Rating the Big Ten Quarterbacks
By Tony Gerdeman
Last week we looked at the returning talent in the Big Ten, but starting this week we'll be looking at it positionally, and ranking them while we do it. It's gonna be really, really great.
Up first—the quarterbacks.
(Note: Not every team in the Big Ten has had their starting quarterback suspended by the NCAA.)
Starter: Dan Persa (2,581 yards passing, 15 TDs and 4 INTs, 519 yards rushing and 9 TDs)
Key backup: Evan Watkins (378 yards passing, 2 TDs, 5 INTs)
Dan Persa only played in ten games last season, but in those ten games he averaged 258 yards passing and 52 yards rushing. He completed 73.5% of his passes and finished second in the conference in passing efficiency (159.0). If you were to project his ten-game statistical output to thirteen games, he would have finished with 3,355 yards passing and 675 yards rushing. Those are Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year numbers most of the time. We should probably expect Persa to put up even better numbers in 2011. Backup Evan Watkins received valuable experience in 2010, starting three games after Persa's season-ending injury, which gives Northwestern more quarterback experience than most in the Big Ten.
2. Michigan State Spartans
Starter: Kirk Cousins (2,825 yards passing, 20 TDs and 10 INTs)
Key backup: Andrew Maxwell (123 yards passing)
Cousins will enter his third season as Michigan State's starting quarterback. He improved his passing efficiency from 142.6 in 2009 to 150.7 in 2010. There's no reason to think that he can't continue to improve. It would be nice to see him better his touchdown numbers, however. He threw 19 as a sophomore and 20 as a junior. Of course, the Spartan running game usually steals a few touchdowns from Michigan State quarterbacks. The bottom line is that he is the second-most experienced quarterback in the conference, and his offense is going to need to put up a bunch of points to help out their defense. The talented running game should only make him more effective in 2011. Andrew Maxwell is the future of Michigan State football. As a redshirt freshman he played in five games in 2010. He'll see similar time in 2011, and then take over in 2012.
3. Michigan Wolverines
Starter: Denard Robinson (2,570 yards passing, 18 TDs and 11 INTs, 1,702 yards rushing and 14 TDs)
Key backup: Devin Gardner (85 yards passing, 1 TD)
Robinson is the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, so appearing third on this list might be a surprise to some. However, this will be a new offense for Robinson to learn and it may take some time. Obviously, they are not going to stop running the ball with him, but he won't average the 22 carries per game against BCS teams that he did in the regular season last year. There may also not be as much of the quick passing attack that Robinson is accustomed to, meaning that he may have to stand in the pocket a bit more than he would like. Essentially, there may be a level of discomfort for him that could take some getting used to. He will still be a dynamic playmaker, though. Michigan was looking into a medical redshirt for Devin Gardner, but it's difficult to see how it could be granted when Gardner played several times and practiced all year long, even earning raves during bowl practice.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes
Starter: Terrelle Pryor (2,772 yards passing, 27 TDs and 11 INTs, 754 yards rushing and 4 TDs)
Key backups: Braxton Miller, Kenny Guiton (5 yards passing, 1 INT), Taylor Graham, Joe Bauserman (174 yards passing, 2 TDs, 1 INT)
The Buckeyes would be at the top of this list, but given that Terrelle Pryor won't be starting until Big Ten season, there's just too much unknown at the quarterback position to put them any higher. Everybody knows about Pryor, but he's only part of the equation. There's still the question of how he'll play when he gets back, especially considering that the bulk of the reps will have to go to the quarterbacks who are actually eligible to play. The $1,500 question then becomes 'Who starts while Pryor is out?' The hopeful money seems to be on Braxton Miller, who is the best runner of the group and may also possess the best arm. He's in for the spring and will be given a vast opportunity to see if he is worthy.
5. Illinois Fighting Illini
Starter: Nathan Scheelhaase (1,825 yards passing, 17 TDs and 8 INTs, 868 yards rushing and 5 TDs)
Key backup: Miles Osei
Unlike Taylor Martinez, Nathan Scheelhaase actually improved during his redshirt freshman season, and he capped it with a tremendous performance in the Texas Bowl where he threw for 242 yards, completing 18 of his 23 passes. Scheelhaase averaged 89 yards rushing over his final six games in 2010, and with the loss of running back Mikel LeShoure, the sophomore's running ability will be even more important in 2011. However, despite the way he ended the season, in the two games prior to the bowl game, he threw for 40 and 61 yards against Northwestern and Fresno State, respectively. There is still a long way to go for Scheelhaase, but he showed that he can be one of the top playmakers in the conference. Miles Osei looks to be the backup because he's the only other quarterback on the roster with any experience.
6. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Starter: Taylor Martinez (1,631 yards passing, 10 TDs and 7 INTs, 965 yards rushing and 12 TDs)
Key backup: Cody Green (340 yards passing, 3 TDs, 1 INT)
For a while last season, Martinez was neck and neck with Denard Robinson for the September Heisman, but as redshirt freshmen sometimes do, Martinez came back down to earth. He rushed for 758 yards in his first six games, and just 207 in his last six. Oh, and he failed to record a rushing touchdown in those last six games as well. He had one game last year where he threw for more than 167 yards, and that was a 323-yard outburst in a 51-41 win against Oklahoma State. He also missed a game and was banged up throughout the season. However, he was still able to have some ridiculous moments as a first-year starter, and there should only be more to come as a sophomore. Cody Green started twice last year, and is a valuable asset given Martinez's penchant for drama.
7. Penn State Nittany Lions
Potential starters: Matt McGloin (1,548 yards passing, 14 TDs and 9 INTs), Robert Bolden (1,360 yards passing, 5 TDs and 7 INTs), Paul Jones
Matt McGloin's season was littered with critical interceptions and bad decisions. Despite that, once he got the job from true freshman Robert Bolden, he never gave it back. If the Nittany Lions are going to make a move in 2011, they'll need much better quarterback play from everybody involved. Bolden looked like the future in his first couple of games last year, but quickly realized that he was a true freshman with very shaky coaching. Paul Jones was a true freshman who redshirted, but might just have the best arm on the roster. Joe Paterno refused to let Bolden transfer in the offseason, so if he doesn't want a very large mess on his hand, his coaches better give Bolden every opportunity to win his job back.
8. Wisconsin Badgers
Potential starters: Jon Budmayer (134 yards passing, 1 TD), Curt Phillips, Joe Brennan
Jon Budmayer served as Scott Tolzien's backup as a redshirt freshman last year, and he saw action in three games. Because of his experience, he is likely to get the first look in the spring to take over the starter's spot. Phillips tore an ACL last spring, and was lost for the season. He enters 2011 as a redshirt sophomore, but there is some concern that he will be passed by in the race this spring. Joe Brennan redshirted as a freshman in 2010, but if he can outperform the other two candidates, the coaching staff will have no problem making him the starter. But since this is Wisconsin, how much does a starting quarterback really matter? They're all well coached and thrive on the play-action. There is very little fear of the unknown when it comes to Badger quarterbacks because they're all cut from the same cloth.
9. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Potential starters: MarQueis Gray (24 yards passing, 110 yards rushing and 1 TD, 587 yards receiving and 5 TDs), Moses Alipate
New coach Jerry Kill certainly wants MarQueis Gray to win the job, and one of his first acts as head coach was to reassure fans that Gray would not be playing receiver for the Gophers any longer. He wants him to lead this team, and lead this offense. Gray has uncommon athleticism, which has earned him numerous comparisons to Vince Young and Terrelle Pryor. Coupled with Kill's style of offense, which saw quarterback Chandler Harnish throw for 2,530 yards and rush for 836 more last season at Northern Illinois, Gray's athleticism will be put on display. The Gophers just need to hope he's serviceable as a passer. Rest assured, however, that Kill will do everything he can to make sure that happens. Moses Alipate was a redshirt freshman last season. He is highly touted, but the clear hope is that Gray grabs this spot full throttle.
10. Iowa Hawkeyes
Potential starters: James Vandenberg (45 yards passing and 1 TD), A.J. Derby
At this point, if James Vandenberg doesn't win the job, it will be an upset. He was Ricky Stanzi's backup the last two seasons, and saw extensive time in 2009, including the overtime loss at Ohio State. Buckeye fans remember the Vandenbergs well, and saw the good and bad that he is capable of. Not getting many snaps in 2010 won't help him in 2011, but getting the majority of the reps in the offseason should catch him up just fine. He'll be a junior in 2011, and has the potential to move up this list if he shows himself to be as capable as he was in Columbus. A.J. Derby is a pretty good athlete and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him get a few regular snaps throughout the year.
11. Purdue Boilermakers
Starter: Robert Marve (512 yards passing, 3 TDs, 4 INTs)
Key backups: Rob Henry (996 yards passing, 8 TDs, 7 INTs), Sean Robinson (301 yards passing, 2 TDs, 6 INTs)
The Purdue quarterback situation last year was as abysmal as their worst enemy could have ever hoped for. Robert Marve was lost for the season in the midst of just his fourth game of the year. He'll come back this season expecting to be the starter, but even as the starter he hasn't been very impressive. Still, he gives Purdue their best chance to win, whatever that means. He still hasn't shown an ability to eliminate mistakes, and his leadership skills have yet to emerge. He may be able to throw a football, but will he ever be able to lead a team? Rob Henry and Sean Robinson were thrown onto the field last season and neither had any business being there. However, they're better this year because of it. Though that doesn't mean they have any business being on the field this year either.
12. Indiana Hoosiers
Potential Starter: Edward Wright-Baker (80 yards passing, 1 TD, 1 INT), Dusty Kiel (71 yards, 0 TD, 2 INTs), Tre Roberson
New head coach Kevin Wilson's quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator is Rod Smith, who used to work under Rich Rodriguez. As such, you'd expect them to look for a mobile quarterback to lead this offense. Fortunately, that's all they have. Edward Wright-Baker was looked at as a possible contributor as a wildcat last season, but that never truly emerged. Dusty Kiel is considered by some to be the better passer between the two, but he completed just 4 of 17 passes in his limited opportunities last year. Tre Roberson is an incoming freshman who some don't even consider a quarterback. The job will likely come down to Wright-Baker and Kiel, and even when everything is finally decided, things could still change from week to week.
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