The 2012 college football season is still months away, but it's never too early to preview. Athlon continues its countdown to the upcoming season and spring previews by ranking the quarterbacks in each of the BCS conferences. The rankings take into account last season's production, what each player is expected to do in 2012 and the surrounding personnel.
Here's how Athlon ranks the 12 quarterbacks in the Big Ten for 2012:
1. Denard Robinson, Michigan (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,173 yards, 20 TD, 15 INT, 14, 55.0%
Rushing Stats: 221 att., 1,176 yards, 16 TD
The list of accomplishments is in a constant state of expansion for the quarterback nicknamed Shoelace. He currently holds the NCAA single-season rushing record for a quarterback (1,702), is the only player in history to join the 2,500-1,500 club, owns the top six single-game offensive output in Michigan history and, oh by the way, snapped the seven-game losing streak to that school from down South. He is eighth in Wolverines rushing history (3,229), fifth in career touchdowns (35) and third in total offense (8,160). Most importantly, D-Rob led the Maize and Blue to a 10-win season for the first time since 2006 last fall and has the team poised for its first Big Ten title since 2004. The most explosive quarterback in the nation saw his efficiency dip slightly in 2011, but he was asked to do less with the emergence of talent around him on the offense. Michigan is smelling Roses heading into the summer, and their Week 1 match-up with Alabama could be a Heisman Trophy showcase for Shoelace.
2. Braxton Miller, Ohio State (SO)
Passing Stats: 1,159 yards, 13 TD, 4 INT, 54.1%
Rushing Stats: 159 att., 715 yards, 7 TD
It only took one short season for Ohio State fans to realize the rare physical gifts Miller brings to an offense. He showed poise and maturity on the field well beyond his freshman classification — just ask the Wisconsin secondary. And his acceleration in the first 10 yards may trail only Robinson nationally, this in a league with explosive names like Martinez, Gray and Colter. Over the second half of the season, Miller rushed for 486 yards, including three 100-yard efforts, and scored all seven of his rushing touchdowns. He threw nine of his 13 touchdown passes over the final seven games of the season, including his top three passing games of his young career. The rebuilt offensive line might slow his development, but the pass-catchers and backfield will only get better over the summer. With Urban Meyer now in town designing a spread attack that fits his skills perfectly, Miller has a chance to be a transcendent talent under center.
3. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,089 yards, 13 TD, 8 INT, 56.3%
Rushing Stats: 188 att., 874 yards, 9 TD
Martinez burst into the hearts and minds of Big Red faithful after 323 yards and five touchdowns in a thrilling 51-41 win over Oklahoma State as a freshman. After a public disagreement with his head coach — and miserable performance on the field against Texas A&M, questioned swirled around T-Magic’s second season. However, as a sophomore, he answered one of the biggest question marks by maturing as a leader and developing mental toughness. The final stage of his growth will come in the form of consistent and accurate passing. His completion rate dipped in year two under center, but his interception rate did too as his yardage totals increased. With his electric ability to pickup yards with his legs, and possibly the top receiving corps in the Big Ten, Martinez should have his eyes set on a monster 2012 campaign. He has won 18 games in his first two years as a starter and a trip to the Big Ten title game will fall to his ability to complete key third-down passes late in close games.
4. James Vanderberg, Iowa (SR)
Passing Stats: 3,022 yards, 25 TD, 7 INT, 58.7%
Rushing Stats: 78 att., 61 yards, 3 TD
The record-setting prep quarterback waited his turn behind Ricky Stanzi and did not disappoint in his first year under center. Arguably the best pure passer left in the Big Ten (after Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins departed), Vandenberg will have to find a replacement for Marvin McNutt — also known as the most productive receiver in Iowa history. That said, Keenan Davis and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz should keep the vertical passing attack near the top of the Big Ten once again. However, Iowa and the 6-foot-3, 212-pound pro-style passer will only challenge for a division title if it can get some help from what was the worst rushing attack in the Big Ten a year ago — now, without Marcus Coker. How far can Vandenberg carry the Hawkeyes?
5. Danny O’Brien, Wisconsin (JR)
Passing Stats: 1,648 yards, 7 TD, 10 INT, 56.4%
Rushing Stats: 33 att., 57 yards, 2 TD
O’Brien is a long way from his ACC Rookie of the Year season at Maryland back in 2010. A broken arm, an underwhelming on-the-field performance, a bizarre divorce with head coach Randy Edsall and torrid (second) recruitment landed the redshirt junior in Madison. For the second straight season, the Badgers will hang Big Ten title hopes on an ACC transfer. O’Brien will graduate in mid-May and will begin working with new coordinator Matt Canada shortly thereafter. He is undoubtedly the top option on the UW roster and will be playing in the best situation of his career — aka with Montee Ball and the UW O-line. His experience — 4,086 career yards, 32 total touchdowns — gives the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder a shot at returning the Badgers to the title game. If DOB returns to his freshman All-American status, Wisconsin should be back in Indianapolis. However, if Badger fans are expecting a Wilson-like performance from O'Brien, they will be sorely mistaken.
6. MarQueis Gray, Minnesota (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,495 yards, 8 TD, 8 INT, 50.7%
Rushing Stats: 199 att., 966 yards, 6 TD
This triple-threat athlete has finally settled into his role as starting quarterback. After 645 career receiving yards and 1,341 yards rushing, Gray enters the 2012 season as the unquestioned veteran presence under center that the recruiting rankings projected back in 2009. After missing the 58-0 drubbing at the hands of Michigan last fall, Gray strung together his best sequence of starts in his career. He scored 11 of his 14 total touchdowns, rushed for 615 yards and posted a career-high 295 passing yards against Michigan State. He led an upset victory over Iowa with 255 yards of offense and two scores and finished the season with 327 yards rushing over the final two weeks of the season — a road loss to Northwestern and home victory over Illinois. Gray’s size and speed combination is a rarity – even in the most athletically gifted quarterback league in the nation.
7. Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,110 yards, 13 TD, 8 INT, 63.2%
Rushing Stats: 191 att., 624 yards, 6 TD
Most fans and analysts alike had big plans for Scheelhaase heading into his second full season under center in 2011. Yet, after a stellar freshman campaign, the heavily voweled quarterback sludged through a second-half collapse that rivaled that of Texas Tech, Clemson or Texas A&M. His interception rate went up, his touchdown rate went down, his yards per carry dropped to a paltry 3.2-yard clip and Illinois lost its final six games of the regular season. The collapse prompted a coaching switch from Ron Zook to Tim Beckman — a move that will undoubtedly help Mr. Scheelhaase get back on his developmental track. Replacing A.J. Jenkins won’t be easy, but as an upperclassmen now, the offensive onus must fall completely on Scheelhaase’s talented but inconsistent shoulders.
8. Andrew Maxwell, Michigan State (JR)
Passing Stats: 171 yards, TD, 0 INT, 69.2%
Rushing Stats: 5 att., -2 yards, 0 TD
Little is known about the big-armed junior-to-be from Midland, Mich. He has been patient and learned the position behind arguably the program’s most historic quarterback Kirk Cousins. He has the support of the coaching staff as the unquestioned starter for the Spartans in 2012. Head coach Mark Dantonio had this to say about his future starter this spring, “He has a very live arm and he’s an outstanding leader. He’s very calm and poised and I think great things are around the corner for him.” The poise, leadership, mental approach to the game, stature (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) and arm strength have led most observers to Cousins comparisons for Maxwell. If he is half of the quarterback Kirk Cousins was in East Lansing, Spartan fans will be very happy — and he will be much higher on this list come next summer.
9. Kain Colter, Northwestern (JR)
Passing Stats: 673 yards, 6 TD, 1 INT, 67.1%
Rushing Stats: 135 att., 654 yards, 9 TD
Receiving Stats: 43 rec., 466 yards, 3 TD
Not many starting quarterbacks in any league have the 2011 resume of Colter’s. He was stellar in all three phases of the offense as his athletic ability was on full display in the signature win of the Wildcats season. Colter rushed 17 times for 57 yards and two touchdowns while throwing for 115 yards and another score in the upset win over Nebraska on the road. He caught three passes for 57 yards and was unstoppable in the second half after Dan Persa got hurt. He threw only four passes after that game, but was dynamic in both the rushing and receiving game. He totaled 55 touches for 268 yards from scrimmage and scored in three of the last four games. The 6-foot, 190-pound do-everything talent should be the next in a long line of tremendously productive Northwestern signal callers.
10. Caleb TerBush, Purdue (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,905 yards, 13 TD, 6 INT, 61.7%
Rushing Stats: 83 att., 219 yards, TD
For the first time in years, the quarterback position (barring injury — fingers firmly crossed as I type this) appears to be a position of strength for the Boilermakers. TerBush will be pushed by quality depth behind him (Robert Marve or Rob Henry), but has the inside track on starting for Danny Hope. He threw an interception in only four games last year and none in the final four games — which covered 78 pass attempts. More importantly, Purdue won three of those final four games, including the thriller over Ohio State and the Boilers first bowl win since 2007. Marve has a chance to push for time, but the competition should be a positive for TerBush as he enters his final season in West Lafayette.
11. Tre Roberson, Indiana (SO)
Passing Stats: 937 yards, 3 TD, 6 INT, 57.0%
Rushing Stats: 109 att., 426 yards, 2 TD
As only a freshman, Roberson was handed the keys to Kevin Wilson’s attack midway through the 2011 season. The offense was sparked by the dynamic athlete, as the Hoosiers rushing attack flourished in the second half of the season. Roberson’s production did not include any wins but he posted four games of at least 70 yards rushing in his final five contests. If Wilson expects to improve in 2012, he will have to lean heavily on the legs of the young sophomore.
12. Matt McGloin, Penn State (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,571 yards, 8 TD, 5 INT, 54.1%
Rushing Stats: 24 att., -12 yards, 0 TD
McGloin gets the nod as the Penn State placeholder at this point. The quarterback position is in ugly shape for new head coach Bill O’Brien, who is used to dealing with Tom Brady in New England. McGloin was given the chance to sling it around full-time against Nebraska (the first game JoePa didn’t coach) and he completed only 16 of his 34 attempts in the loss. Rob Bolden and Paul Jones will also get plenty of early looks this summer, but McGloin is the most “pro-style” of the bunch and likely has the slight lead in the clubhouse. His skillset fits the scheme O’Brien wants to employ best, but no one on this roster has been productive under center since Michael Robinson.
By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on Twitter)
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