Just about every team in the Big Ten East is starting over at the quarterback position this fall. The only team with an established quarterback is Ohio State, which is glad to welcome back J.T. Barrett, who has plenty of experience.
Here are our summertime rankings of the presumed starters at quarterback in the Big Ten East:
1. J.T. BARRETT, OHIO STATE
Barrett gets a relative free pass from last season (1,674 total yards, 22 total TDs), due to the awkward quarterback battle with Cardale Jones (recently drafted by the Buffalo Bills).
In his final seven games last year (upon becoming the full-time starter), Barrett accounted for three outings of 100-plus rushing yards and 20 touchdowns.
Barrett enjoyed a fabulous freshman campaign, notching nearly 4,000 total yards and 45 touchdowns (34 passing). He finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting that year, despite suffering a broken leg against Michigan.
The Big Ten West has a deeper crop of quarterbacks, but Barrett still tops the conference-wide list, based on his athleticism, versatility, experience, previous track record and explosive surrounding talent. As such, he’ll be throwing to a pair of high-upside wideouts (Noah Brown, Parris Campbell).
2. JOHN O’KORN, MICHIGAN
We’re taking an educated guess on O’Korn, the transfer from the University of Houston, beating out Wilton Speight and Shane Morris during fall camp.
However, given the lack of seasoned arms in this division, it’s possible that Speight — if tapped by Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh for full-time reps — might also warrant the No. 2 ranking.
As a freshman at Houston in 2013, O’Korn passed for 3,117 yards passing and 29 touchdowns (one rushing). His stats dipped considerably the following season, setting up his high-profile transfer to Michigan.
Jake Rudock made great strides in his one season with Michigan (graduate transfer from Iowa). In 2015, the eventual NFL draftee (sixth round, Detroit Lions) tallied 3,017 yards passing and 24 touchdowns (four rushing). That seems like a good baseline of expectations for O’Korn in 2016.
The reason for such optimism: Michigan likely has the Big Ten’s best pass-catching corps, starting with receivers Jehu Chesson (50 catches, 764 yards, 9 TDs last year), Amara Darboh (58 catches, 727 yards, 5 TDs) and Jake Butt — perhaps the first tight end taken in the 2017 NFL Draft.
3. CHRIS LAVIANO, RUTGERS
Laviano performed well in his first full season as Rutgers’ starter, accounting for 2,247 yards passing and 16 touchdowns.
In 2015, Laviano posted four different outings of three or more touchdown passes – against Norfolk State, Michigan State, Indiana and Maryland. Against the Hoosiers, Laviano rolled for 386 yards passing and three TDs; and in the season finale, the Rutgers QB decimated Maryland’s defense for 344 yards passing and four TDs.
Rutgers has a quartet of seniors leading the primary pass-catching slots — wideouts Andre Patton (34 catches, 432 yards, 1 TD last year), Janarion Grant, Carlton Agudosi and tight end Nick Arcidiacono, a receiving/blocking gem for the Scarlet Knights.
Last year, Rutgers surrendered at least 28 points in every Big Ten game. If this pattern repeats itself in 2016, Laviano and Co. will attempt 350-plus passes out of sheer necessity.
4. TYLER O’CONNOR, MICHIGAN STATE
For what it’s worth, coming out of high school, O’Connor was a more highly touted QB prospect than his MSU predecessor. But in 2013, Connor Cook, recently drafted by the Oakland Raiders, won Michigan State’s QB competition and eventually led the Spartans with 9,194 yards passing, 71 touchdowns, 34 total victories, two Big Ten championships and one Rose Bowl victory over Stanford (January 2014).
For Michigan State’s road upset of Ohio State, the season-long favorite for the Big Ten title, O’Connor (filling in for the injured Cook) enjoyed a mistake-free outing in wretched weather, accounting for 114 total yards (89 passing) and one TD.
O’Connor has a slew of playmakers at his disposal this season, beginning with receiver R.J. Shelton, Felton Davis, Donnie Corley (a potential freshman All-American) and tight end Josiah Price.
The one glaring shortcoming: The above quartet has a grand total of 68 collegiate receptions.
5. RICHARD LAGOW, INDIANA
Lagow must fill the very-big shoes of former QB Nate Sudfeld, a three-year starter who passed for 7,879 yards, 61 TDs and enjoyed four seasons of 60-plus-percent passing with the Hoosiers.
On the plus side, Lagow has access to a deep cast of experienced playmakers, including receivers Simmie Cobbs Jr. (60 catches, 1,035 yards, 4 TDs in 2015), Ricky Jones (54 catches, 906 yards, 5 TDs), Mitchell Paige (57 catches, 684 yards, 6 TDs) and tailback Devine Redding, who rushed for 1,012 yards and nine TDs last season … as a backup asset.
Consider this to be a ‘placeholder’ ranking. Lagow has good upside and a formidable supporting cast. He also has a rock-solid nucleus along the offensive line, including mammoth guard Dan Feeney.
6. TRACE MCSORLEY, PENN STATE
Technically, McSorley’s stuck in limbo with prospective countdowns like this, since he hasn’t been named the opening day starter (yet). But it’s hard to envision the kid holding a clipboard against Kent State on Sept. 3, after completing 23 of 27 passes for 281 yards and four TDs in Penn State’s spring game.
Christian Hackenberg – drafted by the New York Jets – has undeniable talent as an NFL prospect, but he might have not been the ideal fit with Penn State’s offense. Hackenberg’s early NFL exit spares the coaches from conjuring up a quarterback controversy with McSorley, a 4-star dual-threat talent from Virginia.
The Nittany Lions have a slew of returning playmakers in the mix, highlighted by receivers Chris Godwin (69 catches, 1,101 yards, 5 TDs), DaeSean Hamilton (45 catches, 580 yards, 6 TDs), Saaed Blacknall, tight end Mike Gesicki and tailback Saquon Barkley, who tallied 1,237 total yards, 20 receptions and eight touchdowns as a freshman.
7. PERRY HILLS, MARYLAND
The Maryland quarterbacks were across-the-board deplorable last season, with Hills and Caleb Rowe combining for 14 touchdown passes and 28 interceptions.
Now for the good news: The Terps return three top wideouts (Levern Jacobs, D.J. Moore, Malcolm Culmer), meaning that Hills and Rowe cannot possibly throw more interceptions in 2016.
If Hills and/or Rowe should struggle early on, Maryland may be ready to hand the offense over to freshman Tyrrell Pigrome, a Parade All-American from the Class of 2016.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.