The Big Ten title race this fall will be one for the history books, if for no other reason than the fact that 18 teams will be competing for the first time ever.

However, the title race will feature a much smaller group of contenders, especially with the B1G officially removing divisions for the 2024 season. In fact, the latest Big Ten Championship odds feature 4 realistic contenders as of this writing, and it’s not hard to see why.

Ohio State (+149) and B1G newcomer Oregon (+243) lead the pack while Michigan (+484) and Penn State (+540) are the others at the top. Behind those favorites, USC (+2264) and Iowa (+4355) stand as longshots to seriously contend for the conference title.

Each of the 4 favorites has a key group of returning production and some reasons to be optimistic (and pessimistic) entering the season. That makes one position the potential X factor for the entire race to Indy.

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The quarterback.

That’s not any sort of mind-blowing revelation. After all, for all of Michigan’s dominance in the trenches, JJ McCarthy remains a big-time reason the Wolverines rolled to the title, and he was by far the best QB in the league a season ago.

The overall volume of McCarthy’s work can be questioned, but there’s no denying the efficiency he showed all season long. He finished with an elite 72% completion percentage with nearly 3,000 yards with 22 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions.

So, with McCarthy’s performance in mind, which contender stands as the most likely to deliver the best QB play in the fall? Let’s break it down across the teams with what we’ve seen in spring games thus far and the questions that still remain:

The 2 leaders

Ohio State hit the field for its spring game on Saturday, and the performance was insightful for the Buckeyes. Despite Ryan Day saying true freshman Julian Sayin was “in the mix” for the starting job ahead of the game, it was evident Sayin is not truly a competitor for the QB1 job.

Instead, former Kansas State starter Will Howard and Devin Brown both impressed. Howard looked like one would expect a veteran starter to look with the first-team offense while Brown was accurate with the ball and displayed his ability to escape the pocket with his legs.

Immediately after the spring game, Day declined to name a starter, but that’s likely a smoke screen with the transfer portal set to open Tuesday morning. By all indications, Howard is lined up to be the starter with Brown as the backup and a group of Sayin, Lincoln Kienholz and Air Noland fighting for positions on the depth chart.

Even if one of those players hits the portal this spring, Ohio State should have a leg up on the rest of its competitors at the position, provided Howard and Brown remain to lead the top of the depth chart.

Meanwhile, things in Eugene are progressing to a spring game that is schedule for April 27. Oregon has a pair of newcomers at the QB position in Dillon Gabriel and Dante Moore, but that battle is likely to wind up at a similar conclusion to the one with the Buckeyes.

Gabriel, with his 125 career passing touchdowns and a 30-touchdown season at Oklahoma, brings the kind of veteran leadership and distribution that should plug and play with Dan Lanning’s squad. Behind Gabriel, Moore provides depth for this season and a piece for the future who could start at many of the programs in the B1G.

Those 2 QB rooms have the one thing other B1G contenders do not have at this time of year: Experience, and that experience includes some big-time games in big-time environments.

Where does Michigan turn post national championship?

Sherrone Moore steps in to replace Jim Harbaugh after the highest of highs in Ann Arbor. However, Moore must quickly turn his attention to filling a number of holes on last year’s national championship-winning squad, including at QB where the Wolverines replace JJ McCarthy.

Michigan has yet to play a spring game, but fans will get their glimpses on Saturday when FOX airs the spring game live from the Big House. The Wolverines may have their next superstar leader on the roster, but it is a very raw and young group of QBs.

Alex Orji is a player who jumps out for his physical skill set, but he has just 1 pass attempt the past 2 seasons and was mainly used as a rusher with 15 carries for 86 yards and a touchdown a season ago. Davis Warren, a veteran and former walk-on, is also in the mix but he has seldom been used while Jack Tuttle, Jayden Denegal and freshman Jadyn Davis are involved in the competition.

It’s possible Moore and his staff strike gold and land on the right starter for 2024, but Michigan’s Big Ten title are odds are mainly related to an elite defense returning. In order to maintain in the race, the Wolverines need some answers — in a big way — at the QB position.

What’s eating Drew Allar?

Drew Allar arrived at Penn State with all the fanfare of a 5-star recruit. As a backup true freshman, Allar shined in limited playing time late in games, but his first year as a starter did not live up to expectations.

Even with an underwhelming wide receiver room, Allar’s accuracy heavily struggled and the offense failed to reach explosive levels as a result. That makes his spring game performance worrisome for anyone hoping the Nittany Lions can contend.

For a second-year starter, the spring game should feature plenty of makable throws and easy routes for the QB. That was the case in the Blue-White Spring Game, but one would not know it by looking at Allar’s final line.

He finished just 15-for-32 for 202 yards, and he did not have a touchdown until a late 2-minute drill led to a wide-open tight end. If not for that final drive, his numbers would have been even worse.

What’s even more worrisome is that Andy Kotelnicki was brought on to be the offensive coordinator as a way to unlock the explosiveness of the unit. At the end of the day, Kotelnicki may have the perfect scheme, but no scheme can be effective with a QB who is inaccurate on a regular basis when it comes to simple throws.

If the Nittany Lions need Allar to go win them a game or two to achieve their goals (spoiler alert: they absolutely do), they will find themselves falling behind in the Big Ten race this fall.

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