B1G QB Power Rankings, Week 3: Surprises abound among league's less-heralded QBs
Breaking down everything you need to know about the Big Ten’s quarterbacks.
1. Justin Fields, Ohio State
How ridiculous has Fields been? Since 2000, there is just 1 other QB (West Virginia’s Geno Smith) who has equaled Fields’ 594 passing yards, 6 passing TDs, completion percentage of 87 percent and no interceptions through 2 games. And Fields did it against Nebraska and Penn State, while Smith faced Marshall and James Madison to open the season. He is as locked in as you can possibly be.
Fields is not only a serious contender for the Heisman after just 2 games, he is probably the favorite, thanks to Trevor Lawrence missing several games due to a positive COVID-19 test. At the bare minimum, it’s a 3-horse race among Fields, Lawrence and Mac Jones.
(Last week: 1)
2. Graham Mertz, Wisconsin
It’s a shame we have to wait to see what Mertz can do for an encore, but just in case anyone forgot how special Mertz’s starting debut was, he set or tied 3 program records. His 1 incompletion was dropped. While it was just one game, it was nearly flawless. Let’s hope Mertz is recovering well from COVID-19 and is able to play against either Michigan or Northwestern.
(Last week: 2)
3. Aidan O’Connell, Purdue
Here’s where it starts to get interesting, as it looks like it will be nearly impossible to penetrate the top 2 for a while.
O’Connell has been a revelation for Purdue and is enjoying throwing to a loaded receiver corps that hopefully will get even better with the return of Rondale Moore. Credit where credit is due, though. I thought Jack Plummer would win the job in the preseason and at the bare minimum get a chance early in the season, but O’Connell’s play has been so good that Jeff Brohm hasn’t had to go to his backup at all.
O’Connell isn’t perfect, by any means — against Illinois last week, he rifled a wide-open TD pass in the flat into the ground, and Purdue didn’t score when Zander Horvath fumbled — but he has been good enough to lead Purdue to its first 2-0 start since 2007. It had to feel good for O’Connell to perform so well at Illinois, too, as his home-state school did not offer him a scholarship.
(Last week: 9)
4. Sean Clifford, Penn State
It hasn’t been the start Clifford wanted, especially team-wise, but the redshirt junior is playing fine. He has thrown 3 interceptions, but he has also thrown 3 TD passes in both games. The biggest positive from the first 2 games has been Clifford’s emerging connection with Jahan Dotson, giving him 2 bonafide pass catchers, with tight end Pat Freiermuth being the other.
Clifford is taking on a larger role so far, averaging about 6 more pass attempts per game than last season. That’s by design, as Penn State is without its top 2 backs.
(Last week: 5)
5. Rocky Lombardi, Michigan State
Again, credit where credit is due. Lombardi entered this season having completed 42 percent of his passes, but you’d have never known it by watching his first 2 games of 2020 — especially the win at Michigan. Lombardi was accurate to all three levels, showing some deft touch on throws downfield. Joe Milton may want to take note of how Lombardi gets some air under his deep balls, because it was a clinic. Lombardi threw for the third-highest total ever (323 yards) against Michigan for a Spartans QB. Considering many were probably expecting Theo Day to eventually take over and be the QB of the future, Lombardi’s first 2 games were very good, aside from a few turnovers against Rutgers.
Can Lombardi keep it going against one of the Big Ten’s best defenses, Iowa? Since 2017, only 3 teams in the country have more interceptions than Iowa. This is a great test for one of the best stories of the early going.
(Last week: 12)
6. Michael Penix Jr., Indiana
Penix fared better against Rutgers, completing 65 percent of his passes and throwing 3 TDs. Will that get him going? The most encouraging part was his connection with top target Whop Philyor, who went off for 137 yards on 5 receptions.
I haven’t forgotten that game against Penn State, though. The Nittany Lions’ defense is good, but Fields just torched them for 318 yards and 4 TDs, so they aren’t invincible. Comparing anyone to Fields is futile, and it was the first game of the season, so let’s chalk it up to rust. Indiana needs Penix to deliver in big games — like this weekend against Michigan.
(Last week: 7)
7. Peyton Ramsey, Northwestern
Saturday’s 21-20 victory over Iowa isn’t a game Ramsey will look back on and think of as one of his best, not by a long shot. But it is a game Northwestern will look back on and be glad it had Ramsey. Down 17-0 in the first quarter, this was the type of game Northwestern had no chance in last season. Northwestern scored less than 17 points in 7 of 12 games last season. Ramsey’s presence gives them a chance, even if he only threw for 130 yards and an INT. Even if he doesn’t have the flashy statistics, Ramsey’s value is clear.
(Last week: 3)
8. Joe Milton, Michigan
There are a lot of areas that Milton needs to improve. He had some timing issues in the loss to MSU, played a little too fast and often predetermined where he was going to throw the ball, leading to a few near-interceptions. But there is still a lot to be excited about with Milton, who has yet to throw an interception on 73 pass attempts. Michigan needs to find some more balance, as Milton’s 51 pass attempts were the most for a Michigan QB since Chad Henne’s 54 in 2004. In his second start, that’s asking too much of Milton and not taking advantage of Michigan’s depth at running back.
(Last week: 4)
9. Tanner Morgan, Minnesota
It’s astounding to see the way Minnesota is using Morgan this year. It’s one thing to want to hide your defense. It’s another to ignore the player who was supposedly one of the country’s top returning QBs. Morgan hasn’t regressed, he’s just not getting the chance to do his thing. Morgan is fourth in the Big Ten in yards per attempt; the problem is he has only attempted 46 passes in two games. There have been 30 QBs, including 3 in the Big Ten, to throw more passes than that in a single game. Mohamed Ibrahim, meanwhile, leads the country with 33.5 rushing attempts per game.
Morgan can still sling it, especially on the RPOs over the middle. He throws a great deep ball and has 2 very good receivers in Rashod Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell. Hopefully we get to see what he can do one of these weeks.
(Last week: 6)
10. Adrian Martinez, Nebraska
Martinez has had 2 weeks to prepare for a tough Northwestern defense, and it’ll be interesting to see how Scott Frost uses him and Luke McCaffrey together.
(Last week: 8)
11. Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland
Tagovailoa broke out in a big way against Minnesota. For the second straight week, he got Maryland some points on the opening drive, which is typically mostly scripted. While he fell apart in his first start after that, Tagovailoa only got stronger against the Gophers. He led a 17-point comeback and did everything you’d like to see from a young QB. He has shown an accurate arm and is able to make plays with his legs.
Maryland coach Mike Locksley, who was the offensive coordinator at Alabama when Tua was there, stuck with Taulia after a rough debut and is going to give him every chance to get going.
(Last week: 14)
12. Spencer Petras, Iowa
What is with teams having their inexperienced QBs throw 50 passes in a game? Just like Milton, Petras was only making his second career start. It was the most pass attempts from a Hawkeyes QB since Jake Rudock in 2014. It was especially puzzling considering Iowa led by 17 in the first quarter, and Northwestern didn’t take the lead until midway through the third quarter. Petras threw 3 interceptions and finished with only 4.3 yards per attempt. He is 12th in the Big Ten at only 5.4 yards per attempt.
There will be better days for Petras, but it may be tough Saturday with top target Ihmir Smith-Marsette suspended.
(Last week: 12)
13. Noah Vedral, Rutgers
Vedral’s 3 interceptions were partially due to his lack of protection, as his arm got hit on 2 of the picks. Vedral has struggled with ball security and needs to shore that up if Rutgers is going to replicate that Week 1 win over Michigan State. Vedral is tied for the B1G lead with 4 interceptions.
(Last week: 11)
14. Coran Taylor, Illinois
Taylor began the week as the fourth-string QB and wound up playing all but 1 series in the loss to Purdue. Taylor had never thrown a pass in his college career before Saturday, so passing for 273 yards and 2 TDs is commendable.
(Last week: NR)