- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's quarterback week here at the blog, as we're taking a closer look at some of the more intriguing starting signal-callers in the Big Ten.
But what about the guys wearing headsets and carrying clipboards who might have to rescue a season if something goes wrong? Let's see how the backup quarterback situations stand across the league while ranking them in tiers.
The zero-dropoff group: Ohio State
No matter who Urban Meyer chooses to start, he will still have two Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterbacks on the bench ready to fill in. It's an unprecedented situation, and it means the Buckeyes are the rare team that doesn't have to worry one bit about an injury to their starting quarterback.
The warmed-up-leftovers group: Michigan, Northwestern, Purdue, Rutgers
All four of these teams have ongoing battles to determine the starting quarterback. The good news for these purposes is that whoever finishes second shouldn't be all that far behind the starter. At Michigan, either Shane Morris or Jake Rudock will bring plenty of experience as a backup. Matt Alviti and Zack Oliver have already played important snaps for the Wildcats. Austin Appleby and Danny Etling boast major starting experience at Purdue. And Rutgers' duo of Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig is pretty close to neck and neck after the spring.
The hey-it-could-be-a-lot-worse group: Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota
This tier includes teams who at least have some experience behind the starter, though they'd hate to see their main man go down. Zander Diamont started the second half of the 2014 season for Indiana after Nate Sudfeld went down and played well in a win over Purdue in the finale. Perry Hillis played in three games last year for Maryland and took starter's reps this spring, along with Shane Cockerille, while Caleb Rowe sat out. And while the Gophers are definitely Mitch Leidner's team, Chris Streveler has shown an ability to run the Minnesota offense in spurts.
The not-exactly-green-but-wildly-unproven group: Michigan State, Nebraska
There's no replacing Connor Cook, but at least Michigan State has experienced backup Tyler O'Connor and intriguing athlete Damion Terry to hold down the fort. Still, neither has passed a test in an important situation. Nebraska fans have long had a soft spot for Johnny Stanton, and Ryker Fyfe has played meaningful downs, including last year's Michigan State game. But neither have come all that close to unseating Tommy Armstrong Jr., so we'd have no idea what to expect if they were suddenly elevated to No. 1 status.
The are-we-sure-this-is-a-downgrade group: Wisconsin
No offense to Joel Stave, who has a sterling record and who by all accounts had a good spring. His experience is unmatched on the Badgers' roster. Still, there's little question that he's got his limitations, and redshirt freshman D.J. Gillins and true freshmen Austin Kafentzis and Alex Hornibrook boast promising athleticism. Wisconsin wouldn't want to lose Stave, especially early in the season, but the offense might not suffer too much with a change.
The hold-your-breath-group: Illinois, Iowa, Penn State
Veteran transfers at Illinois (Aaron Bailey) and Iowa (Rudock) leave both teams hoping their starters make it through the year. Chayce Crouch will likely serve as the No. 2 for the Illini, while redshirt freshman Tyler Wiegers has that role for the Hawkeyes. Both got rash courses this spring but may not be ready. Trace McSorely earned praise for his spring at Penn State, but the redshirt freshman will be playing his first collegiate downs this spring. Extended absences for Christian Hackenberg can only mean blowouts or a cause for alarm.