I have decided to conduct a series of articles that will examine and rank the top players in the Big Ten within their respective position. This article will rank the top players in the quarterback position within the conference.
This year, multiple teams will have to adjust to a new quarterback due to the exodus of several experienced quarterbacks. These quarterbacks include Ricky Stanzi (Iowa), Adam Weber (Minnesota), Scott Tolzien (Wisconsin) and Ben Chappell (Indiana).
These rankings will be based on statistics and/or possible potential of impact (especially the quarterbacks with little or no experience). Obviously, these ranking are based on personal perception, so the analysis is debatable along with the fact that no analyst or expert can accurately depict the significance or success of every player.
Without further ado...
Not Dusty Kiel
The Indiana Hoosiers football program has to accommodate both a coaching change and quarterback change. Kevin Wilson, former Oklahoma offensive coordinator, and his staff, have to find a way to maintain the efficiency that was produced by Ben Chappell last year.
The fight for the starting quarterback job is between Edward Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel. While Wright-Baker certainly has athleticism and the potential, Coach Wilson will ultimately want to develop Dusty Kiel because he fits the mold of several quarterbacks that blossomed at Oklahoma (most notably Sam Bradford).
Kiel has the size to become an efficient passer in Wilson's offensive schemes. In addition, he has family that played in the NFL, so his knowledge and execution, within football, will factor into his growth and maturity as a Big Ten quarterback.
* Photo does not depict Dusty Kiel.
Not MarQueis Gray
Even though Minnesota has been a struggling program, Adam Weber was a quality veteran quarterback who will be very difficult to replace. However, Jerry Kill and the coaching staff made the right decision in moving MarQueis Gray back to signal calling after he performed receiving duties last year.
While Gray has very minimal experience as a quarterback at the collegiate level, he has the athleticism and football knowledge to flourish in the new offensive sets that Kill will present.
Once considered a top-notch quality recruit, there is plenty of raw talent that needs to be developed to learn the necessities to become a leader of the Golden Gophers' offensive attack.
* Photo does not depict MarQueis Gray
There is good news and bad news for Wisconsin fans.
The bad news: Scott Tolzien, one of the most productive quarterbacks in Badgers history, is taking his talent to the NFL. The good news: Jon Budmayr will take the reins of the offense.
Tolzien has already laid the groundwork on how Budmayr will help Wisconsin maintain their elite status in the Big Ten. Budmayr, with a year of knowledge of Bret Bielema's offense, has to keep the ground game flowing and make throws efficiently. He has the size (6'0", 205 pounds) to be a pocket passer capable of hitting short routes and utilizing the Badger tight ends.
Bielema has a quarterback that fits his system and Budmayr should not have any transition issues, as he leads a very dominant backfield (Montee Ball and James White). The reason he is low on this list is due to minimal exposure. However, his passing ability should not be overlooked and he could possibly become more successful than Tolzien.
Matt McGloin is the first quarterback on the list to have actual experience at the collegiate level. The reason he is a little low in this ranking is due to his inconsistency and statistical performance. There is also the possibility that Joe Paterno will start Robert Bolden or Kevin Newsome in place of McGloin.
For the purposes of this article, it will be assumed that McGloin will retain the starting job.
In eight games last year, McGloin contributed 16 total touchdowns and was only sacked three times. However, his passing percentage was low (54.9 percent) and he threw nine interceptions.
At times, he showed signs of brilliance (against Northwestern and the first half against Ohio State), but also had truly awful outputs (second half against Ohio State and against Florida).
If allowed a full year in leading the Nittany Lion offense, McGloin will most certainly mature and meet Paterno's expectations for next season. He has the capability of improving his passing percentage and scoring total.
The season-ending injury to Robert Marve was a massive blow to Purdue coach Danny Hope's disappointing second year campaign (along with multiple other injuries).
Robert Marve certainly has the talent and experience due to having significant playing time at Miami (FL) (under Randy Shannon) before transferring to Purdue's pass-happy offense. In the four games he played before being injured, Marve contributed four touchdowns and had a 67.7 passing percentage. One can only imagine what his statistics will be in a full season of leading Purdue's offense.
The main issue with Robert Marve is his health. With a season-ending injury and already out of spring drills, the big question is whether Marve can avoid getting hurt and be productive for a full season. If he can stay healthy, Marve has the ability to become one of the conference's best quarterbacks.
This is another case where a relatively inexperienced quarterback has to maintain the success of his predecessor. While replacing Ricky Stanzi will be tough for Kirk Ferentz, James Vandenberg has already shown that he can lead the Hawkeyes to glory.
Case in point: The 2009-2010 game against Ohio State in Columbus. Due to Stanzi's season-ending injury against Northwestern the week before, Vandenberg was given the start against an Ohio State team with a spectacular defense and performing in front of thousands of the Buckeye faithful.
But Vandenberg was impressive in that game. He passed efficiently (60 percent) and threw for two touchdowns in a very close loss to Ohio State.
With three years of learning Iowa's offensive schemes, along with the experience he gained from the Ohio State game, Vandenberg should help Iowa advance with the momentum they gained from the bowl game win. If he continues to channel his confidence and maintains his passing efficiency, he will help guide Iowa to contend, and possibly win, the Legends division.
Nathan Scheelhaase is the first dual-threat quarterback on this list. He will help head coach Ron Zook and offensive coordinator Paul Petrino develop a more consistent offense and produce more wins.
Scheelhaase shined in the latter part of the 2010-2011 season with impressive performances against Purdue, Michigan and Baylor (bowl game). A big positive is that he was able to have a full season of experience to mature, and his poise and talent showed in the second half of the season.
As a redshirt freshman, Scheelhaase was able to accumulate approximately 2,700 total yards and scored 22 times. His needs for improvement are to increase passing efficiency (58.7 percent in 2010-2011) and use more of his mobility to avoid sacks (22 times in 2010-2011).
Overall, Scheelhaase is the quarterback that will help Ron Zook from the hot seat and could produce enough wins to possibly contend for the Leaders division this season or in 2012-2013.
Taylor Martinez and the Nebraska Cornhuskers are poised to make a statement in their inaugural season in the Big Ten conference. Martinez, similar to Nathan Scheelhaase, garnered an enormous amount of experience as a freshman.
In passing parameters, Martinez was productive in his first season as a starter but needs to work on several aspects. He needs to improve his passing percentage (59.2 percent in 2010-2011) and create more scoring opportunities in the passing game (he only threw for 10 touchdowns last year). He has also been inconsistent at times, but this will improve with maturity.
However, there are two things that are extremely positive about Martinez. His athletic ability allowed him to utilize his running skills to amass touchdowns and avoid mistakes. Last season, Martinez ran for 965 yards and 12 touchdowns. In addition, he only threw seven interceptions the entire season.
This is where the ranking may appear somewhat skewed. He is fifth on the list due to only having a year of experience and his proneness to inconsistency (i.e., against Oklahoma and Washington). However, Martinez should have an outstanding sophomore year and the Cornhuskers have a significant chance of winning the Legends division.
With Stanzi, Chapell and Tolzien, Kirk Cousins has the capability to become the Big Ten's premier pro-style quarterback. He led Michigan State to one of their most successful seasons with 11 wins. Although the bowl game loss (against Alabama) and exodus of offensive coordinator Don Treadwell (filling Miami (OH)'s head coaching vacancy) somewhat deflated momentum, Cousins and the Spartans squad will look to maintain the success it acquired in the 2010-2011 season.
The statistics for Cousins, in 2010-2011, were pretty impressive, passing for 2,825 yards and throwing for 20 touchdowns. However, what is even more impressive is his passing percentage (66.9 percent) against Big Ten defenses.
With two years of experience, he is extremely consistent, even in big games, despite the outcomes. He performed well in 2010-2011 games against Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Michigan and played moderately decent in losses against Iowa and Alabama (Cousins was not the reason Michigan State lost those games).
Can Kirk Cousins lead the Michigan State Spartans to contention to Legends division? Definitely. Will they acquire 11 wins like last year? It is possible, but not likely, due to a harder schedule for the 2011-2012 season.
Terrelle Pryor would definitely be in the top two of this list if he was able to play an entire season. However, he will be forced to miss five games due to the suspension for violating NCAA regulations. However, his impact will still be huge because he will be back for the conference games on Ohio State's schedule.
He has the game experience (including big games) and the knowledge of the offensive schemes of Jim Tressel and Jim Bollman. In 2011-2012, he vastly improved his passing game (65 percent in passing percentage) and threw for almost 2,800 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Pryor was also able to run for 754 yards and four more scores. Because he wanted to develop into more of a pocket passer, Pryor only resorted to running with the ball as the last option. His decision-making can be debatable at times, but he seems to produce more positive outcomes than mistakes.
As far as experience, he has led Ohio State to at least a share of the Big Ten title three times. He also has the ability to lead in big games with close losses to Wisconsin (both '08 and '10) and Texas while winning big games against Oregon, Arkansas, Iowa and being undefeated against Michigan.
The issues for Pryor are that he needs to improve passing efficiency and his decision-making. In addition, missing five games obviously impacts his potential contribution for Ohio State in 2011-2012. How Ohio State will react without him, in the first five games, can't be entirely predicted, but missing an integral piece such as Pryor will definitely be significant.
Overall, Terrelle Pryor should lead Ohio State to win the Leaders division and appear in the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis.
Denard Robinson was the biggest positive of Michigan's 2010-2011 debacle of a season. What Robinson accomplished last year, statistically, was historic and will be remembered by college football fans. New coach Brady Hoke will have an experienced quarterback that should lead the Wolverines back to relevancy in the 2011-2012 season.
Last year, Robinson passed for 2,570 yards and threw for 18 touchdowns. In addition, his passing percentage was decent (62.5 percent in 2010-2011) and he was only sacked seven times.
Robinson's skills as a rusher were even more impressive. He amassed 1,702 yards and scored an additional 14 times to bring his touchdown total to 32.
The issues revolving around Robinson are that he needs to acquire more marquee wins, better decision-making and needs to avoid injuries. In addition, no one expects Robinson to accumulate the same statistical numbers under the schemes devised by Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges.
If Robinson can stay healthy and maintain similar productivity on the field, Michigan should be more offensively sound and could vie for the Legends division sooner than expected (Robinson and his offense will be aided by a more improved defense).
Dan Persa was an incredible factor for the Northwestern Wildcats in 2010-2011. Persa would have been even more successful if he didn't miss the last three games due to a season-ending knee injury. Regardless, Persa should be ready to lead the Wildcats to success in the 2011-2012 season.
Last year, Persa threw for 2,581 yards while passing for 15 touchdowns. In addition, he had an incredible passing percentage (73.5 percent in 2010-2011) and only threw four interceptions in 10 games.
On the ground, Persa also managed to run for more than 500 yards and scored an additional nine times to accumulate 24 total touchdowns.
Persa was offensively brilliant in games against Vanderbilt, Iowa and Michigan State. With almost a full successful season of experience, Persa is poised to help head coach Pat Fitzgerald to seriously contend for the Legends division.
The only glaring improvement that Persa needs to make is to avoid being sacked (34 times in 2010-2011), which will decrease with continued maturity and more cohesion from his offensive line.
Overall, Dan Persa appeared to be the best quarterback in the Big Ten last year and should be considered the best for next season as well. The next step for Persa is to lead Northwestern to an appearance in the 2011-2012 Big Ten Championship Game.