Big Ten quarterback rankings after Week 13: Only JJ McCarthy escapes the regular season unscathed
If CJ Stroud indeed is down to 1 more game this season, he’d need to throw for 995 yards and 7 touchdowns in it to match his numbers from last season.
Those reduced numbers didn’t matter so much prior to Saturday, when he threw a third of 2022 interceptions (2 of the 6) in a loss to Michigan. He still leads the country in QB rating and shares the lead in TD throws (37), but his Heisman hopes and Ohio State legacy took a huge hit.
The guy on the other side Saturday at the Horseshoe, JJ McCarthy, improved to 11-0 as a starter and produced a breakout game with 3 TDs passing and another rushing. There will be a changing of the guard among Big Ten quarterbacks in 2023, and McCarthy will be at the forefront of it.
Stroud, almost everyone assumes, will be in the NFL. If OSU doesn’t make the Playoff, he already may have played his last college game.
Almost all of the returning starting quarterbacks in the Big Ten produced reduced numbers this regular season, with some awful weather and some great defenses impacting their output.
Last year, Stroud had 8 300-yard passing games in the regular season, going over 400 yards in 4 of them. This year, he didn’t hit the 400 level a single time and reached 300 yards just 5 times. He averaged 91.3 fewer passing yards PER GAME this year. Last year, he and Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell both averaged better than 300 yards per game. This year, no one in the B1G did.
Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz is the rare league QB who improved both his yards per game and total TDs, but his team is 6-6 because he came up small in big situations and threw 10 picks.
Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa finished the season strong and will be near the top of the 2023 preseason B1G QB list if he returns.
Penn State’s Sean Clifford ages out of NCAA ball after becoming Penn State’s first and the Big Ten’s 7th 10K-yard passer. The Nittany Lions should be fine with 5-star Drew Allar prepped to take over.
Several other programs have no such luxury.
We’ll count down the B1G quarterbacks a final time here, and offer some analysis on what lies in store for each team in 2023:
14. Cole Freeman, Northwestern
Week 13 stats: 12-22, 93 yards, 4 INTs
Season: 48.9%, 59.3 ypg, 5 INTs, 59.90 rating
The 6-0, 205-pound sophomore made his second start since taking over for Ryan Hilinski and Brendan Sullivan. Coach Pat Fitzgerald switched out to freshman Jack Lausch to finish out the Wildcats’ season-ending 41-3 loss to Illinois. The veteran coach has a mess on his hands after a 1-11 season. Hilinski and Sullivan both are eligible to return and would be viable options if healthy. Whether they or anyone else wants to stick it out in Evanston is another question.
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13. Gavin Wimsatt, Rutgers
Week 13 stats: 5-13, 48 yards
Season: 44.8%, 94.6 ypg, 5 TDs, 7 INTs, 90.41 rating
Wimsatt made his 5th straight start and had his 4th of the awful variety in a 37-0 loss to Maryland. Evan Simon, who also started games this year, mopped up. Greg Schiano, like Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, goes into the offseason with a bleak quarterback outlook.
12. Spencer Petras, Iowa
Week 13 stats: 1-6, 9 yards
Season: 55.9%, 143.8 ypg, 5 TDs, 5 INTs, 109.75 rating
Petras has gone 5 games without throwing a pick, but exited early vs. Nebraska with an injury after absorbing a hit and losing a fumble. As has been the case all year, backup Alex Padilla produced the same mediocre-at-best QB play as Petras. Iowa’s 130th-ranked offense doesn’t have prospects for serious improvement with the personnel on hand.
11. Connor Bazelak, Indiana
Week 13 stats: 24-42, 201 yards, TD, INT
Season: 55.2%, 231.2 ypg, 13 TDs, 10 INTs, 106.13 rating
The Week 1 starter took over for injured sophomore Dexter Williams II in a loss to Purdue and produced a stat line fairly typical of his 8 starts for the Hoosiers. Williams was making his 4th start and seemed to be Tom Allen’s choice as QB1 heading into the offseason, but he suffered a serious leg injury early in the game. Bazelak has eligibility remaining, so Allen might have both a pocket passer and a dual-threat guy at his disposal next year.
10. Athan Kaliakmanis, Minnesota
Week 13 stats: 19-29, 319 yards, 2 TDs
Season: 52.0%, 86.6 ypg, 3 TDs, 4 INTs, 125.15 rating
The redshirt freshman, starting for the 4th time in place of injured 6th-year senior Tanner Morgan, had his best game thus far in a 23-16 win over Wisconsin. With Mo Ibrahim held under 100 rushing yards for the first time in 20 games, the 2021 4-star recruit took charge. Kaliakmanis appears to have the starting job heading into 2023. Morgan’s 5-year playing career will end short of 10,000 yards but with a school-record 33 victories.
9. Graham Mertz, Wisconsin
Week 13 stats: 16-27, 170 yards, INT
Season: 57.3%, 178.0 ypg, 19 TDs, 10 INTs, 135.01 rating
The 3rd-year starter reached double-digits in interceptions for the 2nd straight season in a loss to Minnesota. He produced better overall numbers than a year ago, but was streaky and inconsistent again this season. He has eligibility remaining. Maybe new coach Luke Fickell can push the former 4-star recruit to another level.
8. Casey Thompson, Nebraska
Week 13 stats: 20-30, 278 yards, 3 TDs
Season stats: 63.1%, 240.7 ypg, 17 TDs, 10 INTs, 150.10 rating
Thompson excelled in a road upset of Iowa, capping a strong finish to the season after a 2-game injury absence. Over the final 2 weeks, he threw for 5 TDs and no INTs vs. the stout defenses of Wisconsin and Iowa. The Texas transfer has the option to return, and has been the team’s clear No. 1 when healthy, several notches above Chubba Purdy and Logan Smothers. He might be new coach Matt Rhule’s No. 1 option if he returns.
7. Payton Thorne, Michigan State
Week 13 stats: 24-43, 229 yards, TD, INT
Season: 62.5%, 223.3 ypg, 19 TDs, 11 INTs, 131.19 rating
Thorne tied for the most interceptions thrown this season by a B1G quarterback and the Spartans failed to gain bowl eligibility with a 35-16 loss to Penn State. The 6-2, 210-pound junior battled through bumps and bruises, but couldn’t rescue Michigan State from its myriad problems. He and Mel Tucker will try to bounce back next fall.
6. Tommy DeVito, Illinois
Week 13 stats: 12-18, 136 yards, INT
Season: 69.9%, 199.8 ypg, 15 TDs, 4 INTs, 142.34 rating
The Syracuse transfer played the game-manager role well for an Illini team built on its ground game and defense. A late-season 3-game losing streak kept Illinois from a truly special season and B1G Championship Game berth. DeVito has exhausted his NCAA eligibility, so Bret Bielema will be breaking in a new starter next fall.
5. Sean Clifford, Penn State
Week 13 stats: 19-24, 202 yards, 4 TDs
Season: 63.6%, 211.9 ypg, 22 TDs, 7 INTs, 146.13 rating
The 6th-year senior notched career victory No. 31, tying predecessor Trace McSorley’s program record. Statistically, Clifford is posting an almost exact duplicate of his first year as the Lions’ starter in 2019. With a victory in a bowl game, he would match that season’s 11-2, top-10 finish as well. After mentoring Drew Allar this year, he’ll hand off an improving offense to the 5-star freshman and leave as the program’s first 10K-yard passer.
4. Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland
Week 13 stats: 25-37, 342 yards, TD
Season: 68.6%, 253.4 ypg, 17 TDs, 6 INTs, 147.23 rating
Tagovailoa capped his season with 2 strong outings, a tight loss to Ohio State and a romp over Rutgers. That came after missing a game with an injury and being held under 100 passing yards in 2 straight games upon his return. Tagovailoa has the option to return for another year in College Park, and we’ll get an indication of his plans based on whether he plays in the Terps’ bowl game.
3. Aidan O’Connell, Purdue
Week 13 stats: 18-29, 290 yards, 2 TDs
Season: 63.7%, 284.0 ypg, 22 TDs, 11 INTs, 132.97 rating
The 6th-year senior played with a heavy heart after the death of his older brother, and somehow led the Boilermakers past Indiana and into the B1G championship game. He leads the Big Ten in passing yards per game (284.0) and is tied for 2nd in the league with 22 TD passes. He’s been the heart and soul of Jeff Brohm’s offense the past 2 seasons and will be extremely hard to replace. He ranks 6th in school history in career passing yards (8,853) and 5th in TD throws (65). No bad for a former walk-on. He has the B1G title game vs. Michigan and a bowl game remaining.
2. JJ McCarthy, Michigan
Week 13 stats: 12-24, 263 yards, 3 TDs
Season: 65.3%, 184.6 ypg, 17 TDs, 2 INTs, 153.18 rating
The sophomore finally proved he could hit the deep ball Saturday against Ohio State, and what a time to do it. He had TD connections of 75, 69 and 45 yards, plus another 33-yard completion in a 45-23 romp over the Buckeyes. He added 27 yards and a TD on 6 carries. The 2021 5-star recruit will enter next season as the B1G’s best quarterback, assuming CJ Stroud goes pro. Right now, he has an 11-0 record as a starter and some unfinished business over the next month.
1. CJ Stroud, Ohio State
Week 13 stats: 31-48, 349 yards, 2TDs, 2 INTs
Season: 66.2%, 278.3 ypg, 37 TDs, 6 INTs, 176.26 rating
Stroud piled up the yardage against Michigan but finished with 1 less TD throw and 2 more INTs than counterpart JJ McCarthy. The Wolverines’ sophomore was the better of the QBs Saturday, but Stroud’s full-season body of work remains impressive. He still leads the nation in QB rating and TD throws, and certainly still has a seat reserved for him for the Heisman ceremony, though he won’t receive the trophy. He passed Art Schlichter on OSU’s all-time passing yards list, and will finish second to JT Barrett if he goes pro as expected after this season. Kyle McCord has first dibs on inheriting the offense with the best receiving corps in America.