The question of who's going to be the best quarterback in the Big Ten in 2012 is likely going to come down to a pair of names: Denard Robinson and Braxton Miller. Certainly we'll see challenges from Nebraska's Taylor Martinez, Iowa's James Vandenberg and Wisconsin's Danny O'Brien, but Robinson and Miller are, at this point, the odds-on favorites for All-Big Ten honors.
So who's the man between these two? Who's going to put together the better season? Whose Big Ten dream will reign supreme? Let's figure it out. Onward!
Among QBs who qualified for the passing efficiency rankings (minimum 15 passes per game played) in 2011, Denard Robinson actually leads all Big Ten returning starters. Didn't see that coming, did you? Only Kirk Cousins was a more efficient passer in the entire conference last year.
Braxton Miller did not qualify for the rankings, as he had just 157 attempts in 12 games played. Had he qualified, however, he would have been mere hundredths of a point behind Vandenberg, who was a hair behind Robinson.
The thing of it is, though, part of what made Miller such an efficient passer last season was that he didn't do it very often. Ohio State was incredibly run-heavy in 2011, especially with Miller at the helm, so that's what defenses played for. And generally, it worked out. So if Miller's passing load is going to increase to Robinson's level (20 attempts per game in 2011), his efficiency's probably going to take a hit.
It's amazing to think, but it's true: the Big Ten has the most electric rushing quarterbacks in the nation. Braxton Miller is dynamite in the open field, especially on the scramble, as defenses are caught out of position in pass coverage. Meanwhile, say what you will about Taylor Martinez as a passer, but the guy can fly, and nobody runs the option more effectively than T-Magic.
But Denard Robinson is flat-out the best rushing quarterback in the nation, and the only way he's not going to hit 1,000 yards this year is if Brady Hoke limits him. Robinson's wheels are his best asset, and they're enough to give defensive backs nightmares about being in single coverage and seeing Robinson start to break their way on a rush.
So while Miller's going to have a solid year rushing the ball, Denard Robinson is probably going to break the FBS record for most career rushing yards by a quarterback—he's only 1,251 yards away.
It's one thing to be a workhorse of the offense. It's quite another to be able to take care of the ball in that situation. Denard Robinson isn't nearly as careless a passer as when he was a freshman (31 attempts, four picks), but he did throw 15 interceptions in 258 attempts last year, and that number could have been closer to 20.
Miller, meanwhile, makes better reads than Robinson did at this point in his career. He threw for 13 touchdowns and only four interceptions in 2011, and his mechanics look more or less okay. Taylor Martinez he ain't.
So while Miller's turnover numbers are liable to rise as his pass attempts do (especially with defenses looking for Miller to throw more often), the increase shouldn't be dramatic.
Oh, and fumbles are random. Let's just admit that and call it a toss-up whether Martinez or Robinson fumbles more. That's seriously unknowable.
The Team, The Team, The Team
The quarterback is almost always the most important position on the team, and as such he's the only player whose win-loss record is kept track of. That's not always fair, but it's part and parcel of being a leader.
Thus, it's worth pointing out that we're projecting an 8-4 season for the Michigan Wolverines and 10-2 for Ohio State. More importantly, when the two quarterbacks square off (as if they'll ever be on the field at the same time after the coin flip), we're projecting an Ohio State win. And that's going to sting pretty hard in Ann Arbor—especially in Denard Robinson's final regular season game as a senior.
This one's a toss-up. Denard Robinson's likely to have better stats, but only incrementally so. Still, better is better.
Braxton Miller's going to put together his own impressive resume, though, and improve on his win-loss numbers. So this could theoretically come down to who performs the best in Columbus on that cold November afternoon, and there, it's anybody's ballgame.