By Adam Hensley
The Big Ten isn’t always known for high-flying offenses led by top-caliber quarterbacks.
Each year, the conference produces a handful of legitimate signal callers capable of leading their teams to the College Football Playoffs.
Three quarterbacks in the Big Ten have a shot at doing so in this upcoming season, but the battle for the best passer in the conference isn’t as close of a race as people would assume.
Honorable Mention: Wilton Speight, Michigan
Speight isn’t a flashy quarterback by any means, but he gets the job done.
In 2016, he threw for 2,538 yards, with 18 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions. The junior put up two 300-or-more-yard performances against Central Florida (312 yards) and Maryland (362 yards). In those two games, Speight racked up 6 touchdowns.
During a three-game stretch from Oct. 22to Nov. 5, Speight compiled 859 yards and 4 TDs, and Michigan churned out an average of 44 points per game.
Speight completed 61.6 percent of his throws this past season, good enough for the best mark in the Big Ten.
Runner up: JT Barrett, Ohio State
Ohio State hired new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson to aid in opening up the passing game. Even with a new coach, Barrett will be in contention for the conference’s top signal caller.
He’s one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the conference; he accounted for 3,400 yards — 845 on the ground — and scored 33 touchdowns, 9 on the ground.
Barrett opened up the season on a high note, throwing for 349 yards and 6 touchdowns. Ohio State didn’t rely on the passing game against Tulsa in its second game, but against Oklahoma and Rutgers, he threw 8 touchdowns — 14 touchdown passes in the Buckeyes’ first four games.
Through the final three games of the season, Barrett struggled, throwing only 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions.
Barrett’s best season to date came in 2014 as a freshman, but with a new coordinator and another off-season of work under his belt, he’s poised for another highlight-filled season.
Top passer in the Big Ten: Trace McSorley, Penn State
For those who watched Penn State’s final two games of the season, the debate on the Big Ten’s best passer ends with McSorley.
McSorley led one of the best Nittany Lion offense in recent memory, which averaged just more than 42 points per game over the last nine games. His hot hand led Penn State to the Rose Bowl, where he dueled with UCS’s Sam Darnold in a quarterback battle for the ages in a 3-point loss.
Accounting for almost 4,000 yards of total offense last season (3,614 passing yards, 365 yards on the ground), McSorley scored 36 touchdowns.
His 29 TDs through the air led the conference (Purdue’s David Blough’s 25 ranked No. 2), and he also racked up the highest passer efficiency rating in the Big Ten (156.9).
The Big Ten hasn’t seen a quarterback taken in the first round of the NFL Draft since 1995. Kerry Collins, a signal caller from Penn State, stands as the last passer from the conference selected in the opening round.
McSorley seems to be not only the second Penn State passer since Collins to be drafted in the first round one but the second Big Ten quarterback to be drafted in the first 32 selections.