Who will be the B1G's top 10 quarterbacks by season's end?
It’s funny to look back at our old predictions and old columns. Like how in 2019, I was convinced that Michigan would win the B1G, that Adrian Martinez would be a Heisman candidate and probably more things that I got horribly wrong.
If you would have done a preseason ranking of B1G quarterbacks in 2019, Shea Patterson and Adrian Martinez probably would have been at the top, because Justin Fields and Sean Clifford had yet to start a college game and were unproven. Experienced starters like Brian Lewerke and Nate Stanley were probably ranked ahead of Tanner Morgan and Michael Penix Jr., because the latter duo had yet to break out.
Yet by the end of the season, those unproven and relatively unknown quarterbacks would have been the top 4 in any ranking. And they would be the top 4 on this season’s preseason list.
That’s the nature of preseason rankings. They take into account experience and past performance, but they aren’t predictive.
For example, here’s how I would rank the B1G QBs coming into this season:
1. Justin Fields (Ohio State)
2. Tanner Morgan (Minnesota)
3. Sean Clifford (Penn State)
4. Michael Penix Jr. (Indiana)
5. Peyton Ramsey (Northwestern)
6. Jack Coan (Wisconsin)
7. Adrian Martinez (Nebraska)
8. Dylan McCaffrey (Michigan)
9. Spencer Petras (Iowa)
10. Brandon Peters (Illinois)
But 5 months from now, after the season is (hopefully) over, that’s another story. Fields will almost surely be at the top, again, but I could see some major shuffling among the rest of the QBs.
Here’s what I’m predicting this list will look like come January:
10. Jack Coan (Wisconsin)
I don’t know if anyone outside of Madison understands how big of a loss Quintez Cephus is going to be. Jonathan Taylor is obviously tough to replace, but Cephus had nearly a third of the Badgers’ receiving yards. For someone who is more of a game manager like Coan, losing a high-end playmaker is going to make it very difficult. And no more stacked boxes to deal with Taylor.
Plus, Coan is going to be looking over his shoulder all season at Graham Mertz, the Badgers’ 4-star QB of the future.
9. Peyton Ramsey (Northwestern)
It’s going to take an incredible effort for Ramsey to come anywhere close to his production last season. For one, the Indiana transfer’s weapons won’t be nearly as good as those he had with the Hoosiers, like Whop Philyor. Plus, Ramsey is going to have to get up to speed very quickly at his new school since the pandemic limited practice time. Still, Ramsey was 1 of Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded quarterbacks last season.
8. Dylan McCaffrey (Michigan)
We don’t even know that McCaffrey will be the starter, so this is hard to project. It could be Joe Milton. It could be a combination. Either way, the potential for success is there with wideouts Nico Collins and Ronnie Bell. But Michigan hasn’t ranked above 50th nationally in passing offense under Jim Harbaugh, so there seems to be a lower ceiling than some of these other programs.
7. Spencer Petras (Iowa)
This is the one I’m not sure about at all. Petras could easily rise into the upper echelon of B1G QBs, or he could fall out of the top 10 altogether. He has a terrific wide receiver crew at his disposal led by Ihmir Smith-Marsette, and a talented running back in Tyler Goodson. In his final high school season in California, Petras threw 50 touchdown passes and only 2 interceptions. He just has no college experience, so he’s an unknown.
6. Sean Clifford (Penn State)
Clifford emerged as a good quarterback in his 1st year as a starter, but I’m wary of his 2020 situation. He has a new offensive coordinator in Kirk Ciarrocca, who worked wonders for Tanner Morgan at Minnesota. But it’s a bad year to have a new coordinator with all of the limited practice time. Plus, game breaker KJ Hamler left early for the NFL. Clifford won’t get the benefit of throwing quick slants to Hamler and him taking them to the house. While Pat Freiermuth is like the college version of Travis Kelce, the receiver group is a giant question mark without Hamler. Penn State also has an elite group of running backs with Journey Brown and Noah Cain that it can lean on and won’t necessarily need Clifford to lead it to victory every week.
5. Adrian Martinez (Nebraska)
Remember all the hype surrounding Martinez going into last season? He had the same Heisman odds as Justin Fields and Jalen Hurts! It’s crazy to think about now because Martinez wound up not being worthy of being in the same conversation as either of those Heisman finalists. I’ll admit, I don’t have a specific reason for ranking Martinez this high. Heck, his top wideout, J.D. Spielman, transferred. But I’m betting on the talent and that Martinez will learn and grow from a challenging 2019. He will figure out a way to elevate that program.
4. Jack Plummer (Purdue)
This is my boldest pick, and I’m banking on the fact that I don’t know if it’s possible to have a bad season throwing to Rondale Moore and David Bell. Seriously, no one in the B1G has as good of high-end weapons at his disposal. Plummer (11 TDs, 8 INTs) definitely struggled in 2019, but it was a disaster of a season with injuries ravaging most of the roster. Jeff Brohm knows QBs, and if Plummer is the guy, he’s going to put up big numbers.
3. Tanner Morgan (Minnesota)
I’m honestly not sure what to make of Morgan. He was so good in 2019. He was as efficient as possible. Could he possibly be any better? I don’t think so. Morgan attempted only 24.5 passes per game (79th nationally) but averaged 10.2 yards per attempt (4th nationally). What happens if his efficiency drops even a little bit?
There’s also the unknown of how losing his offensive coordinator will affect him. He also lost 1 of the best wideouts in the B1G in Tyler Johnson. He still has Rashod Bateman and a good offensive line, but I’m curious to see if Morgan is asked to do more in 2020.
2. Michael Penix Jr. (Indiana)
If Penix can stay healthy, he has star written all over him. He was limited to 6 games last season, but when he was on the field, he was dynamic. He graded out in the top 20 of PFF metrics like passing grade, big-time throw rate, a turnover-worthy play rate and short- and intermediate-range uncatchable pass rate.
1. Justin Fields (Ohio State)
No explanation needed. You already know why he’s here.