Hickey: A way-too-early prediction of every Big Ten QB1 in 2023
Familiarity was the name of the game for Big Ten quarterback in 2022. Coming out of training camp, 11 teams were returning an incumbent starter from the previous season.
And the 3 newcomers — Illinois’ Tommy DeVito, Indiana’s Connor Bazelak and Nebraska’s Casey Thompson — were all veteran transfers who had been around the block with multiple starts at their previous stops.
It will be a much different feel in 2023.
Only 7 Big Ten teams are returning an incumbent starting quarterback. There are transfers, but with a couple exceptions, they aren’t as seasoned as last year’s batch. And Ohio State and Penn State, both of which harbor legitimate title aspirations, will be hitching their wagons to first-time starters.
That being the case, several of this year’s preseason quarterback competitions will likely be more legitimate than the lip service coaches typically give to them. And that means things could change.
But who wants to wait until August to talk college football?
Here’s our very subject to change, way-too-early look at who will be QB1 for each Big Ten program in 2023. (No doubt this list will be bookmarked by backups everywhere as they eagerly await the moment they can say “Everyone doubted me!” and show the receipts.)
Illinois — Luke Altmyer
It’s been a strange road for Altmyer — a Starkville, Miss., native who went to hated Ole Miss rather than hometown Mississippi State and now finds himself at Illinois. Altmyer transferred in after the NCAA denied Tommy DeVito’s waiver for a 6th season.
Altmyer has completed 28 of 54 passes for 317 yards with 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
Though he’s the presumptive QB1, the competition to be his backup will be wide, wide open.
Indiana — Tayven Jackson
Basketball star Trayce Jackson-Davis’ little brother helped salvage a thus-far brutal offseason for the Hoosiers by transferring from Tennessee. Jackson, a former 4-star recruit, was the Volunteers’ 3rd-stringer as a freshman in 2022. He completed 3-of-4 passes for 37 yards.
Iowa — Cade McNamara
In case you’ve been offline or incarcerated for the past several months, that’s no typo. Cade McNamara, who quarterbacked Michigan to the College Football Playoff in 2021, is now at Iowa.
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McNamara was a game manager rather than a game changer for the Wolverines, but frankly that’s all the Hawkeyes have needed the past couple of years. Keep the chains moving. Don’t turn the ball over. Let the defense win the game.
Maryland — Taulia Tagovailoa
With all due respect to JJ McCarthy, Tagovailoa should be QB1 on the preseason all-B1G team. Tagovailoa is the lone returning quarterback in the Big Ten to throw for more than 3,000 yards in 2022, and was 2nd in the conference in completion percentage.
Maryland’s all-time passing leader will try to further cement his place in program lore this year.
Michigan — JJ McCarthy
Michigan’s QB1 is the Big Ten’s QB2 heading into next season, though by the time the year’s over he may make himself the undisputed top dog. Outside of Tagovailoa, no one in the B1G is more secure in their starting role.
And in case of emergency, former Indiana backup/part-time starter Jack Tuttle gives the Wolverines a veteran bench presence.
Michigan State — Payton Thorne
Thorne follows in the footsteps of Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan and Penn State’s Sean Clifford as a “he’s still got eligibility left?” all-star.
With a good enough 2022, Thorne probably would have found himself in this year’s NFL Draft pool. Instead, he took a step back from a promising 2021. Maybe he’ll prove himself to be an odd-year guy.
Minnesota — Athan Kaliakmanis
Kaliakmanis took over as Minnesota’s starter when Morgan got hurt, then went down with an injury himself in the Pinstripe Bowl. He’ll be fine by the start of spring practice.
Kaliakmanis looked like an overwhelmed freshman until the Wisconsin game, when he threw for 319 yards and 2 touchdowns. There’s something to build on here.
Nebraska — Casey Thompson
Thompson should be prepared to duke it out in camp with former Georgia Tech starter Jeff Sims coming in from the transfer portal shortly after Matt Rhule took over as Nebraska’s coach.
Ultimately, I expect the incumbent to keep his job to start the season. And he’ll need to play well in order to keep it.
Northwestern — Brendan Sullivan
Like they say: If you start 3 quarterbacks, you’ve got no quarterback. Or at least they should start saying that.
Sullivan was Northwestern’s most promising quarterback in 2022 in that he was the only one to throw more touchdowns (4) than interceptions (3). He performed reasonably well against Iowa, completing 23-of-30 for 159 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception.
This is the prediction most likely to go wrong, as the Cats are likely staring at another season with multiple starters.
Ohio State — Kyle McCord
As we’ve written here previously, Ryan Day would have picked up a blue-chip quarterback like Sam Hartman in the transfer portal if he felt such a move was necessary. The fact he didn’t tells us that Day likes his returning QB2.
Redshirt freshman Devin Brown will probably make a competition of it, but McCord will likely be starting when the Buckeyes open the year at Indiana on Sept. 2.
Penn State — Drew Allar
The portion of the Penn State fan base that clamored for Allar to replace Clifford this season finally gets its wish in 2023.
His growth will determine whether the Nittany Lions are a true contender, or once again third fiddle to Michigan and Ohio State.
Purdue — Hudson Card
Card joins former Texas teammate Thompson in the Longhorns-to-B1G pipeline. Card probably won’t replicate the success of the last quarterback to arrive in West Lafayette via Austin — Drew Brees — but he can at least prevent the Boilermakers from falling off after Aidan O’Connell’s graduation.
Rutgers — Gavin Wimsatt
The Scarlet Knights will need new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca to unlock Wimsatt’s potential.
Wimsatt showed a flash against Michigan State with 236 yards and 2 touchdowns, but never completed more than 60% of his throws in a game. Rutgers was by far the Big Ten’s worst passing attack, but will count on growth rather than outside help.
Wisconsin — Tanner Mordecai
Mordecai passed for 7,791 yards and 76 touchdowns in his 4 years at Oklahoma and SMU. He was a backup in his 2 seasons with the Sooners.
In that same timeframe, Wisconsin quarterbacks passed for 7,400 yards and 60 touchdowns playing in twice as many games.
Things will be different in Madison.