Big Ten QB picture clear at some schools, cloudy at others

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Wilton Speight and John O'Korn

As the Big Ten gets set to take part in its annual media days on Monday and Tuesday in Chicago, there will be plenty of focus on who will be taking the snap from center for most teams.

There’s plenty of star power with Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett and Penn State’s Trace McSorley near the top of that list, but there’s also plenty of new faces ready to take their shot around the conference.

With the season-openers a little more than a month away, here’s a look at the quarterback situation for every Big Ten team.


Ohio State

There’s not much debate as to who the starter is for the Buckeyes. Well, make that absolutely no debate as J.T. Barrett returns for his senior season after earning his second Quarterback of the Year award in the Big Ten in 2016. He’ll have plenty of weapons to work with and a new offense as former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson takes over after the Buckeyes were shut out in the playoffs last season.

The battle for the backup spot might be the most interesting as sophomore Joe Burrow is the only other signal-caller with experience – albeit limited – while redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins was outstanding in the spring and early enrollee Tate Martell got limited work.

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After Michigan's spring game in mid-April, before the Wolverines headed to Rome, where they practiced three times, there was considerable interest among fans in redshirt freshman Brandon Peters taking over the starting job. Wilton Speight, who started all but one game last year (he missed the Indiana game with a shoulder injury), understood why that was – he had been sub-par in the spring game and said he knows when the starter is shaky, the backup becomes the most popular quarterback. While Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has said there will be all-out competition for every position, including quarterback, it would take an all-star performance in preseason camp from Peters or John O'Korn to unseat Speight.

Speight and the backups will have plenty of new talent to work with this fall. Eddie McDoom and Kekoa Crawford will be sophomores, but early-enrollee freshmen Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones have turned heads. Speight said after his so-so showing in the spring game that he needed to work on timing with the young receivers and all of the quarterbacks have been doing that in seven-on-seven drills this summer.

Trace McSorley

Penn State

Another straight-forward scenario as Trace McSorley enters his junior season after throwing for more than 3,600 yards and 29 touchdowns to earn second-team All-Big Ten honors behind J.T. Barrett in 2016. McSorley will be looking to bounce back from a Rose Bowl performance that saw him throw for four touchdowns while also getting intercepted three times.

Sophomore Tommy Stevens had a solid spring for the Nittany Lions and the dual-threat quarterback could force the coaching staff to come up with ways for him to get on the field. Redshirt freshman Jake Zembiec will hold down the No. 3 spot.

Brian Lewerke

Michigan State

Mark Dantonio made it clear even before spring practice – sophomore Brian Lewerke enters preseason camp as the starting quarterback. He showed promise in limited work in 2016 before breaking his leg in the loss to Michigan. It would be a surprise if Lewerke wasn’t the starter in the opener but holding the spot is far from a lock.

While fifth-year senior Damion Terry seems destined to close his career as a backup, redshirt freshman Messiah deWeaver is coming back from an injury-plagued spring while true freshman Rocky Lombardi comes in with plenty of promise. If Lewerke struggles, any one of the three could get a shot early in the season.


The Terps haven’t exactly been Quarterback U in recent years and they’re hoping that changes with the arrival of four-star freshman Kasim Hill. However, the prospect of starting a true freshman probably isn’t ideal for second-year coach D.J. Durkin, meaning the odds are former North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson has the best shot be starting.

Sophomores Tyrrell Pigrome and Max Bortenschlager will battle it out for the backup spot and each could get a shot at the starting spot if Henderson falters. There’s also a chance the athletic Pigrome finds himself in another position if he doesn’t win the starting job.

Richard Lagow


Head coach Kevin Wilson is gone but don’t expect the Hoosiers to take the air out of the ball. Senior Richard Lagow looks like the favorite to return as the starter, but issues with his accuracy last season could have left the door open just enough to create a bit of a position battle.

Lagow threw for 3,362 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, but he also had 17 interceptions. That could provide a shot for redshirt freshman Peyton Ramsey, who threw for a touchdown and ran for another in the spring game. First-year coach Tom Allen had plenty of praise for Ramsey in the spring and appears to be open to the two battling it out in preseason camp.


While it looks like junior Giovanni Rescigno has the inside track after starting five games last season, there are plenty of options for second-year coach Chris Ash. Rescigno was solid but didn’t wow anyone with five touchdown passes and five interceptions, meaning it’s an open competition this fall with Louisville graduate transfer Kyle Bolin right in the mix after deciding on Rutgers in the spring.

And while gone are Tylin Oden, who was dismissed, and Zach Allen because of a knee injury, true freshman Johnathan Lewis is coming in to compete while Ash has also hinted at seeing what receives Damon Mitchell and Janarion Grant can do taking the ball from center.

Clayton Thorson



Another simple quarterback situation as junior Clayton Thorson overcame a slow start last season to finish strong, throwing 17 touchdowns and five interceptions over the final nine games. Thorson also has the ability to run the ball, scoring four times on the ground, and will be expected to take a big leap this season for the Wildcats to compete for the West title.

After Thorson, things are thin. Senior Matt Alviti, who entered preseason camp last year in a battle for the starting spot, is the clear backup at this point and the only other quarterback on the roster who has seen any game action.

Alex Hornibrook


Much like Northwestern, the quarterback position for the Badgers is very clear and just as thin after the starter. Sophomore Alex Hornibrook is the clear starter after sharing time last season with Bart Houston and locking things up with a solid spring. He’ll have his share of weapons, including tight end Troy Fumagalli, but if Hornibrook gets dinged up, things could get dicey.

The first option is likely redshirt freshman Kare Lyles while true freshman Jack Coan could also be in the mix. However, Hornibrook is the only quarterback on the roster with game experience, meaning the only time Badgers fans want to see Lyles or Coan is if they’re comfortably ahead.


With Tommy Armstrong lost to graduation, there’s a changing of the guard for the Cornhuskers. After a spring competition, coach Mike Riley announced former Tulane transfer Tanner Lee was the “top QB heading into the summer,” beating out redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien. However, Riley also made it clear nothing is certain heading into preseason camp.

Lee threw for three touchdowns in the spring game while O’Brien was 11-for-17 for 134 yards and a touchdown. Early enrollee Tristan Gebbia also got some work but appears headed for a redshirt season.


While C.J. Beathard is off to the NFL, the Hawkeyes spent the bulk of spring practice trying to determine his replacement. With preseason camp set to start, however, there’s no clear-cut idea of who might have the advantage between junior Tyler Wiegers and sophomore Nathan Stanley.

Neither separated themselves back in the spring and coach Kirk Ferentz said in April if he was forced to pick a starter at that moment he would have to flip a coin.


Sophomore Denny Croft and fifth-year senior Conor Rhoda battled it out in the spring, both having moments that showed they could be the starter once first-year coach P.J. Fleck puts his Gophers on the field for the first time.

Croft has plenty of upside, serving as Mitch Leidner’s backup in 2015 before redshirting in 2016. He completed 8-of-13 passes for 109 yards in the spring game and seemed to have the edge; however, Rhoda was solid, as well. He completed his final eight passes and made it clear the quarterback battle would continue up to the opener.


The Illini were hoping to add junior college transfer Dwayne Lawson, a one-time four-star recruit coming out of high school. However, it looks like that move is now not happening, meaning coach Lovie Smith will likely be turning to junior Chayce Crouch, who saw action in four games last season. Crouch has the ability to keep the Illini in games with his feet but threw five interceptions in limited work last season.

Sophomore Jeff George Jr. is still in the mix to start, but the experience drops off from there. Trenard Davis has the ability to play multiple positions while freshman Cam Miller and Cameron Thomas will also be getting a look.

David Blough


Junior David Blough has established himself as the starter for the Boilermakers last season by throwing for 25 touchdowns and more than 3,500 yards. However, he also was intercepted 21 times, which means he’ll need to take a significant leap this season. He’ll get a decent shot as first-year coach Jeff Brohm has proven he can develop quarterbacks.

Sophomore Elijah Sindelar struggled in limited action last season and will have his hands full holding off redshirt freshman Jared Sparks, a dual-threat QB, for the backup spot.

Twitter @mattcharboneau