B1G QB rankings entering Week 11: Aidan O'Connell rising after another brilliant performance
Week 10 was better than most for quarterbacks in the B1G.
Four quarterbacks threw for over 300 yards last Saturday and multiple others had strong showings. For the first time all season, it created some perplexing decisions when ranking the 10 best in the conference.
Even though he didn’t have his best outing, CJ Stroud still looks like the best quarterback in the league. However, with Aidan O’Connell, Sean Clifford and Taulia Tagovailoa all producing strong outings, the gap might be slightly narrowing.
Not much, just a little.
Traditional game-managers Graham Mertz and Cade McNamara also looked impressive in leading their teams to wins over the weekend. And Brandon Peters has proven to be incredibly efficient over the last two weeks.
For the first time, there were some serious question marks about where guys should rank. So, I tried to sort it out the best I could as we head into Week 11:
Unranked this week
Donaven McCulley/Jack Tuttle/Michael Penix Jr., Indiana
Andrew Marty/Ryan Hilinski, Northwestern
Spencer Petras/Alex Padilla, Iowa
Tanner Morgan, Minnesota
10. Brandon Peters, Illinois
Last week vs. #20 Minnesota: 7-of-9, 80 yards, 1 TD
Illinois hasn’t gotten much out of this rotating quarterback situation this season, but Peters has actually played really well the last 2 weeks. Or at least well enough to put the Illini in a position to win. Over the last 2 games against Rutgers and Minnesota, Peters has completed 21-of-28 passes for 270 yards, 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. Those numbers aren’t going to break any records, but for a run-heavy offense, that’s exactly the kind of production you need. Consistency is key for the Illini.
9. Noah Vedral, Rutgers
Last week vs. #21 Wisconsin: 8-of-16, 81 yards, 2 INTs
Chalk last week’s less-than-stellar performance from Vedral to a Wisconsin defense that is gaining steam as the season goes on. That marked just the second time this time Vedral has tossed an interception in a game –a pair of multi-pick outings against the Buckeyes and Badgers. Nobody is finding much success against Wisconsin this season, so the Rutgers quarterback doesn’t deserve to be criticized too much.
8. Graham Mertz, Wisconsin
Last week vs. Rutgers: 11-of-16, 240 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT
A guy who has been unranked for several weeks takes a big leap. Yes, Mertz jumps into No. 8 after playing Rutgers, but its really a culmination of what he’s done since that dreadful performance against Notre Dame. Mertz hasn’t done anything special in any regard, but he’s completing 56% of his passes with 5 touchdowns and just 2 picks in the last 6 games. It’s no accident the Badgers have won 5 of those, with the lone loss coming to Michigan. It sounds dull, but if Mertz is only throwing 12-15 passes per game and not turning it over, it’s the recipe to success for Wisconsin.
7. Cade McNamara, Michigan
Last week vs. Indiana: 10-of-18, 168 yards, 2 TDs
McNamara is another example of a quarterback who has only gotten more comfortable and more confident as the season has progressed. It’s allowed Jim Harbaugh to open up the playbook and put more trust in the passing attack. McNamara didn’t do much against Indiana, but he threw a pair of touchdown passes and continued to take care of the football. It was good enough for a Michigan victory. He’s up to 9 touchdowns with a 62.5% completion rate and just 2 interceptions. What more could you ask for?
6. Adrian Martinez, Nebraska
Last week vs. #5 Ohio State: 16-of-31, 248 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT (51 rushing yards, 1 TD)
Nobody in the B1G is tougher than Martinez. Scott Frost revealed the senior is playing with a broken jaw and a high-ankle sprain. Despite those injuries, Martinez has kept Nebraska in position to win big-time games against Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and others. At times against Ohio State, he was hitting the deep ball with precision we hadn’t seen earlier in the year. It provided a spark for the Huskers. When it comes to late-game situations, though, Martinez continues to struggle. While he may have taken a hit in the rankings, it’s certainly not for a lack of effort.
5. Payton Thorne, Michigan State
Last week vs. Purdue: 20-of-30, 276 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT (47 rushing yards, 1 TD)
After spending much of the season near the top, Thorne tumbles down a few spots this week. It’s not solely because of his performance against Purdue — he played pretty well on the road against the Boilermakers. But when you look at how he’s played the last 3 weeks, some other guys deserve to be ranked ahead of the Michigan State gunslinger. Thorne has thrown 5 interceptions with just 3 touchdowns in the last 3 outings against Indiana, Michigan and Purdue. For the Spartans to make a run at the B1G title, he has to protect the ball better. Still, it’s hard to argue he’s not a Top 5 quarterback in the league right now.
4. Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland
Last week vs. Penn State: 41-of-57, 371 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
It seems somewhat criminal to have Tagovailoa so far down on this list, especially after playing so well against a stout Penn State defense. He’s still completing over 70% of his passes and has thrown for 2,755 yards with 18 touchdowns. Because Maryland is struggling to compete with teams at the top of the B1G, Tagovailoa is being somewhat overlooked as one of the top passers in the B1G. He still has a few chances left to win a big one, with No. 3 Michigan State and No. 7 Michigan still on the schedule.
3. Sean Clifford, Penn State
Last week vs. Maryland: 27-of-47, 363 yards, 3 TDs
The healthier he gets, the better Clifford is playing. That’s really important with a key 3-game stretch that includes games against No. 7 Michigan, Rutgers and No. 3 Michigan State to close out the year. Clifford played fairly well against Ohio State and gave Penn State a good chance to win. Against Maryland, he was better. Well, at least in helping create explosive plays. His accuracy has been inconsistent, something he must continue to improve upon, but he’s making big plays and not turning the ball over. That’s always a positive sign.
2. Aidan O’Connell, Purdue
Last week vs. #3 Michigan State: 40-of-54, 536 yards, 3 TDs
Recency bias? Maybe a little. But since being named the permanent starter, O’Connell has blossomed into an elite-level B1G quarterback. In his last 4 games, O’Connell has thrown for 1,344 yards with 8 touchdowns, 3 interceptions and a 74.9% completion rate. The Boilermakers are 3-1 with the lone loss to Wisconsin. All 3 of those picks came against the Badgers, too. Having really good targets like David Bell, Milton Wright and Jackson Anthrop certainly helps, but O’Connell is completing passes all over the field right now. It’s putting Purdue in a good position, too.
1. CJ Stroud, Ohio State
Last week vs. Nebraska: 36-of-54, 405 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
For the first time in awhile, Stroud ran into some trouble. The Ohio State quarterback threw 2 picks against the Huskers and didn’t play quite to his standard. A big part of that is because the bar is set so high, Stroud has basically become a victim of his own success. Even with the struggles, the freshman threw for over 400 yards for the third time this season and still hit his targets — which didn’t include Garrett Wilson — at a pretty high clip. Stroud’s touchdown-to-interception ratio is still at 5-to-1. That’s pretty good, isn’t it? Stroud is still the top QB in the conference.