If you’re sick of me writing the following sentence, I apologize.
The 2015 version of C.J. Beathard and the 2016 version of Trace McSorley had a lot in common.
Both were gutsy B1G quarterbacks that made plays in and out of the pocket. When healthy, both took shots downfield and had plenty of success doing so. When they spoke to the media, both gave off the same swagger you want your quarterback to have.
More important than all of those things, both of them led their teams to surprise division titles and Rose Bowl berths. Both of them accomplished that feat as first-year starters.
That’s an important thing to remember heading into the 2017 season. This year, a new batch of first-year B1G starters will try and follow in those footsteps. That is, soar above expectations and lead their team to new heights.
If the past two years were any indication, someone is getting ready to take the league by storm.
Roughly half the teams in the B1G will be starting a different quarterback in the 2017 opener than they did in the 2016 opener. Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Rutgers will all fall into that category.
That’s not to say Illinois and Rutgers have the rosters to make it to the Rose Bowl, but it shouldn’t be out of reach before the season starts simply because they have a first-year starting quarterback.
Now, there are different degrees of experience when talking about first-year starting quarterbacks. Beathard and McSorley both got significant snaps in postseason games before they technically became starters. Instead of facing the scout team defense, they got their feet wet against an SEC defense.
There’s something to be said for that.
That’s why it made even more sense for Nathan Stanley to replace Beathard in the fourth quarter of the Outback Bowl. For Michigan State, Brian Lewerke would’ve greatly benefitted from getting an extra month of practice and a bowl game against a Power Five team.
He doesn’t have as much experience as Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee, who sat out the 2016 season after transferring from Tulane, where he started for two seasons.
Not everyone has the luxury of experience, especially against Power Five defenses. Still, it wasn’t like Beathard and McSorley were grizzled vets compared to some of the B1G newcomers.
|BEFORE WEEK 1 START VS. P5 TEAMS||BEATHARD||McSORLEY||LEWERKE||STANLEY||LEE|
A few things should stand out when looking at those numbers.
Nobody — including Beathard McSorley — had a start against a Power Five team before they became full-time starters. They essentially had one game’s worth of experience playing at that speed. That’s pretty similar to Lewerke, who would’ve probably matched Lee’s experience had he not gotten hurt.
From an experience standpoint, there wasn’t much separating Stanley and McSorley. Both backed up multi-year, NFL quarterbacks as redshirt freshmen. They also essentially got a fresh start with a new offensive coordinator. That’s big. It doesn’t hurt that one will get to work with Akrum Wadley and the other got to hand the ball off to Saquon Barkley.
That’s an obvious part of this. The pieces still have to be around a first-year quarterback in order for him to succeed. Beathard wouldn’t have led Iowa to the Rose Bowl without that dominant offensive line. McSorley wouldn’t have led the Lions to a B1G Championship without some big-play receivers.
But there are pieces like that around plenty of first-year B1G starters, too.
Many believe LJ Scott can develop into one of the top backs in the country. There’s hope that De’Mornay Pierson-El can look like the guy that exploded onto the scene as a true freshman in 2014. Iowa still has Wadley and one of the top veteran offensive lines in America.
And let’s not forget about Maryland and Minnesota, which both have loaded backfields.
Maryland RB's Lorenzo Harrison & Ty Johnson return as two of the B1G 10's top elusive backs. pic.twitter.com/qBM2uTd1nx
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) June 24, 2017
Minnesota RB worked hard for his yards in 2016.
He leads all returning B1G Ten RBs in terms of highest % of yards came after contact. pic.twitter.com/L5T69XtwmT
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) June 16, 2017
So what does all of this mean? That every first-year starter should expect to lead his team to the Rose Bowl? Of course not.
But neither Beathard nor McSorley were highly-touted recruits or experienced backups. Both of them took over teams that went 7-6 and 4-4 in the B1G. That’s not much different than what Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota and Nebraska did last year.
Sometimes, all it takes for a team to get over the hump is having the right guy under center. He doesn’t have to dominate the preseason conversation to dominate the postseason conversation, either. Beathard and McSorley let their play do the talking.
Inevitably, a new B1G quarterback will follow that meteoric rise in 2017.