Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett and Penn State’s Trace McSorley lead the way in the Big Ten quarterback rankings for 2017. Barrett should benefit from the arrival of play-caller Kevin Wilson, while McSorley will continue to develop under the watchful eye of second-year coordinator Joe Moorhead. While the top two in the conference is clear, the rest of the Big Ten quarterback rankings are a bit of a mystery. Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson and Michigan’s Wilton Speight headline the next tier, followed by Purdue’s David Blough and Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook. Rutgers, Minnesota, Maryland and Iowa opened fall practice with an ongoing battle at quarterback.
To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2017. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors - pure talent, supporting cast, previous production, 2017 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the Big Ten for 2017.
Ranking the Big Ten's Quarterbacks for 2017
14. Giovanni Rescigno, Rutgers
New coordinator Jerry Kill is looking for ways to spark an offense that averaged only 15.7 points per game and was shut out four times in 2016. Rescigno led the Scarlet Knights with 889 passing yards and tied for the team lead with five touchdown tosses. Needless to say, the offense has to get more production and consistency out of its quarterbacks in 2017. Rescigno opened fall camp with a lead over true freshman Jonathan Lewis and graduate transfer Kyle Bolin for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart.
13. Demry Croft, Minnesota
Croft is listed as the starter here, but there’s an ongoing battle in fall camp to claim the top spot on the depth chart. Senior Conor Rhoda isn’t far behind Croft, with freshmen Seth Green and Tanner Morgan also vying for snaps. Rhoda played in three games (with one start) last fall, completing 8 of 16 passes for 88 yards and one score. Croft is the name to watch in fall camp, as the sophomore has the edge in upside and overall talent or fit for new coach P.J. Fleck’s offense. He played in seven games in 2015 and took a redshirt year in 2016.
12. Chayce Crouch, Illinois
With junior college recruit Dwayne Lawson unable to join the team in time for the 2017 season, Crouch is the clear No. 1 quarterback for coach Lovie Smith. Before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in his first career start, Crouch threw for 249 yards on 18 completions and one score over four appearances. Additionally, Crouch showed good mobility by averaging 6.1 yards per carry over 29 attempts. Crouch is inexperienced, but there’s upside for coordinator Garrick McGee to build around, especially with a solid group of receivers to target on the outside.
Related: Big Ten Football 2017 Predictions
11. Caleb Henderson, Maryland
The Terrapins opened fall practices with Henderson and sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome locked into a tight battle for the No. 1 spot. Henderson – a North Carolina transfer – is eligible after sitting out 2016 due to NCAA rules. He made just two appearances in his time with the Tar Heels and attempted only one pass. Henderson ranked as a four-star recruit in the 2014 signing class. Pigrome showcased his mobility (254 yards) as a freshman backup last fall but completed 52.1 percent of his passes.
10. Nathan Stanley, Iowa
New play-caller Brian Ferentz is tasked with finding ways to jumpstart a passing attack that managed only 13 plays of 30 or more yards last fall. Injuries and other personnel concerns at receiver hindered the performance of former quarterback C.J. Beathard. The same concerns remain at receiver this fall, with Stanley and junior Tyler Wiegers in competition to replace Beathard. Stanley was the No. 2 quarterback as a true freshman in 2016 and completed 5 of 9 passes for 62 yards.
9. Brian Lewerke, Michigan State
The Spartans aren’t without concerns on defense for 2017, but the offense has to take a significant step forward in order to return to a winning record and bowl game after a 3-9 finish last year. Lewerke received two starts in 2016 and showed promise before a season-ending leg injury. In four appearances (with two starts), Lewerke completed 31 of 57 passes for 381 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 149 yards on 21 carries. Lewerke’s development is crucial to Michigan State’s hopes of a rebound in 2017.
8. Richard Lagow, Indiana
Kevin Wilson is no longer in Bloomington, but the Hoosiers won’t make drastic changes on offense. Veteran coordinator Mike DeBord takes over the play-calling duties for new head coach Tom Allen and inherits an offense with five returning starters, including one of the Big Ten’s best receiving corps. DeBord’s is tasked with getting Lagow to play with more week-to-week consistency. In his first year as the starter last fall, Lagow ranked second among Big Ten quarterbacks by throwing for 3,362 yards but also tossed 17 interceptions. He also ranked second in the conference by completing 24 passes of 30 or more yards.
7. Tanner Lee, Nebraska
Intrigue surrounds Nebraska’s offense for 2017. In addition to the need to establish the ground game and fill out the receiving targets, Lee takes over as the starting quarterback after Tommy Armstrong expired his eligibility. The Louisiana native is a better fit than Armstrong for coach Mike Riley’s offense and is eligible after sitting out 2016 due to transfer rules. Lee previously started at Tulane, throwing for 3,601 yards and 23 touchdowns from 2014-15. The junior is surrounded by a better supporting cast than his tenure with the Green Wave and had a strong spring to stake his claim for the top spot on the depth chart.
6. Alex Hornibrook, Wisconsin
Coach Paul Chryst isn’t going to change Wisconsin’s formula for success. The Badgers are going to pound away with the ground attack and lean on one of the Big Ten’s top defenses to return to Indianapolis for the conference title in December. However, Chryst could open up the pass a little more with Hornibrook entrenched as the starter. The Pennsylvania native started nine games as a redshirt freshman last year, throwing for 1,262 yards and nine touchdowns. The lefty is primed to take a step forward in his first full season as Wisconsin’s No. 1 quarterback.
5. David Blough, Purdue
New coach Jeff Brohm engineered some of the nation’s top offenses during his three-year stint at WKU. The Hilltoppers averaged over 40 points a game in all three seasons, while the starting quarterback for those teams posted at least 37 touchdown tosses every year. Brohm’s first offense at Purdue probably won’t equal those totals, but it’s safe to assume there will be improvement. Blough should benefit the most from Brohm’s arrival, as the junior returns under center after throwing for 3,352 yards and 25 scores last fall. Cutting down on the interceptions (21) and raising the completion percentage (57.1) are two priorities for Blough in 2017.
4. Wilton Speight, Michigan
Even though Speight started 12 games and earned third-team All-Big Ten honors last fall, he’s not entrenched as Michigan’s No. 1 quarterback. Coach Jim Harbaugh is promoting an open competition this fall, with John O’Korn and redshirt freshman Brandon Peters vying for the top spot. Speight threw for 2,538 yards and 18 touchdowns last fall and is still the favorite to take the first snap for the Wolverines in 2017. However, the development of Peters – a former four-star recruit – is worth watching this fall.
3. Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
Thorson took a step forward in his second year as Northwestern’s starting quarterback last fall. After throwing for 1,522 yards and seven touchdowns as a redshirt freshman in 2015, Thorson threw for 3,182 yards and 22 scores last season and added five rushing scores. Thorson’s completion percentage also jumped from 50.8 to 58.6. Top target Austin Carr must be replaced, but Thorson is poised for his best all-around season as the No. 1 quarterback for coach Pat Fitzgerald.
2. Trace McSorley, Penn State
McSorley was one of the nation’s top breakout quarterbacks from 2016. In addition to guiding Penn State to the Big Ten Championship and an 11-win season, McSorley threw for 3,614 yards and 29 touchdowns and added 365 yards and seven scores on the ground. Look for McSorley to benefit from another offseason with coordinator Joe Moorhead, and he should be even better in his second year as the starter.
1. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
Even though Ohio State’s offense averaged 39.4 points per game last season, coach Urban Meyer wasn’t going to sit idle after losing 31-0 to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. Instead, Meyer brought in former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson to take over the play-calling duties and bring back a big-play element to the Buckeyes’ offense. The main benefactor of this move should be Barrett. After a dynamic freshman season in 2014, Barrett shared the job with Cardale Jones in 2015 and accounted for 3,275 yards and 33 overall scores last fall. With Wilson at the controls, Barrett should take his production up a notch and contend for the Heisman Trophy.