Ranking every Big Ten starting quarterback from worst to best

Familiar faces dominate top half of Big Ten quarterback rankings

Trace McSorley, Shea Patterson, Brian Lewerke and Dwayne Haskins are four of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten. (Getty Images)

DETROIT - College football season kicks off this weekend, and that means Big Ten games are right around the corner.

The conference is considered one of the strongest in the country heading into 2018, with five teams ranked in the preseason top 25 and a few other teams with potential to improve.

But one of the biggest questions facing the Big Ten comes at the most important position: quarterback.

There aren't many stable, returning starters in the Big Ten this season, and some teams haven't even named a starter with the opener about a week away.

Here's a look at all 14 quarterback situations, ranked from worst to best.

The unknowns

14. Zack Annexstad -- Minnesota

Last season: True freshman

Second-year head coach P.J. Fleck will go with a true freshman walk-on at quarterback this season.

Annexstad isn't a typical walk-on. He was a three-star quarterback recruit in last year's class and had scholarship offers from several major schools, including Illinois.

Minnesota's quarterback play was awful last season, as the Golden Gophers completed fewer than half of their attempts and threw more interceptions than touchdown passes.

Fleck can't feel completely comfortable going with a true freshman out of the gate, but he doesn't have many options.

13. A.J. Bush -- Illinois

Last season: 7-11 (63.6 percent) for 99 yards, 1 TD and 0 INT; 19 rushes for 129 yards

One of the ways the college football recruiting landscape has changed in recent years is the increase in transfers, and Bush has taken full advantage.

Originally a Nebraska enrollee out of high school, Bush transferred after two seasons to Iowa Western Community College. He joined Virginia Tech last season and spent the season backing up Josh Jackson.

Now, as a graduate transfer, Bush will be a Division I starter for the first time. He was once a three-star dual-threat quarterback and gives the Illini an element on offense that it didn't have with Jeff George.

12. Artur Sitkowski -- Rutgers

Last season: True freshman

Head coach Chris Ash hasn't officially made an announcement yet, but Sitkowski is in a three-way battle with Gio Rescigno and Johnathan Lewis for the starting quarterback job.

While the other two combined for 138 pass attempts last season, they weren't exactly inspiring, and Sitkowski would give Rutgers fans a reason to be excited.

A three-star commit to the 2018 class, the true freshman was a top-400 player in the country. He was once committed to Miami and had offers from Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin, so it's clear Sitkowski has talent.

He'll have his struggles as a true freshman starting in the Big Ten, but Sitkowski has more upside than Rutgers' other options.

Two-man battles

11. Maryland -- Tyrrell Pigrome or Kasim Hill

Last season (Hill): 18-21 (85.7 percent) for 230 yards, 2 TD and 0 INT; 12 carries for 60 yards and 1 TD

Last season (Pigrome): 9-12 (75 percent) for 175 yards, 2 TD and 1 INT; 11 carries for 64 yards and 1 TD

With Maryland battling a major scandal involving the death of a player and possible mistreatment of others, a starting quarterback hasn't been announced. In fact, it's difficult to say whether the Terrapins will choose Hill or Pigrome.

Hill is a year younger, was a higher-ranked recruit and played well in minimal snaps last season, so he has a slight edge from the outside looking in. But Pigrome won the starting job out of camp last season and was playing well in the opener against Texas before a season-ending ACL injury.

Hill was a four-star quarterback in the 2017 class, and Pigrome was a three-star in the 2016 class.

Pigrome completed nine of 12 passes against Texas before the injury, and Hill came in to polish off the win with a 40-yard pass and a rushing touchdown. He threw for 230 yards on 18-of-21 passing before a season-ending injury against Central Florida.

Maryland has two viable options at quarterback and, either way, the position can't be as injury-riddled as it was last season.

10. Purdue -- David Blough or Elijah Sindelar

Last season (Blough): 102-157 (65 percent) for 1,103 yards, 9 TD and 4 INT

Last season (Sindelar): 187-329 (56.8 percent) for 2,099 yards, 18 TD and 7 INT

Rising Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm has a difficult decision to make at quarterback, as Blough comes in with a longer history of success while Sindelar played well last season.

Blough led the Big Ten in passing in 2016, throwing for 3,352 yards, but he threw 21 picks to go with 25 touchdowns. He won the starting job last year and completed 65 percent of his passes through nine games before a season-ending injury.

Sindelar was seeing significant action before Blough was shut down for the year, and he ultimately led the team with 2,099 passing yards and 18 touchdown passes.

Brohm knows both quarterbacks can play in the Big Ten, so he has his choice.

9. Nebraska -- Tristan Gebbia or Adrian Martinez

Last season: Both freshmen

The hiring of Scott Frost marks the beginning of an exciting new era for Nebraska football, and choosing a starting quarterback will be one of his first truly impactful decisions.

Frost is choosing between redshirt freshman Gebbia or true freshman Martinez, who was an early enrollee this offseason.

Though they were both four-star recruits, Martinez was ranked slightly higher than Gebbia, and he's also a dual-threat quarterback. Martinez and Gebbia were both coveted by Alabama, so Frost has plenty of talent to work with.

Nebraska hit rock bottom last year, and 2018 will likely be a major improvement under Frost. Whoever he picks for starting quarterback could lead the program's return to the national scene.

Solid returning starters

8. Peyton Ramsey -- Indiana

Last season: 134-205 (65.4 percent), 10 TD and 5 INT; 92 carries for 226 yards and 2 TD

Ramsey took over for turnover-prone Richard Lagow midway through last season and ran with the job as a redshirt freshman.

Though he's considered a pro-style quarterback, Ramsey proved he can make plays with his feet last season, rushing 92 times for 226 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also completed more than 65 percent of his passes on the year.

Indiana faces a grueling schedule every season in the Big Ten East, and Ramsey struggled against Michigan and Penn State last season. Now that he's the starter to open the year, he'll have to show up against better competition.

7. Nate Stanley -- Iowa

Last season: 196-351 (55.8 percent), 26 TD and 6 INT

Iowa will have a reliable starter back this season in Stanley, though he doesn't have the high ceiling of some of the players ranked below him on this list.

Stanley earned the starting job for the first time last season and performed well, throwing for 2,437 yards and 26 touchdowns. Though he only completed 55.8 percent of his passes, Stanley only threw six interceptions in a full 13 games.

The Hawkeyes don't have a superstar at quarterback, but they have a player who will throw for around 200 yards per game and take care of the ball. For a run-first offense that also relies on its defense, that's a positive.

6. Clayton Thorson -- Northwestern

Last season: 262-434 (60.4 percent) for 15 TD and 12 INT

The 2017 season was a bit of a disappointment for Thorson after he exploded for more than 3,000 passing yards and 20 touchdowns as a sophomore.

Thorson increased his completion percentage to 60.4 percent last year, but he was much more careless with the football. He threw 12 interceptions to just 15 touchdowns and played poorly in some of the team's biggest games.

While the offensive line certainly didn't help Thorson, he finished the season with very strange rushing stats: 87 carries for 23 yards and eight touchdowns.

Thorson uses his legs as a weapon in the red zone and has shown flashes of being an excellent passer over the last two years. If he can get the interceptions under control and avoid injury, he could be the best quarterback in the Big Ten West.

5. Alex Hornibrook -- Wisconsin

Last season: 198-318 (62.3 percent), 25 TD and 15 INT

Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook (Getty Images)

The pressure is on for Hornibrook, as he will start the season for a top-five team with championship expectations. Wisconsin is a heavy favorite to win the Big Ten West Division and play for a playoff spot in Indianapolis, but Hornibrook will have to improve to get there.

Inconsistency was Hornibrook's enemy last season, as he was excellent in a handful of games and terrible in others. He threw for 258 yards and four touchdowns in the Orange Bowl win against Miami, and that's what fans are hoping to see carry over into 2018.

Hornibrook completed 62.3 percent of his passes and threw for 25 touchdowns in 2017, so he's good enough to be an upper-tier Big Ten quarterback. But if he plays like he did against Michigan and Ohio State, the Badgers could drop a couple of games and fall short of their goals.

Top tier

4. Brian Lewerke -- Michigan State

Last season: 246-417 (59 percent), 20 TD and 7 INT; 123 carries for 559 yards and 5 TD

Brian Lewerke #14 of the Michigan State Spartans rolls out to pass during the second quarter of the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium on October 7, 2017 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

This was the toughest decision of the top half of the list, as the starting quarterbacks in the state of Michigan have a lot of talent and also some uncertainty.

Lewerke was the rock for a Michigan State team that badly needed a bounce-back season in 2017, totaling 25 touchdowns in a 10-win campaign. He's underrated nationally, and he might end up looking underrated on this list by the end of the season.

Lewerke showed how good he can be when he notched back-to-back 400-yard passing games against Northwestern and Penn State. Though he only threw for 94 yards in tough conditions against Michigan, he made a difference on the ground, rushing for 61 yards and a touchdown.

Though he did go through the growing pains of a first-year starter last season, Lewerke showed positive signs in almost every game, whether through the air or on the ground. While he only threw for more than 250 yards in three games and never rushed for more than 81 yards, he was fairly consistent and should put up better stats this season with the trust of the coaching staff.

Michigan State is back to being a preseason contender for the Big Ten title, and Lewerke is the main reason for those expectations.

3. Shea Patterson -- Michigan

Last season: 166-260 (63.8 percent), 17 TD, 9 INT

Michigan QB Shea Patterson (MGoBlue.com)

Patterson is one of the toughest quarterbacks to project in the Big Ten, but nobody has a higher ceiling.

As a former No. 1 overall quarterback recruit, Patterson is as talented as the two quarterbacks ranked above him on this list. He earned playing time as a true freshman for Ole Miss and threw for 880 yards in three games, including six touchdowns.

Patterson's one blemish last season was the nine interceptions he threw in seven games. While he was extremely explosive, passing for 322 yards per game, Patterson turned it over too often.

He'll play in a much more conservative offense at Michigan, though his ability to extend plays with his legs will give the Wolverines a new dimension. He rushed for 4.1 yards per carry as a true freshman before an uninspiring rushing campaign as a sophomore, though Ole Miss' offensive line contributed to the struggles.

Lewerke is the safer bet to have a good season in 2018, but Patterson's range of outcomes is much wider. He could struggle against Big Ten defenses, but he could also be the best quarterback in the league. That type of upside landed him among the top three in the conference.

2. Dwayne Haskins -- Ohio State

Last season: 40-57 (70.2 percent), 4 TD, 1 INT

Dwayne Haskins #7 of the Ohio State Buckeyes looks to throw a pass in the second half against the Michigan Wolverines on November 25, 2017 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Haskins didn't play a lot for Ohio State last season, but when he did, he was excellent.

The former four-star quarterback got his first taste of the field last year, first in a series of blowouts, then when the Buckeyes really needed him against Michigan.

He completed more than 70 percent of his passes as J.T. Barrett's backup, and when Barrett was sidelined by injury in the Michigan game, he came in to throw for 94 yards and rush for 24 more en route to a win.

Haskins was a top-100 recruit in the 2016 class, and it was only a matter of time before he took over the Ohio State offense. Now that Barrett is gone, he'll get a chance to continue the long line of dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks.

1. Trace McSorley -- Penn State

Last season: 284-427 (66.5 percent), 28 TD, 10 INT; 144 carries for 491 yards and 11 TD

Penn State QB Trace McSorley is one of the best returning players in the Big Ten. (Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

Unlike the previous two quarterbacks on this list, McSorley wasn't an elite high school recruit. He was a three-star and the No. 571 player in the class when he committed to Penn State.

Since taking over as the starter in 2016, McSorley has led Penn State to two double-digit win seasons, throwing 57 touchdown passes. He's an accurate passer, a good runner and he takes care of the football.

The preseason pick for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, McSorley is looking for a third straight season of more than 3,500 passing yards and 28 touchdowns. He's also rushed for 18 scores over the last two years.

Penn State has risen back to the top of the Big Ten under McSorley, and this will be his final season. If he improves on what he's already done, he will be in the Heisman Trophy discussion.

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