It is college football preview season, which means that it is once again time to begin our annual Big Ten positional ratings and rankings.
I have been doing this since 2011 in an effort to predict the division champions. When I complete every position, along with schedules and coach ratings, the rankings are all tallied and then I apply an advanced metric called “arithmetic” to add it all up.
Here’s how last year’s rankings shook out, along with the actual standings in parentheses. As you can see, I was 100% correct on the ones I got right.
1. Wisconsin (2)
2. Northwestern (1)
3. Iowa (2)
4. Purdue (2)
4. Nebraska (6)
6. Minnesota (5)
7. Illinois (7)
1. Ohio State (1)
2. Michigan State (4)
3. Michigan (2)
4. Penn State (3)
5. Maryland (5)
6. Indiana (6)
7. Rutgers (7)
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*
2018: East – Ohio State*, West – Wisconsin
Now that you have all of the bona fides, it’s time to get the 2019 rankings underway.
As we always do, we’ll start at quarterback. And this year, the East gets the honor.
Interestingly, there could be five transfer quarterbacks starting in the east this year. All hail the Transfer Portal.
This year, I have also included the total number of recruiting stars at the position in parentheses.
1. Michigan Wolverines (19)
Senior Shea Patterson owns the top passing efficiency among returning Big Ten quarterbacks. He was held back a bit by Michigan’s offense last season, or maybe Jim Harbaugh just wasn’t confident enough in him to let him loose. Patterson completed 64.6% of his passes for 2,600 yards with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He threw a season-high three touchdown passes against Ohio State last year. Behind him are three 4-star quarterbacks, not including 4-star QB Brandon Peters, who has entered the transfer portal. Redshirt freshman Joe Milton, who played in four games last season, and redshirt sophomore Dylan McCaffrey will battle to be Patterson’s backup. Both are very talented. True freshman Cade McNamara is down the depth chart, but was a top QB signee in the 2019 class.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes (14)
In the last six months, Ohio State has said goodbye to quarterbacks Dwayne Haskins, Tate Martell, and Matthew Baldwin, and have said hello to Justin Fields, Gunnar Hoak, and JP Andrade. Fields was the No. 2 ranked player in the 2018 recruiting class and the top overall dual-threat quarterback. He is the expected starter for the Buckeyes and will be given the keys to Ryan Day’s up-tempo offense. Add in the tweaks from former Oklahoma State OC Mike Yurcich, and Fields is in line for some very good numbers. Rumored to have run in the 4.3s this spring, he is also a talented runner, but that running may have to be dialed back because of the lack of depth behind him. Kentucky grad transfer Gunnar Hoak will come in and expect to compete for the job, but he’ll have to get by fifth-year senior Chris Chugunov first. Walk-on JP Andrade was a 3-star 2019 prospect.
3. Michigan State Spartans (12)
Senior Brian Lewerke enters his third season as a starter and looks to get back to his 2017 form. Injured for much of last season, Lewerke was expected to be one of the Big Ten’s best players in 2018, but it didn’t happen. As a redshirt sophomore in 2017, Lewerke threw for 2,793 yards with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also rushed for 559 yards and five touchdowns. Last year, those numbers dropped to 2,040 yards passing with just eight TDs and 11 INTs, and just 184 yards rushing. Healthy and hungry, Lewerke will be out to prove that last year was a fluke. Sophomore Rocky Lombardi was the backup last season and expects to be so again this year. Redshirt freshman Theo Day will try to take the backup job from Lombardi. With Lewerke’s running and injury history, both guys may be needed.
4. Maryland Terrapins (16)
The Terps have five scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, and that’s not even including Kasim Hill who is out this season and listed in the transfer portal. Virginia Tech transfer Josh Jackson is the expected starter, and he will instantly give Maryland a quarterback who has experienced some big games. Granted, he didn’t win many of them, but being able to draw upon games against Clemson in his past will help him lead this team. Tyrrell Pigrome returns and is a capable backup and spot starter. True freshman Lance LeGendre is a top 10 dual-threat QB in the 2019 class. New head coach Mike Locksley will bring a new offense, which should employ some running on Jackson’s part. Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery has also produced productive passing games in the past.
5. Indiana Hoosiers (10)
Indiana has just three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster this season, but all three will be competing for the starting job in the fall. Junior Peyton Ramsey returns and essentially brings two years of starting experience with him. He threw for 2,875 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, but his 13 interceptions are an indication of fixes that need to be made. Ramsey is a solid runner, but new offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer will be looking for fewer mistakes from his 2019 starter. Redshirt freshman Michael Penix has fans excited. He played in three games last season, completing 21-of-34 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown. The biggest news here was the transfer of former 4-star QB Jack Tuttle, who comes from Utah and was granted immediate eligibility. He redshirted last season as a true freshman. Any of the three could start this season.
6. Penn State Nittany Lions (15)
Penn State took a hit this spring when Tommy Stevens transferred, but it does pave the way for the Nittany Lions to go full bore with redshirt sophomore Sean Clifford. Clifford completed 5-of-7 passes last season over four games. It will be interesting to see what Penn State’s offense looks like without the kind of running threat that Trace McSorley was. Clifford did rush for over 500 yards as a high school senior, so he’s not immobile, but he’s not McSorley or Stevens. Behind him are a pair of dual-threat true freshmen in Ta’Quan Roberson and Michael Johnson, Jr. There was a time in the 2019 recruiting cycle when Johnson was the No. 1 dual-threat QB in the class. Does Roberson or Johnson fit this offense better than Clifford? Probably, but it’s doubtful that either would be ready. Redshirt freshman Will Levis is also in the mix.
7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (12)
The Scarlet Knights return starting quarterback Artur Sitkowski, who was thrust into an unwinnable situation last year as a true freshman. He threw for 1,158 yards while completing 49.1% of his passes. Sitkowski threw four touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Obviously, that number needs to come down in 2019. If mistakes are still being made in fall camp, then keep an eye on Texas Tech transfer McLane Carter. Carter won the starting job for the Red Raiders last year, but was injured in the season opener and got Pipped. Boston College transfer Johnny Langan is still waiting to hear about his eligibility. True freshman Cole Snyder is a 3-star prospect with promise, but this will likely come down to Carter and Sitkowski.