B1G QB rankings entering Week 13: Cade McNamara has gone from game manager to Top 3 passer
One last chance.
That’s what quarterbacks in the B1G get to prove themselves in the 2021 regular season. As Dan Fouts says in The Waterboy, “Last game of the year, can’t hold anything back.”
Ranking quarterbacks in the B1G has been quite the challenge in 2021. While a few names have sat at the top for most of the year, there’s been plenty of jostling throughout the season, making it an interesting task each week.
Two of the biggest movers this fall have been Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell and Michigan’s Cade McNamara. O’Connell didn’t even begin the year as the starter for the Boilermakers, and yet he’s currently playing as one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
McNamara started the season in a game manager role, with the simple task of just not turning the ball over. As the season has progressed, he’s transformed into a legitimate offensive weapon for the Wolverines.
Where do those two, as well as the others, stand heading into Rivalry Week? Here we go:
Unranked this week
Donaven McCulley/Jack Tuttle/Michael Penix Jr., Indiana
Andrew Marty/Ryan Hilinski, Northwestern
Spencer Petras/Alex Padilla, Iowa
Noah Vedral, Rutgers
10. Brandon Peters, Illinois
Last week vs. #17 Iowa: 16-of-36, 248 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
The final stat line wasn’t great, but Peters played well enough to give Illinois a shot at another road upset over the weekend. Peters has had an up-and-down season. He’s had some moments where he looks like a Top 5 passer in the league and other times you’re left scratching your head. The senior has been hindered by injuries but he’s played tough for the Fighting Illini. His number don’t necessary reflect that, throwing for 928 yards and 6 touchdowns with a 52.7% completion rate. Saturday, he’ll have one last opportunity to make an impact for the Fighting Illini.
9. Tanner Morgan, Minnesota
Last week vs. Indiana: 14-of-20, 196 yards, 2 TDs
Morgan made history in Bloomington on Saturday, becoming Minnesota’s all-time winningest quarterback. He’s posted 25 career victories under center for the Golden Gophers and has his team sitting at 7-4 this fall. There’s no question that Morgan hasn’t looked nearly as crisp as we’ve expected, but last weekend’s game against the Hoosiers was one of his best performances of the season. Maybe it’s the jolt he, and the offense needs, heading into a rivalry showdown against Wisconsin this weekend. Morgan needs to have a good completion rate and not turn the ball over in order for Minnesota to have a chance.
8. Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland
Last week vs. #6 Michigan: 19-of-33, 178 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT (30 rushing yards, 1 TD)
Since diving into B1G play, Tagovailoa’s performances have been pretty modest. He’s had some big games (performances against Illinois and Indiana come to mind), but he hasn’t been nearly as consistent as he needs to be in order to win games. Part of that is competition, part of it is not having the offensive line and part of it is mental mistakes. There are a lot of factors involved, and not all of it falls on the QB’s shoulder. Tagovailoa is still really talented, but he’s thrown 11 touchdowns with 10 interceptions in conference play. If he plays as well as we know he’s capable, though, he can still lead the Terrapins to a bowl berth this weekend.
7. Graham Mertz, Wisconsin
Last week vs. Nebraska: 12-of-18, 145 yards, 1 TD
What a turnaround for the Wisconsin quarterback. Part of Mertz’s improvement has come because of Wisconsin’s explosive rushing attack, which is opening up more in the passing attack. Plus, the Badgers don’t have to rely on Mertz to throw more than 20 passes in a game very often, a recipe for success in Madison. During this 7-game winning streak, Mertz is averaging just 18 passes per game and has thrown only 3 picks. Unsurprisingly, the Badgers are 8-3 and control their own destiny in the B1G West. More of the same this weekend, and there’s a really good chance Wisconsin is heading back to Indianapolis.
6. Sean Clifford, Penn State
Last week vs. Rutgers: 2-of-8, 23 yards
There isn’t much to say this week about Clifford. He left the game early because of illness, and it was pretty clear he wasn’t quite right. The Penn State drops a spot because of some of the performances around him, but if he’s able to play against Michigan State, there’s a chance for Clifford to climb back into the Top 5 next week.
5. Adrian Martinez, Nebraska
Last week vs. #15 Wisconsin: 23-of-35, 351 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs (1 rushing TD)
Unfortunately, Martinez has played in his final game of the season — potentially his last contest in a Nebraska uniform. The senior suffered a shoulder injury that will keep him out for Saturday’s game against Iowa. Martinez went out scratching, clawing and fighting, accounting for nearly 400 yards of total offense in another 1-possession loss. He’s the epitome of toughness. At 10,693 yards of offense, Martinez owns Nebraska’s all-time record. He deserves a spot in the Top 5 this week.
4. Payton Thorne, Michigan State
Last week vs. #4 Ohio State: 14-of-36, 158 yards, 158 yards, 1 TD
It’s really hard to judge quarterbacks after a game against Ohio State. The Spartans got blitzed (literally and figuratively) in every facet of the game by the Buckeyes. Thorne has been pretty consistent throughout the season and has been responsible for plenty of big plays throughout the year. He still ranks 5th in the B1G in yardage (2,611) and 2 in touchdown passes (22) with a Heisman Trophy-caliber running back behind him. Thorne hasn’t looked nearly as good as he did earlier in the year, but it’s hard to drop him too much after a game in Columbus, where very few have been successful in the recent past.
3. Cade McNamara, Michigan
Last week vs. Maryland: 21-of-28, 259 yards, 2 TDs
From game manager to legitimate weapon. That’s the leap McNamara has made through 12 weeks this season. Michigan started the year leaning heavily on the rushing attack with Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum, but thanks to McNamara’s improvement, Josh Gattis has been open the playbook and take more deep shots down the field. Having that weapon is a huge asset heading into Saturday’s game against Ohio State. McNamara has thrown for 2,142 yards and is posting a completion rate over 64%. Not bad for a first-year starter. But the best numbers in his favor? That 14-touchdown, 2-interception ratio.
2. Aidan O’Connell, Purdue
Last week vs. Northwestern: 29-of-39, 423 yards, 3 TDs
One of the hottest quarterbacks in the country right now. O’Connell has completed at least 74% of his passes in each of the last 6 games and has thrown for 370 yards or more 5 times this year. The Purdue gunslinger hasn’t thrown an interception since the Oct. 23 loss to Wisconsin. Jeff Brohm knows how to put his quarterback in a good situation and O’Connell is executing at an extremely high level. It would’ve been interesting to see where the Boilermakers might be sitting had he started the season as the No. 1 guy, but he’s gotten this team in position for an 8-win regular season. That’s pretty good after back-to-back losing seasons in West Lafayette.
1. CJ Stroud, Ohio State
Last week vs. #7 Michigan State: 32-of-35, 432 yards, 6 TDs
Heisman moment. That’s what CJ Stroud had last weekend in Ohio State’s blowout victory over Michigan State. The freshman had twice as many touchdown passes as interceptions, an absolutely insane stat line against the nation’s No. 7 team. Yes, the Spartans have the nation’s worst pass defense, but making those plays in a big-time matchup isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do. Stroud is playing his best football at the right time. It has the Buckeyes in the hunt for another B1G title and a chance to win a national championship.