Debate it: 2012 Big Ten passing yards leader

Yesterday, BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart and BTN.com web editor Brent Yarina hit email to debate the 2012 Big Ten scoring leader, the first in a series of Big Ten statistical predictions. Up next: Passing yards. Who will lead the Big Ten in 2012? See Tom and Brent’s email thread in this post.

PASSING YARDS
2011 leader: Kirk Cousins, 3,316 yards
Returning leaders: James Vandenberg, 3,022; Denard Robinson, 2,173; Nathan Scheelhaase, 2,110; Taylor Martinez, 2,089; Caleb TerBush, 1,905.

[2011 Big Ten passing yards leaders]

Brent: Even if last season’s two top passers – Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson – were back, I’d say Iowa’s James Vandenberg is the guy. A gunslinger, Vandenberg not only finished third in the Big Ten last season, with 3,022 passing yards, but he’ll be asked to throw even more this fall. Why? Because standout running back Marcus Coker opted to leave, and Iowa boasts no proven running back. A stud back may emerge – it’s happened before at Iowa – but it seems like Iowa will have Vandenberg flinging the ball all over the field.

Tom: Nice call on Vandenberg, Brent. But I will go with Wisconsin’s Danny O’Brien. He figures to claim the starting job after transferring from Maryland. O’Brien, who earned ACC Rookie of the Year honors in 2010, is a proven commodity, throwing for 4,086 yards, 29 touchdowns and 18 interceptions at Maryland. The junior is an athletic signal-caller who will be at the controls of what could be the top offense in the Big Ten. With defenses having to respect running back Montee Ball, O’Brien figures to have lots of room to pass to the likes of Jared Abbrederis, Jeff Duckworth and Chase Hammond, along with tight end Jacob Pedersen.

Brent: The Badgers sure made Wilson, another ACC QB transfer, feel at home last season. While I don’t think O’Brien features Wilson’s high ceiling, he enters a system that churns out high-octane attacks. Those names you mentioned at O’Brien’s disposal, the Abbrederises and Duckworths of the world, is what makes this such an interesting category. The Big Ten lost A LOT of talent at the receiver position, and that’s why I trust Vandenberg, the proven veteran.

How about your dark horse in this race?

Tom: Keep an eye on Ohio State’s Braxton Miller. I think he’s an underrated passer who is a good fit for Urban Meyer’s new spread scheme. Yes, there are no proven wideouts, but I think some will emerge—like Michael Thomas, Devin Smith and Corey Brown. And the running of Jordan Hall—primed for a big season–and Carlos Hyde will open room for Miller and the passing game.

Brent: Miller, the guy who completed more than eight passes just twice last season? Just kidding, I also think Miller is poised for a strong sophomore campaign. His last two games last season are something to build on, too: 32-of-48, 397 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. That said, Nathan Scheelhaase is my dark horse. I think he bounces back from an up-and-down sophomore campaign — yes, even without A.J. Jenkins.

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, all of his work is at btn.com/tomdienhart, and you can subscribe to it all via his RSS feed. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below.

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