2015 Football Preview: Meet Clayton Thorson, Northwestern’s new quarterback


Daily photo file by Luke Vogelzang

Northwestern will emerge from the tunnel Sept. 5 against Stanford with redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson at quarterback.

Alex Putterman, Web Editor

2015 Football Preview

Finally, after an off-season of speculation and competition, Northwestern has a quarterback.

When the Wildcats’ offense takes the field against Stanford on Sept. 5, it will be redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson under center. Thorson beat out sophomore Matt Alviti and senior Zack Oliver for the starting job, coach Pat Fitzgerald announced Thursday.

Here’s what you need to know about NU’s new quarterback.

He was a highly-ranked recruit

Thorson was ranked as 247.com’s 188th best player and ninth best quarterback in the Class of 2014, and ESPN had him 157th overall and seventh among QBs.

That makes the Wheaton, Illinois, native one of NU’s highest-regarded recruits this decade. Before committing to NU, Thorson was also recruited by a number of major-conference schools including Penn State, Syracuse, Iowa and Illinois.

Signing Thorson was a major recruiting victory for NU, and it appears it will begin to pay off even earlier than planned.

Freshmen starting QBs are not typical, at NU or elsewhere

NU hasn’t had a freshman (redshirt or otherwise) start 10 games at quarterback since Brett Basanez in 2002.

Rookie signal-callers aren’t common on a national level either. In 2014, only five of the top 80 passers in Division I were freshmen. Thorson will presumably be one of the younger starting QBs in the country this year.

We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but if Thorson keeps his job and stays healthy, he could be the rare four-year starter and climb his way up NU’s all-time lists. Getting on the field is half the battle, and Thorson will accomplish that in his first game of eligibility.

Thorson is a true dual-threat quarterback

While Oliver is a true pocket passer and Alviti is mostly known for his legs, Thorson can both run and throw.

At 6 feet 4 inches, Thorson has the body of a traditional quarterback but supposedly runs the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds. Even if that high school time is slightly exaggerated, Thorson clearly provides the mobility NU lacked last year with Trevor Siemian under center.

That versatility should allow the Cats to experiment with various offensive schemes depending on their opponent. They also might be able to reincorporate some of the read-option plays that faded from the playbook last year.

This isn’t necessarily the end of quarterback competition

Just because Thorson will start against Stanford doesn’t necessarily mean he’s got the job locked up. Alviti will likely get snaps here and there in run packages, and if Thorson struggles, one of the other two quarterbacks could get a look.

Oliver is a senior and was never viewed as a long-term option, but Alviti is only a year older than Thorson and was just as highly touted out of high school. Alviti will continue to get reps in practice, and if Thorson doesn’t prove himself, Fitzgerald and company might feel pressure to give their other former four-star recruits one more chance.

The Cats at last have a QB. Now they can only hope he lasts.

Projected depth chart:

Starter Backup
Quarterback Clayton Thorson (R-Fr) Matt Alviti (So) OR Zack Oliver (Sr)


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Twitter: @AlexPutterman