Penn State’s Trace McSorley took the Big Ten by storm a year ago. Who’ll join him as the top returning Big Ten quarterbacks of 2017?
The power center of the Big Ten resides in the East Division, which is also reflected at the quarterback position. Trace McSorley, J.T. Barrett and Wilton Speight are the league’s top three returning hurlers in 2017, and they happen to all play in the right half of the conference. Over in the West, Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson and Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook will initially duke it out for bragging rights, as Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota audition candidates to replace longtime senior starters.
Top Returning Big Ten Quarterbacks
5. Alex Hornibrook, Wisconsin
Bart Houston is gone, as is the two-quarterback system in Madison. This is Hornibrook’s offense in 2017. He started nine games as a redshirt freshman, learning valuable on-the-job lessons while compiling a 7-2 mark. The southpaw displayed nice poise and touch on his throws, particularly on deep balls. Hornibrook has already spent part of the offseason working with noted quarterback engineer George Whitfield in San Diego, looking to raise the overall level of his game as a sophomore.
4. Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
Thorson made significant strides as a sophomore. The Wildcats are banking on similar gains this fall out of their quarterback. Thorson improved as a pocket passer, throwing for 22 scores and 3,182 yards. And he scrambles surprisingly well at 6-4 and 220 pounds, rushing for five touchdowns in each of his first two seasons at the helm. While Thorson will continue evolving as a passer and a leader, it won’t be reflected in the numbers unless someone steps up to replace the massive production of all-star WR Austin Carr.
3. Wilton Speight, Michigan
Speight was named the Wolverines’ most improved player of 2016, understandable considering John O’Korn was the presumed favorite to win the job last spring. Speight ranked third in the league in passing efficiency in his debut, missing just a single game after suffering a November shoulder injury. He was generally accurate, completing 61.6% of his throws, and should continue blossoming in his second season as Jim Harbaugh’s latest pupil behind center.
2. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
By the anticipated standard, it was a rough season for Barrett, especially in the passing attack over the final few games. But he’s already proven once he can be among the game’s top playmakers, finishing fifth in the Heisman vote in 2014. And the Buckeyes are committed to do whatever is necessary to maximize Barrett’s potential, including beefing up the staff with the additions of Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day. While Barrett must improve as a passer, his experience, leadership and feet are well above average.
1. Trace McSorley, Penn State
Last season in Happy Valley wasn’t possible without the evolution of McSorley, who lit an unmistakable spark beneath the offense and really the entire program. In stark contrast to his predecessor, Christian Hackenberg, McSorley was energetic, athletic and extremely effective on deep balls. His ability to stretch defenses makes star RB Saquon Barkley even tougher to defend. And McSorley is only halfway through his college career. He ranked sixth nationally in yards per attempt, scrambled for seven scores and threw four touchdown passes in each of his final three games.