Mandatory Credit: Jim O
Every year we rank the conference quarterbacks and positional players from worst to first, and even with the move over to the Big Ten this year will be no different.
The Big Ten is just as bad as the ACC in terms of overall quarterback play, fielding a very top-heavy group with lots of uncertainty at the bottom half. We’ll start with the bottom half, because it’s such a mess that we need to keep it far away from the top echelon (lest it spill over and infect the other group). There are clearly stud talents like Ohio State’s Braxton Miller (a Heisman frontrunner) and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg (up there with Jameis Winston in terms of freshman NFL potential). But then there are the unknown entities, like the situation over at Rutgers, that we need to discuss.
Without further ado…
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.
Coming up: 1 through 7 on the list