Big Ten Quarterbacks: Leaders Division

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Football
Ranking the Big Ten Quarterbacks — Leaders Division
By Tony Gerdeman

On Monday we looked at the quarterbacks of the Legends Division, so today we take a look at the other side of the conference.

There is much more mystery to the quarterback battles in this division, and the lack of production returning at the position is indicative of many decisions that yet need to be made.

To make the decisions even more difficult, Purdue is the only team in the Leaders Division that returns the same offensive coordinator that they had last season. There is a ton of unknown here, and the talent is a question mark as well.

3. Ohio State

Starter: Braxton Miller (1,159 yards passing (54.1%) 13 TDs and 4 INTs, 715 yards rushing and 7 TDs)

Backups: Kenny Guiton (0 yards passing, 0 yards rushing), Cardale Jones*

If you are not expecting a huge jump in production for Braxton Miller, you might want to start. He very well could lead the conference in total offense in 2012. Some might not be able to forget the lack of fluidity when it came to Miller's passing last year, but keep in mind that while his quarterback coach from last year remains out of coaching, the quarterback coach he has now will likely be a head coach within two or three years. Miller will be used heavily in the running game, and will also be throwing while on the move. There will be a shorter passing game than Ohio State has used in the past, which will increase Miller's completion percentage. He looked fantastic in the Spring, and will only get better with repetition. There is also the little matter of Ohio State going with quite a bit of no-huddle offense this coming season, which will see Miller facing tired defenses late in games. All of this will be done in Urban Meyer's offense, which has produced a Heisman winner and a number one overall NFL draft pick. Kenny Guiton is the backup, and he was the only other quarterback to get a meaningful snap this Spring. Guiton impressed Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman over the course of fifteen practices, and neither of them had any serious expectations of him going in.

4. Illinois

Starter: Nathan Scheelhaase (2,110 yards passing (63.2%) 13 TDs and 8 INTs, 624 yards rushing and 6 TDs)

Backups: Reilly O'Toole (270 yards passing (59.7%) 1 TD and 4 INTs, 47 yards rushing), Miles Osei (3 yards passing (100%), 24 yards rushing)

In two of Tim Beckman's three seasons at Toledo, his teams passed for over 3,300 yards. However, it took him two or three quarterbacks each season to get it done. There are rumblings that the plan at Illinois might include a similar setup with backup Reilly O'Toole. Obviously, however, the ideal situation is for Nathan Scheelhaase to do most of it by himself. Entering his third season as a starter, Scheelhaase should be in line for his best season ever, and with Beckman's quarterback-friendly system, Illinois could have quite the offense this year. While Beckman's system calls for the quarterback to run the ball a little bit, he has never had a quarterback who can run like Scheelhaase. Will Scheelhaase run the ball as much as he has in the past (averaging 188 carries per season), or will the short passing game be utilized instead? A great completion percentage in a short passing game is 70%, and Scheelhaase's best is 63.2%. After two seasons of similar numbers for Scheelhaase, putting him fourth overall on this list is quite a bit of a projection. However, it's time that he takes the next step and becomes an All-Big Ten caliber player. Either he has the talent to do that, or he doesn't. We will likely find out for certain this season. If O'Toole takes more than just a handful of snaps from Scheelhaase, then we were all likely pretty wrong about him.

6. Wisconsi n

Starter: Danny O'Brien (1,648 yards passing (56.4%) 7 TDs and 10 INTs, 57 yards rushing and 2 TDs)

Backups: Joe Brennan (48 yards passing (40.0%) 0 TDs and 1 INT, 9 yards rushing and 1 TD), Joel Stave, Jon Budmayr, Curt Phillips, Bart Houston*

Danny O'Brien, a transfer from Maryland, is not yet on campus, but just about everyone associated with the Wisconsin football program is hoping that he wins the starting job when he arrives. When he does arrive, they'll be expecting the Danny O'Brien who threw for 2,438 yards and 22 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman, as opposed to the sophomore version who threw for 1,648 yards and just seven touchdowns last year, while getting benched by new head coach Randy Edsall. In 2010, O'Brien had a passing efficiency of 134.5, which bested that of Russell Wilson at NC State, who mustered a 127.5. Nobody is expecting O'Brien to come close to the season that Wilson produced for the Badgers last year, especially without offensive coordinator Paul Chryst around anymore. However, O'Brien showed early in his career that he can pick up an offense and produce what is asked of him. Wisconsin still needs to find some receivers, but their offensive line will be fine and running back Montee Ball will make life for O'Brien quite a bit easier. Joe Brennan and Joel Stave were the only healthy quarterbacks to participate in the Spring, and Stave (a walk-on) came out ahead. Everybody else on the quarterback depth chart is dealing with injuries.

7. Purdue

Possible Starter: Caleb TerBush (1,905 yards passing (61.7%) 13 TDs and 6 INTs, 219 yards rushing and 1 TD), Robert Marve (633 yards passing (56.0%) 4 TDs and 5 INTs, 51 yards rushing and 1 TD)

Backups: Rob Henry, Robert Gregory*, Austin Appleby*, Bilal Marshall*, Aloyis Gray*

While this looks to be one of the more competitive quarterback battles in the Big Ten, even the winner will still likely have to split time. Head coach Danny Hope has said that he likes what all of his quarterbacks bring to the table, and that includes Rob Henry, who is recovering from an ACL injury. Robert Marve has said that he is as healthy as he has been in four years, but he'll need his mental health to be as sharp as his apparent physical health. He has all kinds of tools, but still makes simple mistakes at inopportune times. Caleb TerBush started for the Boilers last year and led Purdue to their first bowl game since the 2007 season. He may be a safer choice than Marve, but he isn't as talented. Marve had a very strong spring and might be poised to steal back the job from TerBush. Rob Henry is still in the mix as well, but perhaps as a change of pace quarterback. He is a tremendous athlete and could be used as a wildcat option. It remains to be seen if he has lost a step because of his injuries, and if he needs to rely more on his arm, his usefulness will decline. The other four quarterbacks on the roster are all freshmen, and they will either redshirt or move positions.

11. Indiana

Starter: Tre Roberson (937 yards passing (57.0%) 3 TDs and 6 INTs, 426 yards rushing and 2 TDs)

Backups: Cameron Coffman, Nathan Sudfield*

Last year, Tre Roberson became the first true freshman quarterback to ever start for the Hoosiers. He was inserted into the lineup in late October against Iowa and threw for 197 yards and ran for 84 more. He started for Indiana the rest of the way (five total starts). If you prorate his numbers from his starts out for an entire season, they project to about 2,000 yards passing and nearly 900 yards rushing, and he wasn't given the opportunity to pad his stats against any non-conference foes. With this being Roberson's second year in head coach Kevin Wilson's system, even though he'll be under a new coordinator, his numbers should project out even better this time around. However, that doesn't mean his job is safe. He left Spring practices as the starter, but Wilson's loyalty will always lie in the quarterback who gives the team the best shot to win. Roberson's athletic ability impressed last season, as did his general toughness. Yes, the Hoosiers finished 0-5 under Roberson last year, but all of those losses came to bowl teams. Last year Indiana finished 113th in the nation in touchdown percentage in the red zone. With Roberson's abilities to make things happen, he needs to make more touchdowns happen in 2012. Cameron Coffman is a junior college transfer who could get a look, but Wilson needs Roberson to continue to progress.

12. Penn State

Possible Starter: Matt McGloin (1,571 yards passing (54.1%) 8 TDs and 5 INTs), Rob Bolden (685 yards passing (39.3%) 2 TDs and 7 INTs, 38 yards rushing), Paul Jones

Backups: Steven Bench*

I have a slight problem with ranking Penn State dead last in quarterbacking simply because these quarterbacks will finally receive a legitimate level of coaching under Bill O'Brien. However, part of me is fine with the ranking because we really have seen nothing from any of the quarterback candidates to think that they are any better than twelfth. When people are holding out hope that Paul Jones, who has missed the last two seasons due to academics, emerges as the starter, you know there are problems. Jones, Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden all battled it out during the Spring, but little was decided. In fact, the only thing that has been decided is that the starter almost definitely won't be Bolden. He was the only quarterback to complete 50% of his passes during the Spring game, though he did also throw three interceptions. Jones might not trust those around him enough right now, and trusts his feet and arm more. He needs to continue to believe in O'Brien's system, because a timing offense can be ruined by a quarterback who prefers to run. McGloin is more than willing to hang in the pocket and wait for a play to develop, but he also has a habit of waiting too long in that pocket and throwing it to the wrong team. Undoubtedly, all three quarterbacks will be better than they were last year, but what kind of ceiling are we working with here?

Quarterbacks
1. Michigan
2. Iowa
3. Ohio State
4. Illinois
5. Nebraska
6. Wisconsin
7. Purdue
8. Michigan State
9. Northwestern
10. Minnesota
11. Indiana
12. Penn State

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