Believe it or not, BTN will celebrate its fifth anniversary later this month. The big day is Aug. 30, to be exact. As a way to celebrate – not to mention kill time before the 2012 season kicks off – I’m spotlighting some of the great football careers during our time on the air. I’ll do it in the mold of “Big Ten’s Best,” our popular countdown show that returns this fall for another season of ranking the best in Big Ten history. My fourth list ranks the top five quarterbacks of the last five seasons, aka the BTN era.
Editor’s note: This list only includes players who competed during the 2007-2011 seasons, and it ranks the best careers. As for players who only played one or two seasons during the five-year period (i.e. Russell Wilson), their career totals are considered but don’t always carry as much weight as guys who amassed all of their numbers during the era. NFL success and pro potential have no impact.
1. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State – Pryor’s name will forever be linked to Ohio State’s “Tattoo-Gate,” and rightfully so. However, this list ranks the best playing careers during the BTN era, and few Big Ten quarterbacks are more decorated than Pryor. In three seasons, two-plus as the starter, Pryor led the Buckeyes to at least a share of three Big Ten crowns and a pair of BCS bowl wins (2010 wins, Big Ten title and Sugar Bowl win have since been vacated). And in each BCS triumph, Pryor claimed MVP honors. A criticized passer, Pryor completed 61 percent of his passes and threw 57 touchdowns, including 27 in 2010. Add that production to Pryor’s ability to run (2,164 yards, 17 TDs), and you’re looking at a statistical beast who won a lot of games.
BTN era stats: 477-783 (61 percent), 6,177 yards, 57 TDs, 26 INTs; 436 car., 2,164 yards, 17 TDs; 3 rec., 24 yards, 2 TDs
2. Russell Wilson, Wisconsin – Wilson spent just one season in Madison, Wis., but what a season it was. The North Carolina State transfer compiled one of the best all-around seasons in Big Ten history, completing an unfathomable 73 percent of his passes for 3,175 yards and 33 touchdowns, to go along with a miniscule four interceptions. Now, for the top accolades: Wilson’s 33 scoring strikes were second in Big Ten annals to Drew Brees’ 36; and he set the national record for pass efficiency rating in a single season (191.8). Oh, and his 84 incompletions in 14 games averages out to six – yes, SIX! – misfires per game.
BTN era stats: 225-309 (73 percent), 3,175 yards, 33 TDs, 4 INTs; 79 car., 338 yards, 6 TDs; 3 rec., 56 yards, 1 TD
3. Denard Robinson, Michigan – Robinson is one of the best runners the NCAA has ever seen; in fact, his production on the ground in three seasons (3,229 yards, 35 TDs) would be excellent for a star running back. Thanks to his legs, Robinson became the first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,500 yards and rush for 1,500 yards in a single season (2010) and the fourth player in NCAA history to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards twice in his career (2010, 2011). Accounting for 75 career touchdowns, injury is the only thing that can keep Robinson from eclipsing the 100-mark.
BTN era stats: 338-580 (58 percent), 4,931 yards, 40 TDs, 30 INTs; 546 car., 3,229 yards, 35 TDs
4. Daryll Clark, Penn State – Clark only needed a pair of seasons as a starter to become one of Penn State’s all-time great quarterbacks. As the starter in 2008 and 2009, Clark amassed 6,088 total yards and accounted for 60 touchdowns on his way leading the Nittany Lions to a share of the 2008 Big Ten title, the 2009 Rose Bowl and a 22-4 record. Along the way, he also broke several Penn State records, including career touchdown passes (43) and single-season passing yards (3,003).
BTN era stats: 430-711 (60 percent), 5,626 yards, 43 TDs, 16 INTs; 175 car., 571 yards, 19 TDs (2006-09 career stats: 444-738 (60 percent), 5,742 yards, 43 TDs, 16 INTs; 190 car., 619 yards, 22 TDs)
5. Kirk Cousins, Michigan State – Cousins will forever live in Michigan State lore, whether it’s for his 3-0 record versus rival Michigan, his leading the Spartans to back-to-back double-digit win seasons – years that included a share of the 2010 Big Ten crown and the 2011 Legends Division title – or his memorable last-second Hail Mary touchdown pass to Keith Nichol in prime time. A three-year captain, Cousins finished his career as the program’s all-time record holder in passing touchdowns (66), passing yards (9,131), completions (723) and passing efficiency (146.1 rating), among other things.
BTN era stats: 723-1,128 (64 percent), 9,131 yards, 66 TDs, 30 INTs
Next five (in alphabetical order of school):
Juice Williams, Illinois; Ricky Stanzi, Iowa; Chad Henne, Michigan*; Dan Persa, Northwestern; Curtis Painter, Purdue; Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin
Who did I miss? Who would you have No. 1? Tweet me your thoughts (@BTNBrentYarina) or leave it as a comment below.
* — Henne was left off the original “Next five” list, but it was an oversight.