With the grad transfer market taking shape, a look at the B1G's 4 most intriguing quarterback battles
We don’t know where every grad transfer quarterback will end up just yet, but we have a good enough idea to know what the battles will look like this offseason.
There will be no shortage of battles, albeit some more public than others. For example, a team like Northwestern might declare that it has a “quarterback battle,” but we all know former 5-star recruit Hunter Johnson is going to get the chance to replace Clayton Thorson after transferring from Clemson.
The battles included here are intriguing for a variety of reasons. They might have a somewhat established starter who struggled in 2018, and they might have a talented incoming option who can take over.
Here are the B1G’s 4 most intriguing quarterback battles this offseason:
The competitors — Peyton Ramsey, Jack Tuttle, Michael Penix Jr.
The early favorite — Ramsey
I’m not saying I think Ramsey will lose his job after the season he had. No returning B1G quarterback threw for more yards than him, and his 66 percent accuracy was tied for second behind only Dwayne Haskins. And while we don’t know Tuttle’s eligibility status for 2019 after the former 4-star recruit transferred from Utah, here’s something worth mentioning.
Tom Allen is entering Year 3 coming off consecutive 5-win seasons. He’s got a new offensive coordinator in town, and he’s got Jeff Brohm a couple hours away looking like the fun, innovative offensive program. In other words, Allen isn’t going to be afraid to shake things up if he deems it necessary.
Penix will be rehabbing a torn ACL, but getting someone like Tuttle suggests that this will be a battle this offseason. Tuttle is a former Elite 11 quarterback who according to Allen, can make all the throws. He’ll get a fair chance to compete for the starting gig.
Besides, you can’t have the No. 87 scoring offseason and assume it’s business as usual.
The competitors — Alex Hornibrook, Jack Coan, Graham Mertz
The early favorite — Hornibrook
Rarely is someone with 2 years of starting experience for teams that won a combined 21 games the subject of a quarterback battle. But Hornibrook, healthy or not, should not be locked in as the automatic starter. He regressed, and as a result, so did Wisconsin. The guy had 9 interceptions in his final 4 games. Even though Paul Chryst has been extremely loyal to Hornibrook — probably to a fault at this point — there should be a competition.
Coan showed flashes of being the guy in place of the injured Hornibrook down the stretch, though he didn’t exactly set the world on fire. He could still put himself in position to be the guy if Hornibrook doesn’t take an important step this offseason.
The quarterback everyone is excited about is Mertz, who tore up the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and earned game MVP honors.
— Dustin Schutte (@SchutteCFB) January 5, 2019
Mertz’s arrival will be unlike anything Chryst has experienced so far. Given the possibility that Wisconsin probably only has 1 more year with Doak Walker Award winner Jonathan Taylor, Chryst could decide to roll the dice on the true freshman signal-caller and see how high this Wisconsin offense can fly in 2019.
2. Michigan State
The competitors — Brian Lewerke, Rocky Lombardi, Theo Day
The early favorite — Lewerke
Woof. That Michigan State offense was a train wreck in 2018.
For whatever reason, Lewerke continued to play in games when clearly that shoulder wasn’t right. As a result, the Spartans averaged 8 points per game in their final 4 contests. Who was the only Power 5 team with a worse offense than MSU in 2018? Rutgers. Yeah, it was bad.
After the 6-point dud in the Red Box Bowl, Mark Dantonio has to be feeling pressure to try something new. Lombardi had some promising moments in 2018, most notably the Purdue win. But nobody who completes 44 percent of their passes is locked in as the new starter.
Will Dantonio just hope that the mobile Lewerke can get healthy and return to form? Perhaps, but Lombardi and Day should be allowed to take part in a wide open battle for the starting gig. At the very least, Lewerke’s leash should be much shorter than it was in 2018.
1. Penn State
The competitors — Tommy Stevens, Sean Clifford
The early favorite — Stevens
Yes, in my opinion, this is the most intriguing B1G quarterback battle this offseason for a variety of reasons. Replacing one of the most prolific quarterbacks in B1G history always makes for a pressure-packed offseason. Conventional wisdom suggests that Stevens will be McSorley’s successor after he passed on leaving as a grad transfer last year.
Here’s the thing, though.
You have to remember the dynamics at play with James Franklin, who is coming off a disappointing end to what was a somewhat lackluster year by Penn State’s high standards. To assume that Franklin is going to just hand Stevens the job because of what he told him in a meeting back in the 2018 offseason would be naive. He’s not worried about hurting feelings. Franklin will start the quarterback who he feels will give him the best chance to win games and get back to the B1G Championship. Period.
There’s definitely a chance that Clifford is that guy. The former 4-star recruit has been getting rave reviews at practice, and in extremely limited game action, the redshirt freshman confirmed that.
If he continues to develop in his third season in College Station, could Clifford be Penn State’s opening day starter? Absolutely.
Could the versatile Stevens also perform well in camp and look like the perfect dual threat to replace McSorley? For sure. There’s a reason that Stevens became such a fan favorite. His willingness to do whatever was asked of him probably earned him some favor with the coaching staff. At least it should’ve.
But whether it’s Stevens or Clifford, this will be a down-to-the-wire battle that’ll be all sorts of intriguing this offseason.