Spring football is when coaches figure out how much depth they have on their team. Or in some cases, how little.

Depth matters everywhere, of course, but there are few positions where you’ll sink faster without it than at quarterback. You can go far with a great starter, but an entire season can swirl down the drain without a trustworthy backup should something go wrong.

This is how we rank each Big Ten program’s quarterback room this spring.

It’s not a projection of where they will be at the end of the season. In particular, Ohio State and Penn State have highly touted but inexperienced quarterbacks who are likely to move up when they get more game experience.

And it’s also not just about the starters. There’s a reason the word “room” is attached, just as the word “spring” is important to this exercise.

The next spin of the transfer portal could also affect any of these teams before the season starts. But if it was starting today, this is where the quarterback rooms stand.

1. Maryland

Taulia Tagovailoa, Billy Edwards Jr.

It’s probable the Terrapins haven’t had the top quarterback room in their conference since Frank Reich was backing up Boomer Esiason. But based on experience, that’s what they’ve got right now.

Tagovailoa, who passed for 3,008 yards last season, is going to be the first team quarterback on the all-Big Ten preseason team.

Edwards looked capable in situations when Tagovailoa was banged up last year. Edwards was 5-for-9 for 62 yards and a touchdown against Michigan, and 18-of-28 for 166 yards and a touchdown against Northwestern.

2. Wisconsin

Tanner Mordecai, Braedyn Locke, Nick Evers

Big Ten West defenses are going to be an entirely different animal than what Mordecai saw in the American. But the guy has still accounted for better than 7,000 yards and 70 touchdowns the past 2 seasons at SMU, which is pretty hard to ignore.

He’s joined by Locke, who transferred from Mississippi State after spending a year learning from the late Mike Leach. Evers comes from Oklahoma’s pass-happy system.

The Badgers haven’t been set up this well at quarterback since Russell Wilson’s lone season in Madison.

3. Michigan

JJ McCarthy, Jack Tuttle, Davis Warren, Alex Orji

This is a room to feel good about.

McCarthy is a proven winner, and with improved accuracy against man-to-man coverage he could become the Big Ten’s best quarterback in 2023.

Tuttle is a veteran backup with starting experience. And Warren and Orji are intriguing young talents who could conceivably push Tuttle for the backup spot in August.

4. Nebraska

Casey Thompson, Jeff Sims, Logan Smothers

It’s unclear whether the Cornhuskers will actually be able to protect their quarterbacks. But Matt Rhule’s first quarterback room at Nebraska is as deep as the Huskers have been at the position in a long time.

Sports Betting in Big Ten Country

There is big news coming to the upcoming 2022-23 Big Ten football season (and NFL season). Ohio online sports betting and Maryland sports betting are on the way.

21+ and present in OH. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER.

Thompson has battled injuries and ups-and-downs at both Texas and Nebraska, but could take off as a third-year college starter if healthy.

Or maybe he won’t get the chance thanks to Sims, who started 23 games at Georgia Tech the past 3 seasons.

Even third-stringer Smothers has a career start, showing some dual-threat flashes in the 2021 season finale against Iowa.

5. Ohio State

Kyle McCord, Devin Brown, Tristan Gebbia

Some will say putting the Buckeyes quarterbacks in this spot is a leap of faith. Buckeye fans may find it disrespectful to have Ohio State this low. And I say if everyone is unhappy, I’ve probably got it right.

Brown’s late-spring finger injury, which kept him out of the spring game, complicates things a bit here. The competition between he and McCord for the starting spot won’t be settled until late summer.

Based on history, the winner may well end up being an all-Big Ten quarterback. We just don’t know that yet.

Gebbia, who started 4 games in his career at Oregon State, provides veteran depth much like Tuttle at Michigan.

6. Iowa

Cade McNamara, Joe Labas, Deacon Hill

That’s right. We’ve got Iowa in the top half of Big Ten quarterback rooms.

McNamara, who completed 64.2% of his passes at Michigan in 2021, will make an immediate difference. Hawkeye quarterbacks completed just 55% of their throws last year.

Labas was 14-of-24 for 139 yards and a touchdown in Iowa’s Music City Bowl win over Kentucky. Perhaps he will prove to be a capable backup.

7. Michigan State

Payton Thorne, Noah Kim, Katin Houser

Thorne should be among the Big Ten’s better quarterbacks in his third year as a starter, but getting there will require consistency.

The dynamic here isn’t unlike that of Penn State a year ago with Sean Clifford. Many Penn State fans were eager to move on to freshman Drew Allar, and in this case many Michigan State fans are ready to see what Houser’s got. But if it works out the same way it did for Penn State last year, that’s a pretty good season for the Spartans.

And if the spring game taught us anything, Houser’s still got some work to do if he’s even going to leapfrog the sharp-looking Kim for the backup spot this year.

8. Penn State

Drew Allar, Beau Pribula, Jaxon Smolik

Speaking of the Nittany Lions …

There’s every reason to be optimistic about what Allar and Penn State’s offense will do. But the majority of the 60 passes he threw last year were in garbage time, so he still needs to prove it.

He’s also being backed up by a redshirt freshman and a true freshman. All 3 quarterbacks are highly rated prospects, but this is a very green room.

Penn State’s quarterbacks could easily exceed this ranking — or possibly even fall short of it.

9. Purdue

Hudson Card, Brady Allen

Card started 5 games in 2 seasons at Texas. He was beaten out by Casey Thompson for the starting job as a freshman, then usurped by Caleb Ewers last year. But he’s looked pretty good when given the chance, like when he threw for 303 yards and 3 touchdowns against West Virginia.

Allen still has a redshirt after briefly appearing against Indiana State last year.

10. Minnesota

Athan Kaliakmanis, Cole Kramer, Drew Viotto

Kaliakmanis took over for the injured Tanner Morgan last year, but the results were not encouraging until a breakout performance against Wisconsin to take Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

Kaliakmanis was 19-of-29 for 319 yards and 2 touchdowns, perhaps closing the door on Jim Leonhard’s chances of earning the Wisconsin head coaching job in the process. It was Minnesota’s first 300-yard passing game since 2019.

The recent transfer of Jacob Knuth leaves the Gophers with 3 scholarship quarterbacks — a sophomore, a redshirt freshman and a true freshman.

11. Illinois

Luke Altmyer, John Paddock, Donovan Leary

Altmyer attempted 54 passes in 2 years at Ole Miss before transferring to Illinois for a chance to start.

Paddock is the most experienced player in the room, starting 12 games at Ball State last year before coming to Illinois for his senior season. He’ll be a good presence in the room even if he doesn’t win the starting nod.

Leary, a redshirt freshman, is the younger brother of Kentucky quarterback Devin Leary.

12. Northwestern

Brendan Sullivan, Ryan Hilinski, Cole Freeman

All 3 Wildcats quarterbacks have starting experience. The problem is that it was rarely a positive experience. Northwestern’s quarterbacks combined for 10 touchdowns and 17 interceptions last year, and did not throw a touchdown pass in the month of November.

It should tell you something that this isn’t the Big Ten’s weakest quarterback room.

13. Indiana

Tayven Jackson, Brendan Sorsby, Dexter Williams II

Jackson, a former 4-star Tennessee signee who is also the younger brother of Trayce Jackson-Davis, is a heck of a get for the Hoosiers. But his first year as a starter on a bad team is going to be more about building a bridge to Indiana competing in 2024.

Sorsby is likely to be the backup. Williams, who gave Indiana’s offense a major jolt late in the season, might not even be back this year after tearing multiple knee ligaments against Purdue.

14. Rutgers

Gavin Wimsatt, Evan Simon

New offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca has his work cut out for him if he’s going to get anything out of Rutgers’ quarterbacks.

Last year, Simon completed 57.7% of his passes for 4 touchdowns, 6 interceptions and an average of 5.7 yards per attempt. Wimsatt completed 44.8% of his passes for 5 touchdowns, 7 interceptions and an average of 5.2 yards per attempt.