B1G QB Power Rankings, Week 4: The next Tagovailoa has arrived to terrorize defenses
Breaking down everything you need to know about the Big Ten’s quarterbacks.
1. Justin Fields (Ohio State)
At this point, there’s not much that hasn’t already been said about Fields. After a casual 314-yard, 5-TD night against Rutgers, Fields is up to 56 career TD passes and just 3 INTs. This season, he has 11 incompletions and 11 TD passes. The single-season completion percentage record belongs to Colt McCoy, who completed 76.7 percent of his passes in 2008. Joe Burrow completed 76.3 percent in his ridiculous 2019. Fields is at 86.7 percent, and as some have pointed out, most of his incompletions so far are drops or miscommunications.
So Justin Fields has 11 incompletions through three games. I feel like most of them of hit off receivers' hands, and this one happened because some folks didn't know the snap count pic.twitter.com/JLXZWo1mW9
— Bill Landis (@BillLandis25) November 9, 2020
(Last week: 1)
2. Graham Mertz (Wisconsin)
Wisconsin’s game at Michigan this week is officially on. Will Mertz be? If he is cleared to play, Mertz will have an opportunity to put up monster numbers against Michigan’s struggling secondary. Rocky Lombardi and Michael Penix Jr. combined for 665 yards and 6 TDs with no INTs the last 2 weeks.
(Last week: 2)
3. Aidan O’Connell (Purdue)
O’Connell’s stiffest test awaits after Purdue’s impromptu bye week. Among teams that have played more than 1 game, Northwestern is 2nd nationally in yards allowed per pass attempt (4.6). The Wildcats are the only team to shut down Taulia Tagovailoa, hounded Spencer Petras into 3 INTs and forced Nebraska to bench Adrian Martinez. If O’Connell is an upper-echelon B1G QB — and he has performed like it so far with a B1G-leading 326.5 passing yards per game and 5 TDs in 2 games — then he will rise to the occasion against a very good defense.
(Last week: 3)
4. Michael Penix Jr. (Indiana)
Penix obliterated the Michigan secondary in the Hoosiers’ easy win. While the 342-yard, 3-TD performance loses a little luster when Rocky Lombardi put up similar numbers, Penix looked dialed in and capable of leading the Hoosiers on a legitimate run. It was especially impressive watching him repeatedly draw Michigan offsides, then have the wherewithal to take shots down the field because it was a free play. Aaron Rodgers-esque, indeed.
Penix is still completing only 58.9 percent of his passes (down from 68.8 last season), but that’s in large part due to an erratic opener against Penn State and should even out over the next few games. How aggressive will Penix be this week at Michigan State? The Hoosiers may want to keep a few things in their back pocket for the showdown with Ohio State in 2 weeks.
(Last week: 6)
5. Taulia Tagovailoa (Maryland)
In the last 2 weeks, Justin Fields is the only B1G QB to outplay Taulia Tagovailoa. The redshirt freshman has been sensational in taking down Minnesota and Penn State, both of which finished last season ranked in the top 10. After a 3-INT debut against Northwestern, Tagovailoa has led the Terrapins to wins as a 19-point underdog and as a 25-point underdog. He averaged 338 passing yards and 3 TDs in those wins, with a first-half INT against Minnesota as the lone blemish.
After looking like he was about to get benched, Tagovailoa has the look of a superstar. He has elevated a Maryland program that few outside the locker room believed could even win multiple games in an all-B1G schedule. Just 3 starts into his career, Tagovailoa’s potential is enticing. He has name recognition thanks to his brother, Tua, but he has shown that he wasn’t initially enrolled at Alabama as a favor to the Tagovailoa family. He can play.
Is this the beginning of something special?
(Last week: 11)
6. Peyton Ramsey (Northwestern)
Northwestern hasn’t needed a high level of play from its QB the first 3 weeks of the season, just a game-manager. Peyton Ramsey has met that level — albeit barely. He had his first multi-INT game in over 2 years. His yards per attempt are down from 8.2 to 6.8. His interception rate is up, from 1.6 percent to 4 percent. At some point, Northwestern will need Ramsey to win a game — perhaps as soon as this weekend against Purdue.
(Last week: 7)
7. Joe Milton (Michigan)
Milton’s passing percentage has dipped with each week, from 68.2 to 62.7 to 52.9 last week in the loss to Indiana. Michigan has not led the last 2 weeks, thus leading Milton to take more chances. He did have a beautiful deep ball to Cornelius Johnson. Here’s what we know about Milton so far: He’s great when playing with the lead (like against Minnesota) but not very good playing from behind (like against Michigan State and Indiana). He doesn’t quite have the accuracy to pick apart a defense and hasn’t quite honed in that impressive arm strength to put the proper touch on his passes. Milton still has plenty of potential — he just needs to clean a few things up.
(Last week: 8)
8. Tanner Morgan (Minnesota)
Morgan has yet to throw multiple touchdown passes in a game this season after doing so in 10 of 13 games last season. The Golden Gophers have leaned heavily on Mohamed Ibrahim to the tune of 32.3 carries per game. Morgan, meanwhile, is attempting only 24.3 passes per game. After finishing second in completions of 10 yards or more in 2019, Morgan is ninth this season.
(Last week: 9)
9. Sean Clifford (Penn State)
Clifford was so terrible against Maryland that James Franklin got questions afterward about whether he should have pulled his QB. And they were completely fair. It was especially baffling considering Maryland had gotten torched by Northwestern and Minnesota in the first 2 games. In an opportunity to turn Penn State’s season around, Clifford started the game 6-of-20 and finished 27-of-57 with 3 turnovers. He salvaged his day with 2 meaningless TD passes in the fourth quarter.
(Last week: 4)
10. Rocky Lombardi (Michigan State)
What a difference a week makes. After throwing for 3 TDs against Michigan, Lombardi followed it up with 3 INTs against a stingy Iowa defense. Lombardi is tied with Clifford for the B1G INT lead with 5.
(Last week: 5)
11. Adrian Martinez (Nebraska)
Scott Frost has a decision to make at QB. Does he stick with Adrian Martinez, who has shown little progress as a passer, or does he go with Luke McCaffrey, the redshirt freshman who has shown promise in his limited opportunities. The reason some are calling for the latter is that Martinez is in his third year starting and has had plenty of opportunities. His completion percentage has gone down, from 64.6 to 59.4 to 57.1 this season. He has yet to throw a TD pass and is averaging only 5.5 yards per attempt, which is ahead of only former teammate Noah Vedral.
Martinez has run the ball well with 7.2 yards per carry, but that doesn’t mean he should continue starting. It does mean that if he gets benched, he should still be involved with special packages to utilize his running ability. The good news for Nebraska is that McCaffrey has a similar skill set and should be easy to work into the offense.
(Last week: 10)
12. Spencer Petras (Iowa)
Life is much easier when you don’t have to throw 50 times per game, huh? Petras had a ton of help in the rout of Michigan State from the running game, defense and special teams. That meant he only accounted for 1 of Iowa’s 7 TDs. Petras still has more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2) and has completed only 54.3 percent of his passes — worst of the B1G’s 13 qualifying QBs.
(Last week: 12)
13. Noah Vedral (Rutgers)
Vedral won the job in the preseason, but Greg Schiano gave some snaps to Art Sitkowski and Johnny Langan in the blowout loss to Ohio State. Is Vedral’s grip on the starting job loosening? Perhaps. If Vedral struggles in a very winnable game against Illinois, look for Schiano to make a move.
(Last week: 13)
14. Coran Taylor (Illinois)
After an impressive performance on short notice against Purdue, the fourth-string Taylor came back to Earth in the loss to Minnesota, completing only 6 of 17 passes for 106 yards and a TD. Let’s hope for the Illini’s sake that another QB is available against Rutgers.
(Last week: 14)