Indiana football: Penix quickly adding name to list of Hoosiers' best quarterbacks
Since Michael Penix Jr. arrived on campus in the spring of 2018, the hype around the left-handed quarterback has been real.
But production had been sporadic, due not to ability but to health. Now, though, in his 3rd season in Bloomington, the hype is matching the reality. Penix is healthy and playing the best football of his career, and because of it, the Hoosiers are 3-0 and have climbed to No. 10 in the country.
Is it too early to crown Penix the best of the best in Indiana quarterback annals? Probably so. But he’s already worthy of mention, and that says a lot for a 3rd-year sophomore who has started only 9 games.
Although Penix’s story has yet to be completed, the first few chapters are solid. This season, after having his games cut short in 2018 and ’19 due to injury, he has shown off his immense ability, particularly in the last game-and-a-half. After a shaky start vs. Penn State, then a so-so first half at Rutgers, Penix has dialed in. In Saturday’s 38-21 win over Michigan, the lefty completed 30 of 50 passes for a career-high 342 yards, second most for a Hoosier against the Wolverines, with 3 touchdowns.
While not necessarily a running quarterback, Penix has that ability, maybe never more so than on his 2-point conversion dive to win in Week 1 vs. Penn State.
In baseball terms, he’s a 5-tool player.
But once his career is over, where might he rank? Let’s take a look at the other contenders for Indiana’s best:
Antwaan Randle El
Few schools have ever had a quarterback as dynamic as Randle El was for the Hoosiers from 1998-2001. Perhaps one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in Big Ten history, Randle El finished with 7,469 passing yards over his 4 seasons, plus 3,895 yards rushing. Both rank as No. 2 in Hoosiers history. He ranks No. 1 in total offense, and it’s not close, with 11,364 yards, more than 3,000 better than No. 2 Kellen Lewis. But Randle El was as much an athlete playing quarterback as he was a pure QB. He never completed more than 53.8 percent of his passes — only 48 percent as a junior — and Indiana, in what turned out to be an ill-fated plan, moved him to wide receiver to start his senior season. It was temporary. And Indiana didn’t win much as Cam Cameron’s crew finished under .500 in each of Randle El’s 4 seasons, with a high mark of 5-6 during his senior year.
As far as drop-back quarterbacks, Sudfeld might be the standard bearer. Indiana’s career leader in passing, Sudfeld threw for 7,879 yards over 4 seasons, with 61 scores. As a senior in 2015, he hit 60 percent of his passes for 3,573 yards with 27 touchdowns, and perhaps most importantly, he helped Kevin Wilson’s Hoosiers to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl by rallying to win their last 2 games of the season. Indiana scored a combined 101 in wins over Maryland and Purdue, both on the road.
Green might be better known for his 15-year NFL career, most notably with the Kansas City Chiefs, than for his stint in Bloomington. But he’s worth noting among Indiana’s top quarterback. Green’s best season in Indiana was as a junior in 1991, when he passed for a then-school single-season record with 2,627 yards. He was team MVP and led the Hoosiers to a 7-win season, including a 24-0 win over Baylor in the Dec. 31 Copper Bowl.
Schnell was QB1 for Bill Mallory’s Hoosiers in the late ’80s, one of the most successful eras of Indiana football. In 4 seasons from 1986-89, Schnell passed for 5,470 yards with 27 touchdowns. But also, Indiana won 8 games in back-to-back seasons in ’87 and ’88. In 1987, the Hoosiers reached as high as No. 11 in the AP ranking after starting the season 6-1. In ’88, Indiana got win No. 8 in the Liberty Bowl, beating South Carolina 34-10.
Clifford was Indiana’s quarterback from 1977-80, throwing for 3,469 yards combined in his junior and senior seasons. He had 4,338 yards in 4 years, which still ranks 10th all-time, with 31 touchdowns. Indiana won the Holiday Bowl in ’79, beating BYU 38-37 on Dec. 21 in San Diego. Clifford threw for 171 yards with a touchdown in the win.