If you want to win big in college football, it's no secret that you're going to need some quality play out of the most important position on the field -- quarterback. If there's any doubt about it, just look up recent Heisman Trophy winners and note how tilted the list is toward the position.
Though the conference has had some up and down years under center, the Big Ten could have a good case that they are one of the deepest Power 5 leagues when you lineup the starting signal-callers. The successful wavier of Shea Patterson at Michigan has only enhanced the top end of the group and even on down the list there's a number of schools quite confident in their quarterback and what he can do through the air.
Given how closely bunched some of the teams are in both divisions, how well some of these players fare will likely determine not only the conference crown but a potential berth in the College Football Playoff as well. With that in mind, here are the top 10 matchups involving Big Ten quarterbacks:
1.Trace McSorley (Penn State) vs. Shea Patterson (Michigan) - Oct. 3 (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
This game will play a pivotal role in determining the Big Ten East and should have serious College Football Playoff implications as well given that both sides should be in the top 15 of the polls -- if not higher. Patterson becoming eligible has boosted the Wolverines' title hopes significantly given what the former five-star prospect showed off during his time at Ole Miss and has a chance to be one of Jim Harbaugh's best pupils if he puts it all together in maize and blue. Standing in his way for this one will be the Big Ten's best returning signal-caller in McSorley (above, right), who will have an even bigger load on his shoulders after the departure of Saquon Barkley and OC Joe Moorhead.
2. Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State) vs. Trace McSorley (Penn State) - Sept. 29 (University Park, Pa.)
It's no easy task replacing one of the best quarterbacks in school history but the Buckeyes coaching staff is extremely high on Haskins' ability to handle the pressure and pick up where J.T. Barrett left off on the field. His big arm will come into play early and there are more than enough speedy wideouts to find down the field in this game, which is the big early test in the race for the East Division crown. McSorley nearly helped pull off another upset of the Buckeyes last year in Columbus and will be looking to finish them off at home with yet another big game.
3. Shea Patterson (Michigan) vs. Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State) - Nov. 24 (Columbus, Ohio)
The Game is always a must-watch and should once again have division and conference title implications when the two square off at the Horseshoe. Haskins made a big splash against the Wolverines last year off the bench and was just the kind of spark the team needed to turn a close game into a runaway. Patterson hasn't yet experienced what it will be like to face the hated Buckeyes but he can endear himself to the maize and blue faithful forever if he can engineer a win in his first opportunity.
4. Clayton Thorson (Northwestern) vs. Brian Lewerke (Michigan State) - Oct. 6 (East Lansing, Mich.)
Thorson's name has emerged as one tossed around by NFL folks as a potential first-rounder and there's no question he's got the size and arm after throwing for more than 2,800 yards and 15 touchdowns last year. He should be fully recovered from that nasty knee injury he suffered in the Music City Bowl by the time Big Ten play begins and you can bet scouts will be interested in seeing how he fares head-to-head with another intriguing prospect in Lewerke (right).
5. Shea Patterson (Michigan) vs. Brian Lewerke (Michigan State) - Oct. 20 (East Lansing, Mich.)
Lewerke is a big reason why the Spartans had a huge turnaround in 2017 and he could wind up as the Big Ten's best quarterback if he continues on his current trajectory after throwing for 20 touchdowns last year and being a sneaky threat with his legs. One of his biggest tests on the schedule is when he welcomes the new guy to the in-state rivalry in Patterson, who knows what it means to score a big win over that other school in the same state after winning an Egg Bowl two years ago while at Ole Miss.
6. Trace McSorley (Penn State) vs. Brian Lewerke (Michigan State) - Oct. 13 (University Park, Pa.)
These two top-notch QBs met last year when Lewerke threw for 400 yards to engineer a wacky upset of the Nittnay Lions that included a lengthy rain delay. McSorley was hot and cold, carrying the PSU offense with 381 yards and three touchdowns but also tossed three picks in the sub-par conditions. Hopefully the conditions are much better the second time around for the pair so they can truly showcase how good they are under center.
7. Shea Patterson (Michigan) vs. Brandon Wimbush (Notre Dame) - Oct. 1 (Notre Dame, Ind.)
Talk about a heck of a debut game for Patterson, who will be able to prove early on that he's the guy Michigan fans have been waiting for at the position. Not only will he be able to go for a big road win at the hallowed grounds of Notre Dame Stadium, he'll have to do so against a pretty solid guy across the other sideline who can really test defenses with his legs (800-plus rushing yards last year). If Wimbush can improve as a passer and live up to his natural talent, this matchup could wind up shooting up the list in retrospect.
8. Alex Hornibrook (Wisconsin) vs. Trace McSorley (Penn State) - Oct. 11 (University Park, Pa.)
McSorley helped lead the Nittany Lions to an epic comeback victory two years ago against the Badgers in the Big Ten title game that really established himself on the national scene at the position. Hornibrook has had his struggles at times against top-tier Big Ten teams but he proved that he can make the throws and surprise people in that terrific Orange Bowl victory to close out last year. If he plays like he did in the Badgers' finale then this has the potential to be a Big Ten title game preview for later on in December.
9. Brian Lewerke (Michigan State) vs. Manny Wilkins (Arizona State) - Sept. 8 (Tempe, Ariz.)
The Spartans' trip to the desert is one of the more intriguing tests for Big Ten teams and the interest factor in this one is much bigger after the Sun Devils hired Herm Edwards. Still, this one will be decided on the field between two of the most underrated quarterbacks in their respective conferences in Lewerke and Wilkins. The latter threw for 3,200 yards plus put up 27 scores last season and like his counterpart can also beat you with his legs.
10. Nate Stanley (Iowa) vs. Kyle Kempt (Iowa State) - Oct. 8 (Iowa City, Iowa)
There were some worries among the Hawkeye fan base about having to replace C.J. Beathard last year but Stanley put most of those fears to rest with a solid debut season that included 26 touchdown passes and some big performances against the Cyclones and Ohio State. Kempt didn't take over under center for ISU until after they played their rivals but was extremely accurate and a big reason for the team's turnaround campaign. If these two can keep progressing, this will certainly be a game to watch.
-- Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.
(Top photo courtesy of @UMichFootball)