Thorson-Jackson combo among best in Big Ten

Louie Vaccher, Publisher
Wildcat Report

In baseball, the pitcher and catcher are known as the battery. In football, the equivalent is the quarterback and running back.

The quarterback handles the ball on every play and is responsible for more total yards than anyone. The running back generally carries the ball more than anyone else and can control the pace of the game with his rushing.

Northwestern this year features a pair of aces at arguably the two most important positions in the game. Quarterback Clayton Thorson returns for his third year as a starter, while Justin Jackson, after leading the conference in rushing, is entering his fourth season as the Wildcats’ primary mail carrier.

Together, we think Thorson and Jackson make up the best QB-RB combination in the Big Ten West and the third best in the conference overall, behind only defending champion Penn State (QB Trace McSorley and RB Saquon Barkley) and Ohio State (QB JT Barrett and RB Mike Weber).

Here are WildcatReport’s top five returning quarterbacks and running backs in the Big Ten in 2017.

1. PENN STATE

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USA Today Sports Images

QB Trace McSorley: Led B1G in QBR (156.9), yards (3,614) and TDs (29).

RB Saquon Barkley: Led B1G in TDs (18), second to Jackson in rushing yards (1,496).

The Skinny: McSorley put up some incredible numbers guiding the prolific Penn State offense, but Barkley is the difference maker here. The talented junior can do everything that Jackson can and is bigger (228 pounds) and faster.


2. OHIO STATE

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USA Today Sports

QB JT Barrett: Totaled 3,400 yards of offense and 33 total TDs, 24 through the air and 9 on the ground.

RB Mike Weber: Ran for 1,096 yards, 9 TDs and 6.0 yards per carry as a true freshman.

The skinny: Barrett, the heady senior, is the best dual-threat QB in the conference and our pick for first-team All-Big Ten. Weber figures to get a big boost going into his sophomore year.


3. NORTHWESTERN

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Associated Press

QB Clayton Thorson: Made great strides in 2016, throwing for 3,182 yards and school-record 22 TDs.

RB Justin Jackson: Led B1G in rushing (1,542 yards) and posted career highs in yards per carry (5.1) and TDs (15).

The skinny: Thorson has probably the most NFL potential in the league and still has room for improvement. No one works harder for yardage than Jackson, a workhorse that piles up massive numbers five yards at a time.


4. MICHIGAN

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USA Today Sports Images

QB Wilson Speight: Impressive 2016, with 2,538 passing yards, 18 TDs in first year as starter.

RB Chris Evans: Ran for 614 yards as a true freshman and figures to carry most of the load this season.

The skinny: Speight is getting more All-Big Ten love from preview magazines than Thorson. But with only four returning starters, the Michigan offense will drop off from its average of 40.3-points per game last season.


5. WISCONSIN

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USA Today Sports Images

QB Alex Hornibrook: Put up ho-hum numbers (1,262 yds, 9 TDs, 7 INTs) splitting time with Bart Houston.

RB Chris James: Pitt transfer figures to replace Corey Clement in a Wisconsin offense that turns out RBs like cheese wheels annually.

The skinny: Wisconsin gets the fifth spot by default here. Indiana has a better QB in Richard Lagow, but no RB, while Minnesota has a better RB in Rodney Smith, but no QB.


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