B1G QB rankings entering Week 4: Will the league's true No. 1 QB please stand and delivery
If this is what it looks like in September, when the weather is nice and many of the opponents are weak … the Big Ten may set back quarterback play by decades this season.
With only 2 teams returning established starters, the league was due for some growing pains at the game’s most important position. And teams are experiencing those to varying degrees. It’s not real fun to be the man at Illinois, Michigan State or Minnesota right now.
Things got truly bizarre in Week 3 when Michigan’s JJ McCarthy threw 3 picks in only 13 attempts in a 31-6 victory over Bowling Green. Why trash a Heisman campaign this early in a season? Did Jim Harbaugh sign off on the approach in the final game of his suspension? As a second-year starter, McCarthy remains far from having peaked and should be working on all facets of his game week in and week out.
Right now, the top and bottom of the rankings are muddled — B1G time. As league play picks up, the order will sort itself out. But for now, we’re going to have some snarky fun to highlight how convoluted the competition remains entering Week 4 …
14. Jeff Sims, Nebraska
Week 3: vs. Northern Illinois (W, 35-11), DNP-injury
Season: 110.0 ypg, 58.8%, TD, 4 INTs, 99.36 rating
Sims wasn’t recovered enough from a left ankle injury suffered in last week’s prime time lost to Deion Sanders’ Colorado to suit up. In his absence, Heinrich Haarberg made a serious case to take the QB1 job from the Georgia Tech transfer. In his first action since a high school game in 2020, the 6-5, 215-pound Haarberg went 14-of-24 for 158 yards and 2 TDs. He also ran 21 times for 98 yards and a score. The only blemish was a lost fumble, but Sims turned the ball over 6 times in losing his first 2 starts for the Huskers. QB competition? Matt Rhule won’t say. But we will: If Sims gets healthy and remains the starter, he’ll have to prove he’s not the worst starting QB in the Big Ten.
Up next: vs. Louisiana Tech (2-2)
13.75. Athan Kaliakmanis, Minnesota
Week 3: at No. 20 North Carolina (L, 31-13), 11-29, 133 yards, INT
Season: 158.7 ypg, 51.1%, TD, 3 INTs, 90.64 rating
After this dud, the former 4-star recruit carries the worst QB rating and completion percentage among B1G starters. If Nebraska hadn’t gifted the Gophers a win in Week 1, PJ Fleck and Kaliakmanis would be facing even more criticism. Games at Northwestern and vs. Louisiana the next 2 weeks might provide temporary relief.
Up next: at Northwestern (1-2)
13.5. Luke Altmyer, Illinois
Week 3: vs. Penn State (L, 30-13), 15-28, 163 yards, 4 INTs
Season: 190.3 ypg, 63.4%, 3 TDs, 7 INTs, 116.91 rating
After leading the Illini in rushing for the season’s first 2 weeks, the transfer from Ole Miss managed only 6 yards on 4 carriers. Forced to stand and deliver by a disciplined Penn State defense, he delivered 4 throws to the other team — and a couple more could have been picked. Perhaps Ball State transfer John Paddock (10-16, 129 yards, TD vs. Nittany Lions) can provided the tough-minded game management that Bret Bielema usually prefers. But the third-year coach hasn’t broached that subject yet.
Up next: vs. Florida Atlantic (1-2)
13.25. Ben Bryant, Northwestern
Week 3: at No. 21 Duke (L, 38-14), 17-34, 123 yards, TD, INT
Season: 136.0 ypg, 55.2%, 2 TDs, 3 INTs, 95.26 rating
The transfer from Cincinnati probably isn’t long for the starting job, unless interim coach David Braun wants to keep his future leaders out of harm’s way during a lost season. Brendan Sullivan went 5-of-6 for 40 yards in mop-up duty, and he has 2 years of eligibility remaining after this one. Bryant is a 6th-year senior who has switched campuses each of the past 3 years. Right now, he has the 2nd worst QB rating among B1G starters and a woeful offense around him. Allowing him to finish out a lame-duck term doesn’t make much sense from this vantage point.
Up next: vs. Minnesota (2-1)
13. Tayven Jackson, Indiana
Week 3: vs. Louisville (L, 21-14), 24-34, 299 yards, TD, INT
Season: 186.3 ypg, 71.7%, TD, INT, 151.10 rating
Jackson, who has clearly taken the QB job from Game 1 starter Brendan Sorsby, nearly rallied the Hoosiers from the 21-point hole they dug in the first half. He even produced Indiana’s first TD pass of the season, a 30-yard connection with do-it-all Jaylin Lucas.
Up next: vs. Akron (1-2)
12. Cade McNamara, Iowa
Week 3: vs. Western Michigan (W, 41-10), 9-19, 103 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
Season: 139.0 ypg, 53.5%, 4 TDs, 3 INTs, 112.99 rating
Since the first quarter of the Hawkeyes’ opener, the Michigan transfer has thrown more picks (3) than TDs (2) while completing barely 50% of his passes. He lost another 33 yards on the ground (now minus-45 on the season) as the Broncos recorded 4 sacks. So much for changing the dynamics of quarterback play in Iowa City. Spencer Petras 2.0? McNamara gets a chance to prove otherwise Saturday night at Penn State. Good luck — the Lions just had 4 picks vs. Illinois.
Up next: at No. 7 Penn State (3-0)
11. Gavin Wimsatt, Rutgers
Week 3: vs. Virginia Tech (W, 35-16), 7-16, 46 yards, TD
Season: 135.7 ypg, 51.5%, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 118.32 rating
Wimsatt produced more on the ground (87 yards, TD on 11 carries) than through the air, but you can’t argue with the results. The Scarlet Knights are 3-0, and Wimsatt and Penn State’s Drew Allar are the only B1G starters who haven’t thrown a pick. Reality likely will set in at Michigan — which has the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense — in an early game Saturday.
Up next: at No. 2 Michigan (3-0)
10-6. The great unwashed middle
This is the awful strata where NIL money dries up, starters fall into the abyss and backups inherit situations they wouldn’t wish on spoiled Heisman candidates.
5. Noah Kim, Michigan State
Week 3: vs. No. 8 Washington (L, 41-7), 12-31, 136 yards, INT
Season: 235.7 ypg, 57.1%, 5 TDs, 1 INT, 145.10 rating
In Kim’s 3rd career start, he and the troubled MSU program ran into a buzzsaw. He fell from 1st to 5th in the B1G in passing yards per game. After getting thoroughly outplayed at home in a matchup with Heisman candidate Michael Penix Jr., he’ll take on another multi-year standout in Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa.
Up next: vs. Maryland (3-0)
4. Tanner Mordecai, Wisconsin
Week 3: vs. Georgia Southern (W, 35-14), 19-30, 236 yards
Season: 234.3 ypg, 67.3%, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 128.36 rating
The transfer from SMU played a clean game and contributed another 36 yards and 2 TDs with his legs. This is what the Dairy Raid offense looks like? Mordecai will try to keep milking it Friday night at Purdue.
Up next: at Purdue (1-2)
3. Hudson Card, Purdue
Week 3: vs. Syracuse (L, 35-20), 32-46, 323 yards, TD, INT
Season: 275.0 ypg, 65.5%, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 135.64 rating
The transfer from Texas put up solid passing numbers and also ran 5 yards for a score against an Orange team that remains undefeated. The Boilers’ shortcomings don’t center around the QB position, unlike several of their league brethren. Card will match up with Wisconsin and SMU transfer Tanner Mordecai on Friday night (7 p.m. ET, FS1).
Up next: vs. Wisconsin (2-1)
2.75. Kyle McCord, Ohio State
Week 3: vs. Western Kentucky (W, 63-10), 19-23, 318 yards, 3 TDs
Season: 271.7 ypg, 69.7%, 6 TDs, 1 INT, 183.24 rating
After bizarrely freezing out his top receivers in Game 1, McCord has found his rhythm — not to mention Marvin Harrison Jr. (5-126-1 vs. the Hilltoppers), Emeka Egbuka (4-57-2) and TE Cade Stover (5-90). He ranks in the top 3 in the B1G in passing yards, completion percentage, TDs and rating. He can prove his upward trajectory is legit in Saturday’s showdown at No. 9 Notre Dame.
Up next: at No. 9 Notre Dame (4-0)
2.5. Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland
Week 3: vs. Virginia (W, 42-14), 19-30, 342 yards, TD
Season: 296.3 ypg, 65.7%, 5 TDs, 2 INTs, 154.73 rating
The 5th-year senior rallied the Terps with 42 unanswered points, proving once again that he knows what to do against inferior foes. Tagovailoa now leads the B1G in passing yards per game and ranks 14th in the country. He’ll try to get the Terps to 4-0 Saturday at suddenly reeling Michigan State, which is 12th in the B1G and 99th in the nation in pass defense.
Up next: at Michigan State (2-1)
2.25. Drew Allar, Penn State
Week 3: vs. Illinois (W, 30-13), 16-33, 208 yards
Season: 245.7 ypg, 67.9%, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, 142.40 rating
The 2022 5-star recruit played another turnover-free game, and his numbers were hurt by a couple of dropped passes. Under pressure from Jer’Zhan Newton and others, he also was less accurate in his first road start than in 2 homes games to start the season. He helped the run game with 6 carries for 24 yards. It was not a bad effort, just a less-good one. Saturday night’s White Out vs. Iowa will be his biggest test yet, and a chance to prove he belongs in the discussion for best QB in the B1G.
Up next: vs. Iowa (3-0)
2. JJ McCarthy, Michigan
Week 3: vs. Bowling Green (W, 31-6), 8-13, 143 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs
Season: 233.7 ypg, 82.4%, 7 TDs, 3 INTs, 194.10 rating
So, the Wolverines and their 2021 5-star QB are bored and complacent 3 games into the season? Of course any Heisman campaign is secondary to a national title quest, but that still doesn’t explain this performance or coaching approach. There were 109,955 customers in Michigan Stadium who got short-changed on Saturday. Everyone’s entitled to an off day, but going through the motions isn’t the best way to get better while dispatching an inferior opponent.
Up next: vs. Rutgers (3-0)
1. TBD, maybe in Week 4
McCord faces a major test in a top 10 showdown with Notre Dame, giving him a chance to put Ohio State back atop this list as it was for most of predecessor CJ Stroud’s 2-year starting career. … McCarthy can maybe prove something with a bounce back against feisty and undefeated Rutgers. … If Allar excels and extends his turnover-free streak vs. Iowa’s stout defense, he’ll remain in the mix for the top spot. … Tagovailoa and Maryland can get to 4-0 with a win at suddenly lifeless Michigan State.
Someone — please! — prove worthy of the top spot and earn the Big Ten some QB cred.