Turns out it’s really difficult to play quarterback in major college football, especially in the Big Ten.

Rain, snow, cold, gale force winds. Some of the best pass rushes and overall defenses in the country. Bumps, bruises, injuries.

How else to explain Taulia Tagovailoa getting held to 76 passing yards one week, then outperforming CJ Stroud the next. How else to explain multiple teams down to 3rd or 4th-string options. How else to explain 4 league starting QBs throwing for less than 100 yards in Week 12 and none topping the 300-yard mark.

Here’s the breakdown following Saturday, when a spate of unknowns joined the QB mix. Some signal-callers are just getting started in the Big Ten, while others will play in their final league games on rivalry weekend.

Things will look a lot different when the 2023 season kicks off next fall, but the old guard will rule the top of our rankings for a little while longer.

Here’s what we’ve got entering Week 13:

14. Cole Freeman, Northwestern

Week 12 stats: 9-20, 78 yards, INT
Season: 43.5%, 42.5 ypg, INT, 65.83 rating

The 6-0, 205-pound sophomore went the distance in his first start, as previous starters this season Ryan Hilinski and Brendan Sullivan couldn’t go. The 1-10 Wildcats went a 3rd straight game without a 100-yard passer. Coach Pat Fitzgerald will have to regroup after the season-finale vs. Illinois. Sullivan, a 6-3, 212-pound sophomore who had started the previous 4 games, will likely enter the offseason at the top of the depth chart.

13. Gavin Wimsatt, Rutgers

Week 12 stats: 10-29, 122 yards, TD, INT
Season: 45.5%, 101.3 ypg, 5 TDs, 7 INTs, 92.47 rating

Wimsatt made his 4th straight start and didn’t have much fun against Penn State’s defense, which has turned ferocious in November. The Lions sacked the redshirt freshman 4 times and kept him on the run until Greg Schiano mercifully pulled him late in a 55-10 loss.

12. Dexter Williams II, Indiana

Week 12 stats: 2-7, 31 yards
Season: 32.4%, 59.7 ypg, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 80.10 rating

The sophomore did more with his legs than his arm, running 16 times for 86 yards and a score as the Hoosiers somehow rallied to beat Michigan State in overtime. We’ll see if he can find some run-pass balance vs. Purdue. He seems to have passed up Connor Bazelak for the job, regardless of the Missouri transfer’s health status.

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11. Athan Kaliakmanis, Minnesota

Week 12 stats: 7-15, 87 yards, INT
Season: 46.6%, 60.8 ypg, TD, 4 INTs, 103.08 rating

The redshirt freshman did his best to stay out of Mo Ibrahim’s way, but his 1 turnover proved costly in a 13-10 loss to Iowa. Kaliakmanis is the heir apparent to 6th-year senior Tanner Morgan, who missed a 2nd straight game with an injury. Morgan had a shot to reach 10,000 career passing yards this season before injuries bogged him down. He’s at 9,396, and it’s uncertain if he’s done for the season. Kaliakmanis has handed off 108 times over the past 2 games.

10. Casey Thompson, Nebraska

Week 12 stats: 12-20, 106 yards, 2 TDs
Season stats: 62.7%, 236.6 ypg, 14 TDs, 10 INTs, 146.74 rating

Thompson returned from a 2-game absence and had the Cornhuskers poised to upset Wisconsin before the Badgers rallied with a 12-point 4th quarter to win 15-14. 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. The season finale vs. Iowa will test whomever is under center on Friday.

9. Spencer Petras, Iowa

Week 12 stats: 15-24, 221 yards
Season: 56.7%, 156.0 ypg, 5 TDs, 5 INTs, 111.51 rating

Petras has gone 4 games without throwing a pick, which not coincidentally corresponds with the Hawkeyes’ 4-game winning streak. Iowa wins with defense, which it did again Saturday in a 13-10 slugfest at Minnesota. Now Iowa just needs to beat visiting Nebraska on Friday to make the B1G title game as West champion. Petras’s role will be to cash in short fields and otherwise avoid mistakes.

8. Graham Mertz, Wisconsin

Week 12 stats: 8-18, 83 yards, TD, INT
Season: 57.1%, 178.7 ypg, 19 TDs, 9 INTs, 138.16 rating

The 3rd-year starter posted another nothing-burger as Wisconsin used a 235-yard rushing game to rally past Nebraska 15-14. The 6-3, 216-pound junior can return in 2023 and remains the Badgers’ best option for now. But he’s been streaky and inconsistent again this season.

7. Payton Thorne, Michigan State

Week 12 stats: 27-42, 298 yards, 2 TDs, INT
Season: 63.4%, 222.7 ypg, 18 TDs, 10 INTs, 134.65 rating

Thorne put up the best passing yardage total in the Big Ten in Week 12, but it came in a stupefying loss to Indiana. The 6-2, 210-pound junior will try to get the Spartans to bowl eligibility Saturday at Penn State. That’ll be a tall task, as the Lions have ripped 3 straight B1G East opponents that the Spartans struggled against.

6. Sean Clifford, Penn State

Week 12 stats: 17-26, 157 yards, TD
Season: 62.4%, 211.8 ypg, 18 TDs, 7 INTs, 141.51 rating

The 6th-year senior will go for career victory No. 31 on Saturday, which would tie Trace McSorley’s program record. Clifford was efficient in an easy victory over Rutgers, making some key runs to loosen up the Scarlet Knights’ defense. He gave way to 5-star freshman Drew Allar in the third quarter.

5. Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland

Week 12 stats: 26-36, 293 yards, 2 TDs
Season: 68.8%, 244.5 ypg, 16 TDs, 6 INTs, 146.43 rating

Tagovailoa played his best game of the year vs. Ohio State and had the Terps down only 3 points, at 33-30, in the fourth quarter. Alas, 5 sacks proved too much to overcome, and the last one resulted in a fumble-recovery score that iced the game for the Buckeyes. Tagovailoa has the option to return for another year in College Park, but it’s hard to say if that’s a good idea or not.

4. Aidan O’Connell, Purdue

Week 12 stats: 16-25, 159 yards, 2 TDs
Season: 63.8%, 283.4 ypg, 20 TDs, 11 INTs, 130.51 rating

The 6th-year senior boosted his season total for TD passes to 20, second best in the Big Ten behind CJ Stroud. He did enough to get the Boilermakers past Northwestern 17-9, He ranks 6th in school history in career passing yards (8,563) and TD throws (63). No bad for a former walk-on. He’ll look to cap his Big Ten career in style Saturday at woeful Indiana in the Old Oaken Bucket game.

3. JJ McCarthy, Michigan

Week 12 stats: 18-34, 208 yards
Season: 66.8%, 177.5 ypg, 14 TDs, 2 INTs, 150.27 rating

The sophomore played another turnover-free game, and that plus 4 Jake Moody field goals got the Wolverines past Illinois 19-17.

All eyes will be on the former 5-star recruit when he makes his 11th career start Saturday at Ohio State in The Game. He’ll need his best outing, especially if injured RB Blake Corum is out or limited. He has great arm and leg talent, but hasn’t yet put in all together in one game.

2. Tommy DeVito, Illinois

Week 12 stats: 21-30, 178 yards
Season: 70.0%, 205.5 ypg, 15 TDs, 3 INTs, 143.67 rating

The Syracuse transfer played his typical solid game, complementing Chase Brown’s ground attack, but it wasn’t quite enough against Michigan. The Illini lost a 3rd straight game, but can finish 8-4 with a victory at Northwestern. DeVito has exhausted his NCAA eligibility, so Bret Bielema will be breaking in a new starter next fall.

1. CJ Stroud, Ohio State

Week 12 stats: 18-30, 241 yards, TD
Season: 66.4%, 271.9 ypg, 35 TDs, 4 INTs, 183.30 rating

Stroud did enough to hold off Maryland, but kind of took a backseat to 3rd-string freshman running back Dallan Hayden. Still, Stroud continues to lead the nation in QB rating and TD throws. He can complete his Heisman resume in Saturday’s noon showdown with Michigan. He needs 122 passing yards to top Art Schlichter for 2nd place on OSU’s all-time passing yards list.