Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson has torn ACL, throwing football future in the air

Northwestern athletics dodged a bullet on Bryant McIntosh’s knee injury. But not Clayton Thorson’s.

The winningest quarterback in NU history has a torn ACL that throws his college career and NFL timeline up in the air, the Tribune has learned.

Thorson got carted off Friday in the Music City Bowl after making a 24-yard catch on a trick play. He immediately grabbed his right knee as Nissan Stadium hushed and teammates approached to offer encouragement.

After the game NU coach Pat Fitzgerald said that a preliminary exam revealed “nothing overly alarming … I think he hyperextended it, from my vantage point.”

But subsequent tests revealed a tear and there is no timetable for his return. Surgery is expected in a few weeks. Torn ACLs typically have a 9- to 12-month recovery period.

Thorson announced Dec. 19 that he would return to Evanston for his fifth season and fourth as a starter. Had he been healthy and entered the NFL draft, he figured to be a late-round pick.

If Thorson isn’t ready for NU’s Aug. 30 (Thursday night) season-opener at Purdue, Northwestern likely will turn to either TJ Green or Andrew Marty.

Green, who will be a redshirt sophomore, is a walk-on and the son of former NFL standout Trent Green. He threw for 2,700 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, earning Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year honors. He attempted and completed one pass this season, against Bowling Green.

Marty will be a redshirt freshman. Originally committed to Miami (Ohio), the Cincinnati native was responsible for 50 touchdowns as a high school senior (43 passing, seven rushing) and has terrific leadership skills.

Redshirt freshman Aidan Smith also would get a shot. And maybe incoming freshman Jason Whittaker. And perhaps a graduate school transfer.

Northwestern has a phenomenal 2018 home schedule – Duke, Akron, Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Illinois.

Thorson’s 27 victories as the starting quarterback are the most in NU history. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Wheaton North alumnus ranks second in program history in passing yards (7,513) and completions (688). He’s a career 57.4 percent passer and made third-team all-Big Ten in 2017.

tgreenstein@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein

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