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Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Big Ten quarterback quandary checkup

By Adam Rittenberg

Seven Big Ten teams have clear-cut starting quarterbacks entering Week 5, including Ohio State, which has turned to freshman signal caller Braxton Miller.

The other five squads have quarterback questions.

Let's take a quick look at each of them:

INDIANA HOOSIERS

The quarterbacks: Edward Wright-Baker, Dusty Kiel

The quandary: Wright-Baker has started the first four games and has limited mistakes, throwing only two interceptions in 129 pass attempts. But Indiana is struggling in the red zone, having scored just seven touchdowns on 13 opportunities. Coach Kevin Wilson wants to see red zone touchdown conversions at 75-80 percent, at a minimum. Kiel rallied the Hoosiers late in last Saturday's loss to North Texas.

The latest: Wright-Baker remains the starter on the depth chart and likely will start the Big Ten opener against Penn State. Kiel, who took advantage of blown coverages against North Texas, is still very much in the mix. But it doesn't sound like Wilson feels Wright-Baker is the big problem with the offense.

The quote: "I don't think we have a controversy. At the same, time, they're neck-and-neck." -- Kevin Wilson

MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS

The quarterbacks: MarQueis Gray, Max Shortell

The quandary: Gray has started the first four games, but after a record-setting performance in Week 3 against Miami (Ohio), he took a significant step back in last Saturday's loss to North Dakota State. He has completed only 50.6 percent of his passes. Shortell, a freshman, has seen action late in several games and has thrown two touchdowns and two interceptions.

The latest: Gray remains the starter for the Big Ten opener at Michigan, but the coaches are looking at certain packages where they can use Shortell. Although coach Jerry Kill's return to the team from his second hospital stay this month isn't known, the Gophers' offensive staff plans to go with the hot hand.

The quote: "Yes, yes. And that will continue on until we feel like Max gets to a point where he does a significant number of things better than MarQueis. But MarQueis is a special kid. There are things he does that we really love about him." -- offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover, asked if Gray is still the starter

NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS

The quarterbacks: Dan Persa, Kain Colter

The quandary: Persa will make his season debut Saturday at Illinois after a long rehab from a ruptured Achilles' tendon he sustained last November. The senior has looked good throwing the ball in practice but also appears somewhat limited as a runner. Colter started the first three games, playing well in the first two and struggling mightily in a Week 3 loss to Army.

The latest: Persa will return in Champaign, but whether he starts will be determined by his performance this week in practice, coach Pat Fitzgerald said. Persa feels like he's healthy enough to play a full game, but he likely will be rusty after such a long layoff. Northwestern won't neglect Colter, arguably the team's best ball-carrier, and find a role for the sophomore in the offense.

The quote: "He's not only mentally ready, he's chomping at the bit to play. For a young man like Dan, the work ethic that he's been committed to, no disrespect to any other player in college football, but no one's had to go through what he's gone through this offseason. He's handled it as well as anybody could." -- Pat Fitzgerald

PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS

The quarterbacks: Rob Bolden, Matthew McGloin

The quandary: Penn State has rotated Bolden and McGloin in each of the first four games. The coaches repeatedly say they haven't seen one separate himself either in practice or in games, although McGloin has put up better numbers the past two weeks and earned Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors for his performance against Eastern Michigan. Bolden, meanwhile, looked like the better player against Penn State's top opponent thus far, Alabama, and also led the game-winning drive at Temple.

The latest: Bolden and McGloin remain co-starters on the depth chart for the Big Ten opener at Indiana. Coach Joe Paterno fully expects both to play in Bloomington. Bolden has started the first four games, but Paterno said Tuesday he "couldn't tell you who we're going to start" at Indiana.

The quote: "We're fortunate enough to have two good quarterbacks. This week, both quarterbacks will play. Where we go from there, I really don't know." -- Joe Paterno

PURDUE BOILERMAKERS

The quarterbacks: Caleb TerBush, Robert Marve

The quandary: A season-ending injury to projected starter Rob Henry forced TerBush into the spotlight, and the junior has handled himself fairly well. He has completed 63 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and one interception. Marve is now healthy after dealing with a knee injury since the beginning of camp. Marve, whose talent has never been in question, started the 2010 season before tearing an ACL. Both quarterbacks played well in a Week 3 rout of Southeast Missouri State, combining to complete 21 of 25 passes for 234 yards.

The latest: TerBush will start Saturday against Notre Dame, but coach Danny Hope has reiterated that his team needs two quarterbacks who are ready to play. Hope wants to create continuity at quarterback after being forced to bleed through his depth chart last year because of injury. So TerBush is No. 1 for now. But Hope and the coaching staff have never hidden their positive feelings about Marve.

The quote: "We can win with both of those guys and both of those guys will be able to help us win this Saturday. And throughout the course of the year, there will be competition, but it's nice to have a little bit of continuity at the quarterback position for a change." -- Danny Hope