An early look at the new wave of quarterbacks in the B1G West

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For one reason or another, the veteran B1G West quarterbacks dealt with their fair share of scrutiny in 2016.

Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Mitch Leidner had been in school for what felt like forever, yet both still made mistakes they would’ve made as freshmen. C.J. Beathard and Wes Lunt battled health issues, while not getting much help from depleted groups of receivers during frustrating senior seasons.

Those four B1G West quarterbacks accounted for 139 starts, 177 touchdown passes and 27,620 passing yards in their careers.

But that’s all in the past.

There’s a new wave of quarterbacks in the B1G West. There’s a chance that there will be zero senior quarterbacks in the B1G West.

Clayton Thorson and David Blough are the veterans of the bunch, but even they’ll only be juniors. All signs point to sophomore Alex Hornibrook taking over after Bart Houston graduated. Even Hornibrook wasn’t the opening day starter in 2016.

That means we could be looking at five new starting quarterbacks in the B1G West, all of whom could potentially be underclassmen. Say goodbye to those quarterbacks who felt like they were in school forever and say hello to some new faces.

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ILLINOIS

Gone — Wes Lunt (26 starts)

Successor — Jeff George Jr./Chayce Crouch/Dwayne Lawson (5 starts at Illinois)

Who has the early edge — Lovie Smith already came out and said “Chayce is our quarterback.” That’s about as good of an endorsement as you can get as an injured quarterback with one career start.

George was thrown into the fire last year and understandably, he struggled. Had he completed more than 40 percent of his passes, he’d have a better shot at the starting gig. Crouch’s best competition could be if Lawson gets his grades up to come to Illinois.

IOWA

Gone — C.J. Beathard (28 starts)

Successor — Nate Stanley/Tyler Wiegers/Drew Cook (0 starts)

Who has the early edge — You have to like Stanley’s chances to run away with the job. We should’ve gotten a chance to see more of the rocket-armed freshman in the Outback Bowl. Still, Iowa burned his redshirt during the regular season to get him some valuable experience. Stanley impressed enough in fall camp to earn that No. 2 spot, and now the job appears to be his to lose.

Wiegers might be the veteran, but as we saw with Beathard and Jake Rudock, Kirk Ferentz isn’t afraid to go young at quarterback. It’ll be interesting to see how Beathard’s replacement gels with new offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe.

MINNESOTA

Gone — Mitch Leidner (41 starts)

Successor — Conor Rhoda/Seth Green/Demry Croft/Neil McLaurin/Tanner Morgan (1 start)

Who has the early edge — Rhoda was the backup in 2016, which allowed him to fill in for an injured Leidner against Maryland. But with a new coaching staff, it’s anyone’s job. P.J. Fleck did convince Rhoda to stay at Minnesota instead of transferring. It’s still going to be a legitimate competition, and a crowded one at that.

New offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca has traditionally worked with pro-style passers, which doesn’t bode well for Croft, Green or McLaurin. That could give Rhoda a nice edge. Morgan, a true freshman, flipped from WMU to Minnesota and gave the Gophers another pro-style option.

The job likely won’t be decided by the end of spring ball, but don’t be surprised if at least one of those guys transfers.

NEBRASKA

Gone — Tommy Armstrong, Jr. (44 starts)

Successor — Tanner Lee/Patrick O’Brien (0 starts at Nebraska)

Who has the early edge — Wait, no more Armstrong? What do I do with my hands? After four years of Armstrong, the Huskers will likely start a guy who has never taken a snap in a Nebraska uniform.

After sitting out a season because of NCAA transfer rules, Lee is the early favorite to win the job. Why? Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said that the Tulane transfer was “everything you’re looking for” and that the 2016 Nebraska Scout Team Offensive MVP was “everything I thought he was going to be and more.”

O’Brien, the former four-star recruit, will still have an opportunity to win the job as a redshirt freshman. It doesn’t sound like O’Brien did anything but solidify the notion that he’ll be Nebraska’s quarterback of the future. But unlike Armstrong, O’Brien might have to wait his turn if Lee keeps getting rave reviews.

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Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

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