Welcome to the second half of the first part of my annual Big Ten ratings. We went over the quarterbacks in the B1G West yesterday, which means today we look at the East Division signal callers.
Every single program in the Big Ten East should feel very good about their respective quarterback situations this season. The only team that doesn’t return a quarterback with starting experience is Ohio State, and nobody is expecting that to hold the Buckeyes back.
There are at least four starting quarterbacks in the East that could lead their teams to a division crown, and a couple of others who could sneak up on a contender and play well enough to get an upset. It might be the best group in Big Ten history, but I’m not gonna go back through the muck to see if that’s even close to being true.
Just know that it’s pretty darn good.
1. Penn State Nittany Lions
Trace McSorley led the Big Ten in passing yards last season, averaging 274.6 yards per game. His 3,570 yards were over 400 more than anybody else in the conference. McSorley threw 28 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, which is a tiny step back from the 29 and 8 he produced in 2016. Widely regarded as the best quarterback in the Big Ten, McSorley is a playmaker inside and outside of the pocket. Penn State did lose offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to Mississippi State, so we’ll see how that impacts the PSU quarterbacks this year. Behind McSorley is junior Tommy Stevens, who also played receiver last year. He’s been around a while and is comfortable on the field.
2. Michigan State Spartans
Brian Lewerke had a great sophomore season in his first year as a starter in 2017, throwing for 2,793 yards and rushing 559 more. He had consecutive 400-yard passing games against ranked opponents last year (Northwestern, Penn State), but even when he wasn’t overly productive, he still found ways to help lead his team to a win. For instance, he only threw for 94 yards against Michigan, but added 61 yards rushing and a touchdown in the 14-10 win. Lewerke is dangerous from every angle and only getting more sure of himself. Behind him are questions marks, but that’s okay when the starter is an exclamation point.
3. Michigan Wolverines
September Heisman favorite Shea Patterson has come to Ann Arbor to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and he’s all out of bubble gum. He has also come to Michigan to save the Wolverines from Brandon Peters, who saved the Wolverines from John O’Korn, who was supposed to save the Wolverines from Wilton Speight. Peters didn’t do poorly as a redshirt freshman last season, so he should be a quality backup this year if Patterson is as good as Jim Harbaugh is hoping. Patterson had seven 300-yard passing games in his 10 career starts at Ole Miss. Michigan, meanwhile, has thrown for 300 yards seven times in the last five seasons.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes
It would not be a surprise to see Dwayne Haskins end up higher on this list if it was compiled after the season, but before he ever starts a game, it is difficult to put him ahead of any of the three starters above him. That being said, he has the best arm for a Buckeye quarterback since Cardale Jones. He showed in the Michigan game that he can handle big moments, and now with Joe Burrow gone, he’ll have all summer to be the leader he believes he is. Behind him — and competing with him this spring and at the outset of fall camp in August — is redshirt freshman Tate Martell. Martell has playmaking ability and is expected to play in more than just a backup role.
5. Maryland Terrapins
Maryland has a good problem that could become a great solution or a terrible situation. You just never know with a quarterback situation with two capable starters. Of course, we have only seen glimpses of the possibilities, so things may not be as pleasant in the daylight. Sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome won the job last year and led the Terps to a 37-34 fourth-quarter lead at Texas in the season opener before tearing an ACL. True freshman Kasim Hill entered and extended that 3-point lead to a 51-41 win. Hill started the next week, completing 13-of-16 passes in a win over Towson, then went down with his own ACL injury the following week against UCF. He was leading the Terps to a scoring drive in a 0-0 game when he departed. UCF won 38-10. Hill and Pigrome were both out this spring, but if they can be anything close to what they have shown, then Maryland could be a very stern test for a Big Ten power like Ohio State, Penn State, or Michigan State.
6. Indiana Hoosiers
There are some intriguing possibilities here. Peyton Ramsey unseated Richard Lagow as a redshirt freshman last season, but had ups and downs throughout. Arizona grad transfer Brandon Dawkins entered the picture in the spring and is the betting favorite my many to win the job. As a sophomore, Dawkins rushed for 944 yards and threw for 1,345 yards. He eventually lost the job in 2017 to Khalil Tate, which is why Dawkins is now in Cream and Crimson. Redshirt freshman Nick Tronti is a former Mr. Football in Florida, and true freshman Michael Penix, Jr. once held a Florida State offer while being committed to Tennessee. This might be the most talented the Indiana quarterback room has ever been.
7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
They say it’s darkest before the dawn, and dawn probably won’t come for Rutgers until after the Ohio State game in the second week of the season. There is a 3-man race at quarterback right now between senior Giovanni Rescigno, sophomore Johnathan Lewis, and true freshman Artur Sitkowski. Rescigno is the most experienced quarterback, but completed just 47-of-100 passes while splitting starting duty. Lewis played as a true sophomore last year, but shouldn’t have. He is athletic, but raw. How much better has he gotten over the offseason? Sitkowski, meanwhile, was the talk of spring. He has an NFL arm and is a New Jersey native. He was once committed to Miami and also had interest from Ohio State. Those around the program expect him to eventually earn the job this year, but Chris Ash might want to wait until after the Scarlet Knights make their trip to Columbus.