14.) Gary Nova, Rutgers (SR)
Despite having a name that could have come from a star quarterback on a Disney channel show or something, Nova has been anything but super. Nova was decent in 2013, guiding the Scarlet Knights to a bowl game and delivering 22 touchdowns and nearly 2,700 yards, but last year his production fell off a cliff. Nova threw for way less yards (1,553), touchdowns (11), and barely completed 50% of his passes. He lost his job the last few games of the season, and he may not get it back. The Big Ten is considerably tougher than the Big East, so the Rutgers QB could be in trouble.
13.) Mitch Leidner, Minnesota (SO)
Leidner takes over the starting job in Minnesota after their former starting quarterback (Phillip Nelson) transferred to Rutgers because he probably saw an opening at the QB position caused by the guy listed before Leidner. Still following? Leidner took over an ineffectual offensive unit sporadically in 2013 and nearly guided his team to victory against Syracuse in the final game of the season. He rushed for 407 yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground last year, while throwing for 619 yards and 3 touchdowns. But no one is really even sure Leidner can throw, despite being built like a tank (6’3, 240 lbs). If he can develop into a legitimate dual-threat, he could shoot up this list.
12.) Danny Etling, Purdue (SO)
There’s a good chance Etling could be the worst quarterback in the Big Ten next year, despite showing some flashes in 2013. Etling, an Indy native, gave Purdue a glimpse of his potential on the last game of the season when he threw for 485 yards and 4 touchdowns against rival Indiana (though Purdue lost, like most of their games last year). The problem is that Etling has few weapons at wideout, poor offensive line play, and a coach (Darrell Hazell) who looks like he’s kicking past his coverage in the Big Ten. Etling has an uphill battle, and unless their track star-turned-wideout-turned-runningback (Raheem Mostert) pans out, he will be an island on the worst Big Ten team next year.
11.) Wes Lunt, Illinois (SO)
Lunt was forced to sit out 2013 after transferring from Oklahoma State a season ago, so he’s going to have to shake off a lot of rust. The former 4-star prospect threw for 1,108 yards in barely five appearances back in 2012 for Oklahoma State, but he hasn’t played in a pretty long time. Lunt may have the physical tools capable of becoming an elite quarterback, but he wasn’t even that efficient in a defensively deficient Big XII. Being able to do it against stiffer competition might prove difficult for him early on.
10.) Trevor Siemian, Northwestern (SR)
Union talk aside, Northwestern has just as many problems as everyone else ahead of them on the list, but it looks like they may have finally solved one. Siemian looks like he’s finally taking the starting job over after the Wildcats when with the terrible idea of using two QBs for the past two seasons. The certainty of having a position locked down when all eyes are on you anyway should help Siemian perform a bit better. He showed what he’s capable of against Illinois when he threw for four touchdowns and 400 yards the last game of the season. While his 11 TDs and 9 INTs last year don’t wow you, Northwestern’s new focus on high octane O might give him some freedom to throw it around more.
9.) Joel Stave, Wisconsin (JR)
Stave has the starting gig right now for Wisky after performing relatively well last year (22 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and nearly beating Ohio State and Penn State while getting the Badgers to a good bowl game. But there’s the lingering sentiment that Wisconsin may have a better option in transfer Tanner McEvoy, and Stave’s health only cast more doubt onto his certainty as a starter. Should Stave be named the starter, he would likely be higher on this list.
8.) Tommy Armstrong Nebraska (SO)
Armstrong had the unenviable task of taking over for Nebraska’s stud quarterback Taylor Martinez after he went down with a foot injury last season. Quite frankly, not everyone is certain Armstrong is the best option at quarterback (he completed just under 52% of his passes last year and had a weak spring game showing). Armstrong threw for 9 touchdowns and 8 interceptions last year, but he did win games against Georgia, Michigan, and Penn State last year. Why is he on the list this high? Because he just has to manage games with All-American talent like I back Ameer Abdullah and receiver Kenny Bell on the roster. Stay out of their way, and he should be a force for the Huskers.
7.) Jake Rudock, Iowa (JR)
Rudock has a decent amount of potential as a player after throwing for 2,383 yards and 18 touchdowns last season for the Hawkeyes. He’s got a solid arm that can be a bit inaccurate (he completed less than 60% of his passes), but he’s an 8-win quarterback who was playing behind a pretty bad offensive line. The return of his best receiver should alleviate some of those 13 interceptions he threw last year, too. Rudock is never going to light the Big Ten on fire playing at Iowa, but he’s a solid option who only stands to get better.
6.) C.J. Brown, Maryland (SR)
Brown fits here after scoring a combined 25 touchdowns last season despite missing a couple games playing dinged up. While he did struggle at times against some of the top-tier competition, Brown might be the fastest quarterback in the Big Ten and has more weapons at his disposal than most teams in the country. Stefon Diggs and Deon Long at wideout, combined with a solid running game headed by Brandon Ross are all the weapons Brown needs. Fortunately, he’s also got the best offensive line he’s had during his entire tenure at Maryland as well; that could be the difference between unhealthiness and a career year. Accuracy still a question.
5.) Devin Gardner, Michigan (SR)
Gardner is the one person in the top five who, in some folks opinions around Anne Arbor, could also place dead last. He’s polarizing, picks up negative yardage on a lot of plays, and might be a better wideout than quarterback. But the numbers are just inarguable: 32 combined touchdowns (rushing and passing), 11 interceptions, and just shy of 3,000 yards passing. Those are gaudy numbers, and it’s hard to imagine they don’t get better his senior year with a much improved offensive line. Gardner still has room for growth both in terms of accuracy and decision making, but Brady Hoke seems to believe he’s the man, despite the emergence of youngster Shane Morris at the position.
4.) Nate Sudfeld (JR)
Indiana threw up a whole lot of points last season (38.4/g) and didn’t get a ton of attention because of how bad their team was. They’re moving from a two QB system to relying solely on Sudfeld, but don’t expect a major drop off. Sudfeld had 22 touchdowns to only 9 picks despite playing half the time, while Tre Robinson had 15 touchdowns and 4 picks, with 5 rushing touchdowns the rest of the time. The Hoosiers have a gamer on their hands, and he’ll do just fine this year.
3.) Christian Hackenberg, Penn State (SO)
Hackenberg has the most potential of any quarterback on this list, quite frankly. Last season as a true freshman he threw for 20 touchdowns and only 10 picks despite playing behind a pretty shoddy O-line and having little time to prep for a new coach. Hackenberg had a lot of pressure thrust onto him and he responded by winning a Big Ten Freshman of the Year award. He’s big, he’s gotten stronger, and there’s a good chance he’s going to be better next year. Still, some major red flags include whether or not he’ll still thrive now that Bill O’Brien has moved on and his best receiver is going to be playing in the NFL. Those are big hits for any quarterback, especially a true sophomore.
2.) Connor Cook, Michigan State (JR)
Cook took over at Michigan State on the third game of the season, and the rest is history: 22 touchdowns, only 6 picks, a Rose Bowl victory and MVP award. Cook has a nice arm (he passed for a little over 2,700 yards) that’s capable of delivering balls to anyone anywhere, and he put up great stats last year while not possessing elite talent at WR. He’s the unquestioned starter now with more talent, so you can expect Cook to continue guiding Michigan State to a potentially undefeated season.
1.) Braxton Miller, Ohio State (SR)
There’s not much more to say about Braxton Miller, the accolades speak for themselves; two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, a Rose Bowl appearance, about 5,200 yards passing and over 3,000 yards rushing, 84 total career touchdowns, and he’s coming off his best season. Miller has been everything and more to Ohio State, and even though he lost in both the Orange Bowl and the Rose Bowl, he’s still a dynamic playmaker capable of beating anyone. He’s 24-0 in regular season play as evidence of that, but a Rose Bowl win and a National Championship are the only way his final season will be viewed as a success with Urban Meyer.