Breaking down the Big Ten backup quarterbacks

October, 2, 2009
10/02/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Quarterback health in the Big Ten has been strong through the season's first month, as none of 11 opening-day starters is currently sidelined due to injury. Things haven't been so fortunate at places like Oklahoma, South Florida, USC, Baylor and even Florida, where Heisman frontrunner Tim Tebow sustained a concussion last week against Kentucky. The recent injuries serve as a reminder that every team must be prepared to lose the starter at its most important position on the field.

Here's a snapshot of the backup quarterback landscape in the Big Ten:

READY TO ROLL


Eddie McGee, Illinois -- McGee has replaced starter Juice Williams numerous times during the last three seasons, either because of injury or performance. He helped Illinois to its lone victory Sept. 12 against Illinois State and has appeared in 17 games, completing 52 of 94 pass attempts for 714 yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions.

Keith Nichol, Michigan State -- The Spartans are still operating in a two-quarterback system, though Kirk Cousins has started all four games and received most of the work. Nichol brings excellent athleticism to the backfield and improved his pocket presence during the offseason, and while his numbers aren't stellar, he led two late scoring drives against Wisconsin.

Curt Phillips, Wisconsin -- At one point in camp, Phillips looked like the frontrunner for the starting job before giving way to Scott Tolzien. His speed and mobility bring a new element to the Badgers' offense, and he has racked up 128 rush yards on eight carries in two games to go along with four completions on six attempts.

Dan Persa, Northwestern -- Persa's athleticism actually earned him some time on special teams last year as he waited for a shot under center. He has had limited action in three games this year, and while his size is a concern, he boasts a strong arm and good feet.

Joe Bauserman, Ohio State -- The former minor league pitcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization has been at Ohio State for two seasons, moving into the backup role this fall. Bauserman doesn't have a ton of game experience (4-for-9 passing this year), but he's not as raw as some of the other quarterbacks in the league.

HAS THE HYPE

Denard Robinson, Michigan -- "Shoelace" was the talk of the preseason and dropped jaws by wrong-footing several defenders for a 43-yard touchdown run on his first collegiate carry. Robinson's speed and moves will get him on the field in some form or another, but he's still unproven as a passer through the first four games.

MarQueis Gray, Minnesota -- A heralded recruit from Indianapolis, Gray can be a versatile weapon for offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. With physical gifts similar to those of Terrelle Pryor, Gray already has a touchdown catch and 50 rush yards on eight carries. But he hasn't attempted a pass, so a few doubts remain there.

WHO KNOWS?

Kevin Newsome, Penn State -- Newsome enrolled early and spent spring ball preparing to back up senior Daryll Clark, who has served as his mentor. Despite Penn State's easy opening stretch, the team's offensive struggles limited playing time for Newsome, who has completed 4 of 6 attempts for 32 yards.

James Vandenberg, Iowa -- One of the greatest passers in Iowa high school history, Vandenberg has only one career appearance, completing 2 of 3 attempts for 38 yards. A multi-sport star in high school, he boasts solid credentials but hasn't had a chance to prove himself yet.

Caleb TerBush, Purdue -- Head coach Danny Hope and offensive coordinator Gary Nord have been impressed with TerBush, but the redshirt freshman has yet to attempt a pass in a college game. TerBush has good size (6-5, 222) and a strong arm, but he needs to see action in a game.

Edward Wright-Baker, Indiana -- Wright-Baker did some impressive things in preseason camp, but Hoosiers head coach Bill Lynch is still deciding whether or not to redshirt the talented true freshman. Though Wright-Baker remains listed as Ben Chappell's backup on the depth chart, Indiana used Adam Follett in garbage time Sept. 19 at Akron.

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