Predicting every B1G quarterback battle winner
Half the conference has a quarterback battle as we get into the thick of fall camp.
That means that half the conference is technically without a proven leader under center, which isn’t always a bad thing. First-year starters (C.J. Beathard) have done big things before. What’s to say a guy from this pack can’t emerge?
Here are the seven B1G quarterbacks who will win their respective battles and start on opening day:
Indiana — Richard Lagow vs. Zander Diamont vs. Danny Cameron
Prediction — Lagow
No, I didn’t pick Lagow because he “just has the starting quarterback look.” Yes, he’s 6-6, 240 pounds, but Kevin Wilson would start Doug Flutie if he felt he could execute his offense. And for the record, Lagow actually doesn’t have “the starting quarterback look” because he wears No. 21. So there.
But Lagow gives IU the freedom to do exactly what Nate Sudfeld did. That is, he can make all the tough throws and rally IU back if it finds itself in a shootout. Even if the Hoosier defense does improve, IU can’t have a run-first quarterback if it finds itself two touchdowns. Sorry, Zander.
I think that if Cameron was the guy then he would’ve been higher than third on last year’s depth chart. You can’t judge him just on his fill-in work at Penn State, but he certainly didn’t boost his “quarterback-of-the-future” stock that day.
This battle will continue deep into fall camp. I actually think Diamont, who had what Wilson said was his best offseason so far, earns some spot snaps this year.
But as for the starting job, it’s Lagow’s to lose.
Maryland — Perry Hills vs. Caleb Rowe
Prediction — Hills
Hopefully the 2015 game film has been buried, burned or destroyed some way. Forget the interception-fest that occurred last year and let’s shift our focus to two fifth-year seniors who have clean slates.
Yeah, it’s technically a five-man competition. But D.J. Durkin said Hills and Rowe have “a little leg up” on the competition.
Hills will be the guy because of his running ability. Walt Bell’s fast-paced system suits his game better than Rowe’s, at least for the time being. Hills had success running last year and with his ability to make option reads, he’ll be the better complement to Maryland’s run-heavy offense. The Terps will likely run a lot of bubble screens and quick outs to create some high-percentage throws.
Hopefully for Maryland’s sake, Hills can stick as the starter. And maybe throw a few less interceptions.
Michigan — John O’Korn vs. Wilton Speight
Prediction — Speight
There was an assumption by some that Jake Rudock’s replacement would be O’Korn. After all, he was also a transfer (they both went to the same high school, too) who got the short end of the stick at a major program. ESPN actually tabbed him as the “top impact transfer for 2016.”
But call me crazy, I think Speight is Jim Harbaugh’s guy.
I do believe it was and still is an open competition between the two. Harbaugh said that the spring slate is wiped clean, but Speight stood out in the spring game. Even back in Bradenton, Speight showed that he elevated his play.
Speight won win the job because of his late heroics at Minnesota last year, but that has to be worth something. He filled in admirably for Rudock then, and assuming the spring wasn’t a mirage, he’ll fill in admirably for Rudock in 2016.
Michigan State — Tyler O’Connor vs. Damion Terry
Prediction — O’Connor
Don’t crucify me for comparing Michigan State to Michigan, Spartan fans. But I see this battle playing out like the one that unfolded in Ann Arbor last year.
O’Connor has already separated himself from Terry, much like Jake Rudock did with Shane Morris last year. To his team, Mark Dantonio will anoint O’Connor the starter. To the media, Dantonio will maintain that it’s a competition all the way through camp. O’Connor, like Rudock, will be the assumed Day 1 starter, but Dantonio will never come out and say it.
I actually expect to see plenty of snaps from Terry in the opener against Furman, and not just in garbage time. Dantonio knows that if he mixes in a couple packages for Terry, Notre Dame will have to prepare for it. MSU has a rare Week 2 bye game, which is why Dantonio has maintained that he might not declare a winner in the battle until into September.
But when that time comes, O’Connor will still be Dantonio’s “headline guy.”
Penn State — Trace McSorley vs. Tommy Stevens
Prediction — McSorley
Again, this is another situation where every guy in the locker room knows who the starter is, but the coach refuses to announce it publicly. James Franklin can say all he wants that it’s still a competition. The job is McSorley’s, no matter when in camp Franklin announces it.
McSorley passed all the necessary tests so far. He nearly led Penn State to a comeback win against Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl, he was nearly perfect in the spring game and all reports are that teammates trust him as a leader. He’s also an ideal fit in Joe Moorhead’s offense, which requires a mobile quarterback who can make plays out of the pocket.
No, Stevens didn’t get to work with the No. 1 offense during the spring game, but there’s a reason for that. McSorley has the upside that Penn State’s been looking for, and come September, he’ll be one of the league’s new stars.
Rutgers — Chris Laviano vs. Zach Allen
Prediction — Laviano
If you had asked me a month ago, I would’ve picked Allen. Anytime a new quarterback is brought in after the spring, I question how much the coach believes in the expected starter.
But Chris Ash said that he’s seen a different Laviano as of late, and not just because he put on 15 pounds of muscle.
“What I saw in the summer I didn’t necessarily see in the spring. I thought that he did a better job of providing leadership,” Ash said to the Asbury Park Press. “I thought he did a better job of earning the trust of others, with the way he conducted himself.
“But he has to do it on the practice field. Doing it in the weight room, doing it in conditioning is one thing. Doing it with the helmet on when you’re under center taking snaps and doing it consistently to the level where guys trust you and believe in you, that’s a whole different thing.’’
That’s more than coach-speak. That sounds like a guy who took Allen’s recruitment personally and did something about it.
Yes, Allen came from TCU but don’t forget that he’s still transitioning back into the quarterback position. And yes, I know it got ugly with Laviano far too often last year, but this is a new era. I think Drew Mehringer goes with the more-experienced Laviano, at least to start 2016.
Wisconsin — Alex Hornibrook vs. Bart Houston
Prediction — Houston
I went back and forth on this one, as I’m sure Paul Chryst has done many times. I was high on Hornibrook after watching him in the spring game, and frankly, I still am. I think he’ll be the guy eventually, and one day, he’ll have a chance to be the star of the offense.
But for 2016, Wisconsin can’t afford to have a redshirt freshman starter at quarterback. Not with that schedule. Hornibrook, while talented, is still prone to misreads and poorly-timed throws. Wisconsin needs a veteran like Houston to navigate through that early-season gauntlet. The Badgers face five teams ranked in the top 15 of the Coaches Poll in their first seven games.
Houston might not have the arm strength that Hornibrook does, but he’s the more likely choice. Wisconsin figures to rely on Corey Clement and the running game much more, which bodes well for whoever gets the job.
I just think that because of their schedule, Houston will make more sense.