B1G QB Power Rankings, Week 5: Some 2019 stars are bottoming out; Mertz among those filling the void
Breaking down everything you need to know about the Big Ten’s quarterbacks.
1. Justin Fields (Ohio State)
Fields not playing this week didn’t hurt him in these rankings, but it may have in the Heisman rankings. Kyle Trask threw 6 TDs and has posted near identical numbers as Joe Burrow did through 6 games last season. Fields is at a huge disadvantage with the Big Ten’s shortened schedule, and it didn’t help that Maryland was unable to play last week due to COVID.
(Last week: 1)
2. Graham Mertz (Wisconsin)
It turns out, Mertz’s huge debut was not a fluke — not that anyone believed it was. Mertz returned from a two-week COVID hiatus to throw 2 TD passes in the rout of Michigan. Wisconsin so thoroughly dominated that Mertz didn’t need to put up huge numbers, as the Badgers mostly played it safe with a big lead. Mertz admitted it took him a few drives to find his rhythm, but he was totally in control — in sharp contrast to Joe Milton and Michigan, which struggled from the opening kick. Mertz now has 7 TD passes and no interceptions through 2 starts.
(Last week: 2)
3. Michael Penix Jr. (Indiana)
Penix once again did more than enough to earn the win, but in a sign of how high Indiana’s program has climbed, only beating Michigan State 24-0 was a bit of a disappointment. Indiana hasn’t been the well-oiled machine that Ohio State has been — or even Wisconsin, for that matter. And that’s been OK. But this week against Ohio State is the time to unleash Penix and hope that he has the best game of his career. His numbers are down from last season across the board except in two important categories: winning percentage and games started. Penix is winning and he’s staying healthy, so what more can Indiana ask for?
(Last week: 4)
4. Taulia Tagovailoa (Maryland)
It’s too bad Tagovailoa didn’t get a chance to go up against Ohio State, but the redshirt freshman will have other chances to play in big games. It’s a sign of the B1G’s dearth of QBs that Tagovailoa is firmly entrenched in the top 5 despite having 6 TDs and 4 INT — though 3 of the INTs were in his first start.
(Last week: 5)
5. Peyton Ramsey (Northwestern)
Ramsey delivered the type of performance that Northwestern needs of him in big games, tossing 3 TD passes in the win over Purdue for first place in the West. It was especially important considering Northwestern didn’t run the ball well at all. While Ramsey’s numbers are down from last season at Indiana, remember that he is playing with an elite defense (unlike last year) that doesn’t need him to throw for 300 yards (which he did 3 times last year in 7 starts). Ramsey needs to limit his turnovers, though, as he threw an interception for a third straight game.
(Last week: 6)
6. Aidan O’Connell (Purdue)
O’Connell didn’t play a bad game against Northwestern, not by any means. He went up against one of the league’s top defenses, and with Purdue not running the ball well or often (12 carries for 26 yards), it was a one-dimensional attack. That’s a tough ask of O’Connell, who force-fed the ball to David Bell. Under normal circumstances, that works well, but Northwestern’s defense is very good and obviously watched tape of Purdue’s first 2 games. The Boilermakers will need to continue to evolve offensively. Hopefully Rondale Moore is back soon.
(Last week: 3)
7. Luke McCaffrey (Nebraska)
It’s Luke McCaffrey time in Lincoln, as Adrian Martinez — 2 games into his third season as the starter — was benched. Scott Frost called the decision one of the hardest he ever had to make, considering his affinity for Martinez. But it was the right one.
On McCaffrey’s first drive as the starter, he nearly threw Nebraska’s first passing TD of the season but Kade Warner was ruled down at the 1. He got it a few drives later with a short pass (it was basically a handoff) that Zavier Betts ran 45 yards for a TD. McCaffrey wasn’t outstanding, but he was solid. The Huskers took their foot off the gas in the second half after leading by 21 at the half, and Penn State almost caught them.
McCaffrey had his share of highlight reel plays, like when he threw a ball lefty while nearly getting sacked, connecting for a first down on 3rd-and-9. There won’t be much of a change from Martinez to McCaffrey in terms of rushing ability, but the hope is that McCaffrey is a better passer. Nebraska, which ranks 107th nationally in passing yards per game, needs it.
(Last week: Unranked)
8. Joe Milton/Cade McNamara (Michigan)
While Milton didn’t light the world on fire in his first 3 games, he wasn’t bad either. That changed in the loss to Wisconsin on Saturday. Milton was bad, throwing 2 first-quarter interceptions and helping dig a 28-0 halftime deficit. Even worse, redshirt freshman Cade McNamara relieved him in the third quarter and proceeded to lead a 4-play TD drive that looked easy.
No one questions Milton’s arm strength, but does he throw a catchable ball? It’s something that is difficult to measure, but when McNamara came in, it just looked different. On McNamara’s TD pass, he gets some air under it and lets Mike Sainristil run underneath it. Milton, in contrast, seems to rifle every ball. He was just 9-of-19, and Jim Harbaugh says it’s an open competition this week.
Cade McNamara just went 4-plays, 75-yards and took Joe Milton’s job# pic.twitter.com/14XLigIS4W
— Unnecessary Roughness (@UnnecRoughness) November 15, 2020
(Last week: 7)
9. Tanner Morgan (Minnesota)
It’s been a stunning decline for Tanner Morgan, who is only this high in the rankings because there have only been a handful of good QBs in the Big Ten this season. In Phil Steele’s preview magazine, he had Tanner Morgan at No. 4 on his list of draft-eligible QBs. Fourth! Ahead of Kyle Trask, Sam Ehlinger, Ian Book and Mac Jones.
But this season has been a disaster for Morgan, even though he has Rashod Bateman playing really well. Only completing 57 percent of his passes, Morgan has 4 TD passes and 4 INT — a far cry from his 30 TDs and 7 INT last season. He threw 2 interceptions — the first time he has done that in 19 games — in the blowout loss to Iowa, only salvaging his night with a TD pass with 19 seconds left.
The drop off from 2019 to 2020 for Tanner Morgan has been brutal pic.twitter.com/NxrZVE7Afz
— Unnecessary Roughness (@UnnecRoughness) November 14, 2020
(Last week: 8)
10. Sean Clifford/Will Levis (Penn State)
Speaking of regression, James Franklin finally had to make a move, pulling Clifford in the second quarter of the loss to Nebraska. Clifford had an ugly interception and an even uglier fumble that was returned for a TD. Clifford has 9 TD passes, tied for second in the B1G with Penix, but he is turning the ball over too much and has been very inaccurate with just a 56.9 completion percentage.
It’s clear that Penn State is much more reliant on Clifford than last season, when it rotated 4 quality running backs. With just 1 of those guys left, Clifford is running and throwing more than last year. He is averaging 6 more pass attempts per game this season, despite the quick hook last week. And he was on his way to a fourth straight game of 17 or more rushing attempts, too. Last season, he never had more than 16.
Will Clifford start this week? We’ll see if Will Levis gets an extended look.
(Last week: 9)
11. Spencer Petras (Iowa)
Petras didn’t do anything to climb up the ranks, but he moves up by default because there were so many ugly QB performances. Petras still has the worst rating (102.73) of the 12 qualified QBs, the worst completion percentage (53.7%) and is one of four QBs in the B1G with more INTs than TD passes, joining Adrian Martinez, Rocky Lombardi and Noah Vedral.
(Last week: 12)
12. Rocky Lombardi/Payton Thorne (Michigan State)
Lombardi is losing his grip on this job, as he was benched mid-game for redshirt Payton Thorne. Lombardi will remember the Michigan game for the rest of his life, but it is appears to have been an outlier. After throwing 2 INTs on 7 pass attempts in the loss to Indiana, he has multiple picks in 3 of 4 games. His completion percentage of 57.1 is better than only Clifford and Petras.
(Last week: 11)
13. Isaiah Williams/Brandon Peters (Illinois)
It’s unknown whether Williams can play quarterback in the Big Ten, but man, he is a very good athlete, as he showed in the win against Rutgers. The good news? Williams busted loose for 192 yards on 31 rushes. The bad news? He completed only 7 of 18 passes and is now 10-of-31 passing in his career. Brandon Peters, who started the opener but has been sidelined with COVID the last 3 weeks, could return next week, so we’ll see who gets the start.
(Last week: Unranked)
14. Noah Vedral (Rutgers)
Say this for Vedral, at least he’s consistent. He has completed 21 passes in each of the last 3 games, has attempted between 32-34 passes in the last 3 and ran for 16-23 yards. But after a 3-INT performance and losing to arguably the worst team in the B1G, this is where he belongs.
(Last week: 13)