Starting a true freshman at quarterback isn’t ideal, but it’s no longer as rare as it once was.
Watching two true freshmen signal-callers battle it out for a national championship should’ve all but ended the notion that you can’t win with a first-year quarterback.
A handful of B1G teams could find themselves turning to true freshmen to lead their offenses. Maybe it’s because of injury or maybe it’s just because they’re just flat out better than the upperclassmen on the roster.
Whatever the case, here are the four best bets for true freshmen to start in the B1G:
Adrian Martinez, Nebraska
Why he could start — I mean, did you see the spring game? Martinez looked like a junior, not an early enrollee. It didn’t take long to see why Scott Frost targeted the former Tennessee commit so soon after taking over in Lincoln. Martinez was decisive, elusive and poised in his first real showcase. In his only real chance to make a public statement before his first college season begins, Martinez made a memorable one (via Sky Designs).
If anyone believes Frost wouldn’t start a true freshman, perhaps they missed McKenzie Milton doing just that at UCF in 2016 (he wasn’t even a top-1,000 recruit). And also, I love the fact that Martinez has already been available to speak to the media. That’s extremely rare for any early enrollee, much less one who could start at quarterback.
Tristan Gebbia is going to make a serious push to win this starting job, and he very well could. There’s also talk that Nebraska could add Ohio State grad transfer Joe Burrow. Still, I can’t help but think that Martinez has at least a 50-50 chance to win this job and lead Frost’s offense from Day 1.
Artur Sitkowski, Rutgers
Why he could start — I don’t want your typical answer of “um, because it’s Rutgers.” Sitkowski led that loaded offense at IMG Academy, and while he won’t have such an obvious advantage of skill players around him, he’s still someone who could be more college-ready than a typical true freshman. Plus, he’s got the size at 6-5, 220 pounds.
Sitkowski, who was originally committed to Miami (FL), was a huge recruiting get for Chris Ash. The local kid will have a chance to battle with Giovanni Rescigno and Johnathan Lewis throughout fall camp to win the job. With all due respect to the veterans Rescigno and Lewis, they didn’t exactly run away with the gig when given the opportunity last year.
The door is wide open for Sitkowski to build off his 3-touchdown spring game performance and win the job to start in the opener.
Michael Penix, Indiana
Why he could start — The early enrollee certainly sounds like a contender following his first spring in Bloomington. If Peyton Ramsey was the undisputed starter, Tom Allen wouldn’t have brought in Arizona grad transfer Brandon Dawkins. As of right now, Dawkins’ addition suggests he’ll be the starter. He has the most experience and he’s a true dual threat.
So could Penix eventually be the guy? It’s definitely possible. An injury opened the door for Khalil Tate to take Dawkins’ job at Arizona. I tend to think there’s always a good chance we see multiple quarterbacks in a dual-threat system given the increased likelihood for injury.
Penix, another former Tennessee commit probably has the best arm and the most upside as a passer of anyone in that quarterback room (via Rocky Top Insider).
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) April 22, 2017
The southpaw was another big-time Tampa signee for Allen, and you can bet he’s excited about the possibility of letting him run the show. Maybe it takes IU falling behind big to a team like Michigan State or Ohio State before we see Penix get into a game.
And if he starts delivering dimes against a B1G contender, it might only be a matter of time before he becomes QB1.
Coran Taylor/M.J. Rivers, Illinois
Why he could start — Well, considering the fact that Illinois lacks quarterback depth like Antartica lacks sandy beaches, Taylor and Rivers certainly will have a shot. Cam Thomas was the only scholarship quarterback on the roster throughout spring, but he’ll be joined by the freshmen as well as Virginia Tech transfer A.J. Bush.
Taylor and Rivers might already be the best passers of that group. Thomas is plenty promising as a runner, but a starting quarterback who completes 42 percent of his passes for less than 6 yards per attempt won’t do Lovie Smith a ton of good. If Thomas doesn’t develop as a passer and if Bush isn’t that guy either (he has just 11 career pass attempts), Smith could decide to let one of his true freshmen have a shot.
It’s rare to see a summer enrollee start at quarterback as a true freshman, but given Illinois’ struggles at the position, Smith might not mind expediting their development if they show they’re ready for it.