Indiana football’s 2021 season began in Iowa City, Iowa, with junior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. under center. Indiana was ranked No. 17, carried lofty preseason expectations and threw a pick-six on the third offensive play of the game.
It ended the season in West Lafayette, Indiana, with then-sophomore quarterback Grant Gremel as the starter. Gremel, a walk-on, was Indiana’s fourth quarterback of the season. His last pass of the game was an interception.
Penix is gone, having transferred to the University of Washington after the season. Junior quarterback Connor Bazelak, a transfer from the University of Missouri, is in his spot, wearing the No. 9 Penix sported for four seasons. Bazelak will be in a five-man competition for the starting job during Indiana’s spring practices.
“We're really looking forward (to the competition),” head coach Tom Allen said at a press conference Thursday. “That's one thing when you think about the spring and the competition ahead for that position, that really excites me, and I'm anxious to see these guys.”
The three Hoosier quarterbacks returning from last season played a relatively equal number of games. Gremel played in five, sophomore Donaven McCulley played in seven and senior Jack Tuttle played in six. Sophomore quarterback Dexter Williams II has yet to appear in a game after tearing his ACL last spring, but he is back and healthy, according to Allen.
Whichever quarterback starts will be piloting the offense that was the least efficient in the Big Ten 2021 and will be facing an uphill battle after last season’s 2-10 finish. The Hoosiers were 10th in passing yards per game, 13th in scoring and last in total yards per game.
Bazelak will face an additional task in learning the offense and gelling with his teammates, a process he says he’s already started.
“It’s definitely one thing that I’ve focused on, just trying to get to know everyone on the team, build relationships with them and win their trust over,” Bazelak said.
He said he’s already been able to take chances to work and mesh with some of his receivers. Senior wide receiver Emery Simmons, a transfer from the University of North Carolina, has already texted Bazelak several times about getting together and throwing.
“A guy like Connor, who's coming to us from Missouri where he was a starter, to me it's about learning the system and being able to win the team,” Allen said. “They don't know him.”
In 11 starts at Missouri in 2021, Bazelak threw for 2,548 yards and 16 touchdowns. In 2020, he was named Co-Freshman of the Year in the Southeastern Conference after eight starts, 2,366 yards and seven touchdowns.
Tuttle will be the locker room veteran and comes in with the most experience at Indiana. It’ll help him navigate a competition for a job against his teammates.
“The thing I need to do is just focus on being the best version of myself,” Tuttle said.
Tuttle took over the starting job the last two years after Penix suffered season-ending injuries. He played six games in 2021, but an injury suffered against Ohio State on Oct. 23 kept him out for most of the remaining season.
“I have a giant chip on my shoulder,” Tuttle said. “I’m not happy. I’m motivated.”
If the Hoosiers decide to share snaps at quarterback next season, Allen certainly knows how to make it work.
“Whoever becomes the starting quarterback, they have to win the locker room and the guys' belief in them,” Allen said. “We’re excited to see them compete.”