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The Best Quarterback in the Big Ten?


The Big 12, Pac-12 and Big Ten are three of the deepest quarterback conferences in the nation. Athlon's editors have debated which quarterback they would vote No. 1 in the Big 12, and Andrew Luck is a pretty clear choice in the Pac-12.

Even with the departure of Terrelle Pryor, the Big Ten is still a loaded conference in terms of quarterback depth. With Denard Robinson (Michigan), Taylor Martinez (Nebraska), Kirk Cousins (Michigan State), Dan Persa (Northwestern), Nathan Scheelhaase (Illinois) and Russell Wilson (Wisconsin) all battling for first-team all-conference honors this year, Athlon's editors debate: 

Who is the best quarterback in the Big Ten?

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
This is a brutal question that has many right answers. Dan Persa might be the most valuable and efficient of the group, but is a classic overachiever in a system that has been very QB friendly of late. Denard Robinson is easily the most athletic player in the bunch, but has major holes in his game and missed a lot of key snaps in 2010 for Michigan. Taylor Martinez has the most upside and maybe the best chance at winning the Big Ten title. Kirk Cousins is probably the best NFL prospect of the group and might be the best leader and passer of the football in the league. But across all columns on the QB-ledger, Wisconsin's Russell Wilson is the most complete player in the league.

He has the raw, physical ability to be a pro athlete already, albeit Major League Baseball. He will play with arguably the best running game in the league and is in charge of the team picked to win the Leaders Division. He is an excellent leader, and statistically, is easily the most productive player in the conference. At 307.54 yards per game, Wilson led the ACC in total offense a year ago and has career passing numbers that would instantly make him the top passer in Badger history: 8,545 yards, 76 TD, 1,083 rush yards, 17 TD.

If everything falls into place for Nebraska, Martinez might have the most physical ability mixed with championship aspirations mixed with statistical production, but he completely fell apart in the second half last year - both physically and mentally - and needs to prove he has developed. Wilson certainly is in need of reps in order to grasp the new system, however, coordinator Paul Chryst has proven he can design an offense with the best, and now, he is designing it FOR the best. I will take Wilson over them all.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even with the departure of Rich Rodriguez, I still think Michigan’s Denard Robinson will have another big statistical year and finish as the Big Ten’s top quarterback. New coordinator Al Borges wants to implement a pro-style attack, but the offense will play to Robinson’s strengths. The junior showed significant improvement as a passer last year, completing 62.5 percent of his throws and tossing 18 touchdown passes. Borges and coach Brady Hoke want to keep Robinson healthy all year, so expect a slight decrease in rushing attempts and yards.

Even if Robinson doesn’t run as much as he did last year, the Big Ten’s reigning offensive player of the year is still the catalyst for the offense. Also, his improvement as a passer last season should help the transition into the new scheme. The offensive line and receiving corps are among the best in the conference and as long as Robinson stays healthy, Michigan will average over 30 points a game.

I’d have Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson and Northwestern’s Dan Persa vying for the second spot in my quarterback rankings. Wilson was one of the ACC’s best quarterbacks over the last three years, but faces a quick transition into a new offense and will be throwing to a mostly unproven receiving corps. Northwestern was 0-3 when Persa was sidelined with an Achilles tear. The senior could be one of the most indispensable players in the nation to his team. Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins, Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase and Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez should have solid seasons, but I’d rank them outside of my top three. 

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
It’s a great year for quarterbacks in the Big Ten. There are six players who I would feel really good about if they had to start for my team — Taylor Martinez (Nebraska), Kirk Cousins (Michigan State), Denard Robinson (Michigan), Dan Persa (Northwestern), Russell Wilson (Wisconsin) and Nathan Scheelhaase (Illinois).

To pick one, I’d whittle that list down to Robinson, Persa and Wilson. From there, I’ll go with Robinson, who led the Big Ten in rushing last season with 130.9 yards per game and still averaged 197.7 yards through the air. To use a basketball term, Robinson was unguardable for much of the season.

There are questions about how he will be used in the new offense, but let’s give coordinator Al Borges the benefit of the doubt — he will figure out how to best-utilize one of the most dynamic players in college football.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
It does feel strange to select a player who has not played a single down in the Big Ten, but I have to go with Russell Wilson of Wisconsin as the league’s best quarterback. Obviously the Wilson situation is unusual, but the Badgers are getting a senior signal caller who threw 76 touchdowns passes against 26 interceptions in three seasons at NC State. I’ve heard some concerns in the media about Wilson picking up the Wisconsin system, but I do not see an issue. He is a veteran and should flourish with the UW power running game taking pressure off him. Wilson is a quality passer who was forced to create offense without much of a running game in Raleigh. The Badgers had three backs with over 990 yards last season, while the most a runner totaled in any of Wilson’s three seasons at NC State was 773 yards.

The Big Ten has several other solid candidates, but all of them have concerns entering the 2011 season. In 2010, Dan Persa had a great year at Northwestern before rupturing his Achilles tendon against Iowa. While he was a solid playmaker and should return healthy, the Wildcats still only ranked 48thnationally in passing offense. Michigan’s Denard Robinson had a breakout season in Rich Rodriguez’s spread-option offense, but he will now have to adjust to Al Borges’ more conventional pro-style attack. I just don’t see Robinson being as dynamic as last season with the coaching change. Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins is a quality passer and leader, but his inexperienced offensive line is a concern. He’s more solid than elite, but should have a big season with a good group of receivers and runners around him. Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase is a special athlete, but he still has a long way to go throwing the football. Another great runner is Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez, who put up stellar numbers last season before an ankle injury in game eight severely stifled his production. He may not be the best QB in the league, but Martinez (and his health) may have as much to do with deciding the conference winner as any Big Ten player.

It will be an interesting season in Madison, where Russell Wilson brings an impressive passing resume to a powerful ground attack. He may not quite throw for 28 or 31 scores like he has the last two season, but Wilson has a great shot to lead the league in TD passes and lead the Badgers to the first-ever Big Ten Championship Game.

Other Big Ten Content:

Why Michigan Will Surprise in the Big Ten
Could Illinois Win the Leaders Division?

Order Restored at Michigan
Illinois Could Surprise in the Leaders Division
Ranking the College Football Coaching Jobs: Big Ten
Athlon's 2011 All-Big Ten Team
Athlon's 2011 Big Ten Predictions
Who will Coach Ohio State in 2012?
Wisconsin - The New Favorite in the Leaders Division
2011 Big Ten Champs: Nebraska