Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Big Ten quarterback superlatives
By Adam Rittenberg
We're all about the quarterbacks today on the Big Ten blog, so let's have some fun with superlatives about the league's signal-callers in 2011.
Best dual threat: Michigan's Denard Robinson. You could make a case for Northwestern's Dan Persa and Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase, but Robinson in 2010 became the first player in NCAA history to eclipse 2,500 pass yards and 1,500 rush yards in a season. Whether he can maintain the same production in a new system remains to be seen.
Best drop-back passer: Michigan State's Kirk Cousins. He fits the traditional Big Ten quarterback mold better than most, and he has put up good numbers in two years as the starter. Cousins completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 2,825 yards with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2010, despite playing hurt for the second half of the season. He always has a lot of weapons and spreads the ball around well. Iowa's James Vandenberg could fit this description by season's end.
Fastest: I'd love to see a footrace between Robinson and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez. Both men displayed incredible speed in 2010, particularly in the first half of the season. Both men had highlight reel runs such as Robinson's 87-yard score at Notre Dame Stadium and Martinez's pair of 80-yard touchdown dashes against Washington and Kansas State, respectively.
Most accurate: Northwestern's Dan Persa. He set a Big Ten record for completion percentage in 2010, connecting on 73.5 percent of his passes. Persa completed more than 70 percent of his attempts in seven of 10 games, hit on 19 of 21 passes in the opener at Vanderbilt and threw only four interceptions in 302 pass attempts.
Best all-around athlete: There are several nominees here, but I'm going with Minnesota's MarQueis Gray. The guy started at wide receiver in 2010 and finished second on the team in receptions (42), receiving yards (587) and receiving touchdowns (5). He now transitions to quarterback, his natural position, and showed promising signs this spring. At 6-4 and 229 pounds, Gray is a specimen.
Best play extender: Wisconsin's Russell Wilson. Those who watched Wilson at NC State know what I'm talking about. Although he doesn't run for a ton of yards, he does an excellent job of extending plays in the pocket. Wilson can buy time for his receivers to get open and alleviate the pressure on his offensive linemen to keep pass-rushers away.
Most fearless: Iowa's James Vandenberg. The situation was set up for a young quarterback to crumble. Iowa traveled to Ohio State in November 2009 to play for a trip to the Rose Bowl. Ricky Stanzi's injury forced Vandenberg, a redshirt freshman, to make his first career start. But Vandenberg responded by passing for 233 yards and two touchdowns (with three interceptions) as Iowa nearly upset Ohio State in overtime. Vandenberg earned respect in Columbus that should help him as he becomes Iowa's new field general. Penn State's Matt McGloin deserves a mention here, too.
Most improved: Illinois' Scheelhaase. You could see Scheelhaase make strides during the 2010 season and particularly before the Texas Bowl, where he completed his first 13 pass attempts and finished the game 18-for-23 passing for a career-high 242 yards in a rout of Baylor. The sophomore continued to develop as a passer during spring ball. Purdue's Rob Henry deserves a mention as coach Danny Hope called him the Boilers' most improved player this spring.
Biggest mystery man: Penn State's Rob Bolden. We haven't seen much of Bolden since he suffered a concussion against Minnesota in Week 8 last season. Since then, he has tried to leave the program, gone through a spring that earned him high marks, kept the door open for a possible departure and then recommitted himself to Penn State last month. Bolden must beat out Matt McGloin for the starting job in camp, and if he does, it will be interesting to see how much he has improved when the games begin. Purdue's Robert Marve fits in here, too. He comes off of his second ACL tear and has played in just three plus games since 2008.
Most talked-about freshman: It's a close call between Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Nebraska's Bubba Starling. Miller is competing for the starting job in camp following the June departure of three-year starter Terrelle Pryor. Starling, a No. 1 draft pick of the Kansas City Royals, must decide whether to sign a lucrative contract to play pro baseball or help provide depth at quarterback behind Martinez.