Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, March 4, 2015
No position garners attention like quarterback. And, it?s an unsettled position at several Big Ten schools, as spring drills have begun to open.
Here is what we know: Penn State (Christian Hackenberg), Minnesota (Mitch Leidner), Iowa (C.J. Beathard), Illinois (Wes Lunt), Nebraska (Tommy Armstrong), Michigan State (Connor Cook), Maryland (Caleb Rowe) and Indiana (Nate Sudfeld) all appear to have a good grasp on who will be their starter in 2015, eliminating much drama in spring drills.
But the quarterback situation on some other campuses isn?t as clear. Here?s a look at the ?Six Spring Quarterbacking Hot Spots? in Big Ten country.
This was a position that was at the root of the undoing of Brady Hoke. Jim Harbaugh needs to begin figuring out what he has. The work has commenced, as spring drills are on-going. Junior Shane Morris is back along with sophomore Wilton Speight. Alex Malzone is an early enrollee. True freshman Zach Gentry will join the fray in the fall. Maybe Michigan at least leaves the spring with some type of pecking order. But, in the end, it would seem to be Morris? job to lose.
This is really is the first unsettled quarterback situation Northwestern has had in a number of years. Maybe since 2006, which was Fitz?s first year. This spot was disappointing in 2014. And Trevor Siemian is gone. Fitz said on Signing Day that all three guys (senior Zack Oliver, sophomore Matt Alviti, redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson) will split the reps equally to start the spring. Oliver and Alviti have done little to impress. Thorson, a redshirt freshman, could be the guy. This offense needs to develop after ranking No. 12 in scoring (23.0 ppg) and No. 10 in total offense (353.1 ypg). Spring drills have started, so the race is on.
The Buckeyes have an overload at quarterback with junior Cardale Jones, sophomore J.T. Barrett and senior Braxton Miller. It?s an embarrassment of riches. How will this all work out? Jones was the postseason hero, leading Ohio State to wins in the Big Ten championship game, Sugar Bowl and national title tilt in his first three career starts; Barrett was the regular-season wunderkind and first-team All-Big Ten signal-caller; Miller is a two-time Big Ten MVP. Not much figures to be decided in the spring with Barrett (ankle) and Miller (shoulder) coming off season-ending injuries. OSU has to find a way to keep everyone happy between now and August. Will the dynamic of new co-offensive coordinator Tim Beck have an impact?
As Year Three of the Darrell Hazell era is about to unfold, there is still no clarity at quarterback-which was the case when Hazell arrived in 2013. That certainly wasn?t the plan-but it?s the sober reality. Junior Danny Etling opened 2014 as the starter but was ineffective and gave way to junior Austin Appleby, who like Etling, had moments but appears to be at best ?pedestrian.? Maybe redshirt freshman David Blough is the guy. Maybe not. Regardless, this spot is a major concern and must perform better. And if some skill players don?t emerge at wideout and running back, the quarterback?s job will be especially difficult.
Gary Nova is gone, leaving a big void. He finished his RU career ranked first in school history in touchdowns (73), second in passing yards (9,258) and second in completions (689). The only quarterback on the roster with experience is sophomore Chris Laviano, playing in five games with 28 pass attempts last season. LSU transfer Hayden Rettig, a sophomore, is now eligible after sitting out in 2014. The Los Angeles native was one of the nation?s top prep signal-callers in 2012. And don?t forget about freshman Giovanni Rescigno, who showed promise in bowl prep last season. An added dimension to watch is the presence of new offensive coordinator Ben McDaniels, who was promoted from receivers coach after Ralph Friedgen stepped aside. The Fridge will remain as a consultant. McDaniels is RU?s sixth offensive coordinator in six years.
If you can believe it, the Badgers have eight signal-callers on the roster and eligible to participate in spring ball. Senior Joel Stave started most of the season. Will senior Tanner McEvoy switch to another position (safety/WR)? Freshmen D.J. Gillins, Alex Hornibrook or Austin Kafentzis also are in the mix. What about junior Bart Houston? The good news: Quarterback play is the specialty of Chryst. A pass offense that ranked No. 12 in the Big Ten (148.7 ypg) in 2014 must improve. Of course, a pedestrian group of wideouts also needs to improve-but that?s another story for another day.
|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.|