Rating the Big Ten Quarterbacks
By Tony Gerdeman
Welcome to the third year of our Big Ten positional ratings, which then get tallied up to predict the final conference standings. The first two years have correctly predicted two Big Ten Championship Game participants, and two second-place finishers.
This year the plan is to get both Big Ten Championship Game participants correct. Yes, it is a bold and new plan. No more trying to be half right around here. We're going for the gold from now on.
We'll begin, as we always do, with the quarterbacks. Nine of the 12 teams in the conference return starters from last season, though that probably sounds better than it actually is when you consider who some of these starters are. Still, a returning starter is better than nothing. Just ask Iowa.
1. Ohio State
Braxton Miller is a top three Heisman candidate this year, and the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. He threw for 2,039 yards (15 TD, 6 INT), and rushed for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns in his first year in Urban Meyer's offense. The expectations for year two anticipate Miller becoming a much better passer, and just as dangerous as ever on the ground. Kenny Guiton is the backup and has proven himself a capable reliever when necessary. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman has tremendous confidence in Guiton.
Taylor Martinez had every right to be named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year last year. In fact, the conference coaches placed Martinez on their First-Team All-Big Ten team ahead of Braxton Miller. He threw for 2,871 yards (23 TD, 12 INT) and rushed for 1,019 yards and 10 touchdowns. He improved as a passer, but still threw too many interceptions. Redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong and true freshman Johnny Stanton provide some young depth, but they are talented and athletic. Both quarterbacks had Oregon offers, among others.
Devin Gardner essentially practiced as a quarterback for one full week prior to being named the starter following Denard Robinson's injury last season. It was in the late middle of the season, and all Gardner did was become one of the two or three most productive quarterbacks in the conference. What will he become with a full offseason, spring, summer and fall camp? He could end up number one on this list, if Al Borges' offense allows it. Aside from Gardner, it looks like true freshman Shane Morris will be the backup. There was some thought that he could be the starter this season before Gardner shut the doubters up last year.
Kain Colter started 13 games last season, but "co-starter" Trevor Siemian played in every game as well. Siemian actually led the Wildcats in passing, throwing for 1,312 yards (6 TDs, 3 INTs), compared to Colter's 872 yards (8 TDs, 4 INTs). Colter, however, also added 894 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. They rotate often, depending on what offensive coordinator Mick McCall is in the mood to do. With Colter and running back Venric Mark, the Wildcats are a dangerous run team. With Siemian and NU's deep receiver corps, they are also a formidable passing team. Neither quarterback is perfect, but they are tremendous complements to eachother. They could do big things in 2013.
Indiana's situation will be an interesting one to watch. Tre Roberson won the job last season, and was playing well, but he was lost for the year with a broken leg in week two. In his place, Cameron Coffman threw for 2,734 yards (15 TDs, 11 INTs), playing about as well as could be hoped. Backup QB Nate Sudfeld also played last year, showing a 7-1 TD-INT ratio. Kevin Wilson says Indiana can win with all three quarterbacks. However, Roberson had a rough spring, while Coffman and Sudfeld essentially picked up where they left off. The job hasn't been won yet, but the fact that IU has three candidates is pretty impressive. Wilson says that for Indiana to be good, their QB is going to have to be great. No pressure.
The Badgers had four quarterbacks battling for the starting job in the spring, but it was Joel Stave and Curt Phillips who ended up separating themselves. Both started games last season, with Stave leading the team with 1,104 yards passing (6 TDs, 3 INTs). Phillips threw for 540 yards (5 TDs, 2 INTs), while starting the final five games of the season last year when Stave was injured. Last year's opening day starter Danny O'Brien is back as well. Stave appears to be the favorite, given that he is the best passer of the bunch. There is also junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy coming in the fall. He provides more of the running ability that head coach Gary Andersen prefers.
7. Michigan State
Andrew Maxwell returns as the Spartans' starter this year. In 2012, he had an up-and-down season, but threw for 2,606 yards (13 TDs, 9 INTs). Since the bowl game, it seems like Mark Dantonio has to make a monthly statement that Maxwell is still his starting quarterback. That statement came again after the spring, as Dantonio cited Maxwell's consistency and knowledge of the offense. Backup Connor Cook will get a chance to win the job in fall camp however, and if he cuts down on his bad plays, his number of good plays will put him solidly in the mix. Cook has shown more potential for big plays, but Dantonio doesn't like the way he can sometimes lose yards when trying to keep a play alive. There's been no consistent quarterback play here to justify having them any higher on the list, though things could certainly click because these are actually talented players.
Jerry Kill talked about the possibility of Philip Nelson being the starting quarterback prior to the season ever beginning last year. However, once the season began, they tried to redshirt him. Unfortunately, their quarterback situation was so poor that they had to take his redshirt off and throw him into the fire. He started seven games and had his moments, but played as well as you'd expect a true freshman to play. He threw for 873 yards (8 TDs, 8 INTs) and rushed for 184 yards while starting seven games. He may have a leg up for the job in 2013 simply based on experience, but redshirt freshman quarterback Mitch Leidner was with him every step of the way. Both QBs are mobile, but are more suited for the passing game. They should make eachother better as they both compete well into the season.
9. Penn State
Penn State has two quarterback candidates headed into 2013, but only junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson has gone through spring football. Incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg is the other candidate, but he's just finishing up being a high school kid. Ferguson will start out ahead of Hackenberg just based on the fact that he's been around. However, Hackenberg is one of the top incoming freshman QBs in the nation, so this should be a legitimate competition. Head coach Bill O'Brien says he'll name a starter about two weeks into camp. If not for O'Brien's miraculous history with Matt McGloin, the Nittany Lions would be lower on this list
Last season was a mess in every way for the Illini. Much was expected out of quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, but little was given. He finished 10th in the conference in passer rating (105.92), throwing for 1,361 yards (4 TDs, 8 INTs). He was also less effective as a rusher. New offensive coordinator Bill Cubit is expected to help, but the Illini have to prove that 2012 was an aberration. Reilly O'Toole is also pushing for playing time, and if Scheelhaase isn't better than he was last year, Tim Beckman won't be able to simply sit by and not try to rearrange the deck chairs. True freshman Aaron Bailey is intriguing, but he's much more of a runner than thrower at this point.
Purdue began spring with a four-way quarterback battle. Rob Henry is the only returnee with playing time, and he only threw for 216 yards last year. He does have seven career starts, however. True freshman Danny Etling, redshirt freshmen Austin Appleby and Bilal Marshall are also in the mix. Head coach Darrell Hazell has said that he won't name a starter until two weeks before the season opener, so the job will remain open through fall camp. It would not be a surprise to see him go with one of the freshmen, simply so they'll be that much more experienced in 2014. Also, Etling and Appleby have better arms than Henry, though Henry's athleticism has to be intriguing.
The Hawkeyes got a new offensive coordinator last season in Greg Davis. After a dismal performance in 2012, he is back. However, he doesn't have any quarterbacks with any experience because for some reason he didn't find it necessary to get anybody else playing time in a 4-8 season. There are three or four quarterback candidates here, with sophomore Jake Rudock the most likely to win the job. Probably. There is also redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard and junior Cody Sokol. Given the inexperience, and the man calling the plays, having them 12th on the list almost feels generous.
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