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Ranking the Big Ten QBs Ahead of the 2020 Season

What is the definition of a perfect QB? Poised? Polished? A splash of both?

To be honest with you, I don’t think there is a perfect quarterback out there. But there sure as hell are a lot of great ones, and the Big Ten is a breeding ground for some of the nation’s premier pocket patients.

Let’s take a look at what this conference has to offer as I take a shot at ranking Big Ten QBs.

14. Aidan Smith – Northwestern

Before I talk about Aidan Smith, it is important to acknowledge the ongoing QB competition currently taking place in Evanston. Essentially, Pat Fitzgerald has three QBs to choose from heading into the 2020 season.

He can go with Hunter Johnson, Peyton Ramsey, or Aiden Smith. Johnson is a transfer from Clemson who was awful for the Wildcats a season ago. Ramsey is a grad transfer from Indiana who lacks speed and stability. Smith is an undersized pocket passer who turns the ball over more than Jameis Winston.

It many ways, this is a lose-lose situation for a program that is coming off a 3-9 season.

I am going with Smith as the Wildcats’ starter, because I feel as if he provides the most upside out of the three quarterbacks fighting for the spot. While Smith does have a tendency to turn the ball over during high-pressure situations, he is extremely athletic and throws a somewhat pretty ball. It will be interesting to see if he can improve now that he has another year of experience under his belt.

13. Artur Sitkowski – Rutgers

Artur Sitkowski is a pretty fascinating case study. The 6’5 gunslinger from Old Bridge, NJ was one of the better quarterback recruits Rutgers had ever landed. The IMG Academy product had a cannon of an arm and could read a field like he was Shakespeare. However, as Sitkowski arrived on campus, all was not rainbows and sunshine. During his freshman season, Sitkowski threw for 1,158 yards with 4 touchdowns and a total of 18, yes 18, interceptions.

After playing in just three games during his sophomore season, Sitkowski made the executive decision to red-shirt in order to secure an extra year of eligibility. After that, the over-hyped talent put his name into the transfer portal, only to withdraw the claim after it was announced that Greg Schiano would be hired as the next head football coach of Rutgers.

Talk about a mess.

12. Spencer Petras – Iowa

The Nate Stanley era in Iowa City is officially over.

After sitting on the sidelines for the last two seasons, Spencer Petras’ time has finally come. Petras, a native of San Rafael California, has a ginormous upside. He is strong, tall, versatile, and has a strong enough arm to move the ball downfield with ease. When I was watching Petras’ high school film, I was actually shocked that he did transfer after his freshman year. You have to respect a guy who fulfills his verbal commitment and waits patiently for his moment to shine. I can not wait to see what happens now that Petras’ number finally been called.

11. Rocky Lombardi – Michigan State

Aside from having the most badass name in the Big Ten, Rocky Lombardi is actually a pretty solid dual-threat QB. Lombardi, a Junior from Clive, Iowa has the type of build that college coaches dream of.

At 6’3, 217 pounds, Lombardi has a frame that is made out of pure muscle. What more could you really ask for?

The one downside that you can say about the junior’s game is his lack of experience. This is due to his predecessor, Brian Lewerke. I have, however, seen what he can do thanks to high school camps such as the Elite11.

Is Rocky Lombardi a star? For sure not. But, he is a good QB to start the Mel Tucker era in East Lansing.

10. Dylan McCaffrey – Michigan

I have been waiting for Dylan McCaffery to be named the starting QB for Michigan ever since the young prospect stepped foot on campus in Ann Arbor back in 2017. Sure, Shea Patterson was great and all (sike), but McCaffery was born to be great.

If Dylan’s name sounds familiar it is because he is the brother to NFL superstar, Christian McCaffrey. Out of high school, McCaffery was said to be the next big thing, following in his brother’s footsteps as a 4-star recruit. However, things have yet to play out for the 6’5 gunslinger. The once-coveted prospect is still waiting for his big break.

P.S. McCaffery has not officially won the starting position coming into summer camps. Joe Milton, who has one of the stronger arms I have ever seen, could very easily win the job with a few gut-wrenching, sweat-endorsing performances.

9. Josh Jackson – Maryland

If there has ever been a case of a guy going from hero to zero in a blink of an eye, Josh Jackson may be it.

During the 2017 season, Jackson could do no wrong. He was the starting QB for the nationally-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies as a freshman where he compiled a stat line of 2,991 passing yards, 20 TDs, 9 INts, 324 rushing yards and 6 rushing TDs.

Jackson was the talk of the nation. In many regards, he was considered to be one of the elite dual-threat QBs in the country.

Fast forward to 2018, and Jackson’s playing career gets turned upside down. During a shocking upset defeat against Old Dominion, Jackson suffered a fractured left fibula that left him sidelined for the remained of his sophomore season.

After recovering from his injury, Jackson announced that he would be transferring to the University of Maryland.

During his first year as a UM starter, Jackson looked almost unrecognizable, throwing for a total of 1,274 passing yards, tossing 12 TDs, hurling 6 INTs and finishing the season with an overall record of 3-9.

Josh Jackson will forever be known as the freshman phenom that could have been so much more.

8. Jack Plummer – Purdue

Plummer took over the reins as a starter a year ago, and is a raw, unfiltered talent. Last season, Plummer finished his freshman campaign with 1,603 yards, 11 TDs and 8 INTs. I actually think this Arizona native could have a pretty strong sophomore season, but he needs to figure out what is holding him back.

PS.. Plummer will have the luxury of throwing to Rondale Moore this season who is THE most explosive weapon in the Big Ten.

7. Brandon Peters – Illinois

I’m gonna be honest. When Brandon Peters was at Michigan, I never thought I would be ranking him as a top-7 Big Ten QB. If anything, the Avon native could have been ranked as one of the worst in the conference. But boy, has this kid found a home in Urbana.

Last season, Peters took Illinois to newfound heights as the program made a bowl game for the first time since 2014. Peters also led the Fighting Illini to huge wins at East Lansing. There was also that shocking upset win against Wisconsin, a team ranked 6th nationally at the time.

Brandon Peters is a gritty, grind-it-out type of QB who is going to give his absolute all every time he steps on the field.

6. Adrian Martinez – Nebraska

During this time last season, I actually had Adrian Martinez as a Heisman sleeper. The Fresno native had all the tools and abilities to have a monster year. However, Martinez finished his sophomore campaign with a final stat line of 1,956 passing yards, 10 TDs, 9 INts, 626 rushing yards, 7 rushing TDs. He finished with an overall record of 5-7. One can say that Martinez let down these expectations tremendously.

Although I still believe Martinez has enough natural talent to compile a successful junior season, I can no longer rank him amongst the elites of the elites in terms of Big Ten QBs.

5. Jack Coan – Wisconsin

Let’s talk about Jackie Heisman, baby. Coan, a Senior from Sayville, NY can absolutely sling it.

Last season, his junior season, Coan threw for a total of 2,727 yards, tossed 18 TD passes and just 5 INTs.

What I really like about Coan is his ability to control a game. He stays cool, calm and collected in the pocket and rarely shows his nerves. Coan is not the type of QB who is going to torch you for 400 yards a game, but he will stay consistent and gradually make you break. Sometimes college football can be won through the game of chess rather than checkers.

4. Sean Clifford – Penn State

You guys want a hot take? Sean Clifford is going to either:

A. Have a junior year for the record books that puts him in the Heisman conversation or;

B. Fall off the face of a cliff and be benched by week 6.

And I really don’t think there will be much in between. Look, the matter of the fact is this.

Sean Clifford is a really, REALLY talented quarterback. I mean the guy led his team to an 11-2 record in 2019 that was capped off with an NYB6 win against the Memphis Tigers. He throws a really pretty spiral, can scramble with his legs and is arguably the toughest Big Ten QB. But there are weaknesses to his game.

During a loss against Minnesota last year, Clifford looked like a lost puppy, missing throws left and right. During a road loss to Ohio State, Clifford looked so bad that he was benched after an apparent “Injury.”

I like Clifford, but for whatever reason, he has trouble showing up to the big game.

3. Michael Penix Jr. – Indiana

Michael Penix Jr. is a superstar in the making. If people aren’t aware of just how massive this sophomore’s upside is, they are going to be hit like a truck come fall. Let me paint a little picture.

In 2019, Penix Jr.’s freshman year, the dual-threat QB played in just 5 games before getting injured. He went 4-1, and threw for a total of 1,394 yards, 10 TDs, and 4 INTs. He also rushed for 119 yards, and scrambles for 2 rushing TDs. Then Peyton Ramsey took his place, found success and ended up transferring at the end of the season based off of the sheer fear of Penix Jr.’s talents.

Do you know how good you have to be to force a QB to transfer after coming off of an injury? Michael Penix Jr is getting ready to burst onto the national scene, and I could not be more excited.

2. Tanner Morgan – Minnesota

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2019 college football season came on the hands of the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Led by head coach PJ Fleck, the Gophers compiled an 11-2 record that was capped off with a bowl win against SEC powerhouse, Auburn.

A huge reason for the Gophers’ 2019 success was in part to the brilliant quarterback play of rising junior, Tanner Morgan. The 6’2 pocket passer amassed a season for the ages, throwing for a total of 3,253 yards, 30 TD passes and 7 INTs. Morgan was also able to acquire an overall completion percentage of 66 percent, which ranked him in the upper echelon amongst the entire nation.

When I watch Morgan play, I sometimes have to remind myself that he is only a junior in college. He plays with such a mature, confident spirit that you would usually be accustomed to seeing in a seasoned NFL vet. Although Morgan is heading into the fall without some of his top targets, such as Tyler Johnson, I expect him to still have a monster season.

1. Justin Fields – Ohio State

Was there ever any doubt of who was going to be #1?

Justin Fields is not only the best Big Ten QB, but is arguably the best QB in the entire country. Last year, at the conclusion of his first season with Ohio State, Fields led the Buckeyes to an undefeated regular season, a Big Ten Championship, a CFP appearance and finished third in the Heisman voting.

He also produced one of the most impressive stat lines the Big Ten has seen in quite some time with 3,273 passing yards, 41 TDs, 3 INTs, a 67.2 completion percentage, 484 rushing yards, and 10 rushing TDs. Oh, I almost forgot to mention, two of those interceptions came during the CFP semifinal, meaning that Fields went the duration of the regular season tossing just one interception. Do you understand just how ludicrous of a statistic that is?

After doing some calculations, I figured out that during the 2019 regular season, Fields threw for a total of 277 passing attempts. Only one of those passes were intercepted. That is greatness, folks, and we are ALL witnesses.


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Peter Snyder is an Intern sportswriter who covers collegiate athletics as well as professional sports.
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