Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong Jr., who endured an up-and-down first season under coach Mike Riley in 2015, is third on PFF’s list after ranking 67th in passer efficiency last season.
Next come Minnesota’s Mitch Leidner and Illinois’ Wes Lunt, for both of whom “up and down” would mark an improvement.
Leidner impressed early as a runner but has not shown much as a passer in two-plus seasons. Lunt transferred from Oklahoma State with the reputation of being a big-armed gunslinger, but he hasn’t lived up to the hype yet.
Then again, while depth might be poor, the two at the top have the potential to be stars. Beathard figures to improve in his second full season as a starter, and Barrett is no doubt looking forward to a season in which he is the unquestioned starter after sharing time with Cardale Jones last season.
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There are likely to be some new faces who emerge through the course of the season, too. Candidates include Wilton Speight and John O’Korn at Michigan, Tyler O’Connor at Michigan State or Bart Houston at Wisconsin (though none of them have been named his team’s starter yet).
O’Korn transferred from Houston amid some fanfare while Speight came off the bench to lead a comeback win at Minnesota last season for the Wolverines.
O’Connor had to wait his time behind Connor cook but performed admirably in spot duty last season, but he has to hold off three challenges for the starting spot.
Houston was once a highly regarded recruit and has one more chance to become a college starter.
Those are three programs where the coaches have established they know a thing about developing quarterbacks, too.