Hunter Johnson named starting QB against Michigan State

By Brea Lassek

Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald surprised the college football community on Tuesday when he named senior Hunter Johnson his starting quarterback for the team’s season opener against Michigan State. In a press conference where he also provided news on key season-ending injuries, Fitzgerald ended any speculation as to who would start against the Spartans at Ryan Field on Sept. 3. 

After sharing snaps with T.J. Green, Aidan Smith and Andrew Marty in 2019, Johnson appeared in only two games last season, with Indiana transfer Peyton Ramsey beating him out for the starting job under center. The same narrative loomed over Johnson this year with Ryan Hilinski transferring from the University of South Carolina; however, Johnson’s experience this time around helped him emerge as the ‘Cats’ starter.

The Brownsburg, Ind. native began his collegiate career at Clemson, playing in seven games. Touted as one of the nation’s best quarterbacks coming out of high school, Johnson was also a former U.S. Army All-American and five-star recruit. He started five games for the ‘Cats in 2019, throwing for 432 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions while running for 64 yards. The Wildcats finished 3-9, with the offense struggling to limit turnovers and move the ball consistently. Despite these lackluster results, Johnson will have his first crack in Mike Bajakian’s offense after playing under Mick McCall his first season. 

Beyond the quarterback room, many questions still remain for the Wildcat offense, namely in the receiving corps; NU returns only one of its top five leaders in receiving yards last season. In addition, with Cam Porter’s season-ending injury at running back, the Wildcats will also need to rely on some less-proven talent like redshirt sophomore Evan Hull, true first-year Anthony Tius III and Bowling Green transfer Andrew Clair.