We have entered June. College football season remains months away but spring practices have come to an end and there is a clearer sense of who will be under center in the Big Ten.
There are many battles that will be decided come the end of summer and some that are already set. Of course, C.J. Stroud will lead Ohio State and contend to be one of the top picks in the 2023 NFL Draft. On the other end, teams like Rutgers have a chance to feature a new face at quarterback.
As the summer quickly approaches, here is an early look at how the quarterbacks in the Big Ten could rank heading into the season.
14. Ryan Hilinski, Northwestern
2021 stats: 95-for-176, 54%, 978 yards, 3 TD, 4 INT
The 2021 season was a mess for Northwestern as a whole. It began on the offense side of the ball as the Wildcats scored just 13 points per game in conference play. Ryan Hilinski won the job after transferring from South Carolina. In year two, it is fair to expect a step forward. The Wildcats scored 14 points or less in seven of their final eight games. It is hard for Northwestern to be worse.
13. Tommy DeVito, Illinois
2021 stats (Syracuse): 32-for-52, 61.5%, 388 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT
The Illini will have a competition over the summer between Tommy DeVito and Artur Sitkowski, former Scarlet Knight. At this point, DeVito holds the edge after losing his job in 2021 at Syracuse. With the Orange, DeVito totaled 3,866 yards and 28 touchdowns — majority coming in 2019. Illinois is going to lean on the ground game, which is to be expected. The Illini averaged just 156.2 yards through the air last season. The offense is looking for a quarterback to take care of the ball and maybe make a play every now and then.
12. Noah Vedral, Rutgers
2021 stats: 180-for-303, 59.4%, 1,813 yards, 7 TD, 7 INT
Noah Vedral started all all 13 games for the Scarlet Knights last season but Gavin Wimsatt has been the story. Wimsatt is the highest-ranked quarterback recruit in the history of the program. It is only right that he gains some attention. At the same time, Wimsatt reclassified last season and joined Rutgers at the age of a high school senior.
Vedral has a chance to enter 2022 as the starter for the third consecutive year but nothing is set in stone for the Scarlet Knights just yet. This does not mean that we will not see Wimsatt appear in games or even start at any point. The Scarlet Knights showed off both signal callers during the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl against Wake Forest. It is likely we see a bit of a platoon over the early portion of the season depending on what happens during training camp.
11. Spencer Petras, Iowa
2021 stats: 165-for-288, 57.3%, 1,880 yards, 10 TD, 9 INT
Talk about a roller coaster season for Iowa. The Hawkeyes won their first six games of the season before losing back-to-back contests. Spencer Petras led Iowa to the Big Ten Championship Game and should hold a slight edge over Alex Padilla and Joey Labas.
10 Connor Bazelak, Indiana
2021 stats (Missouri): 246-for-377, 65.3%, 2,548 yards, 16 TD, 11 INT
There will be quarterback battles all over the Big Ten and Indiana is no different. Connor Bazelak transferred to Bloomington and will be the favorite to start under center. This does not mean that Jack Tuttle and Donaven McCulley will not get their chance to battle. Bazelak put up 5,084 yards and 23 touchdowns in three years at Missouri. He will look to settle down a quarterback room that saw four players attempt 58 or more passes.
9. Graham Mertz, Wisconsin
2021 stats: 169-for-284, 59.5%, 1,958 yards, 10 TD, 11 INT
The narrative of Graham Mertz being the highest-rated quarterback to sign with Wisconsin is dead and buried. It is time for this highly-touted prospect to perform. Mertz got off to a miserable start in 2021 but turned it around a bit toward the end. He finished near the bottom of the Big Ten in yards per attempt last season at 6.9. New offensive coordinator Bobby Engram will have his hands full with this run-heavy Badgers’ offense.
8. Casey Thompson, Nebraska
2021 stats (Texas): 165-for-261, 63.2%, 2,113 yards, 24 TD, 9 INT
Casey Thompson is one of many changes for Nebraska heading into 2022. Chubba Purdy will enter from Florida State while Mark Whipple will be in charge of calling plays for head coach Scott Frost. Thompson will enter a battle with the likes of Purdy and Logan Smothers. It is likely that the Texas transfer will be the one to replace Adrian Martinez. Nebraska lost eight games by one score last season. Can Thompson be the difference in coming out on top in some of those games?
7. Tanner Morgan, Minnesota
2021 stats: 149-for-249, 59.8%, 2,044 yards, 10 TD, 9 INT
There was a big step back Tanner Morgan last season after breaking out in 2019. He is returning for his fifth year and will have Kirk Ciarrocca back as the play-caller. A big problem for Minnesota was its downfield action. Morgan hit on just four plays of 40 or more yards last season. This is something that will need to be fixed.
6. Sean Clifford, Penn State
2021 stats: 261-for-428, 61%, 3,107 yards, 21 TD, 8 INT
Sean Clifford is not the attractive quarterback that many are looking for but he gets the job done. He bounced back in 2021 and put up strong numbers using his arm and legs. Clifford will have two freshmen behind him but it is hard to imagine that he is not preparing for his fourth year as the starter. Penn State remains a controversial team in the Big Ten but it is not because of Clifford. As long as James Franklin is the head coach, the Nittany Lions will continue to underachieve.
5. Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland
2021 stats: 328-for-474, 69.2%, 3,860 yards, 26 TD, 11 INT
Taulia Tagovailoa set a new school record with his 69.2% completion percentage. Maryland likes to air the ball out and trusts Tagovailoa to make the right decisions. Does he always? No but that is what is expected this season. Dontay Demus and Rakim Jarrett will be back on the outside meaning Tagovailoa will once again have strong options to get the ball to. The Terps could see their quarterback take yet another step this season.
4. Cade McNamara, Michigan
2021 stats: 210-for-327, 64.2%, 2,576 yards, 15 TD, 6 INT
Cade McNamara is going to be listed as the starter but expect Michigan to roll with two quarterbacks. J.J. McCarthy is also going to be in the mix next season. Regardless of who is under center, this is a solid spot in the rankings for the reigning Big Ten champions. McNamara was the set starter last season but McCarthy also accounted for 640 total yards. It will be interesting to see how co-offensive coordinators Matt Weiss and Sherrone Moore incorporate the two-quarterback system into the offense.
3. Payton Thorne, Michigan State
2021 stats: 235-for-389, 60.4%, 3,240 yards, 27 TD, 10 INT
What will Michigan State be without Kenneth Walker III? The Doak Walker Award winner was the heartbeat of the Spartans’ offense last season but Payton Thorne cannot be forgotten. He threw for 3,240 yards and 27 touchdowns. Thorne was named Honorable Mention All-Big Ten and will enter as the starter once again. The question is, can Michigan State repeat its success without Walker III and can the offensive line keep Thorne upright?
2. Aidan O’Connell, Purdue
2021 stats: 315-for-440, 71.6%, 3,712 yards, 28 TD, 11 INT
Purdue should have no issue under center with Aidan O’Connell, who ranked second in the conference with 309 yards per game last season. The Boilers finished as one of the top offenses in the Big Ten last season. David Bell might be gone but O’Connell being back give Purdue some hope heading into the season. This is a team that could surprise some people if they find consistency.
1. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
2021 stats: 317-for-441, 71.9%, 4,435 yards, 44 TD, 6 INT
The real debate comes when discussing if C.J. Stroud is the best quarterback in the country. When it comes to the Big Ten, there is no conversation. Ohio State lost Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson to the NFL but this is a program that reloads. Stroud will have Jaxon Smith-Njigba back as the No. 1 receiver. Julian Fleming will have to step up along with Marvin Harrison Jr. With Stroud under center, Ohio State will be National Championship contenders once again.