Which 2021 B1G QB recruits have the quickest path to playing?
Can you imagine a pair of true freshmen starting in The Game on No. 27?
With the Big Ten’s top two quarterback recruits in the 2021 class, it’s technically possible.
The rich get richer. Truth is, an 18-year-old starting quarterback in college football is an extreme rarity. Most programs aren’t capable of recruiting a kid who’s ready that early.
But that doesn’t mean a brand-new signal caller can’t contribute right away. Looking at you, Adrian Martinez and Michael Penix Jr.
Eleven B1G teams signed a quarterback on or before Wednesday’s National Signing Day festivities. We analyzed each program’s situation and made an educated guess at which QBs could see the field first.
In most cases, it’ll take at least one injury or defection. But don’t be surprised if multiple names on this list — ranked in order of “most likely to play the earliest” — make their presence known in some way, shape or form when the 2021 season finally gets here.
11. Brendan Sullivan, Northwestern
It’s not jumping out a limb to surmise that Ryan Hilinski doesn’t transfer to the defending B1G West champs unless he’s the man under center. The Wildcats also have transfer Hunter Johnson and fellow redshirt junior Andrew Marty in the quarterback room, so there’s plenty of experience ahead of Sullivan, a 3-star recruit ranked 27th at his position by 247Sports.
10. Donaven McCulley, Indiana
McCulley’s time will come. Just not likely right away. Not with potential Heisman candidate Michael Penix Jr. back. Jack Tuttle also performed admirably in Penix’s ACL-induced absence down the stretch last season. So McCulley can bide his time.
9. Samari Collier, Illinois
New coach Bret Bielema has to be excited about the future under center. But Collier has incumbent starter Brandon Peters, flashy athlete Isaiah Williams and Matt Robinson with whom to contend for playing time. Like Sullivan and McCulley, Collier is a likely redshirt candidate this year.
8. Hampton Fray, Michigan State
Mel Tucker brought in Temple grad transfer Anthony Russo to replace departed Rocky Lombardi, and behind him, the Spartans feel good about their depth. Fray sees the field this year only if things don’t go according to plan in East Lansing.
7. Heinrich Haarberg, Nebraska
Martinez is the guy, especially after Luke McCaffrey — with whom Martinez split time in 2020 — entered the transfer portal. They’re excited in Lincoln about 2020 signee Logan Smothers, too. But this position has been a mess the past 2 seasons, so anything is possible. Haarberg is a home-state kid, like coach Scott Frost.
6. Joey Labas, Iowa
The Ferentz family isn’t known to throw their young pups to the wolves. The Hawkeyes appear pretty set with returning starter Spencer Petras and backup Alex Padilla. But the competition behind them is open.
5. Athan Kaliakmanis, Minnesota
The Chicagoland 4-star is one of the highest-rated QB prospects to grace Dinkytown in some time. Tanner Morgan is as tough as he is reliable, but the Gophers aren’t exactly stacked in terms of backups. It’s conceivable Kaliakmanis could win the No. 2 job in fall camp.
4. Christian Veilleux, Penn State
Nittany Lions offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca’s first QB recruit has a cannon for an arm and is 247’s No. 19 quarterback in the class. The transfer of Will Levis gives Veilleux more of a shot to back up returning starter Sean Clifford, but sophomore Ta’Quan Roberson will have something to say about that.
3. Deacon Hill, Wisconsin
Jack Coan’s transfer to Notre Dame + Graham Mertz’s up-and-down 2020 + the 2021 crop’s No. 21 quarterback = immediate impact?
For all of Wisconsin’s consistency, the quarterback equation has been an elusive one for the Badgers, spanning multiple coaching eras. Hill could someday be the answer, but it’s a question of when.
The most likely, best-case scenario? Mertz comes back strong and Hill works his way to No. 2.
2. J.J. McCarthy, Michigan
One of the best-documented struggles of Jim Harbaugh’s time at Michigan has been his inability to land a clear-cut, elite quarterback. The No. 2-ranked QB in this year’s class, McCarthy has the potential. And after the Wolverines’ struggles last year, there’s no reason not to give the 5-star early enrollee a serious look this spring and fall.
1. Kyle McCord, Ohio State
Any way you slice it, the Buckeyes will likely start a freshman at quarterback coming off an appearance in the national championship game. Will it be McCord? Or will C.J. Stroud or Jack Miller III — both freshmen thanks to the NCAA’s forgiven year of eligibility due to COVID-19 — rise to the top? This will be one of the most interesting QB battles nationally this offseason.