Say what you will about the mediocre level of recruiting the Big Ten did as a whole, one area where the Big Ten definitely improved with its 2013 recruiting class across the board was at quarterback.
Nearly every school signed at least one signal-caller, and Penn State even added two. And they're all starter-quality at some point down the line.
Here are the five QB recruits that stand out the most, and they are ranked by how good we think they'll be when it's all said and done here in the Big Ten. Bit of a spoiler alert here, but we think Michigan and Penn State fans have reason to be optimistic.
Shouts outs to Illinois' Aaron Bailey, Iowa's Nic Shimonek, Michigan State's Damion Terry, Minnesota's Donovahn Jones, Penn State's Tyler Ferguson and Purdue's Danny Etling.
All are dynamite prospects at QB and could easily make their way onto an All-Big Ten team or two (or hell, three or four) by the time their careers are done.
We're especially curious to see how Terry develops; he's got fantastic athleticism and his mechanics look sharp already. Some brief highlights from his Elite 11 appearance are above.
One of the most intriguing prospects in the nation, Tanner McEvoy is a tall, super-athletic QB prospect who originally went to South Carolina with Steve Spurrier before getting in some trouble and ending up at a JUCO. Wisconsin has a loaded QB depth chart and McEvoy could still step in and start from Day 1; he's also still got three years of eligibility after redshirting at South Carolina and playing one year at Arizona Western.
McEvoy's mechanics aren't the best and his athleticism is what's going to separate him from other quarterbacks, but make no mistake—he can sling it. At the :35 mark of the video above, he sends a deep pass roughly 65 yards through the air, finding his man for the big gain.
McEvoy's also 6'6", so don't expect him to get "lost in the trees," as they say. Physically, he's ready to go right away and Wisconsin might need that as it tries to improve on an 8-6 2012 season.
We profiled Barrett earlier here, and just to reiterate: This kid could be a future Heisman candidate.
Not only is he wonderfully gifted athletically, he fits the role of an "Urban Meyer quarterback" perfectly. He can get out of the pocket and make tacklers miss, which puts an inordinate strain on safeties and linebackers who have to decide whether to break coverage once they see the QB on the move.
Barrett's going to have some competition at QB after Braxton Miller leaves, but not much, and if he earns a starting role he has a chance to be a very special QB when it's all said and done.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers are going to have large shoes to fill when Taylor Martinez graduates—larger than most Husker fans think, actually—and Johnny Stanton looks to be that quarterback of the future. He turned down offers from Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin to come to Lincoln, and if all goes well, he'll help Husker fans move on from four good years Martinez gave them.
Physically, Stanton can step onto a football field right away and contribute as a QB. He probably won't have to in 2013, but that's Nebraska exercising a luxury more than anything else. He's strong, especially in the lower body, and he's got great open-field instincts.
Now, if Stanton doesn't win a Heisman Trophy as a freshman, don't be too terribly upset, but all in all his skill set looks awfully similar to one Johnny Manziel down in College Station.
The throwing could improve, for sure, but Manziel's mechanics weren't perfect when he was in high school either. The speed is there, the open-field improvisation is there, and the arm is...well, if it's getting there, Stanton's ceiling is very, very high.
We felt bad about attaching a "2." to Morris' name, because the line between him and our top Big Ten passing prospect is just razor-thin, and if we could declare a tie, we would.
There isn't a thing Morris can't do as a quarterback. He's big enough to play for anyone at 6'3" and 201 pounds. He's athletic enough that if Michigan wants to run him 10 times a game, he can do that and be productive. He can break big plays with his feet as well as his arm.
And good god, that arm. He's got a rifle, and you can see him even experiment with arm slots a bit in the highlights above. He can pick apart a defense underneath, and that ball speed means receivers would need just a half step less of separation to stay open for the pass—which will probably be delivered exactly where it needs to be.
Morris is awfully reminiscent of former Utah QB (and future No. 1 overall pick) Alex Smith, but with just a little more recklessness in the open field. That's a good thing.
If there's any criticism to be made—and we realize this is nit-picking—it's that Morris gets a little antsier in the pocket than he needs to be, and as a result his timing isn't perfect.
He's a genius at improvising with his feet (think Drew Tate in Aaron Rodgers' body), but the "drop back, plant, throw" needs to happen a little more often.
That's it. That's all we've got. He's fantastic and it's going to be great to see him on the football field when the time comes.
Here's the thing about great, successful athletes: They make it look easy. They make tough plays look routine, and they make routine plays into automatic plays.
Christian Hackenberg makes it look easy.
He's got the frame to play right away, though Penn State would probably like to put a little more bulk on him soon—this usually happens with college quarterbacks, so there's no need to worry there.
Watching Hackenberg play, he looks like a taller Kellen Moore—with better mechanics.
His placement is deadly. He hits his receivers in stride over and over and over. He's not going to kill many teams with his legs at the next level, but he can move in the pocket quite ably and if he has a wide open running lane, he'll be able to exploit that well enough.
But his best strength, by far, is his accuracy. That goes to timing, vision, mechanics and arm strength.
The fact that he can hit guys in stride on the roll—even when not by design—is just remarkable. If he stays healthy and keeps his head on straight, he's going to be a great one for the Nittany Lions.