- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Is this the Year of the Quarterback in the Big Ten? With NFL draft hopefuls, veteran returning starters, and other intriguing prospects taking snaps around the league in 2015, it just might be. All week long, we're taking a closer look at some of this fall's most interesting Big Ten signal-callers ...
Nate Sudfeld admits there were some pretty dark days after he suffered a season-ending injury to his left shoulder against Iowa last October.
"I would be lying if I said it wasn't tough," the Indiana quarterback told ESPN.com. "I was a little mopey around the facility. I kind of felt bad for myself."
Injuries stink in any context, but this one was especially painful for a guy finally getting his shot to lead the Hoosiers' offense without reservations. Sudfeld had split time his first two years in Bloomington, first as a backup to Cam Coffman his freshman season and then in an unusual two-quarterback system with Tre Roberson as a sophomore. But Roberson transferred last summer, handing the starting job to Sudfeld alone.
That only lasted five-and-a-half games of his junior year, before the shoulder injury once again left people wondering what a full season of Sudfeld at the controls might look like. That's because when he has played, Sudfeld has always been productive. He threw for 2,523 yards and 21 touchdowns as a sophomore, with three 300-yard games, despite being handcuffed to Roberson. He got off to a bit of a slow start last season thanks in part to an inexperienced receiving corps, but he did help engineer an upset at Missouri and was still on pace for a 2,500-yard plus campaign.
He'd love to have a season like peers Connor Cook or Christian Hackenberg, where he could lead a team all season and put his stamp on it. A 3,000-yard, 30-touchdown season would be a distinct possibility for a healthy Sudfeld in the Hoosiers' spread offense. He is now down to one final chance to fulfill that potential as a senior, and that's not lost on him.
"I think he's gained a newfound sense of urgency and hunger," Indiana offensive coordinator Kevin Johns said. "He's realizing that, listen, this is it. I only have 12 more promised games."
Sudfeld's woe-is-me attitude last October didn't last long. Head coach Kevin Wilson and his teammates reminded him that he had to be a leader even if he was hurt. So Sudfeld took on that challenge, helping with game-planning and in the film room and cheering on his teammates the best he could.
Receiver Ricky Jones remembers dropping a crucial pass in a game against Rutgers late in the year. One of the first people to meet him on the sidelines afterward was Sudfeld.
"He came up to me and really picked me up," Jones said. "He was definitely a leader."
Though doctors advised against him throwing until January, Sudfeld pushed the timetable and began some light tossing in November. He made film cut-ups for his young receivers after the season, showing them how to better read defenses. Sudfeld attacked winter workouts and was slinging the ball around as well as ever during spring practice.
The injury brought a renewed appreciation for the opportunity to play. Sudfeld said he's thankful for two things: that he didn't hurt his right, throwing shoulder and that he had another year of eligibility left.
At 6-foot-4 with a quick release and good feel for the game, Sudfeld projects as a possible late-round NFL draft choice next spring. Right now, though, he wants to make the most of his final chance with the Hoosiers.
"I'm just hoping to have a healthy year this year and play as much as I can," he said. "If so, everything will all take care of itself."
1153dBrian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg