Football

Rating the 2019 Big Ten Quarterbacks — West Division

Adrian Martinez Nebraska Quarterback

After a slight delay due to any number of excuses I can come up with, we continue on with our 2019 Big Ten Ratings. We began with the B1G East quarterbacks, so now we move on to the Big Ten West quarterbacks.

Only three teams return their starters from last season, but most of the teams in the division should feel pretty good about their respective situations. Most of the teams have one guy with quite a bit of promise, but the depth is lacking. Nobody can really afford an injury.

Interestingly, sort of, you can see the number of “recruiting rankings stars” in parentheses for each team. The teams in the East division averaged 14 stars at quarterback. The teams in the West, however, live down to their recruiting reputations and average just 12 stars.

Of course, you probably shouldn’t get too hung up on this, considering Maryland is responsible for 16 stars, and only one quarterback can play at a time.

Still, it does paint a picture that was already assumed.

Anyway, let’s get on with the positional ratings so that we can figure out if Michigan is finally going to get to a Big Ten Championship Game.

1. Nebraska Cornhuskers (11)

Sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez is the leading returning total offense producer in the Big Ten from last season. Martinez completed 224-of-347 passes for 2,617 yards with 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Martinez also rushed for 629 yards and eight touchdowns on 140 rushing attempts. He started 11 games as a true freshman last season, setting 11 school records, including the career mark for games with 400 yards of total offense (3) and total offense yards per game in a season (295.1). Martinez is one of the most dynamic players in the conference and is the key to getting Nebraska to the Big Ten Championship Game this season. Behind him are sophomore Noah Vedral, a former 3-star UCF transfer who is a native of Wahoo, Nebraska; junior Andrew Bunch, who played in five games last season, completing 31-of-47 passes for 320 yards; and 4-star true freshman Luke McCaffrey, of the Football McCaffreys.

2. Iowa Hawkeyes (12)

Iowa is a rarity in that they still have each of the last four quarterbacks they have signed. The Hawkeyes have always been a homegrown program and that is on complete display at quarterback. Senior Nate Stanley is headed into his third year as the starting QB at Iowa. Last year, he threw for 2,852 yards with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The 26 TDs were the second-most in the B1G last year behind Dwayne Haskins’ 50. It was the second year in a row that Stanley threw 26 touchdowns. The school record is 27 by Chuck Long in 1985. Behind the solid Stanley are sophomore Peyton Mansell, redshirt freshman Spencer Petras, and true freshman Alex Padilla, all of whom are former 3-star prospects like Stanley. Mansell completed 5-of-8 passes last season and is the second-most experienced QB on the roster. Stanley needs to stay healthy.

3. Purdue Boilermakers (12)

The Boilermakers have six quarterbacks on the roster, with four of them being scholarship players. Gone are the 3,705 yards passing from David Blough last season, but plenty of experience does return in fifth-year senior Elijah Sindelar who has started nine games in his career. Sindelar started the season opener for Purdue last season, but only played two games due to injury. He played on a torn ACL late in 2017, and also missed the spring with a less-serious knee injury. Sindelar has a huge arm, but was making some terrible decisions on the field last season, particularly in the opener against Northwestern when he threw three interceptions. Behind him are a handful of players who have a grand total of one career pass between the five of them. Sindelar threw for 2,099 yards with 18 touchdowns and 7 interceptions when splitting time in 2017. He should be fine as long as he doesn’t try to do too much.

4. Northwestern Wildcats (14)

Northwestern has a total of 169 yards passing returning from last season, and all of those yards belong to senior walk-on TJ Green, who is the son of former NFL quarterback Trent Green. The Wildcat hopes and dreams, however, lie on the right shoulder of Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson, who was a former 5-star prospect in the 2017 class. Johnson was the No. 2 pro-style passer in his class and played in seven games as a true freshman with the Tigers, completing 21-of-27 passes for 234 yards with a pair of touchdowns and an interception. He is also quite mobile and could be very dangerous in this NU offense. Spring practices were closed, so all reports on his performance come from coaches and coachspeak. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald says the job is still wide open. Junior Aidan Smith, sophomore Andrew Marty, and redshirt freshman Jason Whittaker are the other guys vying for the job.

5. Minnesota Golden Gophers (12)

The Gophers are one of the few teams in the Big Ten with two quarterbacks with starting experience. Walk-on Zack Annexstad won the job last year and went 3-4 in his seven starts before suffering an injury. Redshirt freshman Tanner Morgan then took over and led the Gophers to a 4-2 mark, including a 22-point win at Wisconsin for Paul Bunyan’s Axe. It was the Gophers’ first win in the series since 2003. Annexstad was granted a scholarship in the winter. Last season, he completed 52.2% of his passes for 1,277 yards with 9 TDs and 7 INTs. Morgan, meanwhile, completed 58.6% of his passes for 1,401 yards with 9 TDs and 6 INTs. Head coach PJ Fleck also signed two quarterbacks in the 2019 class in 3-star prospects Jacob Clark and Cole Kramer, but the starting job should fall to either Morgan or Annexstad.

6. Wisconsin Badgers (13)

Rarely does a 3-year starting quarterback transfer from a school and the fans of that school are pretty okay with it, but that’s the situation at Wisconsin with the departure of Alex Hornibrook to Florida State. The Badgers return two quarterbacks with playing experience. Redshirt freshman Danny Vanden Boom completed one pass for three yards last season. Junior Jack Coan is the most experienced returning quarterback. He completed 56-of-93 attempts last year for 515 yards with 5 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. In 2017, he completed all five of his pass attempts for 36 yards. He received the most reps in the spring. Redshirt freshman Chase Wolf and sophomore Danny Vanden Boom will try to hold off blue-chip freshman Graham Mertz as Coan’s backup — or most serious threat. Mertz was coveted by plenty of the nation’s top programs, including Ohio State. He may be the most talented freshman quarterback in school history, but right now the job is Coan’s to lose. The Badgers do have the potential to be much higher on this list in November.

7. Illinois Fighting Illini (10)

The Illinois quarterback situation over the last few years has been even more chaotic than Ohio State’s, and to make matters worse, there are no Dwayne Haskinses or Justin Fieldses in Champaign. The Illini currently have just two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. Incoming freshman Isaiah Williams may change that this summer, but putting too many hopes in a true freshman quarterback — especially one who is 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds — isn’t exactly the path to success. Williams is a 4-star prospect, but most teams were looking at him as an athlete rather than a quarterback. With former Rich Rodriguez right-hand-man Rod Smith as the offensive coordinator at Illinois, however, perhaps there is an immediate fit and role for Williams this year. More likely it will come down to redshirt freshmen Coran Taylor or Matt Robinson. Lovie Smith signed three QBs in the 2018 class, and the only one who actually started — MJ Rivers — announced his transfer last month. If there is any juice in Isaiah Williams, the Illini may have to find out sooner rather than later.

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