Dienhart: Big Ten backup QB rankings

Often, the most popular player on campus is the backup quarterback. The guy holding the clipboard and wearing a baseball cap typically is perceived as being the answer to every struggling offense. On that note, here’s my ranking of the Big Ten backup quarterback situations.

1. Northwestern. Actually, the Wildcats have two starters: senior Kain Colter and junior Trevor Siemian. It doesn’t really matter who begins the game under center. Colter typically gets the call, starting 12 of 13 games last season. But Siemian plays often in what is the rare two-quarterback system that thrives.

2. Ohio State. Senior Kenny Guiton showed his acumen in engineering a stunning comeback win over Purdue last year after Braxton Miller left the game with injury. Guiton has a nice arm, poise and escapability.

3. Wisconsin. The Badgers still must pick a starter—and are loaded with options. Sophomore Joel Stave probably is the favorite. Seniors Curt Phillips and Danny O’Brien bring plenty of experience; and each has started. JC transfer Tanner McEvoy teems with potential. Redshirt freshman Bart Houston may have the best arm.

4. Indiana. No starter has been officially tabbed. But the Hoosiers have three capable signal callers in sophomore Tre Roberson, junior Cameron Coffman and sophomore Nate Sudfeld. Few teams can go this deep under center.

5. Michigan State. Senior Andrew Maxwell is the starter—for now. Sophomore Connor Cook is a more athletic option who showed in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl he can lead the Spartans to victory. Redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor is another intriguing prospect. Uber-talented incoming freshman Damion Terry also may figure in.

6. Illinois. Junior Reilly O’Toole has shown some flashes when he’s played behind senior Nathan Scheelhaase. In fact, if the strong-armed O’Toole had to play for an extended stretch, it wouldn’t be tragic.

7. Nebraska. There isn’t much proven depth behind senior Taylor Martinez. But redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong has been a fan favorite and showed some flashes in the spring game. He may be the best passer on the roster. The future is his.

8. Penn State. Bill O”Brien has yet to tab a starter. Whoever it is will have taken zero snaps in the Big Ten. That, of course, means the backup situation still is to be determined. JC transfer Tyler Ferguson—who took part in spring drills–and highly-decorated incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg will battle.

9. Michigan. The Wolverines better hope and pray junior Devin Gardner stays healthy, as depth is unproven with sophomore Russell Bellomy out for the season with a knee injury. Touted true freshman Shane Morris may end up being the backup. Redshirt freshman Brian Cleary also is around.

10. Minnesota. Philip Nelson started the last seven games in 2012 and showed promise as a true freshman, but he remains a work in progress. His backups–redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner and true freshman Chris Streveler—have zero experience. Streveler—who take part in spring drills–may be the best fit for this offense.

11. Iowa. The Hawkeyes haven’t picked a starter from among sophomore Jake Rudock, junior Cody Sokol and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard. Rudock seems to be the front-runner—but none of these guys has any experience. Sokol did come from a JC.

12. Purdue. The Boilermakers are another school that hasn’t picked a starter. But, senior Rob Henry may have the inside edge given his experience. The backups? A true freshman (Danny Etling, who took part in spring practice) and a redshirt freshman (Austin Appleby). Yikes.

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 (16 Comments)
Common Sense on 6/5/2013 @ 4:48pm EDT Said:

I am going to have to disagree with your selection on this one, I would put the Wolverines at 6 as young Morris has much better foot speed and mobility than the Spartan back ups . I would put MSU at 9. Also in response to MSU Doug BTN is not obsessed with the MSU program, they devote equal time to 12 schools as shown by these lists.

Joe on 6/5/2013 @ 5:00pm EDT Said:

So Penn State has the worst QBs in the league, but their #2 guy is 8th best? How does that math work?

gocatsgo2003 on 6/5/2013 @ 5:15pm EDT Said:

But you’ve never seen Morris on a college football field. Cook showed his abilities at the B1G-level in the BWW Bowl.

gocatsgo2003 on 6/5/2013 @ 5:16pm EDT Said:

But you’ve also never seen Morris on a college football field — at least Cook has proven that he is capable of performing at the B1G level in the BWW Bowl.

Josh on 6/5/2013 @ 5:22pm EDT Said:

Good list as always. Few things I noticed below:
– I think OSU’s backup is a little overhyped. Sure, Guiton made a gutsy comeback, but it was against Purdue, who had one of the weakest defenses in the B1G last season (31.2 pts allowed per game, yikes).
– MSU’s backup situation is not that good, but there is no team below it that has a better backup situation, so #5 it is.
– The Illinois backup QB hasn’t looked impressive at all to me (he also got shut out against Michigan)… Are you sure he is worth being in the top 6 when there are so many question marks with the team already? Experience isn’t that large of a factor, look at Manziel.
– Michigan at 9 is reasonable, but the team will still be fine even if Gardner’s injured. They were still fine last season when Denard went down anyways.
– Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Indiana are well above everyone else in terms of backup QBs.

bob jones on 6/5/2013 @ 5:23pm EDT Said:

Armstrong doesn’t look to be too far away from being ready to contribute for Huskers, a very talented guy. Ron Kellogg has been in the system a while now and got some time last year and also looked very good in the spring game. Also, Johnny Stanton will arrive this summer and he was about as highly thought of as any high school QB last year. Nebraska also has its secret weapon ready to step in whenever needed in young Jack Hoffman. Sounds pretty loaded to me.

huskerfanbb on 6/5/2013 @ 6:06pm EDT Said:

It’s interesting how this list comes together. Can’t really disagree with a lot–but if the mark of a good back up is being as close to the starter in talent as possible–Ohio State is way too high. There is a gulf between Braxton Miller and anyone else on that roster.
He seemed to penalize Nebraska for the divide between Martinez and his back-ups even though Nebraska’s back-ups look like they could start for MSU if Maxwell isn’t any better than last year.

Doug on 6/5/2013 @ 9:06pm EDT Said:

Josh, when denard went down last year they had Gardner, this year they don’t have that luxury. Dhani, the first thing you do in your posts is overrated Michigan then talk about MSU, so yeah, you’re obsessed.

OSU 12-0 on 6/5/2013 @ 10:50pm EDT Said:

It will be OSU playing MSU in the 2013 B1G championship game!

Doug on 6/6/2013 @ 12:15am EDT Said:

damn right OSU 12-0!

Jeremy Rieger on 6/6/2013 @ 5:44am EDT Said:

Nice try ohio, it will be Michigan and ohio rematch for the championship with Michigan making it 2 wins in a row. Michigan is much improved across the board, and with Green and Toussaint sharing carries, both backs and Gardner should be in good shape by then, and don’t forget Jake Ryan is expected back by then. MSU, while having a good defense, is too dysfunctional on offense to do win more than 7, maybe 8 games, whether it be Cook or Maxwell. They were handed the game on the muffed punt against a 7-6 7th place Big 12 team. With Bell and Gholston gone, and those 2 helped win half the games they won last year, how are they expected to be better? Michigan wins the Legend division, Nebraska 2nd and Northwestern 3rd. For the Leaders, it will be ohio, Wisconsin 2nd, and Penn State 3rd.

huskerfanbb on 6/6/2013 @ 8:26am EDT Said:

Josh–how can you say Michigan was “fine” when Denard went down last year? Bellomy looked downright incompetent against a, ahem, let’s say less than stellar Nebraska defense. Sure, they later brought Gardner in and he righted the ship–but now he’s the starter and who is the back-up? Oh yeah, no one knows but probably someone with no more experience or talent than Bellomy.

Nick on 6/6/2013 @ 12:02pm EDT Said:

Ahaha, good one Jeremy. OSU has dominated Michigan this decade and will cruise past scUM once again.

Also, I’d bump Purdue up a little, their young backups have a lot more promise than the other teams mentioned.

shookwriter27 on 6/6/2013 @ 1:19pm EDT Said:

I never thought I would see Tom Diehart rate Illinois in the middle of the pack in any category.

BoilerUp on 6/6/2013 @ 2:51pm EDT Said:

If you want to put Purdue last, fine (though i strongly disagree), but don’t say, “The backups? A true freshman (Danny Etling, who took part in spring practice) and a redshirt freshman (Austin Appleby). Yikes.” when you rank Michigan three spots higher with, wait for it, also a redshirt freshman and true freshman.

Doug on 6/7/2013 @ 10:33pm EDT Said:

Jeremy has been drinking too much kool aid, hey dude, Michigan stinks !