Rating the Big Ten Quarterbacks
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It's that time of year again where we take a position-by-position look at the Big Ten, ranking the teams from best to worst at each position.
This is the fourth year that we have done these rankings, and last year we correctly predicted the participants in the Big Ten Championship Game. The first two years we picked a division winner and a division runner-up, so we seem to be getting better at this as we go.
Up first are the quarterbacks, of which there are some pretty good ones. There is also a ton of experience, as every team is likely to start an experienced quarterback. Even the new starters have had previous starting experience.
Given the lackluster performance from this group of quarterbacks a season ago, their experience level now should allow them to increase their production considerably.
1. Ohio State
While the backup situation may not be ideal for the Buckeyes, having a four-year starter like Braxton Miller at the helm still gets OSU at the top of this list. He is a two-time Big Ten MVP, and as a senior this should be his very best year yet. While MSU fans may disagree, this is the only choice based on the available data.
Photo by Jim Davidson
2. Michigan State
Connor Cook threw for 2,755 yards with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions last year, closing the season in superb fashion. He is far from a finished product yet, but has already shown the makings of a productive team leader. There is also quarterback talent behind him, albeit fairly unproven.
3. Penn State
Christian Hackenberg might be the best pro prospect in the Big Ten. He can make every throw and already showed himself to be a very good quarterback as a true freshman last season. He might be handcuffed by his receivers this season, but any struggles with the passing game aren't likely to be his fault.
The Wolverines could be much higher on here because Devin Gardner has the potential to be the best QB in the conference. However, if that potential was likely, then he wouldn't be put in a quarterback competition with Shane Morris like he is apparently in right now. Regardless, the UM offense should be improved under new coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
Despite the loss of Tre Roberson to transfer, I am expecting Nate Sudfeld to have a very good year. He is a very solid bet to lead the conference in passing yardage this year, provided the Hoosiers can get some receivers to step up. A 3,500-yard season is possible. He will need to watch his interceptions, however.
C.J. Brown will enter the Big Ten as one of its best playmakers at the quarterback position, but he is still too inconsistent to place much higher on this list. He had four games with 250 yards passing a season ago, as well as four games with 100 yards rushing. Three of those games happened at the same time.
This will be Joel Stave's third season as a starter, and he has been solid in his time. He still throws some bad interceptions, but he leads the offense well and he knows what he's doing. He still hasn't ever really had a great game, but then that's not what he's ever going to be asked to do.
Like Nate Sudfeld at Indiana, Trevor Siemian's numbers should go up this season with the departure of Kain Colter. He has tons of skill around him, so he won't have to work too hard to distribute the ball. Despite Northwestern's short passing attack, Siemian's completion percentage isn't where it needs to be.
Jake Rudock returns for his second season of starting for the Hawkeyes, and he'll welcome a talented group of receivers and running backs. Like most Big Ten quarterbacks, he threw too many interceptions a season ago. Rudock is mobile enough to escape pressure, which could lead to some big plays this season.
Tommy Armstrong started eight games as a redshirt freshman last season, but he wasn't very good in those starts. He absolutely has promise, and his mobility makes him a nice fit in the Huskers offense, but he had to be bailed out too often last season. There is interesting depth here, but it is all inexperienced.
Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt is the likely starter for the Illini. Just a redshirt sophomore, he already has five career starts under his belt from his time in Stillwater. He had an up and down spring, but the expectation is that he will become a productive quarterback. There is potential to be much higher on this list.
Eventually a Jerry Kill quarterback at Minnesota is going to have a breakout year, right? Mitch Leidner is a big, mobile passer who can take a hit and deliver one as well. He put up over 1,000 yards of total offense as a redshirt freshman last season. He could very well triple that number in 2014.
A season ago, Danny Etling did about as well as you could expect a true freshman quarterback to do for the Boilermakers. He threw for 1,690 yards and started seven games. He's a tough kid, but is limited by the talent around him. Everybody is a year older, so perhaps some of that youth has matured a bit.
Gary Nova is a senior with 28 starts to his credit, but he has never really gotten much better as he has gotten older. He threw 14 interceptions in just 303 attempts last season, while completing just 54.5% of his passes. Sure, he could put everything together this season, but history suggests nothing of the sort will happen.
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