Some teams have better signal callers than others across the Big Ten. And while there are no Justin Fields types setting the world on fire at the moment, there are some pretty decent quarterbacks in the conference.
Considering that PFF grades out every player for every game, the advanced analytics site has a pretty good grasp on how each player has fared through three weeks. Taking a look particularly at each’s passing grades thus far through the first quarter of the season, here is where every starting Big Ten quarterback fares and how they stack up against one another according to PFF’s grades.
Michael Penix Jr. - Indiana
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PFF Grade: 50.9
Penix was thought of as perhaps the best returning quarterback in the Big Ten. Oh, how that has changed. He's 12th in yards per game, has four touchdowns to six interceptions and the Hoosiers are 1-2. What's more, he's only completing 48.3% of his passes.
Noah Vedral - Rutgers
Photo: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
PFF Grade: 54.2
Thus far, Rutgers' Vedral hasn't done much of anything, but he really hasn't had to. The Scarlet Knights quarterback is eighth in passing, attempting 27 passes a game, averaging 202 yards each outing. He's completing an astounding 71.6 percent of his attempts and has yet to throw an interception. He may not be a world-beater, but he's managing the game and not making too many mistakes.
Hunter Johnson - Northwestern
Photo: Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports
PFF Grade: 55.3
The former five-star who originally committed to and attended Clemson has not shown any of that talent in Evanston. It was a surprise when he was named the starter over South Carolina transfer Ryan Hilinski and he hasn't done much to retain that job. He's averaging 141.3 yards a game and completing 60 percent of his passes. But he's been underwhelming on a team that needs a little bit more from its passing game.
Graham Mertz - Wisconsin
Photo: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
PFF Grade: 56.2
Mertz has just played in two games thus far as the Badgers were on a bye week in Week 3. But the offense, particularly in the passing game, has been a mess. Another former five-star, while Mertz showed off in his first two games in 2020, he's been awfully pedestrian since. He's completing 66.7 percent of his passes but is averaging just six yards per attempt. He needs to show off his five-star status if the Badgers want to win big this year.
Brandon Peters - Illinois
Photo: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
PFF Grade: 57.0
Poor Brandon Peters. He was injured in Week 0 and made his triumphant return in Week 3, but the Illini are now 1-3 on the season. Not his fault, though. He's played OK, but hasn't looked the part of being a high-end four-star as he was when he committed to Michigan. Certainly, he has room for improvement and we'll see how he fares as the season progresses.
Tanner Morgan - Minnesota
Photo: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
PFF Grade: 70.1
At one point thought to be a potential first-round NFL draft pick, Morgan hasn't had the best past few years. This year, he's completing 55.9 percent of his passes -- extremely underwhelming -- and hasn't really shown that he can put the team on his back save for in quick glimpses. He's not being asked to do much, but given his senior status, he should be able to take over games at this juncture.
Jack Plummer - Purdue
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PFF Grade: 70.7
Plummer is someone that should be talked about with much more regularity. He's performed admirably and certainly has Purdue playing above expectations. He's fifth in passing in the conference, completing 72.2 percent of his passes and has seven touchdowns with no interceptions. All around, playing great thus far.
Spencer Petras - Iowa
Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras (7) gets set under center Tyler Linderbaum (65) and offensive lineman Kyler Schott (64) lines up during a NCAA non-conference football game against Kent State, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.
PFF Grade: 75.7
Not exactly one to set the world on fire, Petras doesn't have to. Though he's only completing 58.3 percent of his passes, with Tyler Goodson running the ball the way he is. Of course, Petras had more receiver help last year, but the Hawkeyes are making do. At the moment, he's only throwing 153.3 yards per game, but also played against a tough Iowa State defense that's currently tops in the nation.
Payton Thorne - Michigan State
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PFF Grade: 76.9
Michigan State has been a pleasant surprise thus far, and while much of the credit goes to Kenneth Walker's performance at running back, Payton Thorne has also been very good thus far. Averaging 242 yards a game through the air, Thorne is completing 62.3 percent of his passes and is throwing for 9.4 yards an attempt. Right now, the Spartans are very balanced offensively and Thorne is a big part of that. He's thrown nine touchdowns and no interceptions through three games.
Adrian Martinez - Nebraska
Chase Winovich sacks Adrian Martinez with Kwity Paye in pursuit. Photo: Isaiah Hole
PFF Grade: 77.5
First thing to note is: Nebraska has not been very good thus far this year. But the reason why it has a shot is because of Martinez. While he's also an adept rusher, this list is focusing on the passing ability, and he's the third-best passer through three games, averaging 254.3 yards per game at 10.3 yards an attempt -- the best in the conference. Having thrown five touchdowns to one interception, he's thrown at a respectable 65.7 percent.
Sean Clifford - Penn State
Photo: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
PFF Grade: 77.5
Despite having changed offensive coordinators this offseason, so far, so good for senior QB Sean Clifford. Clifford is passing at 71.3 percent with four touchdowns and one interception and averaging 8.1 yards per attempt. He’s managing 252.3 yards a game, which is particularly impressive when you factor in that he’s faced Wisconsin and Auburn thus far. We would actually rank him higher than PFF has thus far, but he’s certainly among the best in the conference, especially while averaging 31.3 yards per attempt.
C.J. Stroud - Ohio State
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud plays against Tulsa during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
PFF Grade: 81.3
While Stroud does lead the Big Ten in yards per game at 321, he’s been very hit or miss. He’s thrown eight touchdowns and three interceptions and is attempting 35.3 yards per game. He’s managing 62.4 percent, which is good, but not nearly at the level of his predecessors — Justin Fields was 70.2 percent in 2020 while Dwayne Haskins completed 70 percent of his passes in 2018. Stroud’s interceptions have also come at inopportune times. When it appears he’s figuring things out, he makes a big mistake. Still, he’s among the best in the conference despite being the youngest player on this list. But Ohio State will need more from him if it wants to win yet another Big Ten title.
Cade McNamara - Michigan
Photo: Isaiah Hole
PFF Grade: 89.8
There’s no starting quarterback in the Big Ten that’s had as little asked of him as Cade McNamara through three games. Of course, Michigan has the top rushing attack in the nation and McNamara is still managing just shy of 65 percent at 10 yards an attempt. He’s thrown three touchdowns and no interceptions, but is only managing to pass for 123.7 yards a game. The Wolverines will likely need more from him in Big Ten play, but thus far, he’s doing what is asked of him.
Taulia Tagovailoa - Maryland
Photo: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
PFF Grade: 91.3
Is it a surprise that a quarterback with the last name of Tagovailoa is PFF’s best signal caller in the league? Maryland’s QB is second in yards per game at 318.7, but he’s leading all starters in completion percentage (75.5%) and has seven touchdowns with no interceptions. All that while he’s being asked to throw the ball more than any other starter (35.3 attempts per game). He has some electric targets in Dontay Demus Jr. and Rakim Jarrett, and he’s used them wisely. Averaging 9.0 yards per attempt, Tagovailoa also has the second-highest passer rating in the conference at 173.02. Maryland’s offense with him under center is among the best in the nation, let alone conference — though that didn’t show up at Illinois this past week.