Ranking the Big Ten: Quarterback
Many questions remain for what the 2020 college football season will look like, but that doesn't mean we still can't evaluate some of the top players to watch in the Big Ten Conference.
We begin our annual Ranking the Big Ten series today with the quarterbacks, which feature both proven stars and others on the cusp of breakout seasons.
1. Justin Fields, Ohio State
Fields was everything Ohio State could have hoped for last season when he took over as the starting quarterback after transferring from Georgia.
His numbers were incredible, completing 67.2 percent of his passes for 3,273 yards, 51 total touchdowns (41 passing, 10 rushing), and a passer efficiency rating of 181.43.
Fields also became the first Big Ten quarterback ever to record 40 passing and 10 rushing touchdowns in the same season, and his 41-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio was the best in college football.
The 6-foot-3, 228-pound native of Kennesaw, Ga., was named the Big Ten's Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year and the league's Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year, and he finished as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.
Fields returns as the face of the best team in the Big Ten and will once again have the Buckeyes competing for a College Football Playoff run.
2. Tanner Morgan, Minnesota
Minnesota was the surprise of the Big Ten last season, and much of that miraculous 11-2 run was due to Morgan's emergence.
After taking over the reins of the Gopher offense midway through his redshirt freshman year in 2018, Morgan started all 13 games in '19 and posted one of the best passing campaigns in school history.
Morgan set season program records for passing yards (3,253), touchdown passes (30), completion percentage (66.0), passing yards per game (250.2), touchdown-to-interception ratio (30-to-7), and pass efficiency rating (178.7).
He's thrown at least one touchdown in his past 14 games - also a UM record - and was a consensus second-team all-conference selection last year. Morgan is already getting plenty of run in early 2021 NFL Draft conversations and should once again have Minnesota as one of the teams to beat in the Big Ten West this season.
3. Sean Clifford, Penn State
Clifford blazed out of the gates in his first season as Penn State's starter last year, winning his first eight games and leading the Nittany Lions to a top-10 national ranking.
He struggled in two of his biggest tests (road losses at Minnesota and Ohio State), but he still helped guide PSU to an 11-2 record and a victory of Memphis in the Cotton Bowl.
Clifford threw for 2,654 yards and finished the season ranked third in the Big Ten in passing touchdowns (23), average yards per completion (14.04), and yards per attempt (8.32), and was fourth with a passing efficiency rating of 148.54.
Now entering his redshirt junior campaign, the 6-foot-2, 219-pound native of Cincinnati, Ohio, will be looking to prove that he and Penn State belong in the national spotlight.
4. Adrian Martinez, Nebraska
Martinez entered his sophomore season at Nebraska with some seriously lofty expectations placed on his shoulders, and for one reason or another, he never came close to living up to them.
Injuries and a dysfunctional offense led to a significant regression for Martinez in 2019, a year in which he came in listed as a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate.
However, there still remains plenty of hope and optimism from Nebraska's coaches that the junior can bounce back and be the type of quarterback he showed flashes of in the second half of his freshman year.
He missed two games to injury and finished with a modest stat line of 1,956 passing yards and 10 touchdowns along with 626 rushing yards and seven scores. Now healthy and with some presumably better help around him, the Huskers are counting on Martinez to lead NU back into the Big Ten West chase.
5. Michael Penix Jr., Indiana
Penix Jr. only started six games before suffering a season-ending injury in 2019, but he still managed to show more than enough for Indiana to hand him the keys as its quarterback of the future.
After coming back from a previous season-ending knee injury as a true freshman in 2018, Penix finished his redshirt freshman campaign with 1,394 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, four interceptions, and a 68.8-percent completion rate. He also rushed for 118 yards on 22 attempts (5.4 ypc) with two more scores.
The Hoosiers were so excited about the dual-threat weapon that they chose Penix Jr. as their guy over Peyton Ramsey, who started 23 games over the past three seasons, including seven in 2019.
Ramsey left IU but stayed in the Big Ten as a graduate transfer to Northwestern, while Penix Jr. returns as the clear No. 1 in Bloomington.