team to the Big Ten title and a trip to the CFB Playoff. McNamara threw for 2,576 yards and 15 touchdowns to six picks, while McCarthy added 516 yards and five scores through the air and 124 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Both quarterbacks are capable of guiding this attack, with McNamara more of a steady option and McCarthy bringing more big-play ability into the offense.

3. Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland
Tagovailoa took a big step forward in his second year as Maryland’s starting quarterback. The Alabama transfer completed nearly 70 percent (69.2) of his throws for 3,860 yards and 26 touchdowns and 11 picks. Additionally, he seemed to get stronger as the year progressed, throwing for at least 300 yards in four out of the Terrapins’ last six contests – including a 419-yard performance against Indiana in a 38-35 win. Tagovailoa ranked second in the Big Ten with 61 completions of 20-plus yards and had four connections of 60-plus yards in ’21. With another year to work under coach Mike Locksley, along with one of the nation’s better receiving corps at his disposal, look for Tagovailoa to challenge for All-Big Ten honors.

2. Aidan O’Connell, Purdue
From walk-on to All-Big Ten quarterback: That’s O’Connell’s story at Purdue in just a few seasons. The Illinois native did not play in his first two years on campus and made six starts from 2019-20 before a breakout season in ’21. O’Connell threw for 3,708 yards and 28 touchdowns vs. 11 picks for the Boilermakers last fall en route to guiding the team to a 9-4 finish – the best mark under coach Jeff Brohm. O’Connell was lethal with his accuracy (71.8 percent, a single-season Purdue record) and posted two 500-yard efforts against Michigan State and Tennessee. He also roasted a talented Iowa defense for 375 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-7 upset and tied with Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud for the most completions of 40-plus yards (15). O’Connell won’t have David Bell or Milton Wright to throw to this fall, but don’t expect a drop in his production at the controls of Purdue’s high-powered passing game.

Related: Big Ten Football Predictions for 2022

1. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
Major expectations surrounded Stroud as he inherited the controls of Ohio State’s high-powered offense last season. After a slow first half against Minnesota and dealing with the effects of a shoulder injury early on, Stroud quickly emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in college football. The California native guided the Buckeyes to an average of 45.7 points a game and led the Big Ten with 4,435 passing yards and 44 scores. He also paced the conference in completion percentage (71.9), yards per attempt (10.1), quarterback rating (186.6), and completions of 50-plus yards (10). Stroud won’t have Garrett Wilson or Chris Olave to throw to in ’22, but don’t expect that to slow down Ohio State’s offense with Jaxon Smith-Njigba in place, along with a host of talented playmakers ready to emerge. Stroud doesn’t have any glaring flaws in his game and could be even better in his second year as the starter. Don't be surprised if he wins the Heisman Trophy this year.

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