So, uh, yeah. Clayton Thorson tore his ACL, which is devastating for Northwestern. The three-year starter with NFL aspirations will have surgery in 2-3 weeks, but his status for the start of next season is now in serious doubt. A typical ACL tear requires a 9-12 month recovery, if Thorson heals quickly, he could be back before next season. That seems like a longshot, though.
Thus, Northwestern, with no warning, may have to open a season without Clayton Thorson under center for the first time in four years come next August against Purdue. There will be no experienced backup waiting in the wings like Matt Alviti when Thorson went down in the Music City Bowl.
Every one of Northwestern's other signal-callers would be question marks should they have to play. I mean, none of them have played a meaningful snap of college football! A potential grad-transfer could be an option, but, at this point, that's speculative. At least for the early parts of the offseason, it seems like Pat Fitzgerald will have vet his newest starter from within (if he hasn't started already).
With that said, let's take a look at who the possible Thorson replacement are.
By seniority, Green is next in line behind Thorson. Green will be a redshirt junior next season, though, he's only attempted one pass in his career — this season against Bowling Green. Green is the former Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year, and the son of former NFL quarterback Trent Green, but he's also a walk-on. At 6-foot-2 and 202 pounds, he has decent size for the position.
If I were forced to make a prediction for who will start Week 1 next season (assuming Thorson can't go and no grad-transfer enters the fold), I'd go with Marty. He makes a lot of sideline calls for Northwestern, which, as the youngest QB on the roster, seems impressive. He tossed 43 touchdowns to just four interceptions as a senior in high school, and previously committed to Miami (Oh.) before settling on Northwestern.
I have no knowledge of where Marty would've stood on the depth chart had he not redshirted. My inclination about him is more of a gut feeling than anything, and there's obviously a long way to go in the offseason, but Marty should be a player to monitor.
Smith, a redshirt freshman from Indiana, held offers from Boston College and Ball State, among others. Having been behind TJ Green on the depth chart all season, the coaching staff clearly rated Green higher for a reason. The depth chart can definitely change, but, with essentially no on-field tape to go on, Green is probably still ahead. Smith will certainly have every shot to compete.
On a list of Wild Cards, Whittaker is the biggest. The incoming true freshman is the most similar to Thorson is stature at 6-foot-4 and 197 pounds (Thorson is 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds after multiple offseason in a college weight room), but it isn't very often that a quarterback forgoes a redshirt season for Fitzgerald.
It's hard to imagine Whittaker starting as a true freshman given his experience disadvantage compared to NU's other quarterbacks, but, hey, everything seems wide open right now.