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The Other Guys: Who are Northwestern’s backup QBs?

Not a lot of experience, but a lot of promise.

Photo via @b.sully10 on Instagram

Now just 15 days from the season opener, no one has the slightest clue who will start under center in Dublin.

It doesn’t seem like Pat Fitzgerald really knows either — or if he does, he’s keeping his cards hidden. Former South Carolina transfer Ryan Hilinski was originally projected by many to reappear as the starter, even after a shaky year in which he threw more interceptions than touchdowns. However, his grip on the job has never been strong. Although he has the most experience of anyone in the quarterback room by far, Hilinski’s rough 2021 season has kept the door open for a challenger to take the starting role.

Enter Brendan Sullivan, who Fitzgerald said put himself in contention after a strong spring.

Last we heard, the QB race was neck-and-neck between Hilinski and Sullivan. We’ll find out whether the sophomore can propel himself ahead of Hilinski for the starting job in just over two weeks, but it’s become more and more evident lately that we really don’t know much about what we’d be getting in Sullivan.

Barring a drastic change, we know what quarterback Hilinski is, so here’s a closer look at some of the other guys you might see under center this fall.

Brendan Sullivan

6-foot-3, 212 lbs

2021 Three-star, #49 QB, Pro Style (247 Sports)

Simply put, Sullivan is a quarterback who makes things happen. He may have less of a “cannon” than Hilinski, but he has touch and is accurate. In his high school junior season (his last full football season), Sullivan completed almost 67% of his passes for 3,044 yards and 33 touchdowns to win the state championship in Michigan.

He’s precise while passing from the pocket, but he’s anything but the statue shown in those quick-release, no-read clips. Below, Sullivan uses his legs to buy time, then plants his feet to deliver the pass in stride to his receiver. In the final video, he recognizes the space around him and climbs the pocket to fully step into his pass.

Sullivan isn’t just mobile in the backfield; he’s a problem in open space. At 6-foot-3, Sullivan was incredibly elusive in high school and possesses solid speed for a quarterback.

The tape says Sullivan is a playmaker. If he is able to overtake Hilinski for the starting spot, the sophomore may have the “showtime” playstyle that Northwestern has been missing for a while.

Carl Richardson

6-foot-4, 207 lbs

2020 Three-star, #40 QB, Pro Style (247 Sports)

Richardson is the only player on this list with any collegiate playing time. However, his statline of 2-of-4 for 19 yards in garbage time against Michigan and Nebraska in 2021 does not offer any meaningful value, so we have to look back to his days in Salinas, Calif.

Richardson and Sullivan may both be listed as Pro Style passers by 247 Sports, but their playstyles are very different. Richardson projects as much more of a pocket passer, and although he has some slight speed, he doesn’t opt to use it as much unless it’s on a designed run. As you can see, “Shirtless Carl” has quite the arm, seemingly getting the ball effortlessly from the pocket to his receiver’s hands.

Cole Freeman

6-foot-0, 205 lbs

2021 Unranked QB

Freeman appears from the outside to be the “project” taken on by Fitzgerald, as the sophomore held no stars from any major recruiting site coming out of high school. Undersized and speedy, Freeman makes the most of his legs, scrambling around the backfield to buy time for his receivers or space for himself to run.

Jack Lausch

6-foot-2, 190 lbs

2022 Three-star, #112 QB, Dual-Threat (247 Sports)

Lausch caught a lot of attention last year after flipping his commitment from Notre Dame to Northwestern, and rightfully so. The Chicago native was a standout in both football and baseball in high school — the latter of which he was a top 100 recruit for — and he intends to play both sports in Evanston. Lausch is quick, and ran for over 1,000 yards with 21 touchdowns on top of passing for 2,447 yards and 20 TDs. The first-year displays an excellent combination of arm talent and speed, and could be a weapon in the future.