Illinois, Minnesota Lead Top 5 Big Ten QB Battles 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019 12:40 PM UTC

Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019 12:40 PM UTC

Quarterback battles in the Big Ten are rare headed into the 2019 season, but these five teams, including Illinois, Maryland, and Minnesota, are the most insecure at the all-important position. 

<p>Below are our top five Big Ten teams with the biggest battles for starting quarterback heading into the 2019 season.</p><h2>5. Minnesota</h2><p><strong>Projected starter</strong>: Zack Annexstad</p><p>Freshmen Zack Annexstad and Tanner Morgan split time as first-team quarterback for P.J. Fleck last season. Morgan started the latter half of the season, leading the Gophers to wins in four of their final six games. Fleck awarded Annexstad a full scholarship over the winter, the rising sophomore winning the job last year out of camp as a true freshman. Injuries eventually forced him to the sidelines for much of the year.</p><p>Annexstad is the better passer of the two, leading the Big Ten in average depth of target before getting hurt. Accuracy problems plagued many throws, however. Annexstad has greater upside than Morgan, and will likely be Fleck’s go-to under center for the second year in a row come the first Saturday kickoff. Morgan, a mobile dual-threat, needs greater arm strength and better passing skills to flourish in offensive Kirk Ciarrocca’s offense. Nonetheless, if the program looks to keep winning with Morgan under center, Fleck will likely stick to the formula.</p><p>Incoming freshman Jacob Clark should take a few snaps as well before hit with the red-shirt tag. The 6-foot-5 Texas high schooler is the future. The prototypical pocket passer tossed 31 TDS and 3,295 yards with a 65 percent completion rate his senior season at Rockwall High.</p><h2>4. Northwestern</h2><p><strong>Projected starter: </strong>Hunter Johnson</p><p>Former Clemson QB Hunter Johnson, a five-star recruit and No. 2 pro-style QB in the 2017 class, is eligible to play after sitting last season out due to the transfer rules. Johnson will be the first-team starter, but don’t get too caught up in the hype. He’s young and taken few snaps in his career (27). Senior T.J. Green played in six games last season and will be ready to tighten the reigns if Johnson’s inexperience becomes an issue.</p><h2>3. Maryland</h2><p><strong>Projected starter:</strong> Josh Jackson</p><p>Former Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson announced Monday he plans to transfer to Maryland to play next season. Graduating this spring, Jackson is eligible for the 2019 season immediately and in all likelihood is QB1 in College Park. First-year coach Mike Locksley will make it a camp competition, but it’s a position the Terps have had trouble fielding talent for a long time. At Virginia Tech, Jackson tossed for 20 TDs and 2,991 yards in 2017 as a redshirt freshman. In 2018, a broken fibula limited playing time.</p><p>Redshirt junior Tyrell Pigrome is the biggest threat for Jackson. Pigrome, who started Maryland’s final two games last season, struggles as a passer and is better on the run. Lance LeGendre and Max Bortenschlager comprise the rest of the depth chart.</p><p>[/]{"component": "embedHTML", "code": "&lt;blockquote class=\"twitter-tweet\" data-lang=\"en\"&gt;&lt;p lang=\"en\" dir=\"ltr\"&gt;\"He loves that 'he's too short' thing.\"&lt;br /&gt;&lt;br /&gt;Illinois is committed to giving four-star recruit Isaiah Williams a shot at quarterback.&lt;a href=\"\"&gt;;/a&gt; via &lt;a href=\"\"&gt;@sryantribune&lt;/a&gt; &lt;a href=\"\"&gt;;/a&gt;&lt;/p&gt;— Chicago Sports (@ChicagoSports) &lt;a href=\"\"&gt;February 5, 2019&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/blockquote&gt;\n&lt;script async src=\"\" charset=\"utf-8\"&gt;&lt;/script&gt;\n"}[/]</p><h2>2. Illinois</h2><p><strong>Projected starter:</strong> M.J. Rivers II</p><p>It’s a two-man competition for quarterback in Champaign with A.J. Bush graduating. Sophomore M.J. Rivers is the leading candidate. Appearing in eight games last season, he is a dual-threat option most dangerous rushing. Rivers compiled a 104.8 passer rating in 2018, tossing for 547 yards, 3 TDs, and 3 picks on 56-of-101 passes.</p><p>The future is incoming frosh Isaiah Williams, the highest rated QB (No. 116) to sign for the Illini since 2006. A four-star recruit and two-time Missouri Player of the Year, the small (5-foot-10), athletic quarterback has a knack for making sound, productive plays. He’ll have to work on his accuracy before offensive coordinator Rod Smith, who cherishes high completion percentage, thrust him under center permanently. Matt Robison and Coran Taylor make up the third and fourth options under center.</p><h2>1. Penn State</h2><p><strong>Projected starter: </strong>Tommy Stevens</p><p>Head coach James Franklin tipped his cards this winter in regards to the first-team quarterback battle brewing in Happy Valley after Trace McSorley’s departure, declaring he’s “a huge Tommy Stevens guy.” The rising senior is one of six players competing for starter, including sophomore Sean Clifford, junior Michael Shuster, and freshmen Will Levis, Michael Johnson Jr., and Ta’Quan Roberson. Five are on scholarship.</p><p>Stevens should win the job, particularly since he competed with McSorely for the starting gig in 2016. Limited snaps since, and a host of injuries does not make the first team a sure thing, however. The rising fifth-year senior has completed a total of 24 passes the last three years. Clifford, who backed up McSorely with Stevens hurt most of last season. is the better passer of the competing bunch, and likely the first to threaten under center. “It hasn’t been hard to see the progression he’s made, really, every week,” offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne boasted of Clifford. “ If you look at end of spring [2018] to now, he’s grown probably tenfold.”</p>
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