Four quarterbacks passed for 3,000 yards in the Big Ten last season and all of them are back in 2017. Will others be able to join them?
The Big Ten has shed its reputation as a league of plodding, pro-style offenses during the last several years. Coaching turnover continues to bring more firepower to the league. Additions like Jeff Brohm at Purdue this offseason and offensive coordinator Walt Bell at Maryland add more fast-paced mentalities that have the potential to lead to big-time stats if the coaches able to get the players they need in place. This year's crop of quarterbacks returns plenty of experience to help with that trend. Here are our picks for the players most likely to top 3,000 yards in the fall:
1. Trace McSorley, Penn State: As a first-year starter, McSorley threw for a league-high 3,614 yards. There is no reason to think he'll take a significant step back in 2017. Top target Chris Godwin is gone, but the Nittany Lions have a more-than-capable group at wide receiver. Toss in tight end Mike Gesicki, Saquon Barkley demanding a defense's attention and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead's creativity, and McSorley should hit the 3,000-yard mark by early November.
2. David Blough, Purdue: For all its faults in the last five years, Purdue has never stopped bringing in quality quarterbacks. Blough managed to comfortably pass the 3,000-yard barrier a year ago while operating an offense that finished 101st in scoring. Imagine what he'll do behind the wheel of a new scheme that helped Western Kentucky and coach Jeff Brohm lead the nation in scoring. Brohm's QBs topped 4,000 yards in each of his three years as head coach for the Hilltoppers. It will take time to get his offense up to full speed in West Lafayette, but that shouldn't stop Blough from putting up big numbers.
3. Richard Lagow, Indiana: The 6-foot-6 Texan with a big arm has two great targets at wide receiver at his disposal. Like Blough, Lagow had issues with accuracy at times last year but they didn't keep him from continuing to the heave the ball downfield. The big question for Lagow is whether the Hoosiers will be more conservative under new coordinator Mike DeBord than they were with the breakneck pace of Kevin Wilson's offense.
4. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State: For all his accomplishments in Columbus, Barrett has yet to top the 3,000-yard mark during his career as a Buckeye. Why will that change in 2017? Ohio State snatched up Kevin Wilson and his offensive mind when he parted ways with Indiana in December. Head coach Urban Meyer has also placed a big emphasis on going deep since the team's shutout loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff. The only reason Barrett isn't higher on our list: Ohio State's offense is loaded with enough weapons that Barrett might not be in many situations where he needs to air it out later in games.
5. Clayton Thorson, Northwestern: Thorson is the one guy on our list who might be most negatively impacted by a wide receiver departure. Austin Carr caught more than 1,200 of the 3,182 passing yards that the Wildcats starter threw for last year. Thorson took an impressive step forward during his second season as a starter. If Northwestern's receiver corps matures fast enough to replace Carr's production, Thorson should be able to join the 3,000 club again during his redshirt junior season.
6. Wilton Speight, Michigan: Had Speight played more against Hawaii (145 passing yards) and Rutgers (100 passing yards), he might have been on pace to join the 3,000-yard group when a shoulder injury zapped his production in November. Now, he has to try to improve his production despite the departure of three all-conference-caliber receivers: Jake Butt, Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson. On the plus side, Speight has good options and the Wolverines might need to take to the air a little more often in 2017 with a young defense that is less likely to be as dominant as last year's group.