Ranking the Big Ten's Quarterbacks for 2016

Ohio State's J.T. Barrett takes the top spot.

The quarterback position in the Big Ten is filled with uncertainty in 2016. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett and Iowa’s C.J. Beathard are easily the league’s top options, but the question marks begin at No. 3. Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong takes the third spot in Athlon's early rankings for 2016, with Illinois’ Wes Lunt checking in at No. 4. Armstrong and Lunt have the potential to finish the end of the season in the top four, but it won’t be easy to hold off Michigan State’s Tyler O’Connor, Michigan’s John O’Korn or Wilton Speight, Minnesota’s Mitch Leidner and Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson. 

 

How do the new starters in the Big Ten project with Heisman Trophy candidate J.T. Barrett and Iowa's C.J. Beathard? Athlon has ranked all 14 starters for 2016.

 

To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2016. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors - pure talent, supporting cast, 2016 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the Big Ten for 2016.

 

Ranking the Big Ten's Quarterbacks for 2016

 

1. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State

2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior

 

Ohio State’s offense struggled to find its rhythm at times last season, but this unit took a step forward in the final two games, scoring 42 points against Michigan and 44 against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. A big reason for the late-season improvement was Barrett’s return to the starting lineup over Cardale Jones. Barrett finished the year by recording 559 total yards in Ohio State’s last two games, giving him 1,674 total yards and 22 scores for the season. With Barrett a full year removed from his season-ending leg injury from 2014, and no quarterback controversy this spring, the junior should resemble the player that accumulated 3,772 total yards and 45 scores as a freshman.

 

Related: College Football's Top 20 Quarterbacks on the Rise for 2016

 

2. C.J. Beathard, Iowa

2016 Year of Eligibility: Senior

 

Beathard was one of the Big Ten’s breakout players last season and a big reason why Iowa nearly won the conference title and claimed a College Football Playoff berth. In his first full year as the starter, Beathard threw for 2,809 yards and 17 touchdowns and added 237 yards and six scores on the ground. The Tennessee native was efficient (61.2 percent) but also connected on his share of big plays, completing eight passes of 40 yards or more.

 

3. Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska

2016 Year of Eligibility: Senior

 

Armstrong had his share of ups and downs in his first season under Mike Riley. In 12 appearances last year, Armstrong threw for 3,030 yards and 22 touchdowns and rushed for 400 yards and seven scores. However, Armstrong needs to do a better job of eliminating turnovers and mistakes after tossing 16 interceptions last season. Additionally, increasing his completion percentage (55.2) would also help Nebraska’s offense take a step forward. Armstrong is one of the Big Ten’s most experienced quarterbacks returning in 2016 and is surrounded by one of the conference’s top receiving corps. 

 

Related: Big Ten's Top 10 Assistant Coach Hires for 2016

 

4. Wes Lunt, Illinois

2016 Year of Eligibility: Senior

 

New coach Lovie Smith has plenty of work to do on both sides of the ball to get Illinois into a bowl this year. But the first-year coach has a good foundation in place on offense with the return of Lunt under center. Lunt played in all 12 games last season after missing time due to a leg injury in 2014. In 12 games in 2015, Lunt threw for 2,761 yards and 14 scores and completed 56.1 percent of his passes. New coordinator Garrick McGee should help Lunt take a step forward in his last season in Champaign, but the offense suffered a setback when receiver Mike Dudek was lost for the year again to a torn ACL.

 

5. Tyler O’Connor, Michigan State

2016 Year of Eligibility: Senior

 

Connor Cook leaves big shoes to fill in East Lansing, but the Spartans have two capable candidates competing for the starting job in Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry. This duo has already emerged in a tough spot for coach Mark Dantonio, as O’Connor and Terry shared snaps in Michigan State’s upset 17-14 win over Ohio State last year. O’Connor has completed 34 of 54 passes for 374 yards and four scores in his career and also possesses good mobility to add a running dimension under center. O’Connor is the favorite to start, but it’s also safe to assume Terry will see snaps in 2016.

 

Related: College Football's Top 30 Running Backs on the Rise for 2016

 

6. John O’Korn, Michigan

2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior

 

O’Korn is penciled in here, but Wilton Speight made a push for the starting job at the end of spring. The battle to replace Jake Rudock under center for coach Jim Harbaugh is expected to continue deep into fall practice. O’Korn is eligible in 2016 after sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules. In two seasons at Houston, O’Korn threw for 4,068 yards and 34 scores. After a strong freshman campaign (3,117 yards and 28 touchdowns), O’Korn was benched after a slow start in his sophomore year and decided to transfer after the 2014 season.

 

7. Mitch Leidner, Minnesota

2016 Year of Eligibility: Senior

 

A foot injury limited Leidner in spring practice, but all signs point to the senior returning to full strength for fall workouts. The Minnesota native enters 2016 with 29 career starts and will be working under new play-caller Jay Johnson. Leidner posted career-best numbers in passing yards (2,701) and touchdowns (14) last season and added 270 yards and six scores on the ground. The senior has improved over the last three years and should have his best overall season in 2016.

 

8. Clayton Thorson, Northwestern

2016 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

 

As expected, Thorson had his share of ups and downs in his first year as Northwestern’s starter. The redshirt freshman started all 13 games for the Wildcats and threw for 1,522 yards and seven scores, while adding 397 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Thorson was a four-star prospect coming out of high school and has the talent to emerge as one of the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks over the next few years. The sophomore is a good runner but needs to take a step forward as a passer (50.8 completion percentage in 2015) to move higher on this list in 2016.

 

Related: Big Ten's Top 25 Draft Prospects for 2017

 

9. Trace McSorley, Penn State

2016 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

 

Penn State got an early glimpse of McSorley’s talent in the loss to Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl last season. After Christian Hackenberg was sidelined due to injury, McSorley completed 14 of 27 passes for 142 yards and two scores and ran for 31 yards on seven attempts against the Bulldogs. McSorley has never started a game and has only 40 career pass attempts entering 2016. He’s also working under new coordinator Joe Moorhead but is surrounded by a solid group of skill players, including running back Saquon Barkley and receiver Chris Godwin.

 

10. Bart Houston, Wisconsin

2016 Year of Eligibility: Senior

 

Houston waited his turn behind Joel Stave and is the favorite to take the first snap for the Badgers in 2016. The California native has barely played over the last three seasons but saw extended action against Illinois in 2015, completing 22 of 33 passes for 232 yards and two scores. While Houston has the edge in experience, he will be pushed for snaps by redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook. The battle between Houston and Hornibrook is expected to continue into the fall.

 

11. Richard Lagow, Indiana

2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior

 

Lagow has big shoes to fill in replacing Nate Sudfeld in 2016. Sudfeld finished his Indiana career with the school record in passing yards and touchdowns and guided the program to a bowl trip last year. This will be Lagow’s third stop at a FBS program after starting his career at UConn, followed by a short stop at Oklahoma State before attending Cisco Community College. The 6-foot-6 passer has a transition period ahead as he adapts to the Big Ten. However, under Kevin Wilson’s watch, Indiana should find a way to get consistent production from its quarterbacks. 

 

Related: Big Ten's Top 10 Assistant Coach Hires for 2016

 

12. David Blough, Purdue

2016 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

 

How’s this for uncertainty? A different quarterback has led Purdue in passing yards in each of the last eight years. Can Blough provide stability under center? After taking over the starting job from Austin Appleby last season, Blough threw for 1,574 yards and 10 touchdowns. Blough should show improvement as a sophomore, but he will face a challenge for the starting job from redshirt freshman Elijah Sindelar.

 

13. Chris Laviano, Rutgers

2016 Year of Eligibility: Senior

 

New coach Chris Ash made one of the Big Ten’s top assistant hires by tabbing Drew Mehringer to coordinate the offense in 2016. While Mehringer’s overall direction and scheme should benefit the Scarlet Knights, this unit won’t improve without better play from its quarterbacks. Laviano played in all 12 games (11 starts) last season and threw for 2,247 yards and 16 scores. However, he also tossed 12 picks and failed to eclipse more than 165 passing yards in five out of the last five games. Chase Rettig will push Laviano for the starting job once again in the fall.

 

14. Perry Hills, Maryland

2016 Year of Eligibility: Senior

 

Maryland quarterbacks tossed a whopping 29 interceptions and posted a dismal 47.2 completion percentage last year. Improvement should be noticeable under new coordinator Walt Bell in 2016, but can the Terrapins find a clear answer under center? Hills is the favorite to start after throwing for 1,001 yards and eight touchdowns and recording 535 yards and three scores on the ground. Maryland might not have an All-Big Ten quarterbacks this year, but Bell and the new coaching staff should get the offense moving in the right direction.

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