2013 rankings: How do Big Ten QB units rate?

Quarterback play hasn’t been at an elite level in the Big Ten in recent years. In fact, many feel that’s one reason for the conference’s struggles. But this year’s collection of passers teems with potential.

I’ve been rolling out my Big Ten unit rankings here, and I’ve been looking forward to taking on the quarterbacks. Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, the conference’s top Heisman contender, leads the charge. Here’s my ranking of the Big Ten’s complete quarterback units. Agree or disagree? Who will rise up this season? And who might falter? Make your own points at the bottom of this post.

And away we go.

1. Ohio State. Braxton Miller is back for his junior season as the league’s bellwether. He won the Silver Football in 2012 as the Big Ten’s top player en route to leading the Buckeyes to a 12-0 mark and finishing No. 2 in the league in passing efficiency. Miller is the ultimate dual threat, ranking fourth in the Big Ten in rushing (105.9 ypg) en route to running for 1,271 yards. But staffers want to see him take the next step as a passer. Backup Kenny Guiton, a senior, showed his skills in leading Ohio State to a comeback win vs. Purdue last year.

2. Nebraska. Taylor Martinez has continued to improve each season. As a junior in 2012, he led the Big Ten in passing efficiency. And his 23 touchdown passes ranked second in the conference; but his 12 interceptions led the league. Martinez remains a great running threat, gaining 1,019 yards rushing last season. Redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong looks like the signal-caller of the future. Senior Ron Kellogg also is capable.

3. Northwestern. The dynamic duo of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian returns to continue to dispel the notion that you can’t play two quarterbacks and succeed at a high level. Colter, a senior, is a terrific athlete and runner who ran for 894 yards last year. But he doesn’t get enough credit for his passing skills. He hit a league-high 67.8 percent of his attempts in 2012. Siemian, a junior, is a savvy passer who can start or come off the bench with equal aplomb.

4. Indiana. No school has better proven depth for an offense that had the Big Ten’ No. 1 passing game in 2012. Sophomore Tre Roberson is back after breaking his left leg vs. UMass in the second game of last season. Junior Cameron Coffman started the final 10 games and kept the Hoosiers’ offense humming the rest of the season after arriving from a junior college. And Nathan Sudfeld also showed promise in 2012 as a true freshman.

5. Wisconsin. Lots of sorting out to do. The Badgers have a nice collection of quarterbacks who need to improve a passing game that ranked last in the Big Ten in 2012. Sophomore Joel Stave probably is the best of the bunch, starting six games before breaking his collarbone last season vs. Michigan State. That forced Curt Phillips into action, and he had his moments in starting the last five games. But the sixth-year senior is more runner than passer. Senior Danny O’Brien started the first three games after transferring from Maryland but was largely ineffective and benched. Redshirt freshman Bart Houston may have the best arm of the bunch. Touted JC transfer Tanner McEvoy arrives in the summer. He’s supposed to be a great fit for this attack.

6. Michigan. Junior Devin Gardner showed flashes of his ample skill last year when he started the final five games after Denard Robinson injured an elbow at Nebraska. But as the competition stiffened, Gardner struggled. See the final two games of the 2012 at Ohio State and vs. South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. The backup situation is a big concern after Russell Bellomy suffered a knee injury in the spring that will keep him out all season. Incoming freshman Shane Morris and redshirt freshman Brian Cleary are the backup options.

7. Illinois. Athletic Nathan Scheelhaase is a three-year starter and leader. Yes, he lacks arms strength, but he has been hurt by a revolving coaching staff. The senior will work for his third coordinator in three years. Reilly O’Toole, a junior, has a strong arm. If he has to play an extend stretch, he’s ready and able for an aerial game that ranked just 11th in the Big Ten last season.

8. Michigan State. Andrew Maxwell endured an up-and-down first season as a starter. The senior finished 10th in the Big Ten in passing efficiency, completing just 52 percent of his attempts. Sophomore Connor Cook has shown promise and is a more athletic option. Redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor also has some excited. Keep an eye on incoming freshman Damion Terry.

9. Minnesota. Philip Nelson received a baptism of fire last season as a true freshman in taking over for MarQueis Gray, starting the final seven games of 2012 in helping the Golden Gophers to their first bowl since 2009. He’s a nice dual-threat fit for this offense. Ditto redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner, who continues to push Nelson. True freshman Chris Streveler arrived early to take part in spring drills. Coaches love him.

10. Purdue. Senior Rob Henry is a good athlete and leader. And he has experience, starting seven games in 2010 until a knee injury ruined his 2011 season before it even started. But true freshman Danny Etling may be more talented. He turned some heads after taking part in spring drills. Redshirt freshman Austin Appleby also remains in the chase for a Boilermakers squad that lost Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush.

11. Iowa. The competition to replace James Vandenberg will continue in fall camp. Sophomore Jake Rudock, junior Cody Sokol and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard remain in the running. Iowa had a Big Ten-low seven touchdown passes last season. Rudock may have an edge entering the summer just because he has been in school for two years. Stay tuned.

12. Penn State. Replacing Matt McGloin will be difficult. He led the Big Ten in passing yards and touchdown passes in 2012. Tyler Ferguson arrived from a JC and looked solid in spring drills. Steven Bench transferred to South Florida after spring practice after playing a bit as a freshman in 2012. Incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg arrives in the summer amid massive hype. He may ultimately win the job.


About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Your Opinion?
Show Comments (17 Comments)
Josh on 5/24/2013 @ 12:55pm EDT Said:

Nice list. Here is a few things I noted:

– Miller and Martinez are currently shoe-ins for the top two spots, so no surprise there.
– Indiana and Wisconsin are 4th and 5th respectively despite having competition in the quarterback spot. That’s interesting to say the least.
– Gardner and Michigan at 6th is reasonable, though a bit lower than I expected. I probably thought that because he scored 18 TDs to 5 interceptions in the 5 games he started after not playing the position at all in the first 8 games, he could play better with more experience. Who knows though, he could be higher (or lower) at season’s end.
– Illinois I think is a bit too high. Scheelhaase has experience, but he can’t break through opposing defenses all too well.
– Even if Penn State has major questions in the QB position, they should still not be below Iowa and Purdue IMO.

Nick on 5/24/2013 @ 2:03pm EDT Said:

I agree with this list for the most part. I strongly believe Gardner will be the #2 or #3 QB at the end of the season. With how reckless Meyer plays Miller, I wouldn’t be surprised if he suffers an injury midway through this season. I hope that won’t be the case, but you have to take care of your QB.

BigRedOne on 5/24/2013 @ 3:26pm EDT Said:

funny how miller is always chosen over martinez when its very clear by the number martinez is the better qb

Carol on 5/24/2013 @ 5:30pm EDT Said:

I actually think the darkhorse of the bunch is Northwestern’s Colter. He’s smart and exciting. There’ll be more than one excellent QB this year – more so than in the past. That’s my take on it.

Common Sense on 5/24/2013 @ 6:40pm EDT Said:

Glad to see Big Blue in the top six while little brothers Doug Spartans are down to number 8

Doug on 5/24/2013 @ 8:49pm EDT Said:

big blue? IBM has a team? Gardner will choke like he did 2 years ago against MSU, running around in circles and throwing when he’s past the line of scrimmage. HAHAHHAHHAH

Chris on 5/25/2013 @ 12:33pm EDT Said:

Anyone want to bet that Penn State’s QB doesn’t finish last in conference?

Jon on 5/25/2013 @ 1:33pm EDT Said:

Where would Tom have ranked Penn State heading into last season?

How accurate would that prediction have been?

Why doesn’t he take this into account heading into this season?

Whoever wins the starting job for Penn State will be solid, at worst. Coaching is too good.

MidwestBias on 5/25/2013 @ 1:46pm EDT Said:

Typical BTN hack job. Remember when Penn State’s QBs were ranked #10 on this same list last year? http://btn.com/2012/05/30/unit-rankings-2012-big-ten-quarterbacks/

Nicholas on 5/26/2013 @ 2:17pm EDT Said:

Iowa and Jake Ruddock will be a force. His high school accomplishments are too many to list here but check him out. Iowa is my big ten sleeper this year.

Mike on 5/26/2013 @ 9:43pm EDT Said:

A Bill O’Brien coached Quarterback will not be last in the Big10!

K. John on 5/27/2013 @ 4:29pm EDT Said:

Based on talent, Hack is the best QB in the conference and has a bigger upside than any in recent history. He also has the top O-line and best collection of skill players in the conference as at worst, a top two defense. Oh, and he has the best offensive coaching mind in the game developing him.

Batwade on 5/27/2013 @ 5:09pm EDT Said:

The #1 ranked high school quarterback IN THE NATION is going to Penn State to get coached by Bill O’Brien and you have them ranked last? The rest of your lists are now highly suspect.

Michael H on 5/28/2013 @ 12:27pm EDT Said:

This is the worst QB line-up I’ve seen in the Big Ten in the 39 years I’ve had season tickets and regularly watched league play. Even the ones getting all the pub play like a deer in the headlights when they meet up with tough competition. The bright spoit is that at least we won’t have to suffer through anymore “Denard for the Heismann” overblown hype again. Unfortunately, the leagues down cycle looks to continue, for a few more years anyway.

Matt on 5/29/2013 @ 4:25pm EDT Said:

Devin Gardner did not struggle against South Carolina… 300+ yards, 3TDs, good running numbers, and one arm punt INT which I would prefer to an actual punt (see: Ace Sanders)

Sean on 5/30/2013 @ 3:44pm EDT Said:

Not so fast, K. John. Hack is completely unproven at the college level and 5* quarterbacks don’t always pan out. His skill players are top 5 in the B1G at best. The O-Line is maybe 3rd in the conference. Bill O’Brien has coached one season and went 8-4. Maybe Penn State ranks higher than last, but probably not inside the top 5.

Allan Hughes on 5/31/2013 @ 11:09pm EDT Said:

In regards to your writeup of Devin Gardner: I don’t think you know what the word “struggle” means; If Gardner struggled against South Carolina (18-36-1, 214 yds, 3 tds) then Miller struggled against UCF, UAB, Indiana, Purdue, Penn State and Wisconsin.

If South Carolina represents the worst performance to be expected of Devin Gardner than Michigan is in solid hands. South Carolina had the 21st best pass defense in the nation and Gardner was under constant pressure from the best pair of DEs in the country.

If UCF, UAB, Indiana, Purdue, Penn State or Wisconsin represents the worst performance to be expected of Braxton Miller than Ohio State should be….worried. However there is a chance I could be selling Millers performance against UAB (12-20-0, 143 yds, 0 tds) short, UAB had the 77th best pass defense in the country and compiled a solid 3-9 record in the C-USA (Conference USA-I had to look that up). Oddly enough UAB played South Carolina and was edged out, 49-7.

Perhaps I am an idiot and I simply don’t understand a great quarterback (or perhaps you are an idiot) when I see one.