EVANSTON, Ill. — Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald has named Clayton Thorson the team's starting quarterback for the season opener against Stanford on Sept. 5.
Thorson, a redshirt freshman, has won the job, at least for now, over fifth-year senior Zack Oliver and redshirt sophomore Matt Alviti. They were involved in a three-way competition throughout spring practice and training camp.
Throughout the competition, Thorson was widely presumed to be the favorite. After Saturday's scrimmage in Kenosha, he seemed to be facing stiff competition from Oliver. But it is Thorson who will start against the Cardinal.
Thorson is one of Pat Fitzgerald's top recruits in his soon-to-be-10-year tenure at Northwestern. A four-star recruit, he was the second-ranked player in the state of Illinois in his class according to 247 Sports, and was the 6th-best dual-threat QB in the nation according to Rivals. The Wheaton North (Ill.) product chose NU over more prestigious programs such as Penn State, Ole Miss and Iowa. He has the potential to be NU's first four-year starting quarterback since Brett Basanez was from 2002 to 2005.
At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Thorson is the most physically-gifted of the three quarterbacks. He reportedly ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash in high school. In his senior season, he ran for 630 yards and 12 touchdowns on top of his 2,809 passing yards and 29 touchdowns through the air.
Thorson provides Fitzgerald and offensive coordinator Mick McCall with the multi-faceted threat that McCall's offense craves. He has the size and the arm to potentially be a prolific downfield passer, but also has the athleticism to make plays with his legs. He allows Northwestern's offense to utilize the zone read, a key feature of some of NU's best attacks since the turn of the century.
Especially given the length of the competition, it remains to be seen whether or not more than one quarterback will see the field against Stanford. Northwestern has, in previous seasons under Pat Fitzgerald, used a two-quarterback system. But with Thorson capable as both a passer and a runner, a true two-QB system seems unlikely.
The Wildcats and Thorson kickoff their season against Stanford at 11 a.m. CT on Saturday, Sept. 5 at Ryan Field.