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Way-Too-Early Depth Charts: Predicting Northwestern’s Starting QB

We take a look at the entire depth chart here, starting with transfer Ryan Hilinski.

In the upcoming weeks, we’ll be examining each position group for the Northwestern football team and giving our thoughts on the depth chart and forecast. We’ll start with the most important position on the field: the quarterback.

Leaving Evanston is Peyton Ramsey, who transferred from Indiana to lead the Wildcats to a 7-2 record and a berth in the Big 10 title game. Whoever is tasked with replacing Ramsey has to be able to rejuvenate a passing game that was borderline anemic at times last year. According to TeamRankings, last year the Wildcats were 95th in the country in passing offense and only averaged 6.3 yards per passing attempt, which placed them at 104th in the entire nation. For the Wildcats to take the next step into college football’s upper echelon, they have to become more dynamic passing the ball, and that starts with the QB.

Below are the competitors for the starting QB position.

RYAN HILINSKI

Hilinski is a transfer from South Carolina who will be going into his first year at Northwestern. Wildcats Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald has been impressed by Hilinski and the energy he brought to spring practice. “He’s made a couple plays in practice and demonstrated some juice that we love to see in practice, especially when we get going competitively,” Fitzgerald said (via Inside NU). “We're really excited to have him in that room and excited to have him competing.”

At South Carolina, Hilinski started 11 games for the Gamecocks, passing for 2,357 yards and 11 touchdowns to only five interceptions. ESPN scouts ranked him as the 66th ranked player coming out of high school. At South Carolina, he flashed the ability to make all of the throws downfield while being tough in the pocked.

HUNTER JOHNSON

Hunter Johnson is a senior who transferred from Clemson and is entering his final year of eligibility. Johnson last played during Northwestern’s 3-9 season, where he threw for 432 yards and one touchdown to four interceptions. Johnson has flashed the talent that made him a top recruit coming out of high school, but in his last on-field action, he struggled with inaccuracy, completing only 43.8% of his passes in 2019. If he wants to turn around his college career and put on a good showing for NFL scouts, he has to win the job this year.

ANDREW MARTY

Andrew Marty is also a senior entering his final year of eligibility, and he also hasn’t seen the field much. Primarily used as a runner (he's notched 57 career rushing attempts), Marty has only attempted 22 passes for his career, notching two touchdowns and two interceptions and passing for 150 yards. He’s got an outside chance at the job due to his game experience and rushing ability, but has little passing experience.

ZAC KRAUSE

Zac Krause is a redshirt sophomore who walked onto the team in 2019. He is the Olathe West (KS) school record holder for passing yards and touchdowns in a single season and career, according to his biography page on Northwestern’s website. He probably won't see playing time.

CARL RICHARDSON

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Richardson is a 6’4 sophomore from California who didn’t play in 2020. He had a recruiting grade of 76 from ESPN. More than likely won't see playing time.

COLE FREEMAN

Cole Freeman is a freshman from New Jersey who didn’t see any playing time in 2020. In high school, he threw 49 career touchdowns.

BRENDAN SULLIVAN

Brendan Sullivan is a freshman from Davidson, Michigan. His father, Mike Sullivan, played for the University of Michigan and played against Pat Fitzgerald in college. Most likely won't see the field in the fall.

JASPER STRATTON

Jasper Stratton is a freshman from Los Angeles, California. Stratton played 8-man football in high school and signed as a preferred walk-on. Most likely won't see the field in the fall.

THE VERDICT:

Northwestern Offensive Coordinator Mike Bajakian said that the QB competition is still underway and will continue until the end of fall camp, but when the first team offense steps out onto the field against Michigan State, expect Ryan Hilinski to be the starter. Fitzgerald isn’t shy to throw transfer QBs into the fire, and Hilinski could be the most physically talented QB the Fitzgerald has had don the purple and black. He has the arm strength to attack all three levels of the field and doesn’t turn the ball over at the same rate as Johnson. Northwestern needs to be able to attack vertically in Bajakian’s pro style spread offense, and Hilinski gives them a QB who can do that.

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