So far, the Big Ten coaches who picked new starting quarterbacks this season have had no regrets.
The five first-year starters have a combined record of 8-1, three are in charge of teams ranked in the top half of the Top 25 and each is completing at least 60 percent of his passes.
Wilton Speight of No. 4 Michigan has the seventh-highest passer rating in the country and a conference-leading seven touchdown passes. Bart Houston of No. 9 Wisconsin overcame a shaky start to help lead the Badgers’ season-opening upset of LSU. Tyler O’Connor of No. 12 Michigan State completed 72 percent of his passes with three TDs against Furman in his only game.
Indiana’s Richard Lagow has yet to throw an interception in two games. Though turnover-prone, Penn State’s Trace McSorley has shown to be a good fit for his team’s new spread offense.
A closer look at the new starters:
OK, Speight was intercepted on his first pass of the season. He hasn’t thrown once since and is completing 70 percent of his throws. With 10 pass plays of 20 yards or longer through two games, he has given the Wolverines (2-0) a downfield threat. He’s been sacked just twice.
Last Saturday, when Michigan struggled to run against UCF, Speight was 25 of 37 for 312 yards and four touchdowns.
Coach Jim Harbaugh said he’s been impressed with Speight’s arm strength and, more recently, the touch he’s developed.
“He’s an ascending player in all regards,” Harbaugh said. “The good thing about Wilton has been that his improvements have stuck. Once he takes a step forward or two steps forward, you don’t see the step back.”
Wisconsin fans were a bit worried during the opener against LSU. Houston threw a horrid interception into triple coverage and had another pass picked off and returned for a touchdown. But with the Badgers (2-0) down 14-13 in the fourth quarter, Houston completed all three of his passes on the drive that set up their winning field goal.
The 23-year-old Houston has thrown no interceptions since, and he was extremely sharp in the Badgers’ easy win over Akron last week.
“I’m proud of the way he competes and approaches every day with a sense of urgency,” coach Paul Chryst said. “I felt he’s certainly made some good throws and plays for us. Also, I thought he’s handled it when it hasn’t gone well. There are a lot of things and areas we can work on and need to improve, but I love his approach.”
The play-calling was limited when O’Connor helped lead Michigan State to its upset of Ohio State in Columbus in his only start last year, and the full breadth of the offense wasn’t on display when he went 13 of 18 for 190 yards and three TDs in the 28-13 win over FCS Furman in the opener.
Saturday’s game at No. 18 Notre Dame will be a better gauge. O’Connor’s experience at Ohio State last year should help.
“He’s going to have another opportunity to grow this Saturday night,” coach Mark Dantonio said.
The junior-college transfer is third in the Big Ten with 253 yards passing per game, and he’s hitting 64 percent with no turnovers.
He completed his first six passes and finished 17 of 27 for 266 yards and three TDs as Indiana (2-0) beat Ball State 30-20 last week. Through two games he has nine pass plays of 20 yards or longer, including a 79-yarder for a TD against Ball State.
“For sure he’s met our expectations,” coach Kevin Wilson said. “He’s had very few decisions that have been questioned as far as, ‘Why are you going there forcing the ball?’ I don’t know if he’s exceeded expectations, but he’s played really good out of the gate.”
McSorley’s has decent passing numbers for Penn State (1-1) — a 61-percent completion rate, 271 yards a game, three touchdowns, one interception.
His biggest issue is fumbles. In the 33-13 win over Kent State, one of was returned for a touchdown. In the 42-39 loss at Pittsburgh, two of his fumbles led to Panthers touchdowns.
Coach James Franklin said McSorley has managed the games well and has mostly made good decisions.
“The area we have to get better is securing the ball as a ball-carrier or getting hit in the pocket,” Franklin said. “Too many balls on the ground. That’s the main thrust for us. First two starts, he’s done some nice things.”
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