We are roughly six weeks away from fall camps beginning around the nation. That dead period where we all pretend we are baseball fans but rarely actually watch games (who has three to four hours every night to watch games?) is coming to an end.
The Ozone staff has done a tremendous job of keeping us in the loop with all things Ohio State football since January but I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks crawling into those dirty spaces no one wants to go. I’m going to take a look around the B1G and pick my Top-5 players at each position going into next season and one player to keep your eye on.
In today’s piece, we will be looking at my Top-5 quarterbacks around the Big Ten heading into the 2017 season.
1. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State (Senior)
Before you get out the pitch forks, remember Barrett is the reigning Big Ten Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year. As a junior, Barrett combined for 3,400 yards (2,555 passing/845 rushing) and 33 touchdowns while guiding Ohio State to the College Football Playoffs. With all that said, I think this is a big year for Barrett to prove the doubters wrong.
No longer can the blame go on the two old offensive coordinators or the inexperienced offensive line. Urban Meyer has brought in a brilliant offensive mind and the offensive line returns four starters. There are no excuses for Barrett this year. No matter how many school records he holds at the end of this year, his legacy will depend on how good or bad a year he has this year. I’ll get into this more when I do my OSU positional breakdowns in the next couple of weeks.
2. Trace McSorley, Penn State (Junior)
I’m not going to lie, I really did not want to put McSorley here. There is no doubt McSorley had an amazing year last year when he threw and rushed for a combined for 3,979 yards and 36 touchdowns. He is on many experts’ pre-season Heisman Watch Lists. McSorley has the best running back in the nation behind him. He has an experienced offensive line to give him time. His tight end Mike Gesicki — although he spurned Ohio State — is a complete freak athlete and possibly the best at his position in all of college football. Everything points to him having an amazing year…but I just am not sold on the idea of Trace McSorley as a 2017 Heisman finalist, let alone winner.
Last year, I watched more Penn State games than I care to remember. In my humble opinion, McSorley was bailed out a lot by his Wide Receivers…especially Chris Godwin, who is now gone. I think he is a good quarterback, but I struggle to believe he puts up those numbers this year especially with Saquon Barkley dominating in the backfield. His games against Michigan (121 yds,1 TD, 1 Int), Ohio State (154 yards, 1 TD), and Southern California (254 yards, 4 TDs, 3 Ints) do not instill me with a lot of confidence. While I predict regression from him this year, he still sits at number two, barely edging out my third guy.
3. Clayton Thorson, Northwestern (Junior)
Don’t look now, but Northwestern is going to have a pretty good offense this year and it will be led by this former four-star recruit. With two years of starting experience under his belt, Thorson is primed to make a giant leap this year and could easily be the top QB in the B1G by the end of 2017.
As a sophomore, Thorson threw for 3,182 yards and had a combined 27 touchdowns while only throwing nine interceptions. Obviously, the loss of Austin Carr will hurt, but running back Justin Jackson, superback Garrett Dickerson, and four returning starters on the offensive line will help keep some of the pressure off of Thorson.
4. Wilton Speight, Michigan (Junior)
I’m pretty sure I am higher on Wilton Speight than most and I am okay with that. A lot of my respect for Speight comes from that OSU game when he battled his shoulder injury, took shot after shot from the Buckeye defense, and was still hanging in the pocket and making better throws than any quarterback on the field that day. His inconsistency was his demise, however, losing three of four games down the stretch where he threw for just 485 yards and three touchdowns and four interceptions in those games.
For the year, he threw for 2,538 yards and combined for 19 touchdowns. Entering his second year as starter under Jim Harbaugh, I think Speight will make a giant leap and improve on all of those numbers despite losing his top three pass catchers. I would not be shocked if he threw for over 3,000 yards this season.
5. David Blough, Purdue (Junior)
A lot of people may not know about Blough. I mean you can’t blame them — he plays for Purdue, he was only a three-star recruit, and did I mention he plays for Purdue? With all of that, you could joke that it’s more like David Blah, but I’ll let you in on a little secret…he actually isn’t that bad of a quarterback. In 2016, Blough led the conference in passing attempts and completions on his way to an impressive 3,352 passing yards and 29 combined touchdowns. Not too bad for a sophomore on a not-so-good team.
Life was not all peachy for Blough, however, as he threw 21 interceptions last year, which includes five interceptions against Cincinnati in week two and eight combined interceptions over his final three games. In to assist his development is new head coach Jeff Brohm who comes to Purdue from Western Kentucky. As most of you know, Brohm is a former quarterback who played for Louisville in college, for various teams in the NFL, and played in the greatest football league ever — the XFL. With his expertise, I think you can assume that Blough will take a giant leap forward this year and cut down significantly on his interceptions.
ONE TO KEEP AN EYE ON
Caleb Henderson, Maryland (Junior)
The Terrapins haven’t had a steady starter at quarterback since 2014 when C.J. Brown played in all 13 games. In 2016, they had four quarterbacks play and those four only combined for 2,317 passing yards and 15 touchdowns. Second-year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Walt Bell prefers a quarterback who can sling the ball around while still being able to move around the pocket. His offense excelled at Arkansas State with guys like Fredi Knighten, who combined for 4,056 yards and 35 TDs in 2014. This is where Caleb Henderson steps into the picture.
As a former four-start recruit, Henderson was a U.S. Army all-American and a top-10 pro-style quarterback recruit according to 247Sports. He chose to go to North Carolina before transferring to Maryland in August. Being labeled a Pro-Style quarterback does not mean Henderson is a statue back there as he has shown the ability to move around the pocket when needed. I’m not predicting you will see Barrett types of numbers on the ground, but I think he will be a lot like Mitch Leidner was last year for Minnesota (366 rushing yards), while putting up much better passing numbers than Leidner. If he is able to show he can keep up with the fast-paced offense, Henderson could be poised for a huge year.