The Big Ten is heavy at the top when it comes to quarterbacks this season, as Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez and Michigan’s Devin Gardner could all be top-20 passers in 2013.
Miller is one of college football’s leading contenders for the Heisman and should thrive in his second year with coach Urban Meyer. Martinez showed big improvement last season and will be throwing to one of the Big Ten’s best receiving corps in 2013. This will be Gardner’s first opportunity to start a full season but he clearly showed he was ready for the opportunity last year.
The rest of the conference has some uncertainty, as Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State, Purdue and Iowa all have a quarterback battle expected to extend into fall practice.
College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top quarterbacks in each conference. One important note: This is just a ranking of starters and backups weren’t included for this article.
Ranking the Big Ten's Starting Quarterbacks for 2013
1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State (JR)
The electric dual-threat talent from Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne was the No. 2-rated quarterback prospect in the nation in 2011. He quickly stole the starting job as a true freshman before enjoying a breakout sophomore campaign under spread guru Urban Meyer. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound dynamo is the unquestioned leader of the Buckeyes and he consistently carried his team to an undefeated season with, at times, complete disregard for his own safety. He finished the year fourth in the Big Ten in rushing (1,271 yards) and was No. 2 in passing efficiency and total offense (Taylor Martinez). With speed, size and smarts, he is a perfect fit for Meyer’s offensive scheme and it means Miller could be the Heisman front-runner in 2013.
2. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (SR)
Martinez was clearly one of college football’s most-improved quarterbacks last season. In 14 contests, he threw for 2,871 yards and 23 touchdowns and added 1,019 yards and 10 scores on the ground. Martinez topped 300 yards passing three times and had five contests of 100 or more rushing yards. After showing steady improvement in each of his first three years as a starter, Martinez is poised for his best year at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are loaded at receiver and return three starters on the offensive line. Expect Martinez to be in the mix for All-Big Ten honors and be a top-15 quarterback nationally this season.
3. Devin Gardner, Michigan (JR)
After an injury sidelined Denard Robinson last season, Gardner finally got his chance to start at quarterback for Michigan. The former top recruit waited his turn behind Robinson and saw some snaps at receiver early in the year. However, Gardner showed no rust when he moved back under center on a full-time basis, throwing for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns over the final five games. In the Outback Bowl against South Carolina, Gardner completed 18 of 36 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns. His best performance came against Iowa, throwing for 314 yards and three scores, while adding 37 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Michigan needs to give Gardner more help at receiver and from its rushing attack, but the junior is poised to have an All-Big Ten year in his first as Michigan’s No. 1 quarterback.
4. Kain Colter, Northwestern (SR)
Even though Colter is ranked here, it’s essentially the duo of Colter/Trevor Siemian. In 13 games last season, Colter threw for 872 yards and eight touchdowns, rushed for 894 yards and 12 scores and caught 16 passes for 169 yards. Siemian passed for 1,312 yards and six touchdowns on 218 attempts last season. Most two-quarterback systems don’t work, but Northwestern seems to have found the right mix between Colter and Siemian. The Wildcats are coming off of a 10-3 season and the Colter-Siemian duo could lead this team to a spot in most preseason top 25 polls in 2013.
5. Tre Roberson, Indiana (SO)
Roberson burst onto the scene as a true freshman midway through the 2011 season. The Indianapolis (Ind.) Lawrence Central product became the first true frosh to start in IU history when he took over the job against Illinois in Week 6. He tormented defenses the rest of the season with electric athletic ability (426 yards rushing) and had Hoosiers fans excited about 2012. However, after a huge game against Indiana State in the season opener, Roberson was lost for the season with a broken leg in Week 2. He redshirted and is poised to return to action this fall. Kevin Wilson has quickly created a potent passing attack in Bloomington and Roberson figures to be the star of the show in 2013.
6. Joel Stave, Wisconsin (SO)
Danny O’Brien was supposed to be the heir apparent to the great Russell Wilson. But the Maryland transfer looked lost from the start and Bret Bielema made the switch to Stave, a redshirt freshman walk-on from Greenfield (Wis.) Whitnall. Stave, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound pocket passer, totally rejuvenated the non-existent passing game the second he stepped into the lineup. He threw for 1,104 yards and six scores in less than six games, as he sustained a season-ending broken collarbone against Michigan State. The only two games the Badgers lost during the stretch were the two Stave couldn’t finish due to injury (Nebraska was the other), which only further indicates how important he was to creating balance on offense. Counting the loss to the Spartans, Wisconsin lost four of its last six games without Stave. Healthy and now in Gary Andersen’s prolific offensive scheme, look for Stave to flourish in his second season under center.
7. Andrew Maxwell, Michigan State (SR)
After struggling in his first season as Michigan State’s starting quarterback, Maxwell is under pressure to raise his performance in 2013. The Spartans have the talent and the schedule to win nine games this year, but quarterback play has to improve. In his first season as a starter, Maxwell threw for 2,606 yards and 13 touchdowns. However, he completed only 52.4 percent of his throws and tossed nine picks, including two in a key Legends Division loss to Northwestern. Maxwell was able to hold off Connor Cook and Tyler O’Connor this spring, but the battle will continue into the fall.
8. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State (FR)
With Steven Bench’s decision to transfer after spring practice, the battle to replace Matt McGloin in Happy Valley is down to two contenders: Christian Hackenberg and Tyler Ferguson. Hackenberg ranked as one of the top quarterbacks in the 2013 recruiting class but won’t arrive on campus until this summer. Ferguson joined Penn State from the junior college ranks this spring and heads into fall as a tentative No. 1. Hackenberg has the talent, but there’s no need for coach Bill O’Brien to rush him into the starting lineup.
9. Philip Nelson, Minnesota (SO)
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill decided to remove Nelson’s redshirt midway through last season and inserted him into the starting lineup for the final seven contests. Nelson threw for six touchdowns in his first three games but went three contests without a score, before turning in a solid performance in the bowl game (7 of 16, 138 yards, two touchdowns). Nelson has dual-threat potential, which is the type of quarterback Kill used successfully at Northern Illinois. The sophomore has potential but needs more help from the receiving corps and rushing attack. Nelson should build off of last season’s showing with a solid 2013 campaign.
10. Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois (SR)
Few quarterbacks in the nation have taken as many snaps and have as many question marks as the senior-to-be from Kansas City (Mo.) Rockhurst. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound dual-threat quarterback has been a team and bowl game MVP (Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl) but has also been benched on more than one occasion and has missed plenty of time due to injury. He is a career 60.9-percent passer who threw more interceptions (8) than touchdowns (4) a year ago. His touchdown totals have dropped three straight seasons from 23 as a freshman to 20 as a sophomore and just eight a year ago. And the Illini went from back-to-back seven-win seasons to an abysmal 2-10 mark last fall. Scheelhaase’s legacy will be decided this fall and he has to play more consistent football if he wants fans to remember him like he was as a freshman — when he posted 1,825 yards passing and 868 yards rushing.
11. Rob Henry, Purdue (SR)
A three-star prospect from Ocala (Fla.) Trinity Catholic, Henry has overcome plenty in his Boilermakers career. He redshirted in 2009 before making seven starts as a second-year freshman in '10. Then, after being named team co-captain, he tore up his knee a week before the 2011 season started. He came back again in 2012 and helped contribute behind Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound dual-threat showed flashes of athletic ability with 547 yards rushing as a freshman and should still bring that type of dynamic to Darrell Hazell’s new offense. However, staying healthy will be a key if Henry wants to help Purdue get to the postseason for the third straight season.
12. Jake Rudock, Iowa (SO)
James Vandenberg’s career at Iowa ended on a down note, but he still threw for 5,786 yards and 35 touchdowns during his tenure in Iowa City. With Vandenberg out of eligibility, the Hawkeyes have a three-way battle for the No. 1 job this offseason. And considering none of the candidates have thrown a pass on the FBS level, it’s a wide-open battle that may not be decided until late in the fall. Rudock is believed to have the inside track, as he served as Vandenberg’s backup last year. The 6-foot-3 passer was the Broward (Fla.) County Player of the Year as a high school senior and redshirted in his first season on campus. If Rudock doesn’t win the job, Cody Sokol – a junior college recruit that redshirted last season – and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard will get a chance to push for the top spot.
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