2012 Quarterback Rankings: Big Ten

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The nation's most athletic quarterbacks reside in the Big Ten.

<p> The nation's most athletic quarterbacks reside in the Big Ten.</p>

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

There is no doubt this is the Era of the Quarterback.

Houston’s Case Keenum (152) and Boise State’s Kellen Moore (142) both broke Graham Harrell’s all-time NCAA touchdown record of 134 scoring strikes this season. Keenum also became the NCAA’s all-time record holder for total offense (19,572) and passing yards (18,685). Moore, meanwhile, is the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback with a 50-3 record as a starter. And because Keenum still has one game left to go, he could conceivably reach 20,000 yards of total offense (think about that).

Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson both need efficient showings in bowl games to break Colt Brennan’s NCAA single-season passer efficiency record of 186.0. And Wilson broke Harrell’s record of consecutive games with a touchdown pass with 37.

In the unbalanced college game, there are many different ways to evaluate quarterback play. Gifted runners, crazy schemes, talent differentials, level of competition and raw NFL talent all become a part of the equation. The bottom line is the quarterback is the single most important position on the field, and having a great one under center can take a mediocre football team and elevate it to title contender (just ask Wisconsin).

So who will boast the best signal callers in college football next fall? Athlon Sports takes a very early stab at ranking quarterback play in 2012 by conference:

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

5. Big Ten

The Big Ten may struggle with the forward pass in 2012, but it certainly won’t be short on athletes. While pro-stylers Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson carried the banner for Midwest quarterbacking in 2011, the future of the Big Ten under center will have a distinctly more grounded feel. This league claims by far the most athletic and explosive collection of quarterbacks in the nation. Denard Robinson is easily the best “athlete” playing quarterback in the nation. His playmaking ability with his legs is unmatched as he has established himself as one of the most dynamic weapons to ever play the game. He is coming off back-to-back 2,000-yard/1,000-yard seasons. Meanwhile, developing names like Braxton Miller, Taylor Martinez, MarQueis Gray, Kain Colter and Tre Roberson offer acceleration and burst that few receivers and running backs even possess.

No league will match the rushing production from the QB spot that the Big Ten will offer next fall. In 2011, four of the top 11 (and six of the top 21) rushers in the Big Ten played quarterback, which included Colter, who played more wide receiver than any other position (he is certainly the only player in the nation in this series with a "receiving stats" line from 2011). Nationally, Shoelace finished second (1,163 yards), Gray fifth (966), Martinez eighth (837) and Miller was 11th (695) in rushing by quarterbacks. Seven of the top 30 rushing quarterbacks (in terms of yards) played in the Big Ten. Just wait until Gray, Roberson, Miller and Colter get a full season as the unquestioned starters under their belts.

Iowa’s James Vandenberg is the lone pro-style bright spot after a productive first year under center in Iowa City. However, he will have to watch as top target Marvin McNutt graduates and uncertainty around workhorse back Marcus Coker swirls. The Badgers and Spartans will have quality teams again in 2012 and will be built around the pro-style offenses that have made them so successful. However, niether will return to the Big Ten title game without developing a new starter. Penn State has a huge question mark at the position — for a variety of reasons.

While the Big Ten will have an extraordinarily talented group of athletes playing quarterback in 2012, the real key will be accuracy and efficiency. Whoever can develop the quickest as a passer, will likely give his team a major leg up in the conference race. If young players like Miller and Roberson can grow up quickly, this league could become one of the best quarterbacked leagues in the nation. If not, it will simply be a bunch of great athletes trying to complete passes.

One thing the Big Ten (and Pac-12) have going for it is conference stability. There are no teams being added or subtracted in 2012 and there are no rumors of movement...yet.

The Known Commodities:

1. Denard Robinson, Michigan (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,056 yards, 18 TD, 14 INT, 56.1%
Rushing Stats: 208 att., 1,163 yards, 16 TD

2. Braxton Miller, Ohio State (SO)
Passing Stats: 997 yards, 11 TD, 4 INT, 50.0%
Rushing Stats: 144 att., 695 yards, 7 TD

3. James Vandenberg, Iowa (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,806 yards, 23 TD, 6 INT, 59.4%
Rushing Stats: 72 att., 188 yards, 3 TD

4. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (JR)
Passing Stats: 1,973 yards, 12 TD, 7 INT, 55.9%
Rushing Stats: 172 att., 837 yards, 9 TD

5. MarQueis Gray, Minnesota (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,495 yards, 8 TD, 8 INT, 50.7%
Rushing Stats: 199 att., 966 yards, 6 TD

6. Kain Colter, Northwestern (JR)
Passing Stats: 660 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT, 67.1%
Rushing Stats: 118 att., 589 yards, 8 TD
Receiving Stats: 40 rec., 454 yards, 3 TD

7. Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois (JR)
Passing Stats: 1,971 yards, 12 TD, 7 INT, 63.6%
Rushing Stats: 169 att., 514 yards, 6 TD

8. Tre Roberson, Indiana (SO)
Passing Stats: 937 yards, 3 TD, 6 INT, 57.0%
Rushing Stats: 109 att., 426 yards, 2 TD

9. Caleb TerBush, Purdue (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,804 yards, 12 TD, 6 INT, 61.7%
Rushing Stats: 80 att., 226 yards, TD

The Unknowns:
Joe Brennan, Joel Stave, Bart Houston, Jon Budmayr, Curt Phillips, Wisconsin
Andrew Maxwell, Michigan State
Robert Bolden, Matt McGloin, Penn State

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

CFB Conferences: 

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