Iowa Football

Big Ten football notebook: 3 true freshmen are starting QBs to start season

Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck. (USA TODAY Sports)
Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck. (USA TODAY Sports)

CEDAR RAPIDS — If you believe the best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores, you must believe the Minnesota, Nebraska and Rutgers football teams could be in some trouble this season.

All three Big Ten Conference schools are starting freshmen at quarterback. That’s true freshmen.

It’s Adrian Martinez at Nebraska, Artur Sitkowski at Rutgers and Zack Annexstad at Minnesota. Annexstad is a walk-on who won the Gophers QB job.

“He has an enormous challenge,” Minnesota Coach P.J. Fleck told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I told him this: It’s 51 years of no-championship football here, and I said now everybody’s going to think you’re the answer and there’s pressure and expectations. Except ... he’s a true freshman that we are going to develop to become something. He’s going to make those mistakes, but I trust him mentally.”

Annexstad’s father was a former player at the school, and Zack played ahead of Sitkowski last year at IMG Academy in Florida, so he’s not your typical walk-on. The Gophers open Thursday night at home against New Mexico State.

Rutgers opens Saturday afternoon at home against Texas State. Sitkowski is a New Jersey native rated as a 4-star recruit.

“First and foremost, he’s a talented individual,” Rutgers Coach Chris Ash said. “He’s got a lot of skill sets. He can make a lot of throws. But above and beyond that, he’s a leader. People follow him. He’s been able to galvanize the offense around him, not only for this training camp, but in the summer and in the spring. We think he’s got a very high ceiling, and we’re excited to let him get out there and take the keys to the offense and see what it produces. He’s had a really good training camp. He’s done an outstanding job since he’s been on campus going all the way back to January, and he’s ready for this opportunity, and we’re ready to give it to him, and we’re excited to see what he does with it.”

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Martinez also was a highly touted recruit out of California who flipped from Tennessee to Nebraska when Scott Frost became the Huskers coach. Redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia lost out to Martinez and is transferring, meaning Nebraska has one scholarship QB this season.

“I think you almost have to possibly recruit two quarterbacks a year, as you keep going through it,” Fleck said on Monday’s Big Ten coaches teleconference. “I think the days of having just one quarterback come in is (over). You’ve got to have backups, you’ve got to have a No. 3, you’ve got to have people who want to stick around and be a part of it, even if they don’t win a starting job. In a world where everything is immediate gratification and instant playing time, those types of things, it’s very difficult for some people to sit on the bench for awhile, or to be in a backup role.”

Terps trying to move on

Maryland begins its season Saturday against Texas at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., under a cloud of uncertainty. Head coach D.J. Durkin is on administrative leave as the school investigates the program after the death of player Jordan McNair during a summer workout.

Matt Canada is the acting head coach, placed into virtually an impossible situation.

“I think the players are excited to focus on football,” Canada said. “Certainly we are going through a grieving process as an entire program. It’s been there for over two months now, dealing with the loss of Jordan. That’s something that everyone goes through with differently, and our players are not different than that. We are leaning on each other through that process. Everybody has a good day and a bad day.”

“It hasn’t been that challenging to get them to focus on football, actually playing football. Obviously there are other things going on outside of football practice, but when we are here, working on football, I think our kids have done as good a job as they possibly could.”

Who's your QB?

Northwestern and Purdue kick off Big Ten play with what should be a fine game Thursday night at Purdue.

No one knows who each team’s starting QB will be. Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson and Purdue’s Elijah Sindelar both had offseason surgery to repair torn ACLs and coaches Pat Fitzgerald and Jeff Brohm aren’t saying publicly if they’re ready to go.

Check ESPN at 7 to find out ... and watch the game.

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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