Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, July 28, 2015

He?s usually one of the most popular people on campus-but you may not even know his name: He?s the backup quarterback. And, he could hold the key to your team?s season.

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Just ask Ohio State, which had to use its No. 2 and No. 3 quarterbacks last season en route to winning an improbable national championship.

Here?s a look at the backup quarterback situations in the Big Ten West.

If you ask offensive coordinator Bill Cubit about Chayce Crouch, he gushes. That?s good enough for me. The 6-4, 225-pound redshirt freshman has added 20 pounds since arriving in Champaign and is a better runner than incumbent starter Wes Lunt, a junior. No doubt, Cubit is intrigued and needs Crouch to develop, especially with Aaron Bailey transferring. Lunt didn?t set the world on fire last year after transferring from Oklahoma State. And staying healthy is an issue for him. Should Lunt struggle, Crouch may get a shot. True freshmen Jeff George, Jr., and Jimmy Fitzgerald probably need time to develop.

If junior C.J. Beathard gets hurt, things could get interesting for the Hawkeyes. The backup? Tyler Wiegers, a 6-4, 222-pound redshirt freshman who still needs a map to get around campus. He is very raw. Gulp. True freshmen Ryan Boyle and Drew Cook are in the mix. This makes Jake Rudock's transfer to Michigan all the more potentially damaging.

Junior Mitch Leidner is the unquestioned starter who?s looking to blossom. The backup spot? It is worth watching. Sophomore Chris Streveler is No. 2 but remains a work in progress as a passer; he did show better accuracy in the spring, though. The 6-2, 226-pound Streveler showed his running skills in a win vs. San Jose State last year. Starting for an injured Leidner, Streveler jetted for 161 yards rushing, but completed just one of seven passes for seven yards with a pick in the win. He may be pushed by true freshman Demry Croft. Redshirt freshman Jacques Perra also has shown some skills.

The jury remains out on if junior Tommy Armstrong can run the new pro-style attack of Mike Riley. What?s it mean? Keep an eye on Zack Darlington. The 6-2, 205-pound redshirt freshman from Florida turned some heads in the spring. At 6-3, 220 pounds, redshirt freshman AJ Bush looks the part and flashed in the spring, too. Junior Ryker Fyfe is also in the mix. Johnny Stanton transferred, thinning the ranks.

The staff is still trying to figure out who will be the starter. The top two contenders may be senior Zack Oliver (passer) and sophomore Matt Alviti (runner). Oliver backed up Trevor Siemian last year and started the finale vs. Illinois. But, it wasn?t pretty (22-of-38 with three picks in a 47-33 loss). Alviti also saw time in 2014 and didn?t wow, hitting 2-of-4 passes for zero yards. What?s it mean? Keep an eye redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson-who could be the best of bunch. In the end, NU could use a two-quarterback system as it has in the past under Pat Fitzgerald.

Instead of hanging around to compete for the job, Danny Etling opted to transfer to LSU in the offseason after dropping to No. 3 on the depth chart in the spring. That leaves junior Austin Appleby as the unquestioned No. 1 after starting seven games in 2014. And redshirt freshman David Blough is the backup–for now. The 6-1, 202-pound Blough arrived in West Lafayette from Texas with a fat scrapbook as an Elite 11 quarterback. He could be pushed by touted incoming freshman Elijah Sindelar, a strapping 6-4, 216-pound Mr. Football from Kentucky who is coming off a knee injury. He can really spin it.

There are plenty of options behind senior starter Joel Stave. And Bart Houston is the most seasoned–and he's still fairly green. The 6-4, 228-pound junior has thrown eight passes for 14 yards in his career but is a nice fit for what new coach Paul Chryst likes to do in the drop-back game. Redshirt freshman D.J. Gillins also is competing but is more of a dual-threat; keep an eye on true freshman Alex Hornibrook, who arrived early and took part in spring drills. He could be special.


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, 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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