B1G QB Power Rankings, Week 6: Is Justin Fields’ Heisman candidacy over?
Breaking down everything you need to know about the Big Ten’s quarterbacks.
1. Justin Fields (Ohio State)
Justin Fields showed a side of himself that we hadn’t seen, throwing 3 interceptions in the win over Indiana. The first was genuinely off target; the other 2 were Fields trying to do too much as he was getting rid of the ball to avoid getting sacked. Maybe Fields was a little too overconfident after needing only 2 plays on the opening drive. Whatever the case, Fields went from potential Heisman front-runner to likely out of the race.
For one, Kyle Trask and Mac Jones are playing near-flawless football right now, and if either of those guys falter, BYU’s Zach Wilson could make a run at it.
Looking at the most recent Heisman winners, none has had a game like Fields had Saturday.
Joe Burrow, on his way to a 60-6 TD-INT ratio last season, had 1 game with 2 interceptions, but he also threw for 489 yards and 5 TDs. Kyler Murray had 1 game of 2 INTs but also threw 3 TDs; Baker Mayfield had 2 INTs at Oklahoma State, but he racked up 598 yards and 5 TDs that day. Lamar Jackson had a 4-INT game, but it was in the bowl game and after voting had already taken place. Marcus Mariota didn’t and Jameis Winston didn’t, either. Johnny Manziel in 2012 was the last Heisman winner to toss 3 INTs in a game.
I’m not saying it’s not possible, but it’s very unlikely at this point — especially when you consider that Indiana was Ohio State’s only marquee game this season.
(Last week: 1)
2. Michael Penix Jr. (Indiana)
Penix played the game of his life at Ohio State on Saturday, rallying the Hoosiers from a 35-7 deficit to having the ball with a chance to tie the game late. Even after his receivers didn’t help him out in the first quarter with several drops, Penix hung in there and delivered the performance he hadn’t quite had yet, even though he had led Indiana to 4 wins.
Perhaps the most encouraging part about Penix is that he seems to relish the big moment. He hasn’t blinked going against storied programs Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State. And he isn’t deterred when things go bad. It feels like regardless of how much Indiana is down, it’ll never really be out of a game with Penix. He may be only completing 58 percent of his passes (down from 68 percent last season), but the thing you have to realize is that the Hoosiers seem to genuinely believe in Penix. His value is so much more than statistics.
(Last week: 3)
3. Graham Mertz (Wisconsin)
Mertz’s sudden transformation into a freshman was surprising but entirely understandable. Going against one of the best defenses in the country and without 2 starting wide receivers, he turned it over 4 times (after not having any turnovers in his first 2 starts). He won’t be the last QB to struggle against Northwestern.
(Last week: 2)
4. Peyton Ramsey (Northwestern)
Northwestern learned early against Wisconsin that running was not an option, so Ramsey threw it a whopping 44 times, even with the Wildcats never trailing. For Ramsey’s sake, let’s hope Northwestern can find a ground game soon, but it’s a credit to him that the Wildcats could win this way after they had the worst QB play in the country last year.
(Last week: 5)
5. Taulia Tagovailoa (Maryland)
Will Tagovailoa be as crisp as he was before what will be a 3-week layoff and facing the team that just intercepted Justin Fields 3 times? This is a huge chance for Tagovailoa to legitimize the last 2 games. Everyone saw the way Indiana frustrated Fields, so a standout performance this weekend would carry a little extra weight for Tagovailoa.
(Last week: 4)
6. Jack Plummer/Aidan O’Connell (Purdue)
Plummer started in place of the injured O’Connell, and honestly, it was hard to tell much of a difference. Neither seems to have a distinguishable attribute. Plummer struggled with accuracy in 2019, completing less than 60 percent of his passes, yet it was no issue Friday against Minnesota. He completed 35 of 42 (83 percent) for 367 yards, 3 TDs and 1 controversial interception. Even his incompletion to Rondale Moore in the end zone just before halftime was on target.
(Last week: 6)
7. Tanner Morgan (Minnesota)
For such a steady player, Morgan can be a bit of a roller-coaster. On short crossers and quick slants, he rifles the ball at his receivers, sometimes with a little too much zip (drops have been a problem). But on deep balls, he gets air under it and it seems to fall into the receiver’s arms. The box score says Morgan was 15 of 22 for 264 yards, but that doesn’t do his performance justice. On third or fourth down when Minnesota needed at least 6 yards, Morgan was 5-of-6 for 111 yards. He could’ve easily had 3 TD passes, too, but his receiver was tackled inside the 3 on three occasions.
(Last week: 9)
8. Cade McNamara (Michigan)
It’s time to see what McNamara, the No. 7 pro-style QB in the 2019 class, can do. Two weeks in a row, he has outperformed Joe Milton during the games — by a substantial margin. It makes you wonder whether McNamara is just one of those guys who plays better in games than he does in practice. I know it was just Rutgers, but Michigan was down 17 when he came in and led by 8 late in regulation. That’s impressive work.
(Last week: 8)
9. Sean Clifford (Penn State)
Clifford is not only the best QB on Penn State’s roster, he is better than a handful of other B1G QBs. After playing well in relief of Will Levis in the loss to Iowa on Saturday, Clifford should return to starting.
(Last week: 10)
10. Spencer Petras (Iowa)
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how much Petras is impacting Iowa, which is winning on the back of an exceptional offensive line and 2 good running backs. It’s fair to wonder if most Big Ten quarterbacks, starter or not, could have Iowa at 3-2 or better. Completing just 55 percent of his passes (the lowest of the 14 qualified B1G QBs) with more interceptions (4) than TD passes (3), Petras has been largely forgettable.
(Last week: 11)
11. Brandon Peters (Illinois)
Back in the lineup after dealing with COVID, Peters sat back and watched the Illini rack up 285 rushing yards on a struggling Nebraska team. It’s clear that Lovie Smith wants to win now to potentially save his job. Why else start the solid-but-unspectacular Peters during a losing season over a 4-star redshirt freshman in Isaiah Williams who won his only start, beating Rutgers while Peters was out.
(Last week: unranked)
12. Noah Vedral (Rutgers)
I know Vedral is far from the first to shred Michigan’s defense, but he had himself a night against the struggling unit. Vedral accumulated 381 yards and 3 TDs, including a late TD drive to force overtime.
(Last week: 14)
13. Luke McCaffrey (Nebraska)
It’s fair to wonder if McCaffrey, coming off a game against Illinois in which he threw for 134 yards and 3 INTs, will ever be a competent passer in the Big Ten. If he can’t be, the ceiling is just so much lower for the Nebraska offense. Ask Adrian Martinez; at some point, defenses figure you out. McCaffrey won’t survive in the long haul by running QB draw plays on 3rd-and-12, even if he is somehow able to turn them into first downs now.
(Last week: 7)
14. Rocky Lombardi/Payton Thorne (Michigan State)
Will Thorne get his first career start against Northwestern? It looks like a strong possibility after Rocky Lombardi struggled against Indiana.
(Last week: 12)