B1G QB Power Rankings, Week 9: Peyton Ramsey’s unlikely moment has arrived
Breaking down everything you need to know about the Big Ten’s quarterbacks.
1. Justin Fields (Ohio State)
It’s wild that we’re only 1 game removed from Fields tossing 3 interceptions, even though that game will have been 4 weeks prior to Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game against Northwestern. Fields is likely itching to get back on the field at this point. In potentially his final tune-up before the College Football Playoff, Fields gets a Northwestern defense that is No. 1 in the country in yards allowed per pass attempt (5.0) and that is limiting opposing passers to a completion percentage of 51.3. Fields, with an FBS-best 78.1 completion percentage, should be up to the task.
(Last week: 1)
2. Jack Tuttle (Indiana)
Tuttle will make his second start this week, and it should come under much less harrowing circumstances than his first. After being thrust into the starting lineup against a Wisconsin pass defense that allows the fifth-fewest yards per game in the country, Tuttle now has had 2 weeks to prepare for Purdue’s 94th-ranked pass defense. The caveat, because it’s 2020, is we don’t know which key players from either team will be out due to COVID, as both teams had paused practice last week.
(Last week: 2)
3. Peyton Ramsey (Northwestern)
If you’d told Peyton Ramsey 16 months ago that after losing his starting job to Michael Penix Jr., he would be the starting quarterback in a Big Ten Championship Game, he probably wouldn’t have believed you. The Indiana transfer now has 30 starts on his resume and an even 15-15 record in those. Obviously, none are as big as Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game against Ohio State. In fact, Ramsey has only played in 1 bowl game, which was a 1-point loss to Tennessee in last year’s Gator Bowl.
To this point, Ramsey’s 2020 season has gone about as expected: Few highlights, few lowlights and a lot of average QB play. He is just 11th in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (174), QB rating (116.2) and yards per attempt (5.8), but he does have 9 passing TDs (3 more than Northwestern had in 12 games last season). Northwestern’s offense isn’t exactly chock full of weapons, either. Without Ramsey, Northwestern would probably be around where it was last season, near the bottom of the West. With him, the Wildcats are West champs. Ramsey certainly has a case as one of the most valuable players in the Big Ten.
And while he isn’t exactly going into this game on a high note — he threw for 82 yards and a TD in the easy win over Illinois — there is reason for optimism. Playing in rainy and windy conditions, Ramsey was never going to put up big numbers. And from Northwestern’s perspective, it was nice that he didn’t need to. Ramsey only attempted 12 passes, a dramatic shift from the 41 he had averaged over his previous 3 outings. The conditions made that unwise; the emergence of the running game made it unnecessary. Still, Ramsey averaged more yards per attempt (6.8) than he had in the previous 4 games.
In order to keep it close against the Buckeyes, Ramsey has to have a huge game against a defense that ranks last in the Big Ten against the pass. Two years ago, he threw for 322 yards and 3 TDs against Ohio State. Can he do it again?
(Last week: 6)
4. Jack Plummer (Purdue)
Plummer’s emergence after a season-ending injury to Aidan O’Connell will make this another interesting QB battle in the offseason. Each has made 3 starts this season, and Plummer has the edge in completion percentage (71-64.7), yards (938-916), yards per attempt (7.6-6.7) and TD passes (8-7). To be fair, Plummer is 0-3 as the starter, while O’Connell was 2-1. To be fair again, Plummer (and QB play in general) hasn’t been the issue.
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(Last week: 3)
5. Tanner Morgan (Minnesota)
Morgan has still yet to throw multiple TD passes in a game, something he did in 10 of 13 games last season. He has also yet to throw for 270 yards in a game, something he did in 6 games last season. And yet, I’m not sure he’s playing all that worse. He had NFL-caliber wideouts in Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman last year; now he is without both of them. And with a hot running back and an offensive line that is much better run blocking than pass protecting, it makes sense. It would, however, be nice to see Minnesota turn Morgan loose more often next season.
(Last week: 5)
6. Sean Clifford (Penn State)
Clifford didn’t throw an interception for just the second game this season. That’s something he’ll have to improve upon in 2021. Even in a tough year, the chemistry Clifford has developed with Parker Washington and Jahan Dotson has to excite Penn State fans.
(Last week: 7)
7. Spencer Petras (Iowa)
Don’t look now, but Petras looks like he is finally settling in. Petras had more INT (5) than TD passes (4) and was averaging just 5.9 yards per attempt through 6 games, but over the last 2 games, including a win over Wisconsin, he had 5 TD passes, 0 INTs and is averaging 8.1 yards per attempt.
(Last week: 11)
8. Graham Mertz (Wisconsin)
Mertz is the inverse of Petras. He has hit a freshman wall; or more accurately, he hasn’t had his full complement of weapons the last 3 games. Starting wideouts Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor sat again, as did starting running back Jalen Berger. After averaging 8.7 yards per attempt and throwing 5 TDs with no INTs in his first 2 games, Mertz has averaged 5.3 yards per attempt with 1 TD and 5 INTs over the last 3.
(Last week: 4)
9. Adrian Martinez (Nebraska)
Martinez’s downfield accuracy is still lacking, even while his completion percentage has climbed all the way up to 68.3. This passing attack just isn’t clicking. Martinez is throwing a TD pass once every 41 attempts; down from 25.2 as a sophomore and 20.4 as a freshman. This was the 11th fewest passing yards for a QB who has attempted 27 or more pass attempts.
(Last week: 8)
10. Taulia Tagovailoa (Maryland)
Tagovailoa missed the loss against Rutgers after a positive COVID test. In Tagovailoa’s absence, Lance LeGendre threw 2 INTs in 10 passes before giving way to Eric Najarian. The latter threw for 224 yards and 2 TDs. It’s unlikely Tagovailoa plays this week, either, so an up-and-down sophomore season in which he was second in the Big Ten in yards per attempt (8.3) but tied Rocky Lombardi for the highest interception rate (1 per 17.4 pass attempts) is likely over.
(Last week: 9)
11. Payton Thorne (Michigan State)
Thorne’s first start went about as well as he could’ve hoped. For a Michigan State squad in the market for a QB of the future, throwing for 325 yards and 3 TDs against a Penn State defense that allowed more than 170 yards just twice this season counts as major progress.
(Last week: 13)
12. Cade McNamara/Joe Milton (Michigan)
Whoever starts the season finale has a head start on the QB battle for 2021. They’ll need it as 5-star QB J.J. McCarthy, slated on Wednesday to become Michigan’s highest QB signee since Ryan Mallett in 2007, will be squarely in the mix.
(Last week: 10)
13. Brandon Peters (Illinois)
Is this it for Peters, who was benched for the second straight game in the loss against Northwestern? Peters has completed 5 of his last 24 passes, if you can believe it. With Lovie Smith getting fired on Sunday, who knows where the Illini go from here.
(Last week: 12)
14. Noah Vedral (Rutgers)
Rutgers won 3 Big Ten games playing 3 QBs. Think of what the Scarlet Knights can do once they actually find their QB of the future.
(Last week: 14)