Each week during the season, BTN.com web editor Sean Merriman and a featured guest will debate a topic related to Big Ten football. This week, Sporting News college football insider Bill Bender and I debate the following question: “Through five weeks of the college football season, which Big Ten quarterback have you been most impressed with up to this point?” Our answers may surprise you…
Sean: This is a tough one because there’s been some unexpected injuries to guys who would normally be included in this debate, such as Braxton Miller and Taylor Martinez. But I’m going to go with a guy who may surprise you–Nathan Scheelhaase of Illinois. People glanced at Scheelhaase’s stats last year and immediately dismissed his name in the “top Big Ten quarterbacks” conversation. But don’t forget, he had to deal with that nagging injury throughout the entire 2012 season, which ultimately hurt his performance on the field. This season has been a different story. Through four games this year, Scheelhaase has already thrown for 1,162 yards and 12 touchdowns, tripling his TD total from the previous season. Most importantly, he has his team out to a fast 3-1 start. An upset win against Nebraska this weekend would likely put him into the B1G Player of the Year conversation.
Bill: Scheelhaase has been impressive, and I could see Illinois giving Nebraska all they want this weekend. That said, Iowa’s Jake Rudock has helped Iowa bounce back from that season-opening loss to Northern Illinois, one that won’t look so bad when the Huskies go undefeated. Rudock isn’t your typical cookie-cutter Iowa quarterback; he can beat you with his legs too. Five rushing touchdowns are proof of that. He’s also working with a pair of underrated receivers in Kevonte Martin-Manley and Damond Powell. Of course, we’ll see if he’s for real against that nasty Michigan State defense this week.
Sean: Nathan Scheelhaase and Jake Rudock… Who would have thought those two would have been up for most impressive Big Ten QB honors at the start of the season? But I agree with you in the fact that Rudock has looked much better since that Week 1 loss to Northern Illinois. But if were talking strictly on-field production, Rudock’s numbers don’t come close to matching the stats Scheelhaase has put up thus far. Illinois’ senior signal caller has more completions, passing yards and touchdowns than Rudock. And it’s not like those stats have come against all cupcake teams either. Cincinnati and Washington are both very respectable college football programs.
Bill: I’m encouraged by Scheelhaase’s progress, but the statistics are a product of playing in an up-tempo offense. Illinois won’t be favored in another game until November, and I want to see him show consistency in a Big Ten game. As for Iowa, up-tempo will never be used to describe that offense. I used to joke with friends that Iowa uses that four-play “Tecmo Bowl” playbook. It’s still run heavy with Mark Weisman, but Rudock has expanded it a bit. I also like that he hasn’t thrown an interception on third down. Granted Iowa’s next month isn’t any easier than Illinois, but a split isn’t impossible if Rudock limits the mistakes.
Sean: Shoot. It’s hard to argue with anyone who throws a “Tecmo Bowl” reference my way. But you’re right, I’m siding with the guy who plays in a “Ninentdo 64 NFL Blitz” kind of offense. What do you I mean by that? Well for starters, Scheelhaase has already completed four passes of 50 yards or more this season. Illinois only had one 50-yard-plus pass play the entire 2012 season. He leads the Big Ten in offense this season, averaging more than 298 yards per game, and is second in the conference with those 12 TD passes. I know Rudock is good at protecting the football and I like that stat you pointed out that he hasn’t thrown a pick on third down. His four interceptions are pretty good, but you know what number is better? Three– the number of picks thrown by Scheelhaase so far this season. I know I’m throwing a lot of stats at you, but I have one more that really should catch the eye. The 161 points that Illinois has put up through four games this season is the most the program has put up through four games in school history. I don’t see Jake Rudock putting up those kind of numbers, especially with my Spartans on the other side of the ball this weekend.
Bill: My head is spinning from all these stats. Let me ask you this: What happens when Illinois’ defense lets down Scheelhaase and he starts to press? We’ll see if they fall behind in Lincoln. Spread offenses rely too much on the quarterback. There’s more to Iowa than that. They have a defense. They played in BCS bowls with Brad Banks and Ricky Stanzi. Rudock is kind of a lesser combination of those two, but it works. His improved play is a bonus. Michigan State has the best defense in the Big Ten, but it’s one James Vandenberg managed to beat last season by completing 19-of-36 passes. Given the Spartans’ offensive issues, the over is way too high here. With a win, the Hawkeyes could be a contender in the Legends Division, especially with Michigan and Northwestern coming to Kinnick Stadium. Who would’ve guessed that four weeks ago?
|About Sean Merriman||BTN.com web editor Sean Merriman covers football and men’s basketball and provides original content for BTN.com. You can follow him on Twitter @BTNSean.|