2011 Big Ten Preseason Preview: QB Rankings for All 12 Schools
The position has had a roller coaster summer so far this summer. However, with Russell Wilson committing to play for Wisconsin in 2011, the news just got better for a conference that prides itself on tradition.
The Terrelle Pryor departure has left the crown for best QB wide open. As many as five teams have a chance at having a first team all-conference selection at the position.
The difficulty is who will rise to the challenge. Each player has their own unique set of issues to deal with this year, and many will deal with difficulties they have never faced.
The top two passers from last year are gone, and there are three new coaches looking to make their own marks in their first year. There are a lot of up-and-coming dual-threat QBs, but still some seniors running the old pro-style offense.
Whatever the style the first conference championship game is the prize, and it is certainly going to require a competent leader to get any team there.
12: Indiana, Dusty Kiel, Sophomore
Over the past few years the IU program has had very good QB play. Kellen Lewis set the single season record in 2007 only for it be changed by Ben Chappell, pictured left, in 2009.
Last year Indiana football was by far the best edition Chappell Show for Hoosier fans. The burly senior broke Lewis' record throwing for a conference leading 3,295 yards. He also had a 24-9 TD/INT ratio. Meaning he won't be easy to replace.
The good news for newly acquired head coach Kevin Wilson, Oklahoma's offensive coordinator last year, is that there is nowhere to go but up. The team finished last in the conference in 2010 with their only conference win coming against archrival Purdue.
Also good for the Hoosiers is their schedule. They start their season off easy playing their first four games against Ball State, Virginia, South Carolina State and North Texas.
The depth chart is deep at QB with Dusty Kiel, Edward Wright-Baker and 2010 Indiana Mr. Football Tre Roberson. New QB coach Rob Smith comes from the Rich Rodriguez spread-run offense at Michigan which bodes well for both Wright-Baker and Roberson. Dusty Kiel played the most last season but the race is wide open.
Don't be surprised if a couple of players take snaps to begin the year, with the new face at the position becoming clear in the team's conference opener at home against Penn State.
11: Iowa, James Vanderberg, Junior
If Chappell will be missed by Indiana, Ricky Stanzi will most certainly be missed by Iowa.
Stanzi was known for his clutch performances and consistent play. He became the first Iowa QB to win three bowl games, and first to be drafted since Matt Rodgers in 1992. He set the school record for passing efficiency in 2010 with 157.6, while throwing for 3,004 yards with a 25-6 TD/INT ratio.
James Vandenberg looks to be the favorite to replace Stanzi, as he played in three games last year. Also in the mix are John Wienke and AJ Derby, who was the top player out of Iowa according to rivals.com in 2009.
The schedule helps as well as a bye in the fifth week allows the Hawkeyes some breathing room in determining their starting unit. The first four games are against Tennessee Tech, Iowa State, Pittsburgh and Louisiana Monroe. Any loss during those four would be unforgivable despite ISU being on the road.
Therefore it will be very important for head coach Kirk Ferentz to make up his mind quickly. Luckily for the Hawkeyes whoever goes under center will be protected, as there are four starters back from a very talented offensive line.
They open up their conference schedule on the road against Penn State on October 8th. The game will prove if this team is for real, as Beaver Stadium will be loud and unforgiving to any QB mistakes.
10: Minnesota, MarQueis Gray, Junior
As with Indiana and Iowa, Minnesota has a couple of inexperienced players trying to take over after an established starter, Adam Weber, pictured left, has graduated.
Fortunately for the Golden Gophers, they have MarQueis Gray who ran the Wildcat offense as well as being the second leading receiver for the team in 2010.
Gray was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school, ranked as the top player coming out of high school in the state of Indiana in 2008 and the No. 3 dual-threat QB. He also made an appearance in the 2008 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Gray will benefit from having his top rusher and top three receivers back from 2010. Also new head coach Jerry Kill had a mobile QB at Northern Illinois in Chandler Harnish who rushed for 836 yards in 2010.
The position is very inexperienced, but just may be able to steal a couple of games and improve on last year's 3-9 finish. It won't be easy as the team starts out against on the road against USC.
9: Purdue, Rob Henry, Sophomore
Rob Henry and Robert Marve are both possible options at QB for the Boilermakers.
Marve had more talent coming out of high school, but didn't play well passing for just 1,293 yards in 11 starts at the University of Miami. He then transfered to Purdue but tore his ACL in the loss against Toledo in 2010. This allowed Henry to shine, well sort of.
Henry passed for 996 yards and 8 TDs while running for 594 yards and 4 TDs in 2010. The dual threat QB won his first two starts but severly cut his finger.
This meant freshman Sean Robinson started against Ohio State losing a whopping 49-0 after the team's shocking upset against the buckeyes in 2009. Henry also struggled with INTs all year collecting seven of them.
All three return, but Henry has to be the favorite. The competition will probably last up until the start of the season, but Henry really brings the complete package. With an experienced offensive line and an easy opening schedule expect the Boilermakers to be contending for a bowl this year, if Henry can produce.
Alot of emphasis will be put on the defense also, as the unit has nine returning starters and needs to be better than it was last year.
8: Ohio State, Braxton Miller, Freshman
The only incoming recruit who should start in the conference is Braxton Miller.
After Terrelle Pryor, pictured left, announced he would be leaving them buckeyes lost all assurance in their QB play. While Miller is very talented, he was the top rated QB in 2010 high school class and the top player in the state of Ohio, he hasn't seen any collegiate action.
Miller looked really good in the spring game completing seven of 12 passes for 73 yards and throwing for 1 TD. His main competition will be from senior Joe Bauserman.
There are a couple of reasons that Miller should get the start over Bauserman:
- Size: Pryor was a sight to behold at 6'6" 233, but still faster than anyone on the roster. Miller is 6'3" 205, Bauserman is 6'1" 233. Four of the expected starting offensive lineman are over 6'5". If Bauserman does start it will be tough for him to see let alone pass. While size is not a huge factor it should play a role.
- Dual-Threat: Miller has the ability to run which is what Pryor was know for. The offensive gameplan won't have to change much with the 4.47 40-time of Miller. If Bauserman starts that would be just one of the options that new head coach Luke Fickell that is taken away.
- Recent History: Todd Boeckman started against USC in 2008 despite having the #1 recruit in the country on the bench. This was a big mistake as drop back passer was not able to produce much and Pryor came on in relief. Bauserman isn't as talented as Boeckman and Miller isn't as talented as Pryor yet, but the comparison still is there. Whether it is Troy Smith or Pryor, recent history shows that Ohio State does well with young athletic QBs.
Also the schedule shouldn't be a problem for the freshman to navigate. The first four games are Akron, Toledo, at Miami (FL )and Colorado. The team should be able to win all four, though the Miami game will be tough.
The most important stretch will be back to back games in the beginning of October against Michigan State and Nebraska. If the team lets Miller get his bumps and bruises over the first four he should be ready by then.
7: Penn State, Matt McGloin, Junior
The former walk-on showed a lot of maturity, making five starts and leading PSU to a huge comeback win versus Northwestern.
While Robert Bolden has more talent than McGloin, he hasn't been able to control it yet. Also, some offseason transfer rumors might have hurt his reputation with the other players on the team.
No matter who wins the job there should be better numbers and most likely a clear cut starter throughout the season.
A September 10 meeting with Alabama is the reason why McGloin should have the edge. The Nittany Lions may even be able to pull of a big upset at home, but in order for that to happen McGloin needs to play better in the big games. He threw two INT in the second half against Ohio State and five INT in the bowl game.
Still the upperclassman has shown a lot of poise, though Paterno is high on Bolden also. "He's got to understand that he's learning, and he will," Paterno said to ESPN about Bolden last season. "He's a good kid, he wants to be good, he's got an awful lot of ability and talent."
It will be an interesting QB competition to watch, and no matter who wins the Nittany Lions will probably be better than the 2010 edition.
6: Illinois, Nathan Scheelhaase, Sophomore
The sophomore came out of nowhere to lead the Fighting Illini to a tied for fourth-place finish in 2010.
While he had the fewest pass completions of any full-time QB in the conference, he joined Terrelle Pryor and Denard Robinson as the only QB's to rush and pass for over 1,000 yards.
Six of the teams first seven games are at home, including a big out of conference meeting with Pac-12 South favorites Arizona State who did well at Wisconsin losing on a blocked extra point and the Battle for the Illibuck against Ohio State, which the team last won in 2007.
Mikel Leshoure is gone, meaning most of the offensive production will fall on Scheelhaase's shoulders. Also the team doesn't have much depth at the position with the only legitimate back up being Reilly O'Toole, who has a strong arm but hasn't seen any game time.
Scheelhaase will produce a lot with his legs, but with Illinois being in the stronger of the two conferences, it will be hard for the team will be able to challenge Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State without much air production.
5: Nebraska, Taylor Martinez, Sophomore
Another dual-threat QB who came out of nowhere, Martinez led Nebraska to a Big 12 Championship and a 10-4 record.
Nebraska is the preseason favorite to win the Legends division, but with only five returning starters on offense and a tough schedule it won't be easy.
The key will be the games within the division. Nebraska is the only team from the Legends division that draws Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin. The only home game of the three is against the Buckeyes. Both games against Iowa and Michigan State are at home.
If they can win both games the team it would be hard to imagine a scenario in which the Cornhuskers would not win the division.
Martinez will need to improve his passing numbers which included 1,631 yards and a 10-7 ratio. Also expect his rushing yards to improve a little as leading rusher Roy Helu is gone. If he can get do all that and get more than the 12 rushing TDs he had last year, he could make some noise for first team all-conference.
Behind Martinez there is not much experience with the recent transfer of Cody Green. Highly-touted high school recruit Bubba Starling will be in the mix as long as he doesn't go to the MLB. He is 6'5" with a 4.3 40 time.
4: Michigan, Denard Robinson, Junior
Denard Robinson would have won the Heisman Trophy is the voting had been in October.
Instead the sophomore finished the season disappointingly losing four of the final six games, and Michigan again had to change its coach.
The program got its "Michigan Man" in Brady Hoke, who had moderate success at San Diego State. With Hoke coming in the offense will change, which doesn't look too good for "Shoelace."
Robinson will have to learn how to lineup under center, stand in the pocket and make accurate throws. While Robinson can do all these things, it would be a huge surprise if he can repeat the statistics he had last year.
Robinson will be a good QB, there is no doubt about that, but whether or not he adapts to Hoke's system will be telling of how the next few years will go. The good news for the big blue is that there are nine returning starters on Michigan's offense and i would expect the defense to be drastically improved, with Greg Mattison on staff.
However, it will take a while to transition back to a more traditional Michigan lineup. The Wolverines do start out their first five games at home and the home game against Notre Dame on September 10th will show how good this team will be.
Devin Gardner is one of the backup QBs to watch in the conference. With Robinson's size, it will be difficult for him to take all the snaps this year. Gardner might fill in from time to time and maybe even steal the job out from under him. Whatever the case the important thing for Michigan will be to get some work in with their players to determine who can play Hoke's offense.
If they get that done early they may be able to upset some teams and make some noise in the division.
3: Michigan State, Kirk Cousins, Senior
Kirk Cousins is the most experienced QB in the conference.
Last year he threw for 2,825 yards and a 20-10 TD ratio. He also showed a lot of poise by winning five games decided by one score. The 6'3" 202 senior is also the top pro prospect in the conference despite being ranked the 179th QB in his high school class by Phil Steele. His top rusher and No. 2 and No. 3 receivers return as well.
Cousins will again be in the top tier of the league and it would be surprising if he doesn't increase his numbers from last year. The schedule starts out easy, for the most part, but does include a trip to South Bend against Notre Dame and to Columbus to face Ohio State. If Cousins can pull out at least one of those Michigan State could be in the mix for a BCS bowl.
On October 29th the Legends division will probably be decided in the game at Nebraska.
Behind Cousins is sophomore Andrew Maxwell and Drake transfer Peter Badovinac. Both are capable replacements but Michigan State fans will hope it won's come to that.
It does seem though, with a very good high school recruit in Connor Cook coming in this year also, that the Spartans are set for awhile at QB.
2: Wisconsin, Russell Wilson, Senior
When Russell Wilson decided he wanted to go to Wisconsin, Badgers fans took a huge sigh of relief.
The 5'11" QB/baseball player threw for 3,563 yards and 28 TDs with 14 INTs in 2010. While there is no way he will be attempting 527 passes in a great Wisconsin run offensive, it would be hard to find a better situation for Wilson to step in for his final year of eligibility.
He won't be relied on in Madison nearly as much as he was at NC State. Monte Ball and James White are both back along with three offensive line starters.
The system is pretty simple as it relies a lot on play action and a lot of ground game. His 597 yards rushing last year might help a lot as well since he will have to operate out of the pocket sometimes due to his size.
Wilson is not the end all answer for the Badgers, because it will be about midseason before he is 100 percent comfortable with the offensive schemes and he is only there for one year.
The backups are sophomore Jon Budmayr and redshirt freshman Joe Brennan. Behind them are redshirt freshman Joel Stave and UCF transfer senior Nate Tice. There is hardly any experience behind Wilson which means if he goes down, the team might be in dire straits.
Thankfully for the Badgers, Wilson is there and they have one more year to have a phenomenal season while training the team's 2012 starter.
1: Northwestern, Dan Persa, Senior
Seeing as Russell Wilson is changing programs, Denard Robinson is going to be running a completely different system, and Terrelle Pryor, Ricky Stanzi and Scott Tolzien are gone, Dan Persa is my favorite to be the top QB in the conference.
Persa's statistics speak for themselves setting the conference's record for completion percentage at 73.5 percent in 2010. He threw for 2,581 yards and had a 15-4 TD/INT ratio. The four INTs were the least among full-time Big Ten QBs.
He was also second on the team in rushing with 519 yards and a team leading nine TDs. If he can improve his numbers with nine starters back, he and Northwestern could be in for a memorable season.
The kid is a workout warrior as he has won NU's Top Cat award, given to the top workout athlete, twice. He can bench press 385 lbs. but still runs a 4.5 40-yard dash.
Behind Persa are two capable backups in sophomore Evan Watkins, who is 6'6", 245, and sophomore Kain Coulter who is much smaller at 6'0", 190. Both saw action last year after Persa tore his achilles against Iowa.
Northwestern has had three straight winning seasons, but could have had more wins last year as the continually gave up leads late in games. The Wildcats will be one of the most improved teams in the conference and might even make a run at Legends division favorite Nebraska.
If not the final game for the team is a home game against Michigan State, that could be for second place.
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