Welcome to summer — the time for college football speculation and previewing!
Since 2011, I have done my annual Big Ten positional ratings in an effort to predict who would be playing in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Basically, what I do is rank the position groups for each division from 1-7, and then tally up the scores to predict division finishes. The lowest scores win.
And I’m not always completely wrong, either.
Here’s how my ratings predicted the standings last year, with actual finish in parentheses.
1. Wisconsin (1)
2. Northwestern (2)
3. Iowa (4)
4. Nebraska (5)
5. Minnesota (6)
6. Illinois (7)
7. Purdue (3)
1. Ohio State (1)
2. Penn State (2)
3. Michigan (4)
4. Indiana (7)
5. Maryland (6)
6. Michigan State (3)
7. Rutgers (5)
It’s pretty obvious that I jumped very far off of the Spartan bandwagon last year, but I wasn’t alone. I also underestimated Jeff Brohm’s ability to win with Darrell Hazell’s players. I’ll never make that mistake again probably.
In case you were wondering, here is the history of my division picks. Teams marked with an asterisk (*) played in the Big Ten Championship Game.
2011: Leaders – Ohio State (Some ratings were done pre-Tressel firing), Legends – Michigan State*
2012: Leaders – Wisconsin*, Legends – Michigan State
2013: Leaders – Ohio State*, Legends – Michigan State*
2014: East – Michigan State, West – Wisconsin*
2015: n/a (Busy writing a book.)
2016: East – Ohio State, West – Iowa
2017: East – Ohio State*, West – Wisconsin*
Anyway, that’s enough background. As is the norm, we begin at the most important position in sports — quarterback. And today, we’ll start on the west side of the map.
Big Ten West — Quarterbacks
1. Iowa Hawkeyes
Depth is an issue, so if starter Nate Stanley goes down, Iowa is in trouble. Of course, that’s standard operating procedure for the Hawkeyes. In his first season as a starter last year, Stanley threw for 2,437 yards with 26 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He should improve upon his .558 completion percentage this year with more experience under his belt. Stanley never threw more than one interception in a game, and didn’t throw any interceptions in games where he also threw five touchdowns (@ Iowa State, vs. Ohio State). There isn’t much behind him, but nobody in this division can afford to lose a starter. That is to say, if they actually had one.
2. Wisconsin Badgers
Junior Alex Hornibrook is entering his third year as a starter for the Badgers, so he is expected to be more than just a casual observer of the Wisconsin offense. He threw for 2,644 yards last year, completing .623 of his passes. He needs to cut down on mistakes, though. Hornibrook threw 25 touchdowns last year, but dragged that number down by also throwing 15 interceptions. The year before, he threw nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. He doesn’t have a huge arm, so you wonder if he trusts it more than he should. Behind him is sophomore Jack Coan, who has thrown five passes in his career. The future is bright here, however. Coan, a native of New York, was the No. 2-rated passer in the East. Graham Mertz, arguably the top quarterback in the 2019 recruiting class, is currently committed to Wisconsin as well.
3. Purdue Boilermakers
Quarterbacks Elijah Sindelar (187-329 2,099 yds, 18 TDs, 7 INTs) and David Blough (102-157 1,103 yds, 9 TDs, 4 INTs) combined for a very good season of 3,102 yards passing with 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last year. They were able to do this splitting time willy nilly. Can one of them emerge ahead of the other — and stay there? Does head coach Jeff Brohm even want that? Sindelar and Blough are different types of quarterbacks. Blough doesn’t mind running around and making things happen, while Sindelar would prefer to stand back in the pocket and sling it. They do force defenses to prepare for two different quarterbacks, but does it hurt the rhythm of the offense?
4. Northwestern Wildcats
Clayton Thorson tore his ACL in the bowl game, so his availability early in the season is a mystery. Since he was out for the spring, three quarterbacks behind him shared the reps. Pat Fitzgerald will need to reduce that number this fall if he’s going to get one of them ready to start. Thorson is appearing in the first round of many mock drafts at the moment, which says more about his measurables than his production. He led the B1G in attempts last season (434), but was fourth in yards (2,844), and tied for eighth in touchdowns (15). Only two quarterbacks in the conference, meanwhile, threw more than his 12 interceptions. He is mobile, but you wonder how mobile they’ll want him to be with a new ACL.
5. Nebraska Cornhuskers
What the Nebraska Cornhuskers lack in career pass attempts, they make up for in intriguing potential. Nobody on the Husker roster has thrown a pass, but redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia (No. 6 pro-style passer per Rivals) and true freshman Adrian Martinez (No. 7 dual-threat QB per the Composite) make the possibilities promising. Gebbia is a slinger, but can move. Martinez is a mobile guy who was in this spring and looked pretty good. With Scott Frost teaching them, expect the Husker quarterbacks to reach their means pretty quickly. There will still be moments of frustration for the eventual winner of the job, however.
6. Illinois Fighting Illini
Cam Thomas played a bit last year as a true freshman, completing 28-of-66 passes for 375 yards with zero touchdowns and five interceptions. He is the betting favorite to win the job this season. No, the production wasn’t great last year, but he gained valuable experience. Let’s just hope it didn’t make him gun shy. Thomas is an athletic quarterback who can run, so there may be some interesting wrinkles from him this season. Lovie Smith also signed three dual-threat quarterbacks who will arrive shortly. Illinois has also added former Nebraska and Virginia Tech quarterback A.J. Bush as a grad transfer. Of note, the new offensive coordinator here is Rod Smith, who was Rich Rodriguez’s coordinator at West Virginia, Michigan, and Arizona. This will be a position to watch in the Big Ten, and sometimes not always for bad reasons.
7. Minnesota Golden Gophers
One of Minnesota’s quarterback options — junior college transfer Vic Viramontes — transferred back to his junior college this weekend to play middle linebacker. The leader in the clubhouse this spring was redshirt freshman Tanner Morgan, who is now Minnesota’s only scholarship quarterback. Morgan, from Union, Kentucky, was the No. 44 pro-style quarterback in the 2017 recruiting class. He did enroll early, so this was his second spring, which is huge for his development. He will have had two springs and two fall camps before ever playing a game. Last year was a quarterback disaster, and this year could be as well. It should be better, but it’s still far from ideal. At some point P.J. Fleck’s manic magic has to pay off at quarterback.