NCF Nation: Joe Boisture

It's time to hop back into our preseason position rankings, and today brings a look at the most visible position on the field: quarterback.

These are our rankings for the entire position group on each team, so depth is usually very important. With quarterback, it's a little different. There's no substitute for an experienced/accomplished starter. So the teams that have one of those plus some backups who have seen some time will get the highest rankings here, while those with unsettled or untested signal-callers will bring up the rear. Later on, we'll rank the individual quarterbacks in the league.

The envelope please ...

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireDenard Robinson is the most dangerous returning starter in the Big Ten.
1. Michigan: If there were such a thing as a half-season Heisman, Denard Robinson would have won it last year. It will be fascinating to see how he adjusts to a new offensive scheme and whether his running will be reined in, but there's no more electric player in college football than "Shoelace" when he's doing his thing. (And he's an underrated passer.) Tate Forcier left town, but Devin Gardner is talented enough to prevent much of a drop-off if Robinson leaves the game. Both must stay healthy, however.

2. Michigan State: Senior Kirk Cousins enters his third year of starting and ranks first all time among Spartans quarterbacks in passing efficiency and completion percentage. He's as steady as it gets. Andrew Maxwell got his feet wet last year as a redshirt freshman and will back up Cousins again. Joe Boisture retired from football for medical reasons, which hurts the depth. But that looks like more of a problem for next year.

3. Northwestern: Dan Persa was the coaches' first-team All-Big Ten quarterback after completing an FBS-best 73.5 percent of his passes and accounting for more than 3,000 yards of offense. Assuming he comes back healthy from his ruptured Achilles' tendon, he'll again stake a claim to being the Big Ten's best quarterback. Backup Evan Watkins gained valuable experience by starting the final three games, including the TicketCity Bowl vs. Texas Tech. But Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian competed with Watkins this spring, and Colter may have the edge for the No. 2 spot.

4. Nebraska: When healthy, sophomore Taylor Martinez is an exciting dual-threat player with game-breaking speed. He set virtually every Nebraska freshman quarterback record last season despite being hobbled down the stretch. Cody Green's transfer dealt a blow to the Cornhuskers' depth and means that if Martinez goes down, redshirt freshman Brion Carnes will have to take over. But Carnes was impressive at times this spring.

5. Illinois: Depth? Not so much here. But starter Nathan Scheelhaase gives the Illini a great place to start. As a freshman, he compiled 22 touchdowns on the ground and through the air, improving greatly as the season went on and had a huge bowl game against Baylor. Another year in Paul Petrino's system should mean big things in 2011. Illinois would be very green if Scheelhaase gets hurt.

6. Iowa: Junior James Vandenberg takes over for the reliable Ricky Stanzi. Vandenberg threw only eight passes in 2010 but started the final two games for an injured Stanzi in the pressure-packed 2009 season. It looks like this is his time. Backups John Wienke and A.J. Derby lack game experience, however.

7. Purdue: The Boilermakers have two quarterbacks who have each played in plenty of games, with incumbent starter Rob Henry and former Miami transfer Robert Marve, who suffered a torn ACL at the beginning of last season. Both players need to improve and find more consistency, though; Henry completed just 53.1 percent of his passes in 2010. Caleb TerBush is back after being ruled academically ineligible in 2010 and adds depth.

8. Penn State: Matt McGloin or Rob Bolden? That has been the question hanging over the Nittany Lions for a while, and transfer rumors followed Bolden after spring practice. The competition and another year in the system should help both guys, but a potential quarterback controversy could hurt the team. Bolden has more natural talent, but can he harness it?

9. Minnesota: MarQueis Gray takes over as the full-time starter after splitting time as a receiver and quarterback last season. The junior has the potential to be a dangerous dual-threat playmaker. He's learning a new system, but coaches liked what they saw from Gray this spring. There's no experience behind him.

10. Ohio State: The Buckeyes would have ranked much closer to the top of the list with Terrelle Pryor, even for half a season. As it stands, they have a muddled quarterback picture, with four candidates vying to take the reins. Senior Joe Bauserman backed up Pryor the past two years and can give the team a steady if unspectacular hand under center. Or Ohio State could go for potential and talent with true freshman Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes are likely to climb these rankings, but for now there's too much uncertainty at the position.

11. Wisconsin: The Badgers must replace rock solid two-year starter Scott Tolzien, and the leading candidate for now is redshirt sophomore Jon Budmayr. Though slight of stature, Budmayr has a big arm. He has played in only three career games, however. Wisconsin could rocket up this list if former NC State star Russell Wilson decided to transfer to Madison.

12. Indiana: Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker competed for the starting job this spring, but no clear winner emerged. Between them, they've thrown 29 career passes. New coach Kevin Wilson knows how to teach the quarterback position, and this offense will be friendly for passing stats. But the Hoosiers still have a long way to go.

Michigan State recruiting analysis

February, 3, 2011
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MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS

The class

Recruits: 21 (20 high school seniors, one junior college transfer, one player enrolled early)

Top prospects: For the second consecutive year, Michigan State's top recruit is a defender from Detroit. ESPNU 150 linebacker Lawrence Thomas headlines the 2011 class, following William Gholston in 2010. The Spartans added to an already deep receiving corps with Juwan Caesar, rated as the nation's No. 37 receiver by ESPN Recruiting. Center Jack Allen leads a promising group of offensive linemen in the class.

Needs met: Michigan State likely will be a consistent Big Ten title contender it if upgrades its line play, and this year's class should help with players like Allen and defensive linemen Brandon Clemons and Damon Knox. The Spartans lose two multiyear starters at linebacker (Greg Jones and Eric Gordon), and they addressed the area with players like Thomas and Darien Harris, rated as the nation's No. 32 outside linebacker by ESPN Recruiting. Joe Boisture's departure creates a need for a quarterback, and Michigan State adds one in Connor Cook.

Analysis: Mark Dantonio and his staff have made Michigan State a consistent upper-tier recruiting presence in the Big Ten. This year's class not only includes strong in-state prospects like Thomas, but nice additions from other regions like Caesar (Florida) and Harris (Maryland). There aren't as many big names this year as there were in 2010, but if the Spartans continue to build on their on-field success, their recruiting profile will continue to grow.

ESPN Recruiting grade: B-
The position rankings march on with the quarterback spot. You've already seen my individual quarterback rankings for the entire Big Ten, but this list is different. I certainly take into account the strength of the starter, but 50 percent of the ranking has to do with the overall depth at the position. If a team has a backup with experience, it helps the cause for sure.

Here's my top five:

[+] EnlargeStanzi
Marc Serota/Getty ImagesRicky Stanzi has come up clutch for the Hawkeyes.
1. Iowa: Say what you want about Ricky Stanzi, but he wins football games. There's no quarterback in the Big Ten I'd rather have in crunch time than No. 12. You also had to like what backup James Vandenberg did last November at Ohio Stadium under pressure-packed conditions. Vandenberg certainly looks ready step in and contribute if anything happens to Stanzi.

2. Ohio State: When Terrelle Pryor is on his game, few defenses can stop him. If he can build off of the Rose Bowl and complement his superior running skills with more consistency in the passing attack, look out. There's a drop-off behind Pryor, but Kenny Guiton has had a good offseason and Joe Bauserman brings some experience to the table.

3. Michigan State: Aside from a few ill-advised throws late in games, Kirk Cousins had a very solid first season as Michigan State's starting quarterback. Cousins has all the ingredients to be a star in this league, and he has a very good group of wide receivers and tight ends at his disposal. Andrew Maxwell and Joe Boisture both are promising quarterbacks, and Keith Nichol always can step in even though he'll work as a wide receiver.

4. Minnesota: People are writing off Adam Weber too soon. He's the Big Ten's most experienced quarterback and should improve in a more simplified offense this fall. Like Michigan State, Minnesota has its backup quarterback playing wide receiver, but MarQueis Gray can step in if need be and bring tremendous athleticism to the backfield.

T-5. Wisconsin: The Badgers are here because of starter Scott Tolzien, a perfect fit for Paul Chryst's system and a smart, efficient quarterback. Wisconsin likely would be higher if Curt Phillips were 100 percent healthy, but Jon Budmayr's up-and-down camp creates plenty of anxiety about the team's quarterback depth. The Badgers really can't afford to lose Tolzien.

T-5. Michigan: It's looking like the "Shoelace" Show in Ann Arbor this fall, and if Denard Robinson can merely be a decent passer, he'll be a very effective weapon in Rich Rodriguez's offense. Tate Forcier made a lot of big plays for the Wolverines last fall and provides an experienced option, while true freshman Devin Gardner might be the team's quarterback of the future and should play this fall.

Up next: Special teams

More rankings ...

Michigan State recruiting analysis

February, 4, 2010
2/04/10
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Michigan State Spartans

The class

Recruits: 21 (20 high school seniors, one junior college player, four early enrollees)

Top prospects: Linebacker William Gholston is the No. 2 recruit in the Big Ten this year, according to ESPN's Scouts Inc. Linebacker Max Bullough also will play early in his career, and quarterback Joe Boisture could be Michigan State's long-term answer under center.

Sleepers: Cornerback Mylan Hicks and safety Isaiah Lewis can help right away as the Spartans must improve in the secondary for the 2010 season. Wide receiver Keith Mumphery also might see the field early as the status of several wideouts, namely Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham, is unknown for 2010. Head coach Mark Dantonio likes Marcus Rush's potential at defensive end.

Needs met: By adding both Gholston and Bullough, Michigan State is set up well at linebacker when Greg Jones and Eric Gordon depart after the 2010 season. Boisture gives the Spartans a fourth scholarship quarterback, possibly freeing up Keith Nichol to play elsewhere. Michigan State needs to improve on both lines and added several solid prospects there.

Analysis: Despite a step back both on and off the field in 2009, Michigan State maintained its recruiting momentum, particularly within the state. This class likely won't grade quite as high as the 2009 haul, but Michigan State really helped its defense with players like Gholston, Bullough, Rush and Hicks. If one of the wide receivers can come in and contribute this season, the Spartans should be in decent shape in the passing game.

Scouts Inc. grade: B-minus

What Mark Dantonio said:

  • "We talked about trying to stack a class on top of another class. We had a great class last year, and this one stacks up right behind that one in terms of quality players we had coming into various positions. There's a lot of versatility. All of our skill guys play on both sides of the ball, they're all kick returner-punt returner type guys. The majority of our class is very, very explosive."
  • "[William Gholston] is 6-6, 250 pounds, he's put together, he runs well, he's instinctive on the football field. When you look at him, you try and figure out how can we get him on the field as soon as we can. There's a lot of things going on at linebacker, but as sort of an outside back in the mold of a Julian Peterson, we can possibly try to do those things with him. As good as he is physically, he brings some things to the table intangibly that are very, very good as well."
  • "Max Bullough is an outstanding football player. Marcus Rush, same thing. Those two guys play with a high motor. Very instinctive players and they're guys who have a knack for finding the big play. Mylan Hicks and Isaiah Lewis are two guys in the secondary that are also very explosive and very aware football players and could find the field very quickly."

PSU, Iowa, MSU sign classes

February, 3, 2010
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Penn State has announced the signings of 20 players who make up the Big Ten's top recruiting class for 2010. Although Penn State's class fell one spot to No. 8 in ESPN's rankings today, the Nittany Lions had one of the nation's most complete classes, particularly on the defensive side. Players like Dakota Royer, Khairi Fortt, Evan Hailes and several others should help Penn State very early in their careers. Quarterback Robert Bolden should compete for the starting job right away as the Nittany Lions try to replace Daryll Clark.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz finalized a 21-man recruiting class that features several of the Midwest's top players. The Hawkeyes didn't land any ESPNU 150 prospects, but players like offensive lineman Andrew Donnal, running back Marcus Coker, tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and athlete A.J. Derby all should be key contributors. Iowa's class really bolsters the defensive front with five linemen and three linebackers.

Michigan State hasn't sent out an official release just yet, but the Spartans' 21-man class is signed and sealed. Defensive-minded coach Mark Dantonio bolstered the defense with players like ESPNU 150 prospect William Gholston, linebacker Max Bullough and defensive backs Mylan Hicks. The Spartans also added depth at quarterback with Joe Boisture. This class might not have made quite as big a splash as last year's haul, but Michigan State once again did very well within the state and the Big Ten region.


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Illinois picks up a major commit at tight end, while Penn State bolsters its quarterback position and other teams add key pieces. Here's your latest recruiting rundown in the Big Ten.

ILLINOIS

  • 2010 verbal commits: 8
  • ESPNU 150 Watch List: Safety Corey Cooper, quarterback Chandler Whitmer, tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz
  • Quick take: Fiedorowicz is a big get for the Illini, who lose starting tight end Michael Hoomanawanui after the 2009 season. Illinois also will be breaking in a new starting quarterback and could lose superstar wideout Arrelious Benn to the NFL draft, so Fiedorowicz should be a big help during the transition.

INDIANA

  • 2010 verbal commits: 9
  • ESPNU 150 Watch List: None
  • Quick take: Things have slowed down a bit for the Hoosiers, who are still glowing from the commitment of defensive end Jibreel Black from Cincinnati. Indiana has found a good offense-defense balance so far in the 2010 class.

IOWA

  • 2010 verbal commits: 10
  • ESPNU 150 Watch List: Defensive end Matt Hoch, tackle Andrew Donnal
  • Quick take: Both lines have been the focus of Iowa's recruiting so far, and the Hawkeyes made a big splash with Donnal, who could protect his fellow Ohioan Ricky Stanzi at some point down the line. At least seven of Iowa's commits could contribute on the offensive or defensive lines.

MICHIGAN

  • 2010 verbal commits: 15
  • ESPNU 150 Watch List: Quarterback Devin Gardner, wide receiver Jeremy Jackson, wide receiver Ricardo Miller, guard Christian Pace, safety Marvin Robinson
  • Quick take: The nucleus for Michigan's 2010 class is in place, and the team hasn't added a commit since Courtney Avery on June 20. There are a ton of great athletes in this group, and Michigan likely will turn its attention to line play to wrap up the class.

MICHIGAN STATE

  • 2010 verbal commits: 9
  • ESPNU 150 Watch List: Defensive end William Gholston, linebacker Max Bullough, quarterback Joe Boisture
  • Quick take: After landing its first seven commits from within state borders, Michigan State went into enemy territory -- or Mark Dantonio's home state, depending on how you look at it -- to pick up offensive linemen Travis Jackson and Michael Dennis. The two Ohio natives balance out a class that is shaping up well for the Spartans.

MINNESOTA

  • 2010 verbal commits: 10
  • ESPNU 150 Watch List: None
  • Quick take: The Gophers already have a strong in-state recruiting haul, and they went to the southeast for running back Donnell Kirkwood, a workhorse-type back who generated a lot of interest. Minnesota also remains in the mix for arguably the nation's biggest prize, local product Seantrel Henderson.

NORTHWESTERN

  • 2010 verbal commits: 6
  • ESPNU 150 Watch List: None
  • Quick take: Pat Fitzgerald should never have a hard time recruiting linebackers, and Northwestern landed a good one -- with a good name -- in Chi Chi Ariguzo from Columbus, Ohio. Ariguzo can also play safety and should contribute on special teams early in his career. Northwestern has yet to land an in-state prospect.

OHIO STATE

  • 2010 verbal commits: 8
  • ESPNU 150 Watch List: Tackle Andrew Norwell, linebacker Jamel Turner, defensive end David Durham, running back Roderick Smith
  • Quick take: A quiet week for the Buckeyes after filling their backfield needs with Smith and quarterback Taylor Graham. Ohio State hopes to go back into Florida for star linebacker Jeff Luc and possibly linebacker Deon Rogers.

PENN STATE

  • 2010 verbal commits: 12
  • ESPNU 150 Watch List: Wide receiver Adrian Coxson, running back Silas Redd, center Miles Dieffenbach, defensive end Kyle Baublitz, defensive tackle Evan Hailes, quarterback Robert Bolden
  • Quick take: Does Penn State currently have the Big Ten's best recruiting class for 2010? It sure looks that way as Bolden gives the Nittany Lions six watch list commitments out of 12 overall. Both Bolden and Paul Jones should be able to operate effectively in the Spread HD offense.

PURDUE

  • 2010 verbal commits: 7
  • ESPNU 150 Watch List: Quarterback Robert Marve (2007 watch list)
  • Quick take: The quality of Purdue's commits seems to be getting better as quarterback Sean Robinson and defensive tackle Josh Davis came aboard. Robinson joins Marve and Caleb TerBush in the quarterback mix, while Davis boasts excellent size (6-foot-5, 250) for a young interior lineman.

WISCONSIN

  • 2010 verbal commits: 8
  • ESPNU 150 Watch List: Safety Frank Tamakloe
  • Quick take: The quarterback position might be a question mark this season, but it's shaping up well for the future as Joseph Brennan committed to the Badgers. Brennan has good mechanics and accuracy, and he should get better with increased strength. Cameron Ontko could be a contributor at fullback or H-back down the line.

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