If we're to take Pat Fitzgerald's comments at today's Signing Day press conference as fact, there is no clear favorite to take over the starting quarterback position heading into spring practice. Though he didn't name names (but did say "we have three guys who will compete"), it will be Zack Oliver, Matt Alviti, and Clayton Thorson that battle to replace Trevor Siemian, whose Northwestern career ended with a torn ACL against Purdue.
Fitz said that each QB will get equal reps in practice until "one, or two" guys separate themselves. It's interesting to note that Fitzgerald made an effort to say that two guys might emerge from the pack, suggesting that there has been some thought about using the two-quarterback system that was the cornerstone of some of OC Mick McCall's best units a few years ago.
It was Oliver who filled in for Siemian after his injury, and started the season-finale against Illinois that would have sent Northwestern to a bowl with a win. That outing was a catastrophe, particularly the first half, which saw Oliver turn the ball over four times and pass for 9 yards. He finished with five turnovers and Northwestern couldn't overcome the disastrous start and Illinois gained bowl eligibility with a comfortable 47-33 win at Ryan Field.
Alviti also saw some playing time last year, but it was mostly in option sets that really limited him to a running threat. He completed 2 of his 4 passing attempts last year and his one rushing touchdown came during that memorable upset of Notre Dame.
Thorson redshirted, but InsideNU writers who have observed practice and talked with people in the program, and writers from other outlets, expect him to ultimately win the job.
In terms of talent, quarterback is one of Northwestern's best positions. Both Alviti and Thorson were four-star recruits who were ranked in ESPN's Top 300 recruits and both turned down more established programs to come to Evanston (Alviti spurned Notre Dame, while Thorson chose Northwestern over Ole Miss).
This quarterback race will surely be one of the main stories during this offseason, and we'll be sure to keep you posted when we learn anything. But all signs point to this competition being a tight and lengthy one, and we might not know who the starter is until the fall.