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Analyzing the Big Ten Starting QB Races: Ramsey Favored at Indiana; Peters Odds-on at Illinois; Minnesota Wide Open

University of Minnesota football stadium
The QB battle rages on at the University of Minnesota as the Gophers hope to challenge in the Big Ten.
  • A wave of new starting quarterbacks in the Big 10 has created several prop bets available
  • The battles are ongoing for the Hoosiers, Illini, and Gophers
  • Many of these battles have incumbents fighting off worthy challengers

The 2019 NCAA conference title odds tell us the Big 10 is more or less a two-team race between Ohio State and Michigan. That doesn’t mean the conference is without intrigue.

Nine of the Big 10’s 14 schools fell below last year’s national median for quarterback rating, meaning the conference as a whole has some improving to do in the passing game. It’s possible several schools turn to new quarterbacks to change that, so let’s look at the battles around the conference that are available as prop bets.

Who Will Be Indiana’s Starting Quarterback?

Quarterback Odds at BetOnline (08/02/19)
Peyton Ramsey -400
Michael Penix Jr. +300
Jack Tuttle +500

Old vs New in Bloomington

All told, Indiana can — and has, multiple times in the past — done worse than Peyton Ramsey. He took some snaps from a senior in 2017 and completely 65.4 percent of his passes, then completed 66 percent of his passes as a season-long starter in 2018.

Yet, the Hoosiers can also do better. Ramsey’s 2018 touchdown-to-interception ratio of 19-13 might not be good enough for a team that is trying to get to its first bowl game under Tom Allen after two 5-7 seasons.

Thus, a quarterback battle is born. Ramsey’s competition is both old and new.

The old is the now sophomore Michael Penix Jr. He was a bit of a recruiting coup when Indiana pulled him from the teeth of Florida State and Tennessee, and that status got him on the field a little bit before he tore his ACL against Penn State. He’s expected to be completely back for preseason camp, thus able to challenge Ramsey as he did during his freshman season.

The new is Jack Tuttle, a transfer from Utah who is immediately eligible. Tuttle was another highly touted prospect, a Californian four-star who clearly didn’t find the fit he wanted at Utah.

In short, this is a beleaguered incumbent with not one, but two perfectly qualified usurpers. If it were just one legitimate challenger, I’d be tempted to go small potatoes on that challenger and see if the odds cash in, but with two, this is too unpredictable for my taste. (However, keep an eye on it going forward. Early reports show Ramsey separating himself early.)

The pick: Stay away — for now.

Who Will Be Illinois’ Starting Quarterback?

Quarterback Odds at BetOnline (08/02/19)
Brandon Peters -250
Isaiah Williams +170

New Face Will Lead Illini

The transfer mill that has been Big 10 quarterbacks — both exiting and entering — also has one in-house swap. Whoever it is needs to get it together quickly, if they plan on playing for Lovie Smith for more than a season.

That is Brandon Peters, the former Michigan quarterback now looking to take over at Illinois. Shea Patterson taking over last season made his role nonexistent last season, but he played a good but behind John O’Korn in 2017.

Labelling Peters’ time in Ann Arbor as up-and-down would be fai.

There were moments where he looked good against the bottom of the Big 10, then there was the two-interception performance in a bowl loss to South Carolina. Labelling Peters’ time in Ann Arbor as up-and-down would be fair.

The other side of this battle is Isaiah Williams, one of the reasons for optimism for the future at Illinois. A four-star recruit from St. Louis is far from the norm at Illinois, so if the Illini can surround him with the weapons he needs, he very well could be part of a more consistently successful future in Champaign.

This one boils down pretty simply for me. Both guys arrived at the program in June: one of them has attempted 110 passes against Power 5 defenses and the other has yet to attempt a college pass. I’m going to take the guy with some experience.

The pick: Brandon Peters -250

Who Will Be Minnesota’s Starting Quarterback?

Quarterback Odds at BetOnline (08/02/19)
Tanner Morgan -130
Zack Annexstad -110

Gopher Battle Continues

Tanner Morgan and Zack Annexstad may have new faces in the quarterback room, but they still enter fall camp battling with one another as they did all of last season. Annexstad started the season and was good enough in non-conference play, then threw seven interceptions in his first three Big 10 games compared to just four touchdowns.

Following that stretch by completing 45 percent of his passes in a loss to Nebraska, Nebraska’s first win of the season and Minnesota’s fourth straight loss, was enough for P.J. Fleck to hand it over to Morgan.

Morgan had some bright spots — three touchdowns and 302 yards in a win over Indiana, two touchdown passes in the bowl win over Georgia Tech — but it’s also impossible to ignore that Morgan threw it less, thus was in a safer situation.

Annexstad averaged 26.5 attempts per game in his time as a starter while Morgan averaged 20.8. Part of that is Morgan ran it much more, 41 times compared to 23 from Annexstad.

I’m not going to be surprised one bit to see this battle wage into the season, much like last season’s did. (Clearly the oddsmakers agree, too, given how close these odds are.) I’m not convinced the recipient of the first snap of Minnesota’s first game will have any legitimate significance, I’m going to stay away from this one.

Maybe the oddsmakers show they know something by moving odds later in the preseason, but right now, this line scares me.

The pick: Stay away.

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