Balk: Appreciate Clayton Thorson, already one of Northwestern’s best quarterbacks ever

Tim Balk, Managing Editor


Don’t look now, but Clayton Thorson is having as good a season as any quarterback in Northwestern history.

The sophomore is just two touchdown passes away from tying the single-season program record. He’s a little more than 1,000 yards away from the single-season passing yards record set by C.J. Bacher in 2007, and he will approach that number if he doesn’t pass it.

Thorson is a budding superstar. In fact, he’s well on his way to becoming the best pure passer ever to call Ryan Field home.

And yet, I have to ask: Where’s the hype? As the mobile, strong-armed Thorson leads an offensive renaissance at NU, the response from fans here and around the Big Ten has largely been a collective yawn.

There’s been plenty of praise heaped on sensational wide receiver Austin Carr, and rightly so. Linebacker Anthony Walker and running back Justin Jackson have remained fan favorites as juniors.

But ask many casual fans about Thorson, and I’d doubt you’d get much more than a shrug.

This is after Thorson completed nearly 80 percent of his passes as the Cats hung half-a-hundred on Michigan State. After he tossed for 285 yards and three touchdowns against a strong Indiana defense on homecoming weekend. After he looked every bit J.T. Barrett’s equal at Ohio State. Even after this past weekend, when he overcame a rocky start to finish with a career-high 352 passing yards at Purdue.

Thorson has blazed his way past Big Ten defense after Big Ten defense with little fanfare.

Former NU quarterback Trevor Siemian has captured the imagination of NU fans by emerging as the starting quarterback of the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. But Thorson is already better than Siemian ever was in Evanston.

Siemian had his best year at NU in 2013, tossing 11 touchdown passes against nine interceptions and finishing with 2,149 passing yards. With at least two games still to play, Thorson has eight more touchdown passes, one fewer pick, and 400 more passing yards than Siemian did that year.

As for other stellar seasons put together by Wildcats quarterbacks, there was Bacher’s in 2007, but he got picked off 19 times that year. In 2005, Brett Basanez put together the best season in program history statistically, tossing 21 touchdown passes and throwing for more than 3,600 yards. But if the 2005 team was the gold standard in terms of Wildcat passing attacks, the 2016 team at least equals that standard. Thorson is set to eclipse Basanez’s touchdown total and isn’t far off his yardage pace.

NU would not be 5-5 this year without Thorson stepping up. Carr is not having the Big Ten-best season without Thorson. And NU’s newfound pass-heavy identity is not possible without the excellent play of Thorson.

Behind an inconsistent offensive line, Thorson has still managed to thrive.

As a freshman, he won 10 games. As a sophomore, he’s putting together a statistical season to remember. And he has two more years to go. It should be a fun couple of years, and it’s about time we give Thorson his due.

Tim Balk is a Medill junior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.