B1G QB Power Rankings, Week 8: Justin Fields may not win the Heisman, but he's having a special season nonetheless
Breaking down everything you need to know about the Big Ten’s quarterbacks.
1. Justin Fields, Ohio State
Fields’ lack of games and his 3-INT performance against Indiana probably ended his Heisman campaign. The way Kyle Trask and Mac Jones are slinging it, it may not have even mattered what kind of season Fields had due to him playing 4 or 5 fewer games.
But I’m not sure Fields cares all that much, as he seems laser-focused on winning. Quarterbacks who are just thinking about their stats don’t sprint 60 yards to throw a block on a TD run by a running back. And the way Fields weathered the storm from a brutal first drive from the offensive line was fun to watch. Fields is still having a terrific season statistically, as his yards per attempt are up to 10.3 from 9.2 and his completion percentage is at 78.1 (best in the country).
Ohio State blocks this up perfectly and it's probably a touchdown anyways, but watch Justin Fields *sprint* down the field to make a block to ensure the score. Love that mentality from him. pic.twitter.com/u08TkkNrPp
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) December 5, 2020
As long as Fields stays healthy (and COVID-free), Ohio State is a national title contender. Well, assuming they get enough games in.
(Last week: 1)
2. Jack Tuttle (Indiana)
It speaks to Tuttle’s strong performance at Wisconsin and the lack of quality QB play in the Big Ten that he gets the No. 2 spot on this list. Tuttle’s line (13-of-22 for 130 yards and 2 TDs) looks a whole lot better when you consider he should have had another 53-yard TD but Miles Marshall dropped the walk-in score. Going against the No. 1 defense in the country in terms of total yards per game, Tuttle was nothing short of terrific in his first start for the injured Michael Penix Jr. Now, can Tuttle keep this going? The Old Oaken Bucket game with Purdue is always intense, and then the Hoosiers will probably get Iowa in the crossover, followed by a potential New Year’s Six bowl.
— Stadium (@Stadium) December 5, 2020
(Last week: NR)
3. Jack Plummer (Purdue)
Plummer isn’t the problem for Purdue, which finished with minus-2 rushing yards in the loss to Nebraska. After throwing for 334 yards and 3 TDs, Plummer has completed 71 percent of his passes (up from 59.8 last season), with 8 TDs and 2 interceptions. Plummer is force-feeding David Bell (10 catches, 132 yards) and Rondale Moore (13 catches, 78 yards), as he should.
(Last week: 4)
4. Graham Mertz (Wisconsin)
There’s no doubt that Mertz is struggling right now with 6 turnovers in the last 2 games, but he has gone against two of the B1G’s best defenses (Northwestern and Indiana). He set the bar so incredibly high with 7 TDs and no interceptions in his first 2 starts, so it’s hard to remember he is just a freshman. It won’t be any easier this week against an Iowa defense that hasn’t allowed more than 25 points since 2018.
(Last week: 3)
5. Tanner Morgan (Minnesota)
Morgan hasn’t exactly lit up the box score with Rashod Bateman; and without the star wideout, who recently opted out of the rest of the season, Morgan’s numbers are likely to take a hit. I’d say Minnesota will rely on the run game more, but I don’t think that’s possible.
(Last week: 5)
6. Peyton Ramsey (Northwestern)
This week against Illinois is a get-right game for Ramsey and the Wildcats, who are likely to see Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship and then play in a high-profile bowl game. Iowa’s Spencer Petras just tore up the Illinois secondary, so Ramsey should be able to, as well.
(Last week: 6)
7. Sean Clifford (Penn State)
Penn State took some of the weight off Clifford’s shoulders by having Will Levis (17 carries) come in to run the ball in the win over Rutgers. Clifford is a strong runner, but having him run 17 times or more in the first 3 games probably contributed to his rocky start. He doesn’t have double-digit carries in any of the last 4. Though he has a B1G-leading 9 interceptions, he is also third in TD passes with 12.
(Last week: 9)
8. Adrian Martinez (Nebraska)
The QB rotation is on hold, for now, after Martinez took control in the win at Purdue. Nebraska had rotated Adrian Martinez and Luke McCaffrey for almost the entire season, but the Huskers appear to be rolling with just 1 QB now. That’s because Martinez has been really good the last 2 weeks, completing 41 of 50 (92 percent) passes for 416 yards (8.3 yards per attempt). Can Martinez keep it up? Time will tell. But this was the best 2-game stretch of Martinez’s career since his freshman season. He didn’t have any game as a sophomore in which he completed more than 65 percent of his passes; as a junior, he has 3 in 4 starts.
One of the areas I felt Adrian Martinez needed to work on was his touch. Martinez still has plenty of upside IMO. This throw from Martinez to Wan’Dale Robinson was really impressive and a great depiction of working progressions well.
Great stuff IMO. pic.twitter.com/ett2woDGSd
— ᴄᴀᴍᴇʀᴏɴ ᴘᴀʀᴋᴇʀᴾᴼ (@CameronParkerPO) December 5, 2020
(Last week: 13)
9. Taulia Tagovailoa (Maryland)
Tagovailoa should get a chance to pad his stats this weekend as Rutgers has allowed a B1G-worst 18 TD passes and has just 4 interceptions, a far cry from the Indiana defense he faced last time out.
(Last week: 7)
10. Cade McNamara/Joe Milton (Michigan)
As of Monday, it’s unknown if Michigan will play Ohio State on Saturday. And it’s unknown who would be the starting QB if there is a game. Considering the animus Ohio State has for Michigan and the talent gap, it could be ugly. On the bright side, Ohio State doesn’t have the same fearsome pass rush of 2019, when Chase Young was mauling offensive linemen. For whoever starts, a smart game plan would be to stay away from Shaun Wade and Sevyn Banks on the outside and instead target the middle against slot corner Marcus Williamson. Ohio State is allowing a B1G-worst 268.8 passing yards per game.
(Last week: 8)
11. Spencer Petras (Iowa)
Petras deserves a ton of credit for hanging in there. Plenty, including yours truly, felt as though backup Alex Padilla should at least be considered while Iowa wins in spite of Petras, not because of him. In the win over Illinois, in which the Hawkeyes got down 14 early, Iowa won because of Petras. This throw to Shaun Beyer all but ended the game, as this Iowa defense doesn’t seem likely to blow 14-point, fourth-quarter leads anytime soon.
Spencer Petras hits Shaun Beyer for a 16 yard TD giving Iowa (-13.5) a 28-14 lead
— Bet The Pigskin (@betthepigskin) December 5, 2020
Winners of 5 straight, the Hawkeyes can finish second in the West with a win over Wisconsin, which boasts the No. 1 defense in the country, allowing just 229.3 yards per game.
(Last week: 14)
12. Brandon Peters (Illinois)
Peters’ final game at Memorial Stadium didn’t go as he’d hoped. After starting the loss against Iowa by going 8-of-8 for 101 yards and 2 TDs, he completed only 2 of his next 10 passes for 15 yards and got pulled for Isaiah Williams. Peters has played well this season, with 3 TD passes and no INTs, and last season he led Illinois to its only bowl game since 2015. Will he get another start? Probably, as Lovie Smith is fighting for his job. But sooner or later, Williams needs to get an extended look. The former 4-star recruit is very athletic, but at only 5-foot-10, he has struggled as a passer, and Illinois needs to figure out what position he will play moving forward.
(Last week: 10)
13. Rocky Lombardi/Payton Thorne (Michigan State)
When Lombardi was knocked out of the Ohio State game due to injury, Payton Thorne came on in relief and once again showed promise. He looked comfortable, hung in the pocket under pressure and made some quality throws, despite the Spartans being wildly overmatched at most positions. Thorne started 11-of-11 passing with a rushing TD before throwing an interception to Shaun Wade.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) December 5, 2020
This seems like high praise for a player who has completed 56.5 percent of his passes and has no TD passes and 2 interceptions, but consider that in both games in which Thorne has played more than mop-up duty, he has looked better than Lombardi. He does little things well (he is a coach’s son, after all), like when his protection collapsed, he had great timing in quickly pivoting to a wide receiver near the sideline and throwing it over his head, out of bounds. Not taking a sack and killing the momentum is an underrated skill that plenty of college QBs struggle with. Some would even say Justin Fields struggles in that area. That a redshirt freshman who has yet to make a start has this down says a lot. Come to think of it, maybe Thorne should get that first start.
(Last week: 12)
14. Noah Vedral (Rutgers)
Vedral completed 17 of 30 passes for a pitiful 113 yards (3.8 yards per attempt). There have only been 3 other QBs this season (Kellen Mond, Tyrrell Pigrome and Tommy Devito) to throw for fewer yards while attempting 30 or more passes.
(Last week: 11)