Predicting every B1G team's starting QB for Week 1
Some teams won’t need to see another snap when fall camp rolls around to know who will be the starting quarterback in Week 1 — or in the case of Illinois and Nebraska, Week 0. Others coaches might not make the decision until halftime.
It really doesn’t matter which position your team is in, it’s always fun to discuss the quarterback situation.
With most B1G teams wrapping up spring ball, let’s make some predictions on who will be under center to start the season for every team in the league.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Projected starter: Brandon Peters
Bret Bielema moving Isaiah Williams to wide receiver all but solidifies that Peters will be the starting quarterback for the Fighting Illini for a third season. That was expected to be the case after he led the program for the past two seasons and was the No. 1 QB during the team’s spring game in April. He looked pretty good in that scrimmage, too. Incoming Rutgers transfer Artur Sitkowski will be the biggest challenger to Peters in fall camp, but he’ll slide into the backup role for the 2021 season.
Projected starter: Michael Penix Jr.
The only question here is the health of Penix. He was extremely limited in spring because of the season-ending knee injury sustained late in the 2020 season but expects to be back to 100% by the time Indiana is scheduled to travel to Iowa for the season opener. When he’s at full strength, Penix is a longshot Heisman Trophy candidate who really makes the Hoosiers’ offense click. Right now, there’s nobody that can really challenge him for the starting job. The real battle is for the backup role, with Jack Tuttle and Donaven McCulley in a competition for the No. 2 spot.
Projected starter: Spencer Petras
Petras didn’t have a great year in 2020, but he was still able to lead Iowa to a 6-2 season in his first season as the starter. With a full season and spring under his belt, Kirk Ferentz seems pretty comfortable with Petras in the role as the starting quarterback for the upcoming campaign. Last year, Petras completed just over 57% of his passes and had 9 touchdowns with 5 interceptions. Getting that completion percentage up is going to be the most important thing in his second season leading the Hawkeye offense.
Projected starter: Taulia Tagovailoa
Incoming VMI transfer Reece Udinski might’ve made a run for the job in College Park, but after suffering a season-ending knee injury during the FCS’s spring season, the job should be Tagovailoa’s without much competition. It might’ve been anyway. When Tagovailoa had time in the pocket, he was able to find his playmakers or pick up chunks of yards with his legs last season. Tagovailoa can be one of the better quarterbacks in the B1G this season, but a lot of that will depend on the play along the offensive line.
Projected starter: Cade McNamara
Jim Harbaugh doesn’t typically like to pull back the curtain on his depth chart in Ann Arbor, but he was comfortable enough saying that McNamara is the guy after spring ball, which likely means he’ll probably be the Week 1 starter for Michigan. Will he retain his spot as the No. 1 guy all season long? Incoming 5-star quarterback J.J. McCarthy and Texas Tech transfer Alan Bowman might make that difficult. McNamara is remembered for saving the day in Michigan’s overtime win over Rutgers, but he’ll have to be consistent against a lot of really good B1G defenses this fall, which is no easy task.
Michigan State Spartans
Projected starter: Payton Thorne
Thorne wasn’t head-and-shoulders above the competition exiting spring ball but he seemed to have a narrow advantage on Temple transfer Anthony Russo. That could be previous experience in the offense or maybe he’s just a touch more accurate on his throws right now. Either way, Mel Tucker has an interesting battle on his hands in East Lansing. It wouldn’t be too surprising if the Spartans rotated quarterbacks during the 2021 season, but it looks like Thorne is going to be the Week 1 starter and will probably trot onto the field first when Michigan State takes on Northwestern on Sept. 4.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Projected starter: Tanner Morgan
Not many quarterbacks looked better than Morgan during any B1G spring game this year and he’ll have the job for a third-straight year. But Zack Annexstad is going to make him earn the spot. Believe it or not, the former walk-on looked pretty good after not stepping on the field the past two seasons. Morgan made better decisions and was a bit more accurate during that scrimmage, but Annexstad was also fitting the ball into some pretty tight windows. The quarterback room in Minneapolis looks pretty good, but Morgan will be the guy.
Projected starter: Adrian Martinez
Martinez doesn’t appear to have the same ceiling he had after his freshman season in Lincoln, but he still looks like the best quarterback on the roster by a fairly wide margin. At least through spring ball. His struggles don’t solely fall on his shoulders, with poor offensive line play and a lack of playmakers at the wide receiver position in the past three seasons. Those areas appear to be addressed and Martinez looked pretty good when he had time to throw in the spring scrimmage. It’ll be interesting to see what the fourth-year starter can do behind a much stronger offensive line and having plenty of playmakers to work with at receiver and running back.
Projected starter: Ryan Hilinski
There’s a three-man race for the job in Northwestern, with Hilinski battling Hunter Johnson and Andrew Marty for the top spot on the depth chart. Both Johnson and Marty had opportunities during the 2019 season, but both struggled mightily during a 3-9 season. Peyton Ramsey helped that situation last fall but his departure puts the Wildcats in a predicament at quarterback again. Still, Hilinski has SEC experience and was South Carolina’s starter before transferring to Northwestern. This is far from a lock, but he is probably the best quarterback in Evanston right now.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Projected starter: C.J. Stroud
Let’s be honest, any of the three quarterbacks battling for Ohio State’s starting job — Stroud, Kyle McCord and Jack Miller III — could walk into just about any locker room in the B1G and win the job. All three were impressive during the Buckeyes’ spring game in April, but Stroud really popped off the screen. He has a big arm and is capable of making plays with his legs. Would it be overly surprising if either McCord or Miller was the Week 1 starter for the Buckeyes? Not really. But Stroud appears to be the leader in the clubhouse right now, and he’ll likely be the one under center in Week 1 against Minnesota.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Projected starter: Sean Clifford
At times last season, Clifford didn’t look like the quarterback Penn State needed to be a contender in the B1G East. But implementing a new offense and the elimination of spring ball could’ve caused his struggles. Now, with a full spring to work under new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, Clifford might have a better grasp of the schemes and more confidence under center. It sounds like Ta’Quan Roberson is making a push for the starting job, and the battle could be closer than most suspect. For now, though, Clifford looks like the guy to beat for the No. 1 job at Penn State.
Projected starter: Aidan O’Connell
This is another interesting quarterback battle. O’Connell won the job last year before suffering an injury but Jack Plummer has also proven to be a capable passer in Jeff Brohm’s offense, as well. Throw in the UCLA transfer Austin Burton into the mix, and you have another three-man race for the No. 1 spot. Purdue hasn’t been afraid to use multiple quarterbacks in the past and it may operate with a similar strategy this fall if nobody separates themselves from the pack. It’s hard to pick a winner, but O’Connell seems to have the momentum right now.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Projected starter: Noah Vedral
With Sitkowski transferring to Illinois, Vedral appears poised to retain his status as the team’s starting quarterback for the 2021 season. Backup Johnny Langan might be used in certain situations throughout the year, but Vedral had some good moments when he was on the field last season. He threw 9 touchdowns with 8 interceptions last season, and needs to improve on his decision-making, but provided some stability for the Scarlet Knights at the position, something the team lacked during the Chris Ash era. It’s hard to imagine anyone in that Rutgers locker room beating Vedral for the starting job.
Projected starter: Graham Mertz
Another lock entering the 2021 season. The offense belongs to Mertz and any doubt was tossed out the window when Jack Coan transferred to Notre Dame following the 2020 season. Mertz started last season strong by leading Wisconsin to wins over Illinois and Michigan but struggled quite a bit in the final four games of the regular season. Having Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor back at the wide receiver position, as well as tight end Jake Ferguson, should help Mertz with his options in the passing game. It’s going to be interesting to see how much Mertz improved from his first year as a starter to his second, and whether it’ll be enough to get the Badgers back in the B1G Championship Game.