Every Tuesday, Matt Hayes tackles the 10 hottest topics in the Big Ten …

1. The B1G Story

Every decision has been the right call. Even the 1 decision that still stings.

So when Ohio State coach Ryan Day chooses a starter in August between quarterbacks Kyle McCord and Devin Brown, there’s near perfect odds it will work.

History tells us so — even if it shows Dwayne Haskins over Joe Burrow in the most controversial decision of Day’s time as offensive coordinator/QBs coach and head coach.

Day’s first season at Ohio State in 2017 as offensive coordinator was with incumbent starter JT Barrett. Year 2 is where it got interesting.

Day (and coach Urban Meyer) chose Haskins over Burrow after spring practice, and Burrow left for LSU. Two years later, Burrow orchestrated the greatest season by a quarterback in NCAA history.

But the decision to start Haskins was the right move, and he threw for 4,831 yards and 50 TDs, and completed 70 percent of his passes. Only an upset loss to Purdue — on an emotionally-charged night with cancer-stricken Boilers super fan Tyler Trent — kept Ohio State from the Playoff.

A year later, Justin Fields arrived, and after a horrific spring game, he put up big numbers and led Ohio State to back to back Playoffs. Then came CJ Stroud, who beat out McCord and Jack Miller and threw for 85 TDs in 2 seasons.

The winner of this year’s competition will fall right in line — and leads to our annual post-spring look at the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten, ranked in tiers:

2. Tier 1, championship level

1. JJ McCarthy, Michigan: Picked the worst time to play his worst game of the season in 2022, and it cost Michigan a chance to play in the national title game.

Now there’s motivation mixed with rare talent. And now we get to see just how badly McCarthy wants to be an elite quarterback — and maybe even a Heisman Trophy finalist/winner.

2. Kyle McCord, Ohio State: Don’t get too caught up in spring practice reviews, or the vanilla offense that played out.

McCord has been impressing Day with his skills since he competed 2 years ago as a true freshman for the starting job. The only thing that has changed is McCord has gotten better and more confident.

He’ll be the starter in the fall, and he’ll play well. Just like every quarterback under Day.

3. Tier 2, a step away

3. Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland: He was hit (Ohio State) and miss (Michigan, Penn State) last season in the 3 games that mean everything. The Terps only chance to steal a win vs. the Big 3 in the East Division is a big game from Tagovailoa.

Now more than ever, the Maryland offense — with new co-OCs Josh Gattis and Kevin Sumlin — must lean on Tagovailoa.

4. Cade McNamara, Iowa: Hard to argue with what he accomplished at Michigan in 2021. And hard to argue that any other quarterback wouldn’t have been manhandled by the Georgia defense, too.

Iowa wants to do exactly what Michigan did in 2021: run the ball behind an elite defense, throw smartly off play-action and don’t make mistakes. Who says it can’t happen again for McNamara?

5. Hudson Card, Purdue: There’s a lot to like about Card’s sneaky good production in limited time at Texas. He throws an accurate, catchable ball, and he’s a willing and productive runner.

The problem: can he stay healthy?

6. Tanner Mordecai, Wisconsin: Maybe those 4 INTs in the spring game were a facade (see: Fields in his 1st spring with a new team in the Big Ten).

Maybe it’s just Mordecai — a prolific thrower the last 2 seasons at SMU — playing against an elite defense with a new team. Or maybe it’s not — and it’s a disturbing trend.

7. Drew Allar, Penn State: I get what coach James Franklin is doing by proclaiming the job open, and that redshirt freshman Beau Pribula has a chance. He wants Allar, a former 5-star recruit and last year’s backup, to be consistent in preparation over the summer.

Allar looks like a prototypical NFL quarterback. He’s big and strong-armed and stands tall in the pocket. He’s a more athletic version of Christian Hackenberg, who was the most decorated high school quarterback to sign with Penn State.

If he plays well and protects the ball in his 1st season as a starter, Penn State is talented enough to win the Big Ten and advance to the Playoff.

4. Tier 3, game managers

8. Jeff Sims, Nebraska: A uniquely-skilled athlete who can stress defenses many ways. He’s big (6-4, 220), he’s fast (4.4 40) and he has elite arm talent.

Accuracy is an issue (more on that later), and he also hasn’t had enough repetitions. The last 2 seasons have been shortened by injury, and he only started a combined 13 games.

9. Luke Altmyer, Illinois: The staff is excited about the potential of Altmyer, Lane Kiffin’s 1st quarterback recruit to Ole Miss who transferred to Illinois this offseason.

Coach Bret Bielema says the game comes “easily” to Altmyer, and the goal is to push the ball downfield more often than what happened in 2022.

10. Athan Kaliakmanis, Minnesota: Got his opportunity late last season, and played well in a win over Wisconsin and for a quarter against Syracuse in the bowl game.

Coach PJ Fleck has raved about that arm talent of Kaliakmanis for 2 years, and went all-in this offseason when he didn’t sign a quarterback from the portal. After the spring game, Fleck declared “this team has the potential to be explosive.”

When was the last time you thought “explosive” about Minnesota football?

11. Noah Kim, Michigan State: Depending on whom you talk to, Payton Thorne needed a fresh start and left Michigan State (and signed with Auburn), or Kim played so well in the spring, it was going to be difficult for Thorne to keep his starting job.

Kim had 3 TD passes in 19 attempts as the top backup last season, and gives the Spartans the added threat of stressing the defense with his legs and with accurate off-schedule throws.

12. Gavin Wimsatt, Rutgers: Or Evan Simon. Wimsatt makes the rare plays, but isn’t consistent. Simon manages the game, but hasn’t yet shown he can be a difference-maker.

Rutgers is going to focus on the run under new OC Kirk Ciarrocca, so maybe the focus of whoever wins the job is ball security. Play solid defense (Rutgers was 8th in the Big Ten in total defense in 2022), run the ball and get the game to the 4th quarter.

Boring? Sure. But at this point in coach Greg Schiano’s 2nd run in Piscataway, Rutgers needs substance (wins) over flash.

13. Brendan Sorsby, Indiana: Or Tayven Jackson, the Tennessee transfer. Neither did enough to separate himself during spring practice.

They’re similar players (both can stress defenses with their legs), but the Hoosiers were most dangerous under coach Tom Allen in 2020 when Michael Penix Jr. was making plays in the passing game. Right now, neither Sorsby nor Jackson is consistent enough to make it happen.

14. Ben Bryant, Northwestern: After an uneventful spring practice at the position, coach Pat Fitzgerald added Bryant from the portal. This, of course, tells us 2 key things:

  • Fitz isn’t happy with what he had at quarterback (5 players combined to throw 11 TDs and 17 INTs in 2022) and needed more competition.
  • Bryant, who was the No.2 to Desmond Ritter for 3 seasons at Cincinnati, didn’t transfer to Northwestern without a clear idea that the job is his to lose.

5. The Weekly 5

Early odds from our friends at FanDuel for the top 5 games with Big Ten teams in the first month of the 2023 season:

1. Ohio State at Notre Dame (+8.5): if Ohio State didn’t have 3 gimme putts prior to this game to get settled at QB, Notre Dame QB Sam Hartman could’ve made it interesting. And still may.

2. Nebraska (+8) at Minnesota: Season opener for Rhule at Nebraska, and a chance to make a statement in Week 1.

3. Iowa (+1.5) at Iowa State: After 9 months and 1 game (vs. Utah State) of preparation, what does the rebuilt Iowa offense under Brian Ferentz look like in a game of significance?

4. Washington (-10.5) at Michigan State: Huskies are a sleeper Playoff pick. If MSU coach Mel Tucker wants Sparty Nation back on his side, here’s the spot.

5. West Virginia (+16.5) at Penn State: A classic rivalry of decades past. A great spot for Allar to begin his career with a unique win.

6. Your tape is your resume

An NFL scout analyzes a draft eligible Big Ten player. This week: Michigan G Zac Zinter.

“I like the size and length, and I like the way he uses his hands. He has good punch, a pop that can knock you back on your heels a bit. But the overall strength needs to improve. It’s a grown man game on the interior at this level, and you better be dominating college football before you can succeed here. He’s not consistently dominating. He has good tools that need refinement, and a body that needs strength.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing: post-spring outlook.

1. Michigan: Harbaugh’s most talented team is full of confidence and motivation.

2. Ohio State: Can this program turn around poor production on defense in games that mattered over the last 2 seasons.

3. Penn State: Lions had the talent to win the Big Ten last year, but didn’t have the quarterback. Is this the same scenario in 2023?

4. Wisconsin: The Badgers’ defense under new coach Luke Fickell — not the heralded Air Raid offense — will dictate 2023.

5. Iowa: Defense will again be championship-worthy. Is OC /QB coach Brian Ferentz up to the task with new QB Cade McNamara?

6. Minnesota: Fleck finally took the transfer portal seriously. Will it pay off with a few big additions?

7. Illinois: Bielema hit this point at Arkansas: it looked then like it had turned — but it really hadn’t.

8. Maryland: Terps were close last season against Ohio State and Michigan. All it takes is 1 win to change the narrative for recruits.

9. Purdue: Young, charismatic coach and yet another facelift for the football facilities. This is how change happens.

10. Nebraska: As bad as it has been over the last decade, there’s not 1 game on the schedule (outside of Michigan) that looks unwinnable.

11. Michigan State: A crossroads season for Tucker at Michigan State. It’s his roster, and his culture.

12. Indiana: Someone in the league office isn’t too thrilled with IU: the schedule begins with the brutal East rotation, and includes Wisconsin, Illinois and Purdue.

13. Rutgers: Baby steps, everyone. Let’s begin with scoring more than 24 points in conference games.

14. Northwestern: It’s fairly simple: until Northwestern figures out the quarterback, they’re entrenched in the last spot.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: I feel good about USC enhancing our profile. I’m not so sure about UCLA. It feels like we’re adding another Nebraska. — Vernon Charles, Rockford, Ill.


I really liked the hire of Chip Kelly, but he’s recruiting against a monster at USC and he doesn’t have the similar financial support to gain ground.

This is a results-based business, and in 5 years, Kelly has 2 winning seasons and a 27-29 record. That’s a long way from where he was at Oregon, and the November home loss to Arizona (and the bowl loss to Pitt) underscored that.

The easy response is UCLA lost 3 games by a combined 11 points, and was that close to 12 wins. Don’t fool yourself: UCLA isn’t recruiting at a level conducive to competing for championships, or even making a 12-team Playoff.

9. Numbers

29.7. Casey Thompson is in the transfer portal, and the Nebraska quarterback for 2023 is Sims — who has never really played to the level of his significant talent. More disturbing: in 3 seasons at Georgia Tech, Sims completed 29.7 percent of 3rd down throws for first downs.

His completion percentage overall on 3rd down throws was 51.4 percent. That means almost half of those completions didn’t convert 3rd downs.

In an era of successful pass games dictating wins and losses, those are dangerous numbers.

10. Quote to note

Illinois coach Bret Bielema: “I don’t know if (clock rules) are going to affect the game the way they think it’s going to. You know, unintended consequences. We’ll play the rules as we know them. I don’t think it changes game management, but for sure, the last 6 minutes of each half, it’s going to go quicker than it has ever gone. Kind of a modified 2-minute scenario.”