Big Ten quarterback power rankings ahead of Week 5: Tanner Morgan is on the rise
While Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan played a nearly perfect game to dismantle Michigan State, the 2 worst quarterbacks in the Big Ten battled each other in Piscataway.
Something seems poetically right about the Toilet Bowl of QB battles occurring in New Jersey. Iowa’s Spencer Petras led his team to victory, but cemented his spot at the bottom of our list in the process. The Hawkeyes have an offense only a Ferentz could love.
Meanwhile in East Lansing, Morgan, a 6th-year senior and 4th-year starter, pushed his efficiency numbers to near the top of the national charts in a 34-7 thrashing of the Spartans. His effort didn’t push him past Ohio State’s CJ Stroud for our top spot, but it got him close.
Heading into Week 5, this is our assessment of the B1G quarterback hierarchy:
14. Spencer Petras, Iowa
Week 4 stats: 11-17, 148 yards. … Season: 51.1%, 131.0 ypg, TD, 2 INTs, 97.13 rating
Among B1G starting quarterbacks, Petras ranks dead last in completion percentage, TDs thrown, yards per game and QB rating. He’s also the only one in the group with more INTs than TDs.
After a defense-led victory over Rutgers, Petras and the Hawkeyes are also 3-1 and tied for first in the B1G West. But this isn’t the 1950s, and we’re not about to pretend Petras is the reason for the success. Iowa’s ceiling under the Ferentzes is somewhat high only because its division is filled with other limited teams.
13. Evan Simon, Rutgers
Week 4 stats: 28-49, 300 yards, TD, 2 INTs. … Season: 61.8%, 141.5 ypg, 3 TDs, 2 INTs, 121.85 rating
Simon threw his first 2 picks but also moved the ball against Iowa’s stout defense. The overmatched Scarlet Knights suffered their first loss, but their 6-3, 205-pound sophomore backup acquitted himself nicely while continuing to fill in for Noah Vedral.
12. Payton Thorne, Michigan State
Week 4 stats: 17-24, 132 yards, 2 INTs. Season: 65.3%, 225.0 ypg, 7 TDs, 6 INTs, 138.73 rating
Michigan State in faltering badly, and Thorne stands at the forefront of the struggles. Throwing 2 more interceptions, he increased his B1G-worst total to 6. Only 3 FBS quarterbacks have thrown more. And Saturday, he also lost a fumble in the red zone as he was shut out by Minnesota’s defense. Backup quarterback Noah Kim led the Spartans to their only points in garbage time of a 34-7 league-opening loss at home.
Thorne may have just produced the emptiest 70% passing game in NCAA history.
11. Casey Thompson, Nebraska
Week 4 stats: Bye. … Season stats: 65%, 248.8 ypg, 5 TDs, 3 INTs, 145.36 rating
The transfer from Texas, like interim coach Mickey Joseph, had no answers against Oklahoma in Week 3. After a bye, Thompson and the demoralized Huskers will try to salvage some dignity starting at home Saturday evening against Indiana. They’re favored by 3.5 points. Go figure.
10. Connor Bazelak, Indiana
Week 4 stats: 31-66, 280 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs. … Season: 53.5%, 292.8 ypg, 7 TDs, 4 INTs, 109.63 rating
The Missouri transfer racked up stats leading a futile second-half comeback attempt in a 45-24 loss to Cincinnati. After his first loss as a Hoosier, Bazelak will need a better start to get the Hoosiers back on track vs. Nebraska.
9. Graham Mertz, Wisconsin
Week 4 stats: 11-20, 94 yards, TD, INT. … Season: 67.1%, 197.8 ypg, 5 TDs, 3 INTs, 168.95 rating
The former highly-regarded 4-star recruit looked like the B1G washout he is while juxtaposed with CJ Stroud in a 52-21 loss Saturday night in Columbus. He threw a pick on his first attempt and never recovered.
8. Ryan Hilinski, Northwestern
Week 4 stats: 24-42, 232 yards. … Season: 62.3%, 298.5 ypg, 5 TDs, 3 INTs, 122.85 rating
Three straight losses, the latest to the Miami RedHawks of the MAC, has taken the last of the shine off of Hilinski’s hot start to the season. After putting up monster stats through 2 games, the former transfer from South Carolina crashed to Earth with 2 picks in a loss to Southern Illinois and then a lackluster outing in Saturday’s 17-14 loss. The resumption of Big Ten play at Penn State might not be kind to Hilinski.
7. Tommy DeVito, Illinois
Week 4 stats: 23-31, 329 yards, 3 TDs. … Season: 68.8%, 237.8 ypg, 9 TDs, 2 INTs, 151.23 rating
The Syracuse transfer has stabilized the QB position for Bret Bielema, posting solid stats through the Illini’s 3-1 start. After dominating Chattanooga, he’ll have a chance to further prove himself Saturday afternoon at Wisconsin.
6. Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland
Week 4 stats: 20-30, 207 yards, TD, 2 INTs. … Season: 74.6%, 275.5 ypg, 7 TDs, 4 INTs, 165.83 rating
Terrapins fans are still waiting for Tua’s younger brother to find another gear. Taulia still hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent or gotten Mike Locksley’s team into the Top 25. The breakthrough didn’t come against Michigan, and time is running short for the junior 3rd-year starter.
He didn’t finish against the Wolverines, and afterward Locksley said he was dealing with minor knee and rib injuries. Ah, Lia, here we go again.
5. Sean Clifford, Penn State
Week 4 stats: 22-34, 217 yards, 3 TDs. … Season: 64.1%, 222.5 ypg, 8 TDs, INT, 148.86 rating
The numbers and the final result look fine, but the 6th-year senior had a 4-for-12 stretch after a hot start. Those misfires allowed Central Michigan to rally to tie the game at 14-14 in the second quarter. Clifford, the running game and the defense righted themselves before things got any scarier for the Nittany Lions, who scored 19 unanswered points to seal the victory.
4. Aidan O’Connell, Purdue
Week 4 stats: DNP, injury. … Season: 64.2%, 333.3 ypg, 8 TDs, INT, 145.08 rating
O’Connell was listed as a game-time decision but was held out of the Boilermakers’ night game vs. FAU on Saturday. It’s uncertain if he’ll miss more time, but we’ll keep him in the rankings for now. Austin Burton filled in, going 21-of-29 for 166 yards and 3 TDs in a shaky 28-26 victory over Florida Atlantic.
3. JJ McCarthy, Michigan
Week 4 stats: 18-26, 220 yards, 2 TDs. … Season: 80.0%, 173.3 ypg, 5 TDs, 204.52 rating
McCarthy played mistake-free but unspectacular football in his Big Ten starting debut. He ceded the spotlight to running back Blake Corum in a 34-27 victory over Maryland. Usually good for 1-2 big runs, McCarthy rushed for only 5 yards, with a long of 9.
He did have just enough pass attempts to reach 60 on the season, which qualifies him for inclusion in FBS statistical rankings. His completion rate dropped to 80%, which ranks No. 1 in the nation.
2. Tanner Morgan, Minnesota
Week 4 stats: 23-26, 268 yards, 3 TDs. … Season: 77.2%, 221.5 ypg, 7 TDs, INT, 198.14 rating
The efficient 6th-year senior upped his game in the Gophers’ first outing since losing top receiver Chris Autman-Bell for the season. Morgan took full advantage of Michigan State’s anemic pass defense in a 34-7 humiliation of the Spartans.
Morgan even ran 3 times for 27 yards. Reunited with OC Kirk Ciarrocca after 2 years apart, the duo are picking up where they left off. In 2019, Morgan had his best season and Minnesota finished 11-2 and No. 10 in the final AP poll.
Now, he has the No. 21 Gophers at 4-0 and among the favorites in the B1G West. His completion rate ranks 2nd to McCarthy, in the B1G and nationally.
1. CJ Stroud, Ohio State
Week 4 stats: 17-27, 281 yards, 5 TDs, INT. … Season: 70.5%, 305.5 ypg, 16 TDs, INT, 207.54 rating
A Heisman favorite, Stroud made short work of Wisconsin’s supposedly tough defense, completing 9 of his first 11 passes as the Buckeyes scored on their first 4 possessions in a 52-21 rout. He shares the FBS lead with his 16 TD passes, dominating despite not having top target Jaxon Smith-Njigba for most of the season so far.