Ranking every Big Ten starting quarterback ahead of 2019 season
Transfers, new starters take over Big Ten quarterback rankings
DETROIT – In an era of change in college football, the Big Ten has had a relatively stable off-season, with 12 head coaches returning and the usual contenders expected to be atop the division standings.
The quarterback position, however, has seen plenty of turnover. Someone position battles are still ongoing, but there will likely be seven or eight returning starters under center in the conference.
Both defensing division champions and two of the most consistent contenders over the last several years will break in new signal callers this season, seemingly leaving the Big Ten wide open for the first time in a long time.
With fewer than 50 days remaining until the start of college football, here's a look at the Big Ten quarterback rankings, from No. 14 to No. 1.
14. Artur Sitkowski, Rutgers
2018 stats: 134-273 (49.1%), 1,158 passing yards, 4.2 yards/attempt, four touchdowns, 18 interceptions.
Since joining the Big Ten in 2014, Rutgers has been last on pretty much every list for the major sports, and that's no different heading into the 2019 football season.
Sitkowski was a solid recruit in the 2018 class, landing inside the top 400 of the 247 Sports Composite Rankings and receiving offers from the likes of Michigan, Ohio State and LSU.
His freshman season was a disaster statistically, as Sitkowski threw 18 interceptions and just four touchdown passes in 11 games. He completed fewer than half of his passes and averaged just 4.2 yards per attempt.
To be fair, Sitkowski had almost no help around him, and he wasn't at the top of the list of problems for coach Chris Ash. But heading into the 2019 season, it's impossible to justify having him anywhere other than 14th.
13. Zach Annexstad, Minnesota
2018 stats: 97-187 (51.9%), 1,277 passing yards, 6.8 yards/attempt, nine touchdowns, seven interceptions.
Annexstad was No. 14 in last year's preseason rankings after winning the starting job as a true freshman walk-on. He remained the starter for the first seven games before an injury ended his season and handed the reins over to Tanner Morgan.
The redshirt freshman finished the season with better numbers than Annexstad, completing 58.6% of his passes for 9.2 yards per attempt, nine touchdowns and six picks.
This is one of the few ongoing quarterback battles in the league, but either way, Minnesota doesn't figure to be one of the more dynamic passing teams in the Big Ten.
Annexstad was a walk-on and Morgan was ranked outside the top 1,000 recruits in the 2017 class, so neither is considered to have massive upside.
Minnesota finished with a winning record last season and hopes to contend this year in the wide open West Division. Whoever wins the starting quarterback job will need to take a step forward to give the Golden Gophers a fighting chance.
12. Brandon Peters, Illinois
2017 stats: 57-108 (52.8%), 672 passing yards, 6.2 yards/attempt, four touchdowns, two interceptions.
When Peters committed to Michigan as a top 100 recruit and Jim Harbaugh took over in Ann Arbor, it looked like a potential perfect match.
But Peters didn't get much of a chance at Michigan, and the chance he did get wasn't in the best of circumstances. He was forced into action as a redshirt freshman in 2017 behind a struggling offensive line and completed about half of his passes before an injury at Wisconsin shut him down until the bowl game.
He'll have a chance to start right away at Illinois if he can beat out true freshman Isaiah Williams, who was ranked the No. 6 athlete in the 2019 recruiting class.
Either way, Illinois will have a former high four-star under center. That's a step up from what Lovie Smith has dealt with in the past, but it also comes with uncertainty.
11. Sean Clifford, Penn State
Recruiting ranking: 4-star, No. 8 pro-style quarterback in 2017 class, No. 196 player overall.
One of the top storylines in the Big Ten this season is how Penn State will respond to losing star quarterback Trace McSorley and backup Tommy Stevens.
Luckily, James Franklin has recruited at an elite level the last several years, and former four-star recruit Clifford is ready to step in.
As a redshirt freshman last season, Clifford appeared in four games, completing five of seven passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns. It was a glimpse of what made him such a highly touted player in high school.
Clifford steps into a very stable situation as Penn State has competed atop the Big Ten East Division for the last three years. He has a chance to finish as one of the top five or six quarterbacks on this list.
10. Elijah Sindelar, Purdue
2017 stats: 187-329 (56.8%), 2,099 passing yards, 6.5 yards/attempt, 18 touchdowns, seven interceptions.
Sindelar was supposed to be the guy for Purdue last season, but an injury sidelined him after just two games. Now David Blough is gone and Sindelar doesn't have to worry about a quarterback competition heading into the fall.
His only full season came in 2017, when he completed 56.8% of his passes and averaged 6.4 yards per attempt. Sindelar will now take over an offense in Year 3 under Jeff Brohm.
While he's shown flashes of great potential, Sindelar's career numbers are a bit underwhelming. With Rondale Moore in the slot and plenty of other weapons on offense, this year could very well be his best.
9. Graham Mertz, Wisconsin
Recruiting rankings: 4-star, No. 3 pro-style quarterback in 2019 class, No. 65 player overall.
Wisconsin should have the opposite of Alex Hornibrook at quarterback this season: An exciting, high-upside freshman.
Graham Mertz was the No. 3 pro-style quarterback in this year's recruiting class, and he's been on campus since January.
With offers from Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and several others, Mertz was one of the most highly coveted players in the class.
Wisconsin could go with veteran backup Jack Coan to begin the season. Coan played in five games last season, completing 60.2% of his passes for 5.5 yards per attempt. Even if he has the job out of camp, it feels like only a matter of time before Mertz takes over.
8. Peyton Ramsey, Indiana
2018 stats: 295-447 (66%), 2,875 passing yards, 6.4 yards/attempt, 19 touchdowns, 13 interceptions.
Ramsey quietly had a very strong season last year as the full-time starter, completing 66% of his passes for nearly 3,000 yards.
He only averaged 6.4 yards per attempt and threw 13 picks, so there's certainly room for Ramsey to improve, but he's only a junior, so his best football is likely to come.
Ramsey is also a threat on the ground, rushing for seven touchdowns the last two seasons.
7. Brian Lewerke, Michigan State
2018 stats: 184-339 (54.3%), 2,040 passing yards, 6 yards/attempt, eight touchdowns, 11 interceptions.
Lewerke's performance in 2018 doesn't warrant him being in the top half of his list, but if he can be somewhere in between his 2017 and 2018 levels, he'll be a solid quarterback again this year.
Lewerke completed 59% of his passes for 2,793 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2017 and entered last year as one of the presumed top quarterbacks in the Big Ten.
Obviously, that did not play out, as Lewerke had more interceptions than touchdowns and saw his stats drop across the board.
If he's fully healthy this year and takes better care of the football, Lewerke could absolutely be in the top half of quarterbacks in the league.
6. Hunter Johnson, Northwestern
Recruiting ranking: 5-star, No. 2 pro-style quarterback in 2017 class, No. 30 player overall.
One of the most under-the-radar players coming into 2019 should be the starting quarterback for Northwestern.
The Clayton Thorson era is finally over after he played in all 53 games that last four seasons. He passes to torch to a player who originally enrolled at Clemson and had offers from Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and dozens of others.
Johnson appeared in seven games for Clemson in 2017, completing 21 of 27 passes for 234 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He transferred to Northwestern and sat out the 2018 season, so many fans have forgotten about him.
Well, they're going to remember soon, as he should be the starter over T.J. Green when the season kicks off next month against Stanford.
Johnson has good size, elite arm strength and the type of athleticism Pat Fitzgerald is known to use with his quarterbacks. This could be the Big Ten's 2019 breakout performer.
5. Josh Jackson, Maryland
2017 stats: 236-396 (59.6%), 2,991 passing yards, 7.6 yards/attempt, 20 touchdowns, nine interceptions.
Jackson decided to leave Virginia Tech this off-season because he wasn't guaranteed the starting job after missing most of the season with an injury.
As a freshman in 2017, Jackson completed nearly 60% of his passes for 7.6 yards per attempt. He was off to another solid start in 2018 before breaking his leg against Old Dominion.
Jackson was a three-star dual-threat quarterback out of Saline High School in Michigan, but outperformed his recruiting ranking at Virginia Tech. Now, he'll try to recapture that level of play against Big Ten defenses.
Mike Locksley is in his first year at Maryland, so Jackson doesn't have to compete with anyone who has a head start in the system.
4. Nate Stanley, Iowa
2018 stats: 235-396 (59.3%), 2,852 passing yards, 7.2 yards/attempt, 26 touchdowns, 10 interceptions.
Stanley had another solid season in 2018, helping two Iowa tight ends get picked in the first round of the NFL draft and leading the Hawkeyes to nine wins.
For his career, Stanley owns a 57.7% completion rate with 5,346 passing yards, 52 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Iowa is known as a ground-and-pound offense, but Stanley has quietly thrown 26 touchdown passes in back-to-back years.
He doesn't have the elite upside of some of the former five-star passers in the Big Ten, but Stanley is as solid as they come. He'll be on an NFL roster at this time next year, but for now, he has his eyes set on possibly being the best quarterback in the Big Ten West.
3. Adrian Martinez, Nebraska
2018 stats: 224-347 (64.6%), 2,617 passing yards, 7.5 yards/attempt, 17 touchdowns, eight interceptions.
There was really nothing to dislike about Martinez's first college season. As a true freshman in Scott Frost's offense, he was efficient, accurate and explosive, both as a passer and a runner.
Martinez finished the season with 17 passing touchdowns and eight rushing touchdowns. Nebraska was terrible, winning just four games, but there are high expectations for 2019 largely because of Martinez.
Frost is just getting settled at Nebraska, and Martinez is the perfect player to run his offense. If he takes a step forward as a sophomore and stays healthy for the full season, Martinez could even end up as the top all-around quarterback in the conference.
2. Justin Fields, Ohio State
2018 stats: 27-39 (69.2%), 328 yards, 8.4 yard/attempt, four touchdowns, zero interceptions.
This couldn't have worked out much better for Ohio State, as Fields joins the roster right as star passer Dwayne Haskins heads to the NFL.
Fields wasn't just the No. 1 quarterback and No. 2 overall player in the 2018 recruiting class, he's the eighth-highest rated player ever, according to the 247 Sports Composite Rankings.
Players don't come into college with more hype that Fields, so his ceiling, especially in Ryan Day's offense, is sky high.
Fields left Georgia because the starting job was locked down by Jack Fromm. But he was excellent in limited opportunities, completing nearly 70% of his passes for 8.4 yards per attempt. He hasn't thrown an interception in college.
Fields also ran for 266 yards and four touchdowns, so Ohio State will once again have a quarterback who can win with his arm or his legs.
1. Shea Patterson, Michigan
2018 stats: 210-325 (64.6%), 2,600 passing yards, 8 yards/attempt, 22 touchdowns, seven interceptions.
Harbaugh finally has a true second-year starting quarterback at Michigan, and he hired a new offensive coordinator to help him flourish.
Patterson was solid for Michigan last season, completing 64.6% of his passes and taking care of the ball. He can also make plays with his legs and picked his spots to do so.
But Michigan didn't feature its best players last season, and at times, Patterson didn't look like a perfect fit in the offensive scheme. That should change this year under Josh Gattis, who wants to move quickly and utilize the speed of his top weapons.
Patterson doesn't have Fields' raw talent, but he was also a five-star quarterback and the No. 1 quarterback in the 2016 class. That ranking hasn't quite translated into elite production at the college level, but with Gattis calling plays and good weapons around him, this could be the year.
Fields could easily end up being the best quarterback in the conference, but since he's never been a college starter, Patterson gets the preseason nod. No matter what happens around the conference, it feels like these two will still be at the top for the midseason update.
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