The start of the college football season is just a few short weeks away and it promises to be an entertaining race in the Big Ten. Now, if you are an Ohio State fan, you are hoping it is not too interesting, especially after coming up short last season. But the other 13 teams have scholarships and uniforms too and there is no denying that there is plenty of talent spread out around this conference.
It got us to thinking about the top players at specific positions going into the season. Ohio State fans are always well-aware of who their favorite team has but what about the rest of the teams in the league?
We start things off by talking about quarterbacks, one of the most visible positions in college football. Teams only have one playing at a time and all the successes and all the shortcomings of the offense generally fall on the shoulders of the signal caller, rightly or wrongly.
It has been a drought within the conference since a Big Ten quarterback has won a national quarterbacking award. Ohio State’s CJ Stroud seems to be on a short list of players who could end that drought, but who else within the conference finds themselves in the upper cut of QBs? Let’s take a look.
5. Cade McNamara – Michigan
Yes, McNamara may not even be the best quarterback on his roster right now. But the same could be said about Sean Clifford at Penn State and when you look back at things, Michigan did win the Big Ten last season and that must account for something.
The question must be asked what are the parameters of this piece, are we talking about what last season was or what expectations for 2022 are? McNamara was not among the top-five in the conference last season when it came to passing efficiency and his numbers didn’t exactly jump off the page.
Last season he threw for 2,576 yards with 15 touchdowns against six picks at a 64.2-percent completion clip. Let’s also not forget that Ronnie Bell was lost for the season before things even really got started and while the Michigan receiver room rounded into shape as the season went on, it was not a list of well-known targets.
Last season in games against Michigan State and Maryland, we did see bigger passing numbers from McNamara than in other games but 2022 may be a year where Michigan will be forced to throw more without the safety net of Hassan Haskins running the ball there.
4. Payton Thorne – Michigan State
Thorne had an incredible duo of Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor to throw to last season and that really helped his numbers, not to mention a constant threat on the ground of Kenneth Walker III. Nailor and Walker are gone but Reed is back and should be a solid No. 1 target for Thorne who will be looking to build upon a 3,240 yard and 27 touchdown effort in his first year as the starter in East Lansing (Mich.).
Thorne’s final game of the season was a 354-yard passing game against Pitt, in a game that Michigan State won much to the chagrin of Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi.
The Michigan State quarterback has to be more careful throwing however as he was plagued by most of his interceptions in the second half of the season when the Spartans exited their non-conference schedule and took on equal-to-better talent than what they had on their own roster.
3. Taulia Tagovailoa – Maryland
I really went back-and-forth on this one between No. 2 and No. 3, Maryland’s quarterback very well may be the second-best quarterback in the conference, but moments of inconsistency kept him at No. 3 on this initial list.
Big offensive numbers are undeniable, 3,860 yards with 26 touchdowns but 11 interceptions sit on his record as well including the Iowa game, where he tossed five of those picks.
Maryland is not afraid to throw the ball around and Tagovailoa is perfectly suited for that type of offense, especially as the Terps have not been able to do much on the ground as of late.
One of the stats that may get lost when talking about Taulia is his completion percentage, which is just shy of 70-percent. Tagovailoa threw for better than 71-percent against Ohio State, but we know the issues that Ohio State had last season on defense, so take that with a grain of salt.
Expect big numbers for the Maryland passing offense so long as there are no personnel losses along the way with the Terps having one of the better receiving corps in the conference.
2. Aidan O’Connell – Purdue
O’Connell’s numbers were not far off Tagovailoa’s when you look at 2021 with 3,712 yards and 28 scores and the same 11 interceptions. O’Connell’s numbers would have been bigger if he were given the reigns for the entire season with the Boilermakers however and that is why we are giving him the nod here, even if Purdue’s wide receiver corps will not be as deep or explosive as Maryland’s.
Jeff Brohm is one of those true offensive geniuses when it comes to the passing game and O’Connell is a tremendous student even if he may not be one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in the game.
O’Connell’s final seven league games saw him complete better than 74-percent of his passes and while the bowl game against Tennessee saw a much more mundane passing performance with 55-percent completions and five touchdowns to three picks, the Boilers were able to get away with the win.
It will be interesting to see what the passing game will look like with David Bell back as one of the best receivers in the Big Ten not on the Ohio State roster. Purdue will figure something out but opposing defenses will know that they won’t face a quarterback by committee this year.
1. CJ Stroud – Ohio State
Not much has to be said here as Stroud was a Heisman finalist and among the nation’s top passers last season. Stroud threw for 4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns in 12 games (missed the Akron game) and only had six interceptions along the way, three of them in his first three starts as an Ohio State quarterback.
We have mentioned with other players about losses in the receiver room and what that means and there may not be any bigger losses than Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson in terms of what those two were able to produce, but Ohio State is best suited to move on from that with Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr. and the rest of the receiver room.
One of the biggest things we are going to be looking for this upcoming season is the advanced leadership skills of Stroud and his understanding and trust in the Ohio State offense. There were plenty of times where it looked like he was just throwing to his first option, a critique by many watchers, but the truth of the matter is that his first option was generally open, and you don’t have to checkdown much when your first read is there.
Will Stroud be able to write the Ohio State single season records at quarterback this year? If Ohio State achieves its goals and gets to play over the course of 15 games, every single year record is within reach based on what we saw last season, as is the opportunity to end the Big Ten’s Heisman quarterback drought.