B1G's Best: Top 5 QBs entering 2018
The most glamorous position in sports is never short of talking points.
One recent exhibit: Athlon’s magazine rated Alabama as the best quarterback group in the country in its national preseason college football issue. Bama’s official Twitter football account repeated the claim. Penn State backup QB Tommy Stevens took issue with that in a Twitter post, with three simple letters.
Penn State’s starter, Trace McSorley, threw for 3,570 yards and 28 touchdowns with 10 interceptions last season. Those numbers were a tiny drop from his 2016 production (3,614, 29, 8) but PSU’s star signalcaller is head and shoulders above the rest of the Big Ten’s returning starting quarterbacks. (And for the record, Athlon’s rated Penn State as the fourth-best quarterbacking unit in the country.)
With that, here are our projected top 5 quarterbacks in the Big Ten for 2018. We’ll follow in the next few days with the league’s best running backs, wide receivers and defensive players. Folks like Shea Patterson (assuming he wins the position battle at Michigan) and Dwayne Haskins (the presumptive starter for Ohio State) might crash this list soon. But for not we’re going with more sure things
1. Trace McSorley, Penn State
In addition to his accomplishments above, the senior has a strong offensive line coming back and solid receivers in Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins. No, there’s no Saquon Barkley around to help carry the load anymore, but Penn State’s offense is still likely to be plenty explosive.
2. Brian Lewerke, Michigan State
The Spartans return just about their entire starting offense from last season, including Lewerke. The junior passed for 2,793 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2017 with seven interceptions, highlighted by a 400-yard game in MSU’s win over Penn State. And Lewerke can move his feet. He’ll never be confused for former Louisville star Lamar Jackson but the Spartans starter is fluid in the pocket and can run for yardage at times.
3. Alex Hornibrook, Wisconsin
The bad news is, Hornibrook never threw for 300 yards in any game last season. Then again, the Badgers have never been the types to sling it 50 times a game, have they? The good news is, Hornibrook saved his best game for last as a sophomore: A season-high 258 passing yards and four touchdowns in Wisconsin’s 34-24 victory over Miami in what amounted to a postseason road game in the Orange Bowl. Cutting down on his 15 interceptions in 2017 could be key to the Badgers’ Big Ten title hopes.
4. Nate Stanley, Iowa
In 2017, the junior led the Hawkeyes to their first bowl victory since 2010. His solid touchdown-to-interception ratio (26-6) exemplified Iowa’s typical Kirk Ferentz philosophy of minimizing mistakes. Stanley’s overall numbers in 2017 were not spectacular (55.8 percent completion rate, 2,432 yards) but he saved his best efforts for the biggest games: A season-high 333 yards and five touchdown passes against Iowa State, then 226 yards and five more touchdowns in the Hawkeyes’ shocking rout of Ohio State.
5. Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
The senior led the Big Ten in pass attempts last season with 434, one of the rare categories where McSorley did not top the league. But only 15 of those tosses went for touchdowns and his TD-to-INT ratio (15-12) left something to be desired. Then Thorson tore his ACL in the Wildcats’ Music City Bowl victory over Kentucky. It’s not certain if he will be ready for the Aug. 30 opener after Purdue but if he misses out, he should be good to go soon after.