As we barrel towards the start of the 2022 college football season, let’s take a look at who the top players are in the Big Ten. These lists won’t be biased towards the Badgers in any way although we all know that every player on Wisconsin is better than every player on any other team.
Our first top-five list is the best signal callers in the conference. Let’s get started!
No. 5: Casey Thompson, Nebraska, junior
I don’t know what it says about the quality of quarterback in the conference when a transfer who hasn’t taken a snap for his school is instantly one of the best in the league...but it probably isn’t good. However, Thompson isn’t just “some transfer.” He is a former blue-chip recruit who is coming to the Huskers from Texas.
He completed 63% of his passes last year for 2,113 yards and 24 touchdowns while adding 250 yards and four more scores on the ground. He is a bit turnover prone, as his 5.5% interception rate (nine total picks last year) would put him tied for third worst in the conference, and that might not improve in a new, less talented, offense, but he should, at the least, be productive for Scott Frost’s team.
The only reason Thompson isn’t higher is due to his unfamiliarity with the conference and having to learn a whole new offense with a whole new team. If he is able to make the transition smoothly, he could easily end up as a top-three QB in the Big Ten.
No. 4: Payton Thorne, Michigan State, junior
When starting this post, I hoped to confirm my belief that Thorne is bad and didn’t deserve a spot on this list but...alas. Last year, Thorne threw for an MSU-record 27 touchdown passes while completing 60% of his passes for 3,223 yards. He has stud wideout Jayden Reed back, a couple of interesting options at tight end and a veteran offensive line.
What surprised me the most about Thorne’s game is his ability to huck it deep successfully. He averaged 8.31 yards per attempt (third best in the Big Ten) and, according to friend of the blog Thicc Stauskas at The Bucket Problem, “generating 25+ yard plays on almost 10% of his passes.”
He is a capable runner, adding 298 yards and four scores on the ground, and has the potential to set more school records this season through the air. The loss of Kenneth Walker III in the backfield will make it easier for opposing defenses to key in on stopping Thorne, but if transfers Jarek Broussard (Colorado) or Jalen Berger (you know where from) hit, then the Spartans should have another successful year on offense.
No. 3: Aidan O’Connell, Purdue, senior
AOC has been in and out of the Boilermakers starting lineup for years now. Last year was when it all clicked for him though. O’Connell threw for 3,712 yards (71.8% completion) 28 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He isn’t a threat with his legs, but he is unflappable in the pocket and accurate after making his reads.
Jeff Brohm’s offense is passer friendly and O’Connell has taken full advantage. Now, it is important to note that all-conference WR David Bell is now in the NFL, Jackson Anthrop (53 catches, 570 yards) has exhausted his eligibility and Milton Wright (57 catches, 732 yards) was ruled academically ineligible, so there will be a number of new faces out wide for the Boilermakers.
If the new wideouts, who are talented if unproven, gel quickly with O’Connell, then I expect the former walk-on to have another banner year. If things don’t come together quickly, he should still have gaudy stats due to the offense he plays in...but the efficiency, and Purdue win total, will be way down.
No. 2: Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland, junior
The former Alabama transfer is one of the most exciting players in the conference. Tagovailoa threw for 3,860 yards (69.2% completion) and 26 touchdowns, while throwing for over 300 yards seven times last year. All of those stats are school records and you can add 328 completions to his growing list of “Maryland Top Spots” as well.
His 11 interceptions last year look bad, but should be taken with a grain of salt as nearly half of them (five) came in one game, against the ball-hawking Iowa secondary. Tagovialoa can run when needed but is not a “running quarterback” by any means.
He started every game for the Terps last season and, if he does that again, should be competing for second-team all-Big Ten at the end of the year. Maryland has a bunch of starters returning on offense, including No. 1 WR Rakim Jarrett who is quite good, and another year of offseason training/offense learning in the books for Tagovailoa.
Maryland has not earned the ability to be given the benefit of the doubt on anything football related in the Big Ten...and yet, here I am saying that I think their quarterback will be the second best one in the whole conference.
No. 1: C.J. Stroud, Ohio State, sophomore
I mean, you didn’t need to read all the way down here to know who the best quarterback in the Big Ten is. Stroud was the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year last season as well as a Heisman finalist. He threw for an insane 4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns while completing 71.9% of his passes. He had 441 attempts and only threw six interceptions!
Stroud was incredible last year and he will assuredly be incredible again this year.
To make things even more unfair, Stroud is throwing to the best wideout (Jaxson Smith-Njigba) and handing it off to the second best RB (TreVeyon Henderson) in the conference while also playing with a bunch of other 4-star and 5-star recruits at every other offensive position.
He barely runs the ball, and why should he with the way he can sling it, but if he adds even the threat of that dimension to his game he’ll literally be unstoppable. The only thing stopping Stroud from winning many awards this year is injury.