Returning experience matters when trying to assess teams in the offseason and a experience at quarterback matters perhaps most of all. Certainly on offense, and it's somewhat rare in the Big Ten West Division in 2019.
Just two teams, Iowa and Nebraska, return full-time starters with the news out of Wisconsin this week. As most of the Big Ten gets read for spring football, here’s a look at where things stand at quarterback for each division team.
ILLINOIS: One-time Husker A.J. Bush took the bulk of the Illini's snaps in 2018 and was pretty dangerous in the run game (733 yards over 10 games). He's gone now. Sophomore M.J. Rivers II played the most of the four QBs still on the roster and is likely the leader this spring. Until June, perhaps. That's when Isaiah Williams arrives. A high 4-star athlete from St. Louis, Williams could do just about anything but it looks like the Illinois staff is ready to start him out at quarterback. It's a high-risk, high-reward move, but that's what Illinois should be doing. The Illini need a spark.
IOWA: Nothing to see here as Nate Stanley is back. The senior threw 747 of the Hawkeyes' 763 passes over the past two seasons and has been a key part of Iowa's slight offensive surge of late. There's no competition in Iowa City, though punter Colton Rastetter is responsible for four of the passes Stanley didn't throw in 2017 and 2018. He completed all four.
MINNESOTA: The Gophers aren't short on options behind center. Sophomore Zack Annexsted started the first seven games of the season, opening his freshman season with three wins followed by four losses. Redshirt sophomore Tanner Morgan took over as starter after the Nebraska game and oversaw the good half of the Gophers' season. Despite that, coach P.J. Fleck said it will be an open competition this spring. Freshmen Cole Kramer, a 3-star dual-threat hometown hero from Eden Prairie, and Jacob Clark, a 4-star pro-style QB from Texas, enrolled in January. This will be an interesting one to watch. Minnesota is as experienced as any team in the conference and is earning some offseason buzz.
NEBRASKA: Yeah, I think we know where things stand in Lincoln. The Huskers with Year 2 of Adrian Martinez on tap are probably the best off of any team in the West. He and Stanley were neck-and-neck last year in terms of passer rating, but you'd expect a bigger jump in that category from Martinez (a sophomore) than Stanley (a senior). And that's before you get to the rushing part of things.
NORTHWESTERN: The Clayton Thorson era is over and now the Hunter Johnson era officially begins. A 5-star prospect and one of the top two quarterbacks in the 2017 class (depending upon where you look), Johnson signed with Clemson, enrolled early and saw a little time as a true freshman in 2017. He completed 21-of-27 passes (77.8%) with two touchdowns over seven games. Now he'll take the reins of a Northwestern team that went 19-8 overall and 15-4 in the Big Ten the past two seasons.
PURDUE: Elijah Sindelar is back for his senior season and, with David Blough out of the picture, is the presumed number one for the Boilermakers in 2019. He's not starting from scratch after starting nine games over the past two seasons. Nick Sipe and Jack Plummer are both back to battle for the backup spot again. Purdue has a lot to replace on offense, but quarterback should be relatively stable with Sindelar in place.
WISCONSIN: The news of the week that prompted this post was Alex Hornibrook's decision to transfer. Wisconsin's most experienced quarterback, 26-6 as a starter, was likely facing a significant challenge for the top spot this spring. Now that Hornibrook is in THE PORTAL, Jack Coan is the safe and experienced option. True freshman Graham Mertz, a 4-star prospect and U.S. Army All-American, is the exciting option. It should be an interesting spring for the Badgers coming off a slightly down year. Wisconsin is pretty set at the skill positions on offense, but must replace four of five starters on the offense line and, now, a quarterback.
The Grab Bag
- Nebraska basketball did not turn things around last night at No. 9 Michigan. (3 Takes)
- Speaking of Michigan, the Wolverines have been active in Nebraska on the recruiting front this week.
- Derek Peterson looks at key questions facing the Huskers on special teams this spring and five seniors to watch.
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.