College football is just around the corner -- we’re less than 11 weeks away from the Gophers’ season opener against New Mexico State on Aug. 30. So, with that in mind, I’ll be examining some story lines, players and trends to watch over the next few weeks. Here’s today’s installment:
A look at the Big Ten quarterback picture
Top of the mountain
Trace McSorley, Penn State: With back-to-back seasons of more than 3,500 passing yards and at least 28 TD passes, McSorley enters his senior season as a Heisman Trophy hopeful. He has thrown at least one TD pass in 28 consecutive games, the longest active streak in FBS. With standout tailback Saquon Barkley off to the NFL, the Nittany Lions will rely even more on McSorley.
The next tier
Brian Lewerke, Michigan State: Lewerke was as big reason why the Spartans improved from 3-9 in 2016 to 10-3 last year. He passed for 2,793 yards and 20 touchdowns against seven interceptions and rushed for 559 yards and five scores. He was at his best in the 27-24 upset of Penn State, when he passed for 400 yards and two scores.
Nate Stanley, Iowa: The Menomonie, Wis., native won the Hawkeyes’ starting job last preseason and quickly showed he was up to the task, passing for 2,432 yards with a sparkling 26-6 touchdown-interception ratio. Most of Iowa’s offensive weapons return, so Stanley could be even better in his junior season.
Alex Hornibrook, Wisconsin: Though the Badgers will try to bludgeon you with their running game first, Hornibrook can keep a defense honest. He passed for 2,644 yards and 25 TDs last year, and went 23-for-34 for 258 yards and four TDs in the Orange Bowl win over Miami. One issue: He must cut down on those 15 interceptions.
Shea Patterson, Michigan: A transfer from Ole Miss, Patterson passed for 2,259 yards and 17 TDs in only seven games last year. Provided he beats out Brandon Peters for the starting job, the junior instantly gives the Wolverines an upgrade. And they need it, because their passing offense ranked 11th in the Big Ten last year.
Adrian Martinez, Nebraska: A strong showing in the spring game has the early enrollee freshman pushing hard to win the starting job. He’ll have to beat out redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia and sophomore Andrew Bunch. The Huskers’ QB of the future could be taking control come Sept. 1.
Filling big shoes
Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State: 12,697 and 147. Those are the yards of total offense and touchdowns that J.T. Barrett produced in his Buckeyes career. Now it’s Haskins’ turn to take over that offensive machine. Haskins played in eight games as a freshman last year, so he has a base upon which to build. And Ohio State has shown it can plug in QBs and still win big (see Cardale Jones and the 2014 College Football Playoff).
Back from injury
Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill, Maryland: The Terrapins couldn’t catch a break last year. First, Pigrome torn an ACL in the 51-41 win at Texas in the season opener. Three weeks later, Hill tore an ACL and missed the rest of the season, too. Both were ahead of schedule in their recoveries during spring practice, so the competition for the starting job will commence.
Will he be back for the opener?
Clayton Thorson, Northwestern: How much does Thorson mean to the Wildcats? In three years as a starter, he has accounted for more than 8,000 yards of total offense and 62 touchdowns. He tore an ACL in the Music City Bowl last year, and his aim is to be ready for the Aug. 30 season opener against Purdue. TJ Green, a little-used junior, likely would start if Thorson isn’t healthy.
Battling for the job
David Blough and Elijah Sindelar, Purdue: The Boilermakers have solid options in Blough (nine games, five starts in 2017) and Sindelar (12 games, eight starts) provided they are healthy. Blough had surgery to repair a dislocated ankle, while Sindelar played the final 3 ½ games with a torn ACL. Combined, they passed for 27 TDs as the Boilermakers went 7-6.
Tanner Morgan and Zack Annexstad, Gophers: Coach P.J. Fleck goes into the season without a QB who’s thrown a pass in a college game. Not an ideal situation, but Morgan and Annexstad showed a strong grasp of the offense during the spring game. Morgan likely had the edge after spring drills, though don’t be surprised if both QBs play, especially with the NCAA’s new redshirt rule allowing a player to appear in up to four games without losing a year of eligibility.
Giovanni Rescigno and Artur Sitkowski, Rutgers: Rescigno started seven games last year but passed for only two TDs. That has opened the door for Sitkowski, the early enrollee who lost the starting job at IMG Academy to Annexstad last year. Sitkowski impressed during spring practice, so he could see the field quickly.
Peyton Ramsey and Brandon Dawkins, Indiana: Ramsey started four games as a redshirt freshman last year, completing 65.4 percent of his passes with 10 TD throws against five interceptions. But he’ll be pushed by Dawkins, a graduate transfer from Arizona. Dawkins was the Wildcats’ starter in 2016 before Khalil Tate took over last year.
It’s your job, kid
Cam Thomas, Illinois: As a true freshman last year, Thomas played in four games and started two. He took his lumps, with no TD passes and five interceptions, but the job is all his after Chayce Crouch and Jeff George Jr. left the Illini.