Forget the rankings, MSU's Brian Lewerke could be Big Ten's best QB

Credit: Hayne Palmour IV

Credit: Hayne Palmour IV

College football starts in less than a month. Practice does, anyway. Games begin at the end of August, which will arrive sooner than any of us want.

Not the games, per se. Just the end of summer.

And so, rather than indulge in that bittersweet inevitability, let's indulge in some lists. Or rankings, if you prefer.

Because they are out there. Flooding the Interwebs.

Like the one from USA TODAY Sports that ranks the best quarterbacks in college football, and didn't mention Brian Lewerke.

Who is Brian Lewerke, you ask?

Hey, that's a cheap shot. Everyone knows Brian Lewerke is Shea Patterson's shadow. Show some respect.

Speaking of respect, is Lewerke, Michigan State's fine junior quarterback, getting enough during this run-up to the start of fall camp? More important, does it matter?

Let's take the second question first. No. It doesn't matter. Not to Lewerke. Not to Mark Dantonio, his coach. Not to MSU's football team.

It may matter if Lewerke feels left out, and uses that to motivate him — it's a cliche, of course, but perceived slights can be helpful.

Now, back to the first question: Is Lewerke getting his due as the college football previews and lists and rankings continue to roll out?

It depends.

One publication that shall remain nameless — but it rhymes with Jorts Fillustrated — listed Lewerke as a sleeper Heisman Trophy pick. That's respect. And not a bad pick, actually. Lewerke is a tantalizing quarterback.

He's got a big arm. Can run. Plays with grit. And he developed solid leadership skills last season as his Spartans surprised just about everyone.

He amassed consecutive 400-yard games, threw just seven interceptions (fewest in the Big Ten among quarterbacks who had at least 400 attempts) and revealed a sneaky ability to make plays under duress.

But to shed the "tantalizing" part of the description, he'll have to be more consistent this fall. Mostly, he needs to improve his completion percentage and his reads as he rifles through his progressions — he was seventh in the Big Ten in passing efficiency.

Considering that last year was his first full season, and that he returns with most of his offense, he should do both.

If he does, and builds on the promise of a year ago, will that make him the best quarterback in the conference?

Yes. It could. Or at least among the best.

Last year, Lewerke was third in total offense at the quarterback spot. Of the two who finished ahead of him, only Penn State's Trace McSorley returns.

Still, the conference has several other talented and promising quarterbacks, including Patterson (the newcomer at Michigan), Alex Hornibrook (the signal-caller at Wisconsin) and Clayton Thorson (the dual-threat QB at Northwestern, though he's coming off a knee injury).

And, finally, Dwayne Haskins at Ohio State, the sophomore who jumped into game action last year at Ann Arbor and led the Buckeyes over the Wolverines.

So far, Patterson, Hornibrook, McSorley, Thorson and Haskins have all received more love in the mid-summer rankings.

Patterson, McSorley, Haskins and Thorson are all listed above Lewerke on's top 150 players to watch for next year's draft. Pro Football Focus mentions several Big Ten quarterbacks before Lewerke. The site considers MSU's quarterback a fringe prospect at the moment.

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., meanwhile, has pointed to Lewerke as a player who could take a big leap onto the board if he builds on his best efforts from last season.

None of this will matter this fall, of course. And, in a way, Lewerke's under-the-radar July fits snugly into the us-against-the-world ethos Dantonio infuses into his program.

What matters is that Lewerke has the talent and experience to be as good as just about any other quarterback in the country this fall. If he is, and he delivers on the promise, MSU will compete for a Big Ten championship again.

And that, at least on paper, is something that cannot be ranked.

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