Dienhart: Ranking top 10 opposing Big Ten quarterbacks

It’s important to know your opponent—especially your opponent’s quarterback. You know how it goes: A team typically will go only as far as its quarterback is able to take it. Well, here’s my ranking of the top 10 quarterbacks that Big Ten teams will face in the non-conference this season.

1. Brett Hundley, UCLA (at Nebraska, Sept. 14)
Nebraska got an up-close look at him last year when he was a redshirt freshman; and it wasn’t pretty for the Huskers. Hundley threw for 305 yards and four scores and ran for 53 yards in leading the Bruins to a 36-30 victory in Pasadena that saw UCLA total a stupefying 653 yards of offense. The 6-3, 223-pound sophomore is an athletic signal-caller who flourished in 2012, totaling over 4,000 yards of offense and leading the Bruins to nine victories, a Pac-12 South division title and a win over USC. He hit 66 percent of his passes for 3,745 yards with 29 touchdowns and 11 picks. Will Nebraska’s overhauled front seven be ready this time?

Year Team G Cmp Att Comp % Yds Yd/A TDs Int Sacked Yds
2012 UCLA 14 318 478 66.5 3740 7.8 29 11 52 302
Career 14 318 478 66.5 3740 7.8 29 11 52 302

2. David Fales, San Jose State (at Minnesota, Sept. 21)
He burst onto the season last season en route to leading the nation with a 72.5 percent completion percentage. Fales threw for 4,193 yards and 33 touchdowns, finishing with the third-highest passer rating in the country and leading the Spartans to their first double-digit victory season in over 20 years. Now a senior, the 6-3, 220-pound Fales—who began his career at Nevada before matriculating to a JC, then Wyoming and finally to SJSU–is creating a stir as a legit NFL prospect. The Gophers’ defense will need to get pressure on Fales.

Year Team G Cmp Att Comp % Yds Yd/A TDs Int Sacked Yds
2012 SJSU 13 327 451 72.5 4193 9.3 33 9 26 194
Career 13 327 451 72.5 4193 9.3 33 9 26 194

3. Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois (at Iowa, Aug. 31; at Purdue, Sept. 28)
Yes, he flopped in the Orange Bowl, a 31-10 loss to Florida State. But Lynch, a 6-0, 216-pound senior, still enjoyed a strong 2012 and is a legit Heisman contender this season. A dual-threat signal-caller who threw for over 3,138 yards and 25 touchdowns and rushed for over 1,815 yards and 19 touchdowns, Lynch guided Northern Illinois to 12 wins and a MAC title in 2012. He also broke four NCAA records, two MAC marks and 14 school standards in his first season as a starter. Interestingly, Minnesota coach Jerry Kill signed Lynch when he was coach of the Huskies.

Year Team G Cmp Att Comp % Yds Yd/A TDs Int Sacked Yds
2010 NIU 9 4 6 66.7 13 2.2 1 0 - -
2011 NIU 13 15 20 75.0 166 8.3 1 0 1 7
2012 NIU 14 237 394 60.2 3138 8.0 25 6 17 81
Career 36 256 420 61.0 3317 7.9 27 6 18 88

4. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State (vs. Wisconsin, Sept. 14)
During his debut as a starter, Kelly wowed by completing 67 percent of his passes for 3,040 yards with 29 TD tosses and only nine picks. Kelly also added 516 yards rushing and accounted for 30 touchdowns in pacing the Sun Devils to an 8-5 record. Built along the lines Drew Brees (6-1/203), Kelly tied for first in the Pac-12 with 49 passes of over 20 yards in 2012. No doubt, Kelly will pose issues for a rebuilt Wisconsin secondary when the Badgers travel to Tempe.

Year Team G Cmp Att Comp % Yds Yd/A TDs Int Sacked Yds
2011 AriSt 2 4 4 100.0 31 7.8 0 0 0 0
2012 AriSt 13 241 359 67.1 3040 8.5 29 9 30 169
Career 15 245 363 67.5 3071 8.5 29 9 30 169

5. Brett Smith, Wyoming (at Nebraska, Aug. 31)
Last season was largely forgettable for Wyoming—except for the performance of Smith. The 6-3, 205-pound junior is coming off a big 2012 in which he hit 62 percent of his passes for 2,837 yards and tossed 27 touchdowns compared with only six picks. Smith also ran for 248 yards and six scores. After just 23 career games, Smith already is among the most prolific quarterbacks in school history. He ranks fifth all-time at Wyoming in total offense with 6,417 yards, and tossed 27 scores as a sophomore, second in school single-season history, and ranks fourth in career TD passes with 47. If Dave Christensen’s staff can put some talent around him, Wyoming could be dangerous to a suspect Husker defense.

ear Team G Cmp Att Comp % Yds Yd/A TDs Int Sacked Yds
2011 Wyo 13 253 415 61.0 2622 6.3 20 11 11 94
2012 Wyo 10 205 330 62.1 2837 8.6 27 6 26 211
Career 23 458 745 61.5 5459 7.3 47 17 37 305

6. Blake Bortles, UCF (at Penn State, Sept. 14)
He turned heads as a sophomore last season, starting all 14 games and finishing with 3,059 yards passing, 25 touchdowns, seven interceptions, a 62.9 completion percentage and a 144.5 passer rating. He also rushed for 285 yards and eight touchdowns. The 6-4, 227-pound Bortles is a strong-armed passer who has shown an ability to make all of the throws.

Year Team G Cmp Att Comp % Yds Yd/A TDs Int Sacked Yds
2011 UCF 10 75 110 68.2 958 8.7 6 3 7 43
2012 UCF 14 251 399 62.9 3059 7.7 25 7 22 144
Career 24 326 509 64.0 4017 7.9 31 10 29 187

7. James Franklin, Missouri (at Indiana, Sept. 21)
His 2012 season was largely ruined because of injury. But Franklin has shown in the past to be an effective dual-threat weapon when healthy. Now, the 6-2, 230-pound senior is looking for a big sendoff. In 2011 when healthy, Franklin threw for 2,865 yards and 21 TDs while running for 981 yards and a team-best 15 scores.  His 36 total TDs in 2011 accounted for was the third-most in Mizzou single-season history. No doubt, he will pose myriad issues for an Indiana defense that is a work-in-progress.

Year Team G Cmp Att Comp % Yds Yd/A TDs Int Sacked Yds
2010 Missou 10 11 14 78.6 106 7.6 1 1 - -
2011 Mizzou 13 238 376 63.3 2865 7.6 21 11 18 117
2012 Mizzou 9 139 234 59.4 1562 6.7 10 7 20 153
Career 32 388 624 62.2 4533 7.3 32 19 38 270

8. Keith Price, Washington (vs. Illinois in Chicago, Sept. 14)
Yes, he had his struggles last season. But Price spent much of 2012 running for his life behind a line that had four of five starters dealing with injury. Still, Price threw 18 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. The senior enters 2013 as Washington’s career leader in completion percentage (63.1). He needs one touchdown pass to tie Cody Pickett’s school career standard. Want more? Price’s career passing efficiency mark of 138.9 is the best ever at Washington. Illinois needs to find a way to contain Price.

Year Team G Cmp Att Comp % Yds Yd/A TDs Int Sacked Yds
2010 Wash 8 19 37 51.4 164 4.4 2 0 5 32
2011 Wash 13 242 362 66.9 3063 8.5 33 11 26 141
2012 Wash 13 263 432 60.9 2726 6.3 19 13 37 237
Career 34 524 831 63.1 5953 7.2 54 24 68 410

9. Taysom Hill, BYU (at Wisconsin, Nov. 9)
He showed flashes as a redshirt freshman last season, playing in six games and starting two before suffering a knee injury. Hill completed 42-of-71 passes for 425 yards and four touchdowns, rushing 55 times for 336 yards and four scores. The best days are yet to come for the 6-2, 218-pound Hill, who committed to Stanford coming out of high school before going on a Mormon mission. Hill could be a special player and one of the nation’s biggest surprises.

Year Team G Cmp Att Comp % Yds Yd/A TDs Int Sacked Yds
2012 BYU 6 42 71 59.2 425 6.0 4 2 6 40
Career 6 42 71 59.2 425 6.0 4 2 6 40

10. Keenan Reynolds, Navy (at Indiana, Sept. 7)
The sophomore assumed command early last season and impressed. No, Reynolds won’t make anyone forget Dan Marino, but he knows how to run this offense and can throw the deep ball well enough to keep defenses honest and maintain room for the potent ground game. Reynolds is uber quick and nice fit for the Midshipmen attack. The Hoosiers need to be disciplined when playing him. In a 31-30 win over the Hoosiers last season, Reynolds hit 8-of-13 passes for 96 yards and a TD and ran 17 times for 66 yards and a score.

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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