Big Ten NCAA Football: Power Ranking the Conference's Top Quarterbacks

Brandon CavanaughCorrespondent IApril 5, 2011

Big Ten NCAA Football: Power Ranking the Conference's Top Quarterbacks

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Spring practice is the time for optimism in every college football fan base.

    Everyone's undefeated, new coaches are in town to establish order where there was once chaos and perhaps most fun, depth charts get shaken up.

    Quite a few Big Ten teams feature new coaches at some level of the totem pole.

    This scenario can make or break a quarterback, but some players are just so good that a new coach has to find a way to get them on the field.

    Which Big Ten quarterback currently rules the roost, and which ones are close to getting time holding a clipboard rather than a football?

12: Dusty Kiel/Edward Wright-Baker (Indiana)

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    Photo by David Snodgress

    The Indiana Hoosiers held their first spring scrimmage last Saturday and new head coach Kevin Wilson laid the coach-speak on pretty thick.

    “I thought our defense did a heck of a job," Wilson told IUHoosiers.com. “We made several plays in the secondary and did a great job stopping the run. The defense is really making strides. Offensively, we have some work to do.”

    Translation: The battle between Kiel and Wright-Baker to replace former Hoosier quarterback Ben Chappell is far from over.

11: MarQueis Gray (Minnesota)

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    Photo by Chris Polydoroff

    There’s no arguing that Minnesota’s MarQueis Gray is a first-rate athlete.

    When it comes to the starting quarterback role, it’s hard to argue against Gray taking the spot under center for the Golden Gophers come this fall.

    That said, Gray is about as raw as they come, but new head coach Jerry Kill seems optimistic.

    “What he's doing right now is difficult, and he's doing well," Kill said to the Pioneer Press. "People forget that he only played three games his (sophomore year) at quarterback. So he hasn't really played quarterback. He's doing a good job right now picking things up."

10: James Vandenberg (Iowa)

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    Photo by Jim Slosiarek

    Hawkeye fans are familiar with Vandenberg.

    Whether he can get the job done as Iowa’s likely starting quarterback in 2010 is a very large question mark.

    Vandenberg only threw eight passes last season backing up Ricky Stanzi, completing five for 45 yards and a TD.

    Inexperience last season, along with a troubled 2009 campaign in which he completed 42-for-87 (48.3 completion rate) for 470 yards, two TDs and five INTs, doesn’t give Iowa fans much confidence.

9: Matt McGloin (Penn State)

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    During a press conference last Saturday, Penn State head coach Joe Paterno stated that while the race for the Nittany Lions’ starting spot is wide open, Matt McGloin and Robert Bolden have shown the most thus far.

    Bolden requested a transfer earlier in the year, which was denied, and while Joe Pa expects him to be at State College when fall practice opens, that seems far from a guarantee.

    McGloin didn’t play last season until Penn State defeated Minnesota on October 23, 33-21.

    He proved serviceable, throwing for 1,548 yards and 14 TDs through seven games, including the Outback Bowl versus Florida.

    He also threw nine INTs and completed about 55 percent of his passes.

    Penn State fans have to be hoping that Bolden will have a rapid change of heart in case McGloin doesn’t continue to improve.

8: Rob Henry (Purdue)

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Move over Robert Marve, Rob Henry is the new toast of spring practice.

    Marve has been on the sideline since suffering a knee injury which may very well keep him there for good, if Henry continues to improve at his already rapid pace.

    Head coach Danny Hope told the Lafayette Journal and Courier, "He's one of the most improved players on our team. He's thrown the ball well throughout the course of spring. He's had a lot of big time throws. He has a great grasp of the offense."

    Purdue has been known to surprise when their offense clicks.

    Henry is at the forefront of that offense until August at the very least.

7: Dan Persa (Northwestern)

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    If Persa wasn’t still recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon that he sustained last November, he’d be an easy top three spot on this list.

    However, power rankings being what they are, the senior quarterback from Northwestern has to drop as a result of the injury.

    Fortunately for Wildcat fans, Persa should be ready to go this fall, forcing every opponent to take Northwestern very seriously.

6: Jon Budmayr (Wisconsin)

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    If someone was passing around a memo about being concerned when it comes to replacing former Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien, Jon Budmayr didn’t get it.

    He saw little time last year, completing 8-for-10 for 137 yards and a TD in three contests during 2010, but isn't about to let inexperience be an excuse for poor play.

    Budmayr admits that there is a bit of a difference between him and the Badgers’ departed quarterback.

    “I'll take a few more shots, a few more chances," Budmayr told ESPN. "But neither way is right or wrong. Scott proved that here. One of the things I want to learn—not change my game, I'm still going to take shots when the opportunity presents itself, but at the same time, be smart with it.

5: Nathan Scheelhaase (Illinois)

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Former Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure may have helped save head coach Ron Zook’s job, but as green as Nathan Scheelhaase was in 2010, he still contributed significantly.

    Scheelhaase helped to ignite a scoring explosion late in the season, which culminated in a 38-14 demolition of Baylor.

    His 1,825 yards and 17 TDs through the air in 2010 may not seem impressive, but when combined with his 868 yards and five TDs on the ground, along with valuable game experience, Zook has a game-changer.

4: Kirk Cousins (Michigan State)

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Senior Kirk Cousins is very aware of what 2011 holds for him, and it’s not just his first year in a newly-expanded conference.

    This is it.

    “There’s a sense of finality that hits you," Cousins told The Grand Rapids Press. "I realized I only have nine months left here to make an impact, to finish out what I started."

    Sparty is perhaps one of the nation’s most easy-to-love teams.

    Last year’s magic against Notre Dame, the solidarity following head coach Mark Dantonio’s heart attack, it all speaks to Cousins’ credit.

    He helped to lead all of it.

    The only thing that has changed for Cousins is experience that’s been gained, even from a 49-7 pasting in last season’s Capital One Outback Bowl against Alabama.

    Through the spring, he’s simply perfecting his art for one last run.

3: Taylor Martinez (Nebraska)

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    Somewhere in the Midwest, there needs to be a roller coaster constructed called “The T-Magic.”

    There isn’t a more apt metaphor for what the sophomore Nebraska quarterback has endured since late last year.

    Recently, Martinez gave his first interview in four months.

    Much like his first ever following a win over Western Kentucky to begin the Cornhuskers’ 2010 season, it was dissected like a frog in a seventh grade biology class.

    Martinez will end spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback and will likely have no legitimate competition unless two-sport sensation Bubba Starling spurns major league baseball and meets him in fall practice.

2: Terrelle Pryor (Ohio State)

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    David Purdy/Getty Images

    The picture to the left is going to seem very familiar for both Buckeye fans and opponents until Ohio State travels to Lincoln to play the Cornhuskers on October 8, 2011.

    Despite Pryor and the other “Tat Five” members sitting on the sidelines due to improper benefits and the program mired in scandal, the Ohio State quarterback will be able to produce despite initial rust.

    No one can expect Pryor to come out and play perfectly versus Nebraska and the initial Big Ten opposition he faces, but his athleticism, experience and leadership has proven that he can simply get things done.

    This year should prove no different.

    Barring any new “discoveries,” of course.

1: Denard Robinson (Michigan)

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    If Pryor isn’t at the head of the class when it comes to Big Ten quarterbacks, then Michigan’s No. 16 surely is.

    The Wolverines start from scratch with new head coach Brady Hoke and so far, things appear to be going rather well.

    "The kid is an accurate passer. That's the first thing that jumps out at me; when the guy's open he's going to hit him more often than not. And when he isn't open he's got a way to create like no one I've ever had before. I've had guys like that, but not quite as dynamic runners,” offensive coordinator Al Borges told The Detroit News.

    Robinson is a unique talent that was predicted to fit just about any scheme Hoke or his assistants brought in following the dismissal of Rich Rodriguez.

    So far, that appears to be the case and with Pryor on the sidelines until at least October 8, he’ll likely be at this spot for a good, long while.

    There's always room for more football.

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