The Enemy, Ranked: Quarterbacks

Submitted by Ace on August 23rd, 2017 at 2:30 PM


Sigh. [Bryan Fuller]

In some ways, Michigan's 2017 schedule is daunting. They open the season with a tough test against Florida, travel to Penn State and Wisconsin, and face one of the decade's two best programs to cap the regular season. In other ways, it looks quite navigable: Michigan should be favored in at least a couple of the aforementioned games, they get Ohio State at home, and they'll be heavy favorites against the rest of the schedule.

This post is the first in a series ranking the position groups of M's 2017 opponents. It's also the most illustrative of the dichotomy between the top teams in the Big Ten East and everyone else on the schedule. Michigan plays a couple of potential Heisman contenders at quarterback; they also go against a series of teams whose QB situations are either unsettled or downright bad. To wit: I briefly considered Air Force for the #3 spot on this list.

While these rankings skew heavily towards the ability of the starting quarterback, I also took depth and backup quality into account. The first two teams on this list will come as no surprise.

1. Ohio State

  COMP/ATT COMP% YARDS YPA TD INT RUSH YARDS YPC TD
JT Barrett 233/379 61.5 2555 6.7 24 7 205 845 4.1 9
Joe Burrow 11/14 78.6 226 8.1 2 0 12 58 4.8 1

At this point, JT Barrett is one of the most-known commodities in college football. While he hasn't developed into a pinpoint passer, especially on deep throws, he's an ideal fit for Urban Meyer's power spread because of his frustratingly effective running and smart decision-making. He threw 14 touchdowns against only four picks in Big Ten games last year, and while he posted a mediocre 6.5 yards per attempt, he did so while throwing to one of OSU's least dangerous receiving corps in a while. If a couple WRs emerge, Barrett could be right back in the Heisman mix.

This group took a hit this week when expected backup Joe Burrow broke his hand, which will keep him out indefinitely. Reserves Dwayne Haskins and Tate Martell have a ton of talent but no game experience, and this isn't exactly the most comforting quote:

“Dwayne, better known as Ross in the quarterback room, my man Ross, I would say with him he’s a little risky,” said starter J.T. Barrett. “He has a little bit of mentality like Cardale. His arm can take him places but then also too it can get him in some tight spots as well, but when he’s set up to throw the ball and he’s in rhythm he has a big arm.”

I almost moved OSU behind PSU when this news broke. In the end, I stuck with the Buckeyes because of Barrett's experience, the expected improvement in the receiving corps, and the addition of former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson to the coaching staff.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the list.]

2. Penn State

Trace McSorley flourished in PSU's new offense—except against M. [Bryan Fuller]

  COMP/ATT COMP% YARDS YPA TD INT RUSH YARDS YPC TD
Trace McSorley 224/387 57.9 3614 9.3 29 8 146 365 2.5 7
Tommy Stevens 2/3 66.7 36 12.0 0 0 21 198 9.4 2

Among qualified QBs, Trace McSorley posted the best pass efficiency in Big Ten games by over 20 points. (Wilton Speight was second.) His 9.4 YPA led the conference by a full yard-and-a-half. (Again, Speight was second.) His 21 touchdowns also led the conference; he only threw three picks. In Joe Moorhead's F-it-we're-going-deep offense, McSorley provided the proverbial gunslinging without the turnover-prone downside associated with that term, and while he's no Barrett he was also an effective runner.

Without leading receiver/jump ball maven Chris Godwin, McSorley's deep passing numbers may fall back to earth a bit. He's still got plenty of talent in the receiving corps, however, and "tight end" Mike Gesicki wins more than his fair share of contested downfield catches.

Redshirt sophomore backup Tommy Stevens wasn't a highly touted guy out of high school, but he looked solid in the spring and shouldn't be a disaster if called upon.

THE GORGE OF ETERNAL PERIL

3. Indiana


A lot of Richard Lagow's throws look like bad ideas. [Eric Upchurch]

  COMP/ATT COMP% YARDS YPA TD INT RUSH YARDS YPC TD
Richard Lagow 253/438 57.8 3362 7.7 19 17 41 -188 -4.6 2

I guess?

So, yeah, there's quite a dropoff. Michigan doesn't even face Northwestern's Clayton Thorson and Nebraska's Tanner Lee, who are getting some preseason hype as the best B1G QBs in the tier after Barrett-McSorley-Speight.

Indiana's Richard Lagow has a heck of an arm; he also has obvious issues with accuracy, mechanics, and decision-making, which led to him throwing as many interceptions (11) as touchdowns in conference play while completing under 60% of his passes. He still posted the best pass efficiency mark in Big Ten play among Michigan's 2017 opponents after Barrett and McSorley.

Lagow got pushed a bit in the spring by redshirt freshman Peyton Ramsey, who showed some burgeoning talent, but it's Lagow's job to lose. Yes, it says a lot about the schedule that the #3 team on here had a mild QB controversy despite a returning starter.

4. Florida

  COMP/ATT COMP% YARDS YPA TD INT RUSH YARDS YPC TD
Malik Zaire (ND 2015) 13/20 65.0 428 10.7 4 0 19 103 5.4 0
Luke Del Rio 38/67 56.7 1358 6.8 8 8 16 -43 -2.7 0

Florida's quarterback play has largely been a disaster post-Tebow and last year was no exception; Purdue transfer Austin Appleby and sophomore Luke Del Rio posted near-identical, ugly stat lines.

While Del Rio returns, he's currently running third at best in the race to start the opener. Talented redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, a top-60 overall recruit in the 2016 class, held the job exiting the spring. The Gators added Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire over the summer, and now it's a full-blown open competition that, as of today, didn't have a clear leader:

Zaire looked like Notre Dame's quarterback of the future when he won the job in 2015 and torched what turned out to be an awful Texas defense in the opener. He broke his ankle the following week, however, and lost out to eventual first-rounder DeShone Kizer last season. Zaire could be a dangerous dual-threat guy, but first he has to get the offense down and beat out Franks. Facing the Gators in week one is definitely an advantage for Michigan, which won't have the same concerns about breaking in a new starting QB against a fierce defensive front.

5. Wisconsin


It's Alex Hornibrook's job now with Bart Houston gone. [Fuller]

  COMP/ATT COMP% YARDS YPA TD INT RUSH YARDS YPC TD
Alex Hornibrook 106/181 58.6 1262 7.0 9 7 23 -81 -3.5 0

Wisconsin couldn't settle on a quarterback last year, either, going back and forth between senior Bart Houston and redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook. Houston outplayed Hornibrook last year, averaging 9.6 YPA to Hornibrook's 6.5 in conference games, but with Houston gone to graduation there's no more competition to speak of—it's Hornibrook's job.

While much of Hornibrook's struggles can be chalked up to the usual problems facing a first-year starter, he didn't show much of an arm, and Wisconsin's offense in general has been underwhelming of late. By virtue of getting a solid amount of experience under his belt without throwing a ton of interceptions, though, Hornibrook narrowly edges out the next two on this list.

6. Purdue

  COMP/ATT COMP% YARDS YPA TD INT RUSH YARDS YPC TD
David Blough 295/517 57.1 3352 6.5 25 21 80 13 0.2 4
Elijah Sindelar 7/16 43.8 165 5.2 0 3 4 9 2.3 0

David Blough is tough to figure out. He gets some mention among the second-tier Big Ten quarterbacks; it's not easy to stay afloat in Purdue's offense, especially given how often they asked Blough to throw the ball last year. On the other hand, 21 is a whole lot of interceptions. Blough had just one pick-free game in 2016 and it came in a 50-7 loss to Maryland in which he averaged 3.2 YPA.

Blough got dinged up in a recent practice, which has opened the door for last year's backup, Elijah Sindelar, to make it a competition. Given Sindelar's stat line from last year, that may not say good things about Blough's acclimation to Jeff Brohm's new system.

7. Michigan State

  COMP/ATT COMP% YARDS YPA TD INT RUSH YARDS YPC TD
Brian Lewerke 31/57 54.4 381 6.7 2 1 21 149 7.1 0
Damion Terry 11/23 47.8 253 5.5 1 1 26 85 3.2 1

With Tyler O'Connor gone to graduation, Michigan State is expected to go with redshirt sophomore Brian Lewerke, who looked solid for a first-year player before his season ended with a broken leg against Michigan. While Lewerke looked the part, showing a decent arm and above-average mobility, he didn't get to take a ton of snaps last year before injury struck; he's probably less of a sure thing than MSU fans hope.

The backup situation is cause for concern, especially if former four-star Messiah deWeaver doesn't take a leap forward. Damion Terry has piled up plenty of evidence that he's not a starter-quality quarterback in this conference. He can provide a different look as a change-of-pace, run-first QB, but he makes MSU very one-dimensional in the process.

8. Air Force

  COMP/ATT COMP% YARDS YPA TD INT RUSH YARDS YPC TD
Arion Worthman 23/39 59.0 546 14.0 4 2 130 674 5.2 6

I wasn't kidding about considering Air Force for #3 on this list. Their offense got new life last year when sophomore Arion Worthman stepped in for injured senior starter Nate Romine. Worthman showed he probably should've had the job from the jump; he was an extremely dangerous runner and far more efficient passer than most in AF's option with a side of long bombs attack. While the Falcons turn over far too much of their team to have a good shot at the upset, Worthman is going to make a few plays that frustrate Michigan fans.

9. Rutgers

  COMP/ATT COMP% YARDS YPA TD INT RUSH YARDS YPC TD
Kyle Bolin (UL 2015) 78/137 56.9 1154 8.4 12 8 16 -59 -3.7 0
Gio Rescigno 86/145 52.8 889 5.5 5 5 59 107 1.8 2

After the quarterbacks were a disaster last year, Rutgers needed a fresh face. They got one in Louisville transfer Kyle Bolin, who quite understandly left after losing a battle with Heisman winner Lamar Jackson. Bolin performed relatively well when called upon at Louisville; he just didn't have Jackson's rushing upside (or anything close) and threw a few too many picks. To nobody's surprise, he locked down the starter job in fall camp.

10. Maryland

NSFW language warning. There's a five-yard checkdown on 3rd and 12 in here.

  COMP/ATT COMP% YARDS YPA TD INT RUSH YARDS YPC TD
Tyrrell Pigrome 37/71 52.1 322 4.5 2 2 62 254 4.1 4
Max Bortenschlager 16/33 48.5 209 6.3 1 0 12 -27 -2.3 0

This is where is starts to get dire. I thought Maryland may have stabilized their quarterback situation with former four-star Caleb Henderson, who transferred from North Carolina after he couldn't get past #2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky on the depth chart. Henderson sat out some of fall camp with a foot injury, however, and the race remains wide open.

Last year's backup, Tyrrell "Piggy" Pigrome, and true freshman Kasim Hill are the current frontrunners, and that's bad news one way or the other. Pigrome didn't look like a viable Big Ten QB while getting plenty of snaps as a change-of-pace guy last year; Hill is a true freshman, albeit a four-star. I'd assume Maryland fans want Henderson to get healthy and win the job, but he's attempted all of one career collegiate pass. Offensive coordinator Walt Bell did an impressive job putting together a dangerous rushing attack; he's got his work cut out for him in the passing game.

11. Minnesota

  COMP/ATT COMP% YARDS YPA TD INT RUSH YARDS YPC TD
Conor Rhoda 8/16 50.0 88 5.5 1 0 7 -11 -1.6 0
Demry Croft (2015) 7/17 41.2 34 2.0 0 0 9 38 4.2 0

PJ Fleck has finally cracked the code for getting around a QB competition: name both competitors starters!

Rhoda and Croft each served as Mitch Leidner's primary backup over the last two seasons. They say when you have two quarterbacks, you really have no quarterbacks, and that maxim is especially true when those quarterbacks couldn't beat out a guy who was delivering food for something called Bite Squad before finally getting an NFL training camp call in August as an injury fill-in. Both guys will also be adjusting to a significantly different system under Fleck. It's a good thing Minnesota has a couple of burly, skilled running backs.

12. Cincinnati

  COMP/ATT COMP% YARDS YPA TD INT RUSH YARDS YPC TD
Hayden Moore 146/255 57.3 1744 6.8 11 7 53 45 0.9 2
Ross Trail 23/35 65.7 494 7.1 1 6 19 14 0.7 2

Returning starter Hayden Moore, who was inaccurate and turnover-prone before falling to injury last year, is locked in a battle with sophomore Ross Trail. That's rather alarming given half of Trail's incompletions last year were caught by the opposing team.

Comments

Steves_Wolverines

August 23rd, 2017 at 2:49 PM ^

I'd probably go something like this:

1. OSU
2. PSU
3. Purdue
4. Wisconsin
5. Indiana
6. Florida
7. MSU
8. Maryland
9. Air Force
10. Rutgers
11. Minnesota
12. Cincinnati

There are really only 3 teams on our schedule that will really test our corners in the passing game, and that's OSU, PSU, and Purdue. 

Jay Blue

August 23rd, 2017 at 2:50 PM ^

Reading some of these previews really makes me thankful for our quarterbacks!  Both Speight and O'Korn have starter experience and our 3rd string would start at majority of these schools.  And... we have Harbaugh to coach them up!

74polSKA

August 23rd, 2017 at 2:57 PM ^

How does a guy named Dwayne Haskins end up with the nickname Ross? Does he like happy little trees? Did someone eat the sandwich he left in the QB room fridge and he stripped a gear? I will never understand OSU.

SF Wolverine

August 23rd, 2017 at 2:57 PM ^

seem lower in light of this analysis.  We should win the projected wins.  Also, can see some bad things happening to less-than-solid QBs against our front seven.

EGD

August 23rd, 2017 at 2:57 PM ^

Bite Squad is solid.  Have used them many times.  But it does seem like Uber Eats is probably going to crush a lot of these food delivery companies before too long.

outsidethebox

August 23rd, 2017 at 3:02 PM ^

Run blitze the hell out of him-put 8-9 in the box...send the kitchen sink for cryin' out loud!!! Take away the/his right side of the field...make him "escape" left and he is dead meat.  He is a  terrific athlete but he can't read "Dick, Jane and Sally". 

Maison Bleue

August 23rd, 2017 at 3:30 PM ^

What has Lewerke shown you that would put him ahead of proven guys like Lagow or Hornibrook or even Blough? He has only thrown the ball 57 times. I will give you putting him ahead of the Florida QBs because they are equally unproven, but both Lagow and Hornibrook have had more experience and success and Blough at least has the experience edge.

BluePhins

August 23rd, 2017 at 4:26 PM ^

I don't know about proven guys so much as there's more data

Hornibrook: “While much of Hornibrook's struggles can be chalked up to the usual problems facing a first-year starter, he didn't show much of an arm” 9/25 88 yds 1 TD 3 INT against Michigan

Lagow: “has obvious issues with accuracy, mechanics, and decision-making, which led to him throwing as many interceptions (11) as touchdowns in conference play while completing under 60% of his passes.” Including 14/29 191 yards and a 48.0 qbr against Michigan

Lewerke: went 6/10 100 yds 1 TD 24 yds rushing 83.0 qbr against Michigan

No, it’s not a lot to work with but I’d take the third guy

Malum In Se

August 23rd, 2017 at 3:11 PM ^

I loved that.  I did laugh out loud.  I could not help but picture a poorly thrown football not quite making it over the Gore and plummetting to Eternal Peril.

Come for the best coverage of Michigan athletics.  Stay for the wit.

ST3

August 23rd, 2017 at 3:28 PM ^

I'm surprised he's dead last. I mean, he has some numbers. Experience ought to count for something. His numbers projected out to a full season basically equal David Blough or Hornibrook. Our schedule is a shit-show of bad QB play. I may have to revise my season prediction upward.

I suspect what happened is that Ace forgot they were on the schedule, finished this piece and only had 11 teams. Instead of figuring out where the Cincy guy belonged, he just said, "aw, fuck it," and put him last so he wouldn't have to go back and edit everyone below him.

Maison Bleue

August 23rd, 2017 at 3:27 PM ^

Ace, curious as to where you would slot UM on this list? I would probably go with #1 or #2 because our backup at least has game experience and Speight is certainly a top 3 QB in the conference. What say you?

ST3

August 23rd, 2017 at 3:31 PM ^

McSorley's numbers were considerably better than Speight's last year, and while McSorley loses Godwin, Speight loses Butt, Chesson, and Darboh. Speight also loses his RT. He may feel more pressure this year than last. Also, Speight looked less than stellar to end the season and in the spring game. Until Speight is able to demonstrate he is clicking with the newcomers, I put him 3rd. Not saying he can't finish higher, but there are too many questions to answer to move him ahead of McSorley.

Maison Bleue

August 23rd, 2017 at 3:54 PM ^

McSorley's numbers were considerably better than JT Barrett's as well. I would actually put PSU first on the list and UM second, with OSU third. Speight's passing numbers were better than Barrett's and their backup is a huge question mark. Barrett obviously runs the ball really well, but that also makes him more likely to be injured. UM has a backup in O'Korn that has game experience and a backup in Peters that was ranked higher than their current backup in Haskins.

EGD

August 23rd, 2017 at 4:14 PM ^

Michigan's backups might have more upside potential than OSU's, but Harbaugh's offense also demands a lot more out of the QB mentally and so the development path for those guys is probably going to be a lot longer.  Meyer 's system made a star out of freaking Cardale Jones, remember.  So while I'd rather have a Brandon Peters over a 4-5 year career, right now I think you have to give the nod to OSU because it seems as though Peters probably isn't ready whereas OSU can just plug a guy in and keep going.

 

Maison Bleue

August 23rd, 2017 at 4:55 PM ^

Cardale Jones was drafted in the 4th round, so someone thought he is talented enough to play QB in the NFL.  They had a glut of QB talent on the roster that year and I don't believe Haskins or Martell are guys that would plug in and give them Jones type numbers, I mean Martell is 5' 10" for Christ's sake. Maybe I am wrong though.

EGD

August 23rd, 2017 at 5:31 PM ^

What can I say? Cardale has good physical tools and made the most of his opportunity at OSU. But I don't see any reason to assume Haskins and Martell won't be at least as good. Both are significantly higher-rated prospects out of H.S. than Cardale was. Plus Cardale wasn't even very good at OSU outside the great playoff run in 2014; the next year he was ineffective and lost his job again to Barrett.

MJ14

August 23rd, 2017 at 11:18 PM ^

Were McSorleys numbers that good??
He had more yards but he also had way more attempts. Speight's completion percentage was 61.6. McSorley's was 57.9. I don't see what anyone sees in McSorley. He's mediocre and Godwin bailed him out a ton. Godwin isn't there anymore to bail him out. Speight will have a better year than McSorley guaranteed.

Ace

August 23rd, 2017 at 3:32 PM ^

I'd put Speight just a bit below Barrett and McSorley in terms of starter quality and the depth is comparable in talent to OSU's. (I'm also not at all sold on O'Korn or the practice rumblings that he's currently second over Peters.)

I meant to put where I'd rank Michigan in this post and forgot to do it before hitting publish. I'll add that in to the future posts.

BuckeyeChuck

August 23rd, 2017 at 3:53 PM ^

Not challenging that Lagow is 3rd on the list, but surprising how many weak opposing QBs Michigan will face. Should be feasting time for Michigan's defense in most of their games!

A State Fan

August 23rd, 2017 at 4:07 PM ^

RE MSU: 

Saying Damion Terry "as a change-of-pace, run-first QB, but he makes MSU very one-dimensional in the process" is kind of funny when he avgs less than half as many yards per carry as the starter. Made me chuckle.

Lewerke is a smaller question mark on a team of big question marks. He could be anywhere from the 3rd best QB in the league to the 10th, but I think his success will be determined by the OL and playcalling. Cook could bail MSU out of a lot of 3rd and longs, O'Connor could not. It'd be nice if we didn't end up in the situation 3 times every drive.

If he can get his comp% up over 60%, have a decent TD/INT ratio, I'll be happy. He's got some decent legs on him and isn't afraid to run, though coming off a broken leg I'm not sure if he/MSU changes his style at all.

EGD

August 23rd, 2017 at 4:27 PM ^

One guy who just has not really impressed me is Alex Hornibrook.  I am normally a big believer that intelligence (or "football IQ") and accuracy are the most important attributes for a QB, and that arm strength is nice but not especially critical.  But man, Hornibrook's arm is just not strong enough. Last season he really couldn't throw a ball more than about 30-35 yards down the middle of the field (and significantly shorter than that to the sidelines), which obviously puts some pretty serious limitations on your ability to stretch a defense.  

I read that Hornibrook was supposedly working on building up his arm strength in the off-season, so he might be better this time around.  I do think arm strength is usually one of those things that guys either have or don't have, so I am not sure how much better he can make it.  But if his arm doesn't get significantly stronger, I think defenses are just going to realize they don't need to respect deep sideline routes against him and start closing in on the running game and shorter passing routes.  

autodrip4-1968

August 23rd, 2017 at 4:27 PM ^

Wilton can stay healthy and JT improves his downfield accuracy those two are my top quarterback's for 2017. My predictions. Year two of being the starting quarterback should see a improvement for Wilton. I hope so.

Gucci Mane

August 23rd, 2017 at 5:11 PM ^

This made me much more confident about the season. QB is so huge in college football. With this D-line I don't see how UofM loses to anyone besides PSU or OSU.

Maryland_Blue

August 23rd, 2017 at 6:17 PM ^

Does it change this sentence immensely if you swap Speight for Lagow and Peters for Ramsey?

"Lagow got pushed a bit in the spring by redshirt freshman Peyton Ramsey, who showed some burgeoning talent, but it's Lagow's job to lose. Yes, it says a lot about the schedule that the #3 team on here had a mild QB controversy despite a returning starter."

Mongo

August 23rd, 2017 at 8:03 PM ^

it eats QBs. JT has just taken too many hard hits over his career and is one play away from another season-over injury. Braxton's body just eventually fell apart. QB's in that Urban option offense are at high risk all season and all career. Football is a violent sport and being hit that many times just increases the odds of serious injury.

We will also see how it goes with Wilson and JT ... not exactly a match made in heaven.