Dienhart: Take a stroll down Big Ten quarterback memory lane
Playing quarterback in the NFL is a one of the most demanding jobs in sports. In 2015, five of the NFL’s 32 teams called former Big Ten quarterbacks their starters for more than half of their 16 regular season games. Take a moment to test your knowledge and see if you can name all five of those Big Ten names and their teams before reading the rest of my story here.
So how did you do?
Of course, we have Michigan’s Tom Brady (New England Patriots) and Purdue’s Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints). More recently, the Big Ten has produced Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks), and Kirk Cousins (Washington Redskins) and Brian Hoyer (Houston Texans), both by way of Michigan State.
When former Alabama Crimson Tide passer A.J. McCarron led Cincinnati to a 24-14 win over San Francisco on Dec. 20 in place of injured Andy Dalton, it ended one long dry spell. Alabama had not had a quarterback start and win one NFL game since Jeff Rutledge led the New York Giants to victory in 1987.
With Michigan State’s Connor Cook and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg headed to the NFL Draft this spring, I got to thinking: When was the last time each Big Ten school had a quarterback start and win an NFL game?
I’ve seen so many strong and capable college quarterbacks play over the years – in the Big Ten and elsewhere. But think about the challenges for any college passer gunning to become a starting quarterback in the NFL. It’s hard enough to get drafted (or just invited) to an NFL training camp. Once there, you have to make the regular season roster, become the starter, and then … you have to win that game.
Test yourself again. In addition to the five we named above, can you identify the other former quarterbacks from the remaining ten schools (yes, ten as Michigan State had both Hoyer and Cousins).
- Illinois: _______
- Indiana: _______
- Iowa: _______
- Maryland: _______
- Minnesota: _______
- Nebraska: _______
- Northwestern: _______
- Ohio State: _______
- Penn State: _______
- Rutgers: _______
Again, how did you do?
It wasn’t easy for me either.
And yes, I had to research a number of them to be sure, too.
I have the answers below but wanted to keep them separate from your eyes during the informal test above.
Ready? OK, so whether you completely finished your list or only managed to make a few guesses, here’s a quick look at the last time each school now in the Big Ten had a quarterback win an NFL game.
- Illinois: Kurt Kittner, 2003/Atlanta Falcons
- Indiana: Trent Green, 2006/Kansas City Chiefs
- Iowa: Chuck Long, 1988/Detroit Lions; Mark Vlasic, 1988/San Diego Chargers
- Maryland: Shaun Hill, 2014/St. Louis Rams
- Minnesota: Mike Hohensee, 1987/Chicago Bears
- Michigan: Tom Brady, 2015/New England Patriots
- Michigan State: Kirk Cousins, 2015/Washington Redskins; Brian Hoyer, 2015/Houston Texans
- Nebraska: Bruce Mathison, 1987/Seattle Seahawks
- Northwestern: Randy Dean, 1978/New York Giants
- Ohio State: Terrelle Pryor, 2013/Oakland Raiders
- Penn State: Matt McGloin, 2013/Oakland Raiders
- Purdue: Drew Brees, 2015/New Orleans Saints
- Rutgers: Mike McMahon, 2005/Philadelphia Eagles
- Wisconsin: Russell Wilson, 2015/Seattle Seahawks
Northwestern’s Dean led the Giants to a win in 1978. He played in six games that season for New York, starting two and going 1-1. The victory came on Dec. 10, a 17-0 triumph over the then-St. Louis Cardinals in which Dean hit 8-of-14 passes for 24 yards with a touchdown and interception. He also ran seven times for 29 yards.
Like Cousins and Hoyer for Michigan State, Iowa’s Long and Vlasic both earned their starting wins in 1988, with the Lions and Chargers, respectively.
For Nebraska and Minnesota, their streaks each have a wrinkle. Nebraska’s Mathison led the Seahawks to a 37-14 win at Detroit as a replacement player during the 1987 NFL players strike while Minnesota’s Hohensee won in 1987 with the Bears as a replacement player, too.