Saturday Tradition's Big Ten quarterback rankings entering Week 1
Let’s give Northwestern’s Ryan Hilinski credit while we can. He deserves it after orchestrating a 31-28 upset of Nebraska on Saturday in Dublin, Ireland.
Two years after transferring from South Carolina, Hilinski delivered his best performance as a Wildcat, connecting on 71% of his passes for 314 yards and 2 TDs. It was his first 300-yard game since he posted 3 of them in 2019 with the Gamecocks.
Nebraska’s Casey Thompson, who transferred in this year from Texas, took the loss, debuting with a 355-yard effort that was marred by 2 second-half interceptions.
Given the numbers and the result, we’re moving Hilinski from unranked to Thompson’s spot, knocking the Huskers’ QB down a peg to No. 8 on our list. That also bumps Graham Mertz out of the top 10. The Wisconsin junior has been living off his recruiting ranking long enough; we’re gonna make him prove himself starting Saturday night against Illinois State.
The only other Big Ten quarterback in action in Week 0 was Tommy DeVito, who guided Illinois to an easy victory over Wyoming with a solid debut effort. The former Syracuse QB went 27-of-37 for 194 yards and 2 TDs.
Unranked this week
Indiana: Connor Bazelak (transfer from Missouri) or Jack Tuttle
Rutgers: Noah Vedral or Gavin Wimsatt
Wisconsin: Graham Mertz
Illinois: Tommy DeVito
10. Spencer Petras, Iowa
2021 stats: 1,880 passing yards, 57.3%, 10 TDs, 9 INTs
The Hawkeyes don’t play quarterback-friendly offense, at least if said quarterback is trying to stand out. That’s why they’ve had a succession of 3-star recruits at the position, and why Petras had to hold off Alex Padilla for the job during August camp. We’ll find out more when the Hawkeyes host South Dakota State in an early game on Saturday.
9. Tanner Morgan, Minnesota
2021 stats: 2,044 yards, 59.6%, 10 TDs, 9 INTs
In his final season, Morgan reunites with Kirk Ciarrocca, who is back as offensive coordinator after 2 years away. If they can recreate the magic that led to Morgan’s best season in 2019 (3,253 yards, 30 TDs), the 6th-year senior will top 10,000 career yards and possibly even pass Adam Weber (10,917) as the Gophers’ all-time leader. The quest begins Thursday night vs. visiting New Mexico State.
8. Casey Thompson, Nebraska
Week 0 stats: 25-of-42, 355 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs
The Texas transfer looked great out of the gate and had Nebraska up 28-17 in the third quarter. But he and new OC Mark Whipple’s offense petered out down the stretch, getting blanked on their final 6 drives, with 2 of them ending in interceptions. Maybe Adrian Martinez wasn’t the problem; maybe NU is just cursed. Other than sneaking 1 yard for a TD, Thompson didn’t do much with his feet. Well, other than this:
CASEY THOMPSON WHAT A PLAY
— Barstool Sportsbook (@BSSportsbook) August 27, 2022
Next up for Thompson and the Huskers is what should be a get-well home game Saturday vs. North Dakota.
7. Ryan Hilinski, Northwestern
Week 0 stats: 27-of-38, 314 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs
Well, the junior held off camp challenger Brendan Sullivan for a week, anyway, getting the better of Nebraska and Casey Thompson in Ireland. The former transfer from South Carolina played mistake-free football in a 31-28 upset of the Cornhuskers. Hilinski now has a week off before a home date with Duke in Week 2.
6. Cade McNamara, Michigan
2021 stats: 2,576 yards, 64.2%, 15 TDs, 6 INTs
The stats don’t jump off the page because Michigan ran the ball almost 60 percent of the time. But McNamara made plays when needed, leading the Wolverines to 12 wins and a CFP berth. Nonetheless, he’s being pushed by 2021 5-star recruit JJ McCarthy, who will get the start in Week 2. However it plays out, Jim Harbaugh will have solid quarterback play again this season. McNamara will start Saturday vs. visiting Colorado State.
5. Sean Clifford, Penn State
2021 stats: 3,107 yards, 61.0%, 21 TDs, 8 INTs
Clifford put up solid enough passing stats even after getting blasted in the ribs by Iowa’s Jack Campbell in Week 6 last year. But he couldn’t run effectively, and Penn State’s offense sputtered without that element. The 24-year-old 6th-year senior gets one more crack at winning over Nittany Nation, starting Thursday night at Purdue. He’ll become the program’s first 10,000-yard career passer if he keeps the starting assignment for at least 10 games.
4. Payton Thorne, Michigan State
2021 stats: 3,233 yards, 60.4%, 27 TDs, 10 INTs
After setting the school record for touchdown passes in a season, the 6-2, 210-pound Thorne begins his junior season as the unquestioned leader of Mel Tucker’s resurgent Spartans. If he stays healthy, the 21-year-old will be climbing MSU’s career passing lists in a hurry. He’ll get started Friday night against visiting Western Michigan.
3. Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland
2021 stats: 3,860 yards, 69.2%, 26 TDs, 11 INTs
Ah, Lia. Here we go again. (Kudos to you if you got the Donnie Iris song reference!) Tagovailoa is back for his 4th year in college and 3rd with the Terps. A home opener at noon Saturday vs. Buffalo sets him up for a strong start to 2022. With fellow upperclassmen Rakim Jarrett and Dontay Demus Jr. back and healthy at receiver, Tagovailoa could reach even greater heights this season — especially if Maryland can put a serviceable O-line in front of him.
2. Aidan O’Connell, Purdue
2021 stats: 3,708 yards, 71.8%, 28 TDs, 11 INTs
Pass-happy Purdue coach Jeff Brohm settled his multi-year quarterback competition once and for all in Week 5 last year. From that point on, O’Connell averaged 370.7 passing yards over the Boilermakers’ final 9 games. He went well over 500 yards in victories against Michigan State and bowl opponent Tennessee. He’ll be breaking in a new set of receivers Thursday night against visiting Penn State.
1. CJ Stroud, Ohio State
2021 stats: 4,435 yards, 71.9%, 44 TDs, 6 INTs
Stroud set a school record with 573 passing yards and tied one with 6 TD throws in a 48-45 Rose Bowl victory over Utah. That’s where he left off. With favorite target Jaxon Smith-Njigba back and stud receivers in line to replace NFL first-round picks Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, Stroud should be even better in his sophomore season. A big game Saturday night vs. No. 5 Notre Dame would kick-start his Heisman campaign nicely.