It’s been the oddest season for quarterback play in the Big Ten in a long time.

One might have to switch sports and go cinematic to find an apt parallel.

Relatively speaking, is this the damnedest season since the Durham Bulls couldn’t lose and Susan Sarandon couldn’t get laid?


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Many fans around B1G country must be about as frustrated as Sarandon character Annie Savoy in the movie Bull Durham by young men who aren’t delivering the right mix of patience, touch and timing. Lord knows the desire is there. They’re trying.

The best the B1G has to offer remain at times cumbersome and mechanical in technique, worried more about avoiding wrong moves than truly flourishing. True artistry comes in flashes, the potential for more brimming just below the surface for the QBs of the B1G’s Big 3.

When you get to the dregs of the league, though, oh boy. The Big Ten has 4 of the 15 worst passing offenses in the FBS. The QBs at Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Rutgers need to face defenses as easy as Bull Durham’s Millie to have a chance to score on the regular.

That said, there’s still hope for fans of offense in general and quarterback play in particular. Some of these guys are capable of playing the position with joy and verve and poetry. There were hints of that Saturday even as rain poured down reminiscent of the opening scene in the best baseball movie ever made.

Some of these guys eventually will go to The Show. A bit more seasoning at the minor league level might be all that’s needed. There are a few million dollar arms in this league attached to strapping young men who might yet prove themselves capable of rising to a challenge.

The first such challenge comes this weekend, with Drew Allar and Penn State traveling to Columbus take on Kyle McCord and Ohio State. It’s a matchup of 2 of the best 3 QBs in the Big Ten, both of them first-year starters. Meanwhile, JJ McCarthy and Michigan will be at Michigan State, where anything short of an 8th straight dominant performance would be a stunner. McCarthy just put his best work of the season on film Saturday against visiting Indiana.

McCarthy, one of the more experienced QBs in the league as a 2nd-year starter, won’t truly get to prove himself until the Wolverines face the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes in Weeks 11 and 13. Right now, Michigan’s run-heavy offense ranks 70th in passing yards per game.

None of the B1G top 3 QBs have to enter the NFL Draft in 2024, and Allar, as a true sophomore, can’t. So the best is yet to come, regardless of what happens this weekend and/or in November. At some point, the pitch counts will go away and the 5-star talents will have the chance to prove themselves as leaders and big-play makers, not just game-managers.

And then the incoming Pac-12 teams will add a whole new dynamic to the soon to be 18-team Big Ten. Right now, USC, Oregon and Washington boast serious Heisman candidates, perhaps the top 3 favorites prior to Week 7’s results. Caleb Williams, Bo Nix and Michael Penix Jr. won’t remain in college to try their luck against B1G defenses. Only Williams has the option, and the 2022 Heisman winner seems as NFL-ready as he’s ever going to be.

Nonetheless, those 3 programs plus UCLA aren’t going to join the B1G and suddenly turn into Iowa on offense. I mean, God, please, no. Penix, Indiana’s starter just 2 years ago, is throwing for an FBS-leading 383.5 yards per game for No. 7 Washington (6-0). That’s 174.5 yards per game more than Allar, 167.5 more than McCarthy and 108.3 more than McCord. Again, that’s per game. Penix threw for a season-low 302 yards in the Huskies’ showdown victory over Oregon on Saturday. No one in the B1G hit the 300 mark in Week 7, though, to be fair, the Big 3 spent the fourth quarters of their blowouts on the sideline.

Right now, only McCarthy, a true junior like Williams, makes anyone’s top 10 Heisman list out of the B1G. But McCord and Allar are lurking, thanks to leading undefeated, top-10 teams. At least one of them should get a bump after their meeting Saturday.

While we’re waiting for the B1G’s true Nuke LaLoosh-type personality to emerge, here’s where the league’s 14 signal-callers stand entering Week 8:

14. Deacon Hill, Iowa

Week 7: at Wisconsin (W, 15-6), 6-14, 37 yards
Season: 51.8 ypg, 38.6%, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 79.61 rating

The joke keeps writing itself as Brian Ferentz cooks up the blandest offensive stew possible with his limited ingredients. And yet the joke is on the rest of the B1G West, which can’t beat the Hawkeyes even with backup Hill at the helm providing nothing but ball security (at best) to the offense. With Erick All (team-leading 19 yards on 2 catches before getting injured) joining fellow TE Luke Lachey and QB Cade McNamara on the sidelines, Hill will do a lot of handing off to Leshon Williams going forward.

Up next: vs. Minnesota

13. Athan Kaliakmanis, Minnesota

Week 7: Bye
Season: 132.8 ypg, 55.9%, 6 TDs, 6 INTs, 110.84 rating

Kaliakmanis goes against Iowa next in a matchup of the 2 worst passing offenses outside of the triple-option schemed military academies. Don’t blame NBC if the broadcast seems to be freezing up or running at half-speed. That’s just Minnesota OCs Matt Simon and Greg Harbaugh Jr. joining counterpart Brian Ferentz to set back college football by a century.

Up next: at Iowa

12. Tayven Jackson, Indiana

Week 7: at Michigan (L, 52-7), 7-13, 52 yards, 2 INTs
Season: 152.3 ypg, 60.9%, 2 TDs, 5 INTs, 118.27 rating

Jackson, a transfer from Tennessee, shared QB duties with Brendan Sorsby as the underdog Hoosiers tried to cross up No. 2 Michigan at the Big House. It worked for an early 7-0 lead. After that, not so much. Sorsby (6-15 passing for 44 yards) did some damage with his legs and might continue to share the job going forward.

Up next: vs. Rutgers

11. Gavin Wimsatt, Rutgers

Week 7: vs. Michigan State (W, 27-24), 13-28, 181 yards, TD, 2 INTs
Season: 156.4 ypg, 50.9%, 7 TDs, 4 INTs, 114.25 rating

Rutgers rallied to win with 2 huge special teams plays and a heavy dose of RB Kyle Monangai. Wimsatt managed the offense OK after 2 early picks, but completed less than 50% of his passes for the 4th time in 7 games. In the odd stat department, he has exactly 1 TD pass in each game this season.

Up next: at Indiana

10. Ben Bryant, Northwestern

Week 7: Bye
Season: 185.2 ypg, 59.0%, 6 TDs, 3 INTs, 115.90 rating

The transfer from Cincinnati didn’t play in last week’s win over Howard because of a sore shoulder. If he’s recovered from a hard hit vs. Penn State, he’ll lead the Wildcats in a bowl-eligibility elimination game at Nebraska. Both teams are 3-3 with tough roads ahead. If Bryant can’t go, redshirt sophomore Brendan Sullivan again would start after going 13-of-18 for 131 yards and 2 TDs in a 23-20 victory over Howard.

Up next: at Nebraska

9. Tanner Mordecai, Wisconsin

Week 7: vs. Iowa (L, 15-6), 12-20, 106 yards
Season: 188.0 ypg, 63.7%, 3 TDs, 3 INTs, 118.81 rating

The transfer from SMU left the game after slamming his throwing hand into a helmet on a follow-through. He’s expected to miss some time, and Braedyn Locke (15-30, 122 yards, INT vs. the Hawkeyes) presumably will start this Saturday at Illinois. The Badgers’ revamped offense remains rough.

Up next: at Illinois

8. Hudson Card, Purdue

Week 7: vs. Ohio State (L, 41-7), 13-32, 126 yards, TD
Season: 231.0 ypg, 60.6%, 7 TDs, 5 INTs, 121.10 rating

The transfer from Texas had his lowest yardage total of the season and 1st game with sub-50% completions as the Boilermakers were overmatched by No. 3 Ohio State.

Up next: Bye

7. Luke Altmyer, Illinois

Week 7: at Maryland (W, 27-24), 16-28, 206 yards, 2 TDs, INT
Season: 224.4 ypg, 63.3%, 8 TDs, 9 INTs, 127.68 rating

The transfer from Ole Miss shook off 5 sacks, gaining 54 yards on his other 8 rush attempts. He completed back-to-back passes for 41 yards and ran for another 9 to set up the Illini’s walk-off field goal.

Up next: vs. Wisconsin

6. Katin Houser, Michigan State

Week 7: at Rutgers (L, 27-24), 18-29, 133 yards, 2 TDs
Season: 58.2 ypg, 60.0%, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 124.55 rating

Coming off their bye week, the Spartans moved on from Noah Kim in favor of 2022 4-star recruit Houser. The 6-3, 215-pound redshirt freshman led a 14-play TD drive on his first possession as the starter, going 4-for-4 for 42 yards and the score. He added his first rushing TD in the second quarter, but special teams mistakes allowed Rutgers to score 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. Houser is now the man, but the challenges get tougher from here on out with the B1G’s Big 3 ahead on the schedule.

Up next: vs. Michigan

5. Heinrich Haarberg, Nebraska

Week 7: Bye
Season: 105.2 ypg, 52.1%, 4 TDs, 2 INTs, 116.87 rating

Haarberg has started in place of Jeff Sims for 4 straight games, going 3-1 to resuscitate Matt Rhule’s debut season as head coach. The 6-5, 215-pound sophomore from Kearney plays a dual-threat game that has gotten the Huskers moving. He leads the team in passing yards and TDs and also rushing yards (352, 5.1 per carry) and TDs (3).

Up next: vs. Northwestern

4. Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland

Week 7: vs. Illinois (L, 27-24), 27-39, 266 yards, 2 TDs
Season: 275.1 ypg, 63.9%, 16 TDs, 5 INTs, 146.02 rating

The 5th-year senior didn’t do much with his legs but otherwise played a solid game. He leads the B1G with 16 TD passes. He’s raised Maryland’s ceiling since arriving in 2020, but won’t crack the Top 25 barrier as a Terp.

Up next: Bye

3. Drew Allar, Penn State

Week 7: vs. UMass (W, 63-0), 16-23, 162 yards, 3 TDs
Season: 209.0 ypg, 65.2%, 12 TDs, 0 INTs, 145.27 rating

The 2022 5-star recruit has yet to commit a turnover in college through 16 appearances, 241 pass attempts, 52 rush attempts and however many handoffs. He continued to form bonds with his tight ends, hitting Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren a combined 6 times for 80 yards and 3 TDs. Allar’s toughest test yet comes Saturday against Ohio State.

Up next: at Ohio State

2. Kyle McCord, Ohio State

Week 7: at Purdue (W, 41-7), 16-28, 276 yards, 3 TDs
Season: 275.2 ypg, 64.1%, 11 TDs, 1 INT, 165.87 rating

McCord’s comfort level working with standout WR Marvin Harrison Jr. continues to grow. Harrison had his 4th 100-yard outing in the past 5 games, and McCord has not thrown a pick since Week 1, with 11 TD passes since then. The first-year starter faces his toughest test yet this Saturday against Penn State, the nation’s No. 1 defense overall and against the pass so far this season.

Up next: vs. Penn State

1. JJ McCarthy, Michigan

Week 7: vs. Indiana (W, 52-7), 14-17, 222 yards, 3 TDs
Season: 216.0 ypg, 78.2%, 14 TDs, 3 INTs, 195.91 rating

The 6-3, 200-pound junior put his full arsenal on display to rally the Wolverines from an early 7-0 hole. Showing off his arm, legs and smarts, McCarthy set up Michigan’s 3rd TD with a nifty flip pass to Donovan Edwards, then bought time and conflicted the defense with a rollout on a 54-yard connection to tight end Colston Loveland to open the second-half scoring. Discounting sacks, he had 6 carries for 50 yards. He ranks 2nd in the country in completion percentage and QB rating, behind Nix and LSU’s Jayden Daniels respectively.

Up next: at Michigan State