Is Youth Movement at Quarterback Setting Big Ten Up for Future Success?

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Is Youth Movement at Quarterback Setting Big Ten Up for Future Success?
Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Taylor Martinez, Devin Gardner, Nathan Scheelhaase and Rob Henry—those are the quarterbacks that make up the "old guard" of the Big Ten, if you will. 

Sure, Gardner and Henry were first-time opening-day starters at the position going into this year, but they were all upperclassmen and therefore had experience on their side heading into 2013. 

However, as the season has gone on, the real story outside of Scheelhaase has been the young guns at quarterback inside the Big Ten.

Nine freshmen or sophomores have started across the conference at one point or another already this year, and a look at the numbers so far suggest it is the young guys getting the better of the old guard. 

Four of the top six passing averages in the league belong to underclassmen, including the leader in that category—Indiana's Nate Sudfeld (293.4 yards per game). 

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Did anyone expect to see the names of Sudfeld, Christian Hackenberg, Joel Stave or Jake Rudock all averaging over 200 yards passing a game? 

That proposition was highly doubtful at the beginning of the season, to say the least. 

The group isn't just throwing up gaudy yardage numbers either, as five of the top 10 passer efficiency ratings in the conference are also underclassmen. 

Some of those numbers would have been a given, with the fact that just five of the conference's opening-day starters were upperclassmen, but it's hard to deny the stamp that guys like Rudock and Sudfeld have already put on this league. 

Rudock is completing just over 60 percent of his passes for over 1,200 yards. He also has eight touchdowns to six interceptions—a far better set of numbers than the veteran James Vandenberg put up just a season ago. 

Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Additionally, Rudock has added a dangerous rush game to his attack this season, with 139 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

Sudfeld went from seeing just a few minutes of action last season to ripping up defenses this year. He has thrown for 1,467 yards and a conference-leading 13 touchdown passes in just five games this season. Oh, and he wasn't even the full-time starter for sure until Week 3 of the season. 

At Wisconsin, Stave may have had five games of starting experience last year, but the fact remains he was a very young QB in terms of experience.

Overall, Stave's numbers are nearly identical to his five games of starting experience from a season ago, but he has increased his accuracy (completing 62 percent of his passes in 2013, compared to 58 percent as a freshman last year) and has shown more poise in the pocket. 

Hopefully, you are seeing a pattern here. Unlike some previous groups of young quarterbacks in the league, each one of these young guns has the talent to make their teams vastly more than one dimensional. 

There is no question that everyone looks at the conference and sees the running back as the star, but with the vital early experience the young quarterbacks are getting in 2013, this league could be in for a major step up in quarterback play for the next few years. 

All the numbers we are talking about don't even include two of the newest and youngest players at the position—Nebraska's Tommy Armstrong Jr. (who gets his third start of the season this weekend) and Purdue's Danny Etling

Armstrong Jr. has been hugely impressive in two games as a starter, completing 20 of 28 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns. He also has yet to commit a turnover and also has added 79 yards on the ground. 

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Etling, on the other hand, will be making his first start after coming on in relief of Henry against Northern Illinois. He'll get tested right away, since Purdue must face Nebraska's budding defense before a trip to East Lansing next week.

His 19-of-39 completion rate wasn't great, but he ended up with a good 241 yards and did throw for two touchdowns in his rushed debut two weeks ago.

Having those two freshmen gaining experience in the Big Ten season is a rarity, but both looked promising in their limited action so far and both are undoubtedly the future of their position at each school. 

Then you also throw in Minnesota's Mitch Leidner, who got his second start of the season last week against Michigan and you see that there is great potential in this group as a whole. 

Let's think about it for a second—unless Braxton Miller comes back for a senior year, every starting quarterback in the Big Ten for 2014 will be new or have had their most significant playing time in 2013. 

So, while the attention of the here and now will be on the likes of Melvin Gordon, Mark Weisman and Ameer Abdullah in Big Ten country, don't forget to take a look at the future of this conference—the young quarterbacks. 

 

*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter: @andycoppens.

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