The last decade of college football in the Big Ten has definitely been exciting. It has seen the arrivals of new teams in the conference, added a conference championship game, and had lots of competitive matchups throughout. This decade also saw Ohio State become the very first winner of the College Football Playoff. Big games and big wins mean great players too, and there is arguably no position in football more important than quarterback. So who were the best QBs from each school?
Each Big Ten Team’s Best Quarterback in the Last Decade
The Illini had a rollercoaster of a decade in football but had some consistency at quarterback at the start of the 2010s with Nathan Scheelhaase. After redshirting, Scheelhaase came in and played right away, leading the Fighting Illini to bowl games in his first two years. Despite the Illini’s struggles in his final two seasons Scheelhaase still put up solid numbers including leading the Big Ten in total yards as a senior. He also finished as the all-time school leader in total yardage. Since his days as a QB, Scheelhaase has since become a coach, currently on the Iowa State coaching staff.
IU might be known for basketball but Nate Sudfeld helped the Hoosiers make some strides on the gridiron. Sudfeld started games as a sophomore in 2013, throwing 21 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. After battling injuries as a junior, Sudfeld came back as a senior in 2015 to lead the Big Ten in passing yards and touchdowns while helping get IU to a bowl game. Sudfeld finished his career as the all-time school leader in a number of different passing categories, including yardage and touchdowns. Since leaving IU, Sudfeld has found himself a home with the Philadelphia Eagles as a backup and was a member of the 2018 Super Bowl team.
This was by far the hardest one to figure out as CJ Beathard definitely had a strong case, but it came down to stats. Nate Stanley put up numbers that were good enough for second all-time in Iowa’s record books behind only all-time great Chuck Long. He led Iowa to a bowl game each of his three years as the starter, finishing with 8,297 passing yards and 68 touchdown passes. He was recently drafted by the Vikings in the 2020 NFL draft.
As one of the newer teams in the conference, C.J. Brown helped the Terrapins get off on the right foot. Brown only started for two full seasons but was still able to leave a mark on the Maryland program, leading them to a bowl game in each season. While he didn’t start as much as a sophomore, Brown was still able to break the single-game school rushing record, running for 162 yards in a game against Clemson. Brown finished his career with over 7,000 yards of total offense and accounted for 58 touchdowns through the air and on the ground.
Since Jim Harbaugh took over as the head coach in 2015, Michigan has struggled to find a legit quarterback to play in Harbaugh’s offense. To find the best Wolverines QB of the decade, one must go back to the Brady Hoke era, when Denard Robinson was setting the college football world on fire. “Shoelace” was definitely one of the most electric players in the 2010s, tallying 10,745 yards of total offense for his career. 2010 was Robinson’s first year as the starter and it was also his best; the young man would account for 32 touchdowns and 4,272 yards of total offense through the air and on the ground, in that season while finishing 5th in the Heisman voting. In 2011, Hoke’s first year as coach, Robinson helped lead Michigan to a Sugar Bowl win. Interestingly enough, Robinson ended up switching his position in the NFL, playing running back and receiver. Robinson also appeared on the cover of NCAA 14 (the last college football game ever made).
Michigan State- Kirk Cousins:
Mr. “You like that?!”, makes the list for the Spartans. While Connor Cook was a worthy candidate, Kirk Cousins edges him out. As a junior, Cousins helped lead the Spartans to an 11-2 record and a share of the Big Ten championship. The next year, Cousins helped get the Spartans to the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis and posted career bests with 25 touchdown passes and 3,316 yards through the air (#1 in the Big Ten). Since his MSU days, he’s currently having a successful career with the Redskins and Vikings.
Tanner Morgan has another year yet to play for Minnesota, but the two years he played already were good enough to represent Minnesota on this list. Morgan became the starting QB halfway through the 2018 season, throwing for 1,401 yards and nine touchdowns. It was as a sophomore, however, that Morgan caught the eye of many people, as he led Minnesota to an 11-2 record while breaking many single-season school records in the process. His best game of the season came in a win over Purdue as he set the Big Ten record for completion percentage in one game. Morgan has thrown for 39 touchdowns so far in his career and over 4,000 yards through the air.
While Nebraska didn’t return to national championship levels in the 2010s, they were reminded of their famous option offense thanks to Taylor Martinez. Martinez’s running ability helped him get playing time early as he ran for over 900 yards as a freshman. Martinez found his most success as a junior, leading the Huskers to the Big Ten championship game and the conference in total yardage. Unfortunately, Martinez only played in four games as a senior after suffering an injury. Nevertheless, he still finished as the school leader in total yards.
There might not be anyone who was more consistent at QB for Northwestern than Clayton Thorson. Thorson broke a Big Ten record for consecutive starts by a QB (53) while also building Northwestern to some of its best seasons ever. As the starter in 2016, Thorson broke the school record for touchdown passes with 22. For his career, he broke career school records in passing touchdowns, passing yards, and completions. As a senior in 2018, he also helped Northwestern win the Big Ten West division, sending them to Indianapolis to play for a Big Ten Championship.
Ohio State-J.T. Barrett:
Ohio State has been without a doubt the most successful team in the Big Ten for football in the last decade and because of that have had a couple of different guys who could definitely represent the Buckeyes on this list. Even with QB’s like Terrelle Pryor, Braxton Miller, and Dwayne Haskins, just to name a few, it seems no one is more fitting than J.T. Barrett. After Miller injured his shoulder before the 2014 season, many people thought Ohio State’s title hopes were over. Instead, the Buckeyes didn’t miss a beat as they went on to win it all, in large part because of Barrett. Barrett stepped right up, combining for 45 touchdowns, finishing 5th for the Heisman trophy, and led Ohio State to an 11-1 record before getting injured against Michigan and missing the rest of the postseason. Barrett lost a total of only six games throughout his career and broke Drew Brees’ career big ten record for total yards and total touchdown passes, which stood for 17 years.
Penn State-Trace McSorley:
Penn State’s representative on the list oftentimes played more of a Robin to Saquon Barkley’s Batman, but nonetheless had a huge impact for the Nittany Lions. In Trace McSorley’s first season as the starter, he helped lead Penn State to an upset of Ohio State, a Big Ten championship, and a Rose Bowl berth. That same season, McSorley also broke single-season school records for passing touchdowns (29) and passing yardage (3,614). McSorley finished his career with 77 touchdown passes and 9,899 yards through the air, while also breaking the school record for most total yards of offense in a career.
A common theme with Purdue the whole decade seemed to be inconsistency at quarterback as they only had a QB start every game in a season once: David Blough in 2016. After being a part of some of the worst teams in recent Purdue history, Blough helped lead Purdue back to the postseason in his final two seasons, while sharing time with Elijah Sindelar. In a memorable senior season, Blough broke the Big Ten single-game record for total yardage against Missouri, finishing with 588 total yards, and also helped lead an upset of then #2 Ohio State. Blough finished his career with 9,734 passing yards(#8 all-time in Big Ten history) and 69 touchdown passes (#11 all-time in Big ten History).
Since joining the Big Ten in 2014, things haven’t exactly gone great for Rutgers. Gary Nova was one of the bright spots for Rutgers in the decade, however, as he planted himself as one of the best to ever play there. Nova started as a freshman and never looked back. He led Rutgers to the playoffs three times and also won a conference championship. His collegiate career finished with 73 touchdown passes (school record) and 9,258 yards through the air.
Wisconsin had a lot of success in football over the 2010s, but one thing they have not been known for is their quarterback play, as their offense was run-based. Who would’ve thought a decade ago that it would be a 5’11” quarterback from Wisconsin that would be the best quarterback in the NFL from the Big Ten? After being replaced by Mike Glennon at North Carolina State, Russell Wilson headed to Madison for his final collegiate season, and it was a memorable one at that. Wilson led the Badgers to an 11-3 record, a Big Ten Championship and a Rose Bowl berth. Wilson finished his one season in the Big Ten with 33 touchdown passes (best in the conference) and 3,175 yards passing. He has since been touted as a top-tier quarterback in the NFL, leading the Seattle Seahawks to two Super Bowl appearances in his career (1-1 record) and never having a losing season.
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