Big Ten Leaders: The Quarterbacks

Since we are into the thick of spring football, we thought it might be interesting to survey the 12 Big Ten schools for where they each stand at the all-important quarterback position.

Penn State's Matt McGloin, Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase and OSU's Braxton Miller all return for 2012.

On paper, Big Ten schools return nine of the 12 quarterbacks who were starting games by the end of the 2011 season. The three quarterbacks who have moved on include Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins, Northwestern’s Dan Persa and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson. Those were the only three quarterbacks mentioned on the All-Big Ten teams and they were also the league’s three highest rated passers in 2011.

Below, we look at the quarterback situation at the six Big Ten Leaders Division schools looking toward the fall. We will return with a look at the Legends Division quarterbacks in a day or so.

LEADERS DIVISION

Illinois (7-6 overall, 2-6 Big Ten)

* Quarterback In 2011: Nathan Scheelhaase started all 13 games as a third-year sophomore and now has 26 starts in his career. Scheelhaase completed 184 of 291 passes (63.2 percent) for 2,110 yards with 13 TDs and eight interceptions. He also led Illinois with 624 yards rushing and scored six TDs on the ground.

Reilly O’Toole, who will be a senior in 2012, earned some time off the bench. He completed 40 of 67 passes for 270 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions.

* Bowl Game: Scheelhaase completed 18 of 30 passes for 139 yards and one touchdown with one interception and also carried the ball 22 times for 110 yards as Illinois defeated UCLA 20-14 in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

* On Deck For 2012: Former Toledo coach Tim Beckman has replaced Ron Zook as the Illinois head coach. Beckman maintains that Scheelhaase is the No. 1 guy, although O’Toole and junior-to-be Miles Osei also made strides this spring. Redshirt freshman Chase Haslett and junior-to-be Sean McGushin are also on the roster.

* Spring Game: Illinois had its spring game last Saturday. Scheelhaase was 11 of 26 passing for 65 yards. O’Toole was 15 of 31 for 159 yards, although he was sacked four times. Osei was 8 of 12 for 155 yards.

* On The Way: Illinois did not sign a quarterback in 2012.

* Coach Beckman Comment: “Nathan has done a spectacular job. He’s a leader. Those are the things you don’t realize when you just watch the tape and you haven’t been around these players. You see the leadership capabilities that Nathan, Reilly and Miles all have. They work hard and they are respected. They study the game outside of just being in meetings. They’re trying to make this football team better.

“Nathan has great arm strength and he runs the ball extremely well.”

* Scheelhaase Comment: “A lot of people saw we were able to use two quarterbacks at the end of last season. I think we are both pretty talented quarterbacks who can get the job done. With Coach Beckman coming in this spring, we both had to learn a new offense. I think Coach Beckman would tell you they have a lot of respect for what I’ve done and how much I have played over the last two years. I think they’re pleased with all three of us, honestly, in how we’ve run the offense this spring.”

* Steve’s Take: I think Scheelhaase is a nice weapon at the quarterback position. I think he has exploited some things against lesser opponents. But when he gets up against a quality defense that can take away the run and he has to make a play throwing the football, that is when he has struggled. He only had two touchdown passes in the six-game losing streak Illinois went through late last season. He is now a veteran and he has to work up.

Beckman, as the new coach, has no special allegiance to anybody and could go to O’Toole or someone else if need be. The good news is the Illini have depth at this position. Illinois lost 90-catch receiver A.J. Jenkins, so a new go-to man will have to be identified.

Indiana (1-11 overall, 0-8 Big Ten)

* Quarterback In 2011: It was a revolving door at quarterback for the Hoosiers in 2011. Edward Wright-Baker started the first four games before going down with an injury. Dusty Kiel started two games before Wright-Baker came back for Game 7. True freshman Tre Roberson then finished the year as the starter for the last five games.

Roberson ended up 81 of 142 passing (57.0 percent) for 937 yards with three touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 426 yards and two scores. Wright-Baker threw for 1,029 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions, while Kiel threw for 427 yards with three touchdowns and one INT. Wright-Baker and Kiel left the program at the end of the season.

* On Deck For 2012: Roberson was joined in spring drills by Cameron Coffman, a transfer from Arizona Western Community College.

* Spring Game: Indiana held its spring game last Saturday. There were no touchdown passes thrown, although Roberson ran for a score.

* On The Way: Indiana will welcome in freshman Nathan Sudfeld (ranked 20th nationally as a pro style quarterback by 247Sports.com) in the fall.

* Coach Wilson Comment: “The competition went pretty well. Cam picked up things in a very nice way. With the attrition we had, we definitely needed him. Cam has progressed in the passing game nicely. We really pushed Tre in that regards. He has the skill set to be a complete player. He probably made more plays with his feet and running around for us. He’s making progress, but Cam worked some with the ones.

“I don’t think we have a controversial issue, but I think we have two very competitive players.”

* Roberson Comment: “I think I am coming along pretty well. I am trying to learn from the coaches and learning about where I am supposed to put the ball. Everybody is starting to learn the offense and buy in. The line is picking things up and the backs are running hard.

“I am a dual threat quarterback, but I consider myself to be a pass-first quarterback. I’m getting more and more comfortable in the pocket and making that delivery.”

* Steve’s Take: Roberson put some things together late in the season, including 244 yards total offense against Ohio State and 221 against Purdue. The Hoosiers only won one game all season, though, so the results and progress were kind of hard to quantify. He is a good runner and has room to grow and improve as a passer. I think he has potential, but will need help from his supporting cast.

Coffman led his JUCO team to a national title game and the IU staff likes his accuracy. Sudfeld, a California native, was originally verbaled to Arizona. But he followed new IU offensive coordinator Seth Littrell to Bloomington. These three are all IU has, so they need to avoid injuries.

* Our Indiana Site: Click here for complete coverage of Indiana football and recruiting.

Ohio State (6-7 overall, 3-5 Big Ten)

* Quarterback In 2011: Senior Joe Bauserman started the first three games before giving way to freshman Braxton Miller, who posted a 4-6 record as the starter over the last 10 games. Miller completed 85 of 157 passes (54.1 percent) for 1,159 yards and 13 touchdowns against four interceptions. He also led OSU in rushing with 715 yards and four touchdowns.

Bauserman completed just 46.5 percent of his throws for 492 yards with five touchdowns and one interception.

* Bowl Game: Miller completed 18 of 23 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns, but OSU dropped a 24-17 decision to Florida in the Gator Bowl.

* On Deck For 2012: Miller is the unquestioned No. 1 as he returns for his sophomore year. Fourth-year junior Kenny Guiton moves up to the backup spot. New coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman have installed a spread offense that clearly plays to Miller’s strengths.

* Spring Game: OSU’s spring game is this Saturday (1:30 p.m., Big Ten Network).

* New This Spring: OSU welcomed in Cardale Jones this spring. Jones originally verbaled to OSU for the 2011 class, but spent the fall at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy before enrolling at OSU in January. He is running with the third team this spring and could be a redshirt candidate. That would give him two years of “separation” with Miller.

* Coach Meyer Comment: “I’m very impressed with Braxton, first as a person. The guy is just a worker. He has a great work ethic, which is very important at that position. But the thing that is the most important aspect of the quarterback position is the competitive spirit, and he has that. I told our coaches, ‘Enjoy every minute you have coaching guys like that.’ He’s picked it up very well.”

* Miller Comment: “It means a lot, him saying those things. I’m going to learn from him every day and I’m just going to try and take it all in. Make myself better and the team better. With (Meyer) talking about me (in those flattering terms), that just means I’ve got to work harder because I want to fill the shoes that he wants me to fill.

“I just want to be the leader of the team and take every rep, 4-6 seconds. … I learn so much from him. Everything he says, I just try to soak in. There’s always something new and I’m learning from him every day.”

* Steve’s Take: Miller seems to be flourishing in the new offense. OSU held an intrasquad scrimmage last Saturday that was heavy on the passing. Unofficially, Miller completed 25 of 34 passes for 305 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions (one of his receiver’s hands). He also ran for a score.

The key will be how the line blocks and how his receivers latch on to the ball. Both of those components were major issues as the Buckeyes stumbled and bumbled their way through last season. With proper support, Miller – ranked as the nation’s No. 2 prep quarterback in 2011 -- could be dynamite. Guiton has also quietly upped his game.

* Our Ohio State Site: Click here for complete coverage of OSU football and recruiting.

Penn State (9-4 overall, 6-2 Big Ten)

* Quarterback In 2011: Robert Bolden started the season’s first seven games before being replaced by former walk-on Matt McGloin. But after McGloin was injured by a teammate in a December locker room incident, Bolden started the bowl game.

McGloin completed 125 of 231 passes (54.1 percent) for 1,571 yards with eight touchdowns and five interceptions. Bolden only completed 39.3 percent of his throws for 685 yards with two touchdowns and seven picks.

* Bowl Game: Bolden was a dismal 7 of 26 for 137 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions in Penn State’s 30-14 loss to Houston in the TicketCity Bowl.

* On Deck For 2012: Former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien has arrived as the new Penn State head coach. The hope is the guy who coached Tom Brady to the Super Bowl last year can energize the offense.

McGloin is back for his senior year and has emerged as the man to beat. He reportedly played well in last Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage. Bolden, now a junior, could actually benefit from a redshirt year to be the starter in 2013. But sophomore Paul Jones is also performing well and pushing for the backup job.

* Spring Game: Penn State will hold its spring game on Saturday at 2 p.m. (It will be shown on tape delay at 8 p.m. Saturday on Big Ten Network.)

* On The Way: Penn State has signee Steven Bench due in this fall and already has a verbal from Fork Union Military Academy’s Christian Hackenberg (rated as the nation’s No. 3 pro style quarterback for 2013 by 247Sports.com) lined up for next year.

* Coach O’Brien Comment: "The thing that I have been impressed with about these three guys is that they come in for extra film, they want to be coached, they want to be good and they all have the tools. I have really enjoyed working with them during this first few spring practices. I am looking forward to the journey ahead."

* Steve’s Take: The Penn State offense struggled mightily at times last season. McGloin is a steady quarterback but doesn’t seem capable of putting up huge yardage totals. Part of it could be his receiving corps that had difficulty stretching the field. I will be interested in seeing how O’Brien’s influence can spark things for the Nittany Lions.

Bolden has played the equivalent of one full season as the starter. But he has seemed to regress. Perhaps the emerging Jones can mix things up and maybe even steal this job by midseason.

* Our Penn State Site: Click here for complete coverage of Penn State football and recruiting.

Purdue (7-6 overall, 4-4 Big Ten)

* Quarterback In 2011: It looked bad when projected starter Rob Henry was lost to a torn ACL and Miami (Fla.) transfer Robert Marve continued to have knee issues as well. But Caleb TerBush stepped into the starting role and helped lead the Boilers to their first winning season under Danny Hope.

Terbush completed 171 of 277 passes (61.7 percent) for 1,905 yards with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. Marve also saw action in 10 games, completing 56 percent of his throws for 633 yards with four TDs and five INTs.

* Bowl Game: Purdue held off Western Michigan 37-32 in the Little Caesars Bowl with both TerBush and Marve playing key roles. TerBush was 8 of 13 passing for 101 yards and a touchdown, while Marve was 6 of 7 for 76 yards and a score.

* On Deck For 2012: Hope has any number of directions he can go with the quarterback position. TerBush is back for his senior year. Marve was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, allowing him to return. Henry, a junior, figures to be back in the picture in the fall. Junior Sean Robinson (also a former starter as a freshman) and freshmen Erich Berzinskas and Austin Parker were also on the spring roster.

* Spring Game: Inclement weather forced Purdue to cancel its spring game last Saturday. Instead, the team held an indoor scrimmage. Terbush was 8 of 20 for 109 yards, while Marve was 14 of 24 for 134 yards.

* On The Way: Purdue has two quarterbacks signed for the 2012 class in Austin Appleby (ranked as the nation’s No. 24 pro style quarterback) and Robert Gregory (ranked as the No. 13 dual threat QB). Plus, Purdue just got a verbal for 2013 in Danny Etling.

* Coach Hope Comment: “The last couple of years from a quarterback standpoint, it has been a challenge. In 2010, we had four or five different starting quarterbacks. Last year, we went from Rob Henry, who was number one but had an ACL injury. Then Robert Marve was coming off an ACL injury and was slow to recover. We went to Caleb TerBush, who had been in the program but had not played hardly at all.

“He became our quarterback and he grew and developed throughout the season. When it was all said and done, he had a good year and got some good experience. He went the last four or five games and didn’t throw an interception. We have Caleb and Robert back and Rob should be back soon. It is very unique, but I think it is opportunistic for us.”

* TerBush Comment: “It’s always competitive but it’s more like we’re out there to help each other out. We’re not really like ‘Oh, I’m going to beat you out for this spot’ and holding grudges on each other.

“You’ve just got to go out there with the mentality every day just to get better, make yourself better and make the people around you better.”

* Steve’s Take: Things are definitely on the upswing at Purdue. The Boilers have arguably the best quarterback situation of any team in the division because of the depth and experience. TerBush played some outstanding football at times. And, when he faltered, Marve was at the ready to try and save the day.

By all accounts, Henry was going to be the starter before his injury. So Hope has three guys who could realistically lead Purdue to wins in 2012. That is a good situation to have.

Wisconsin (11-3 overall, 6-2 Big Ten)

* Quarterback In 2011: N.C. State transfer Russell Wilson arrived in Madison and had an amazing season in leading the Badgers to a win in the first-ever Big Ten championship game and a Rose Bowl berth. Wilson completed 225 of 309 passes (72.8 percent) for 3,175 yards with 33 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also rushed for 338 yards and six touchdowns.

Jon Budmayr was projected as the backup, but he suffered a preseason injury. That allowed Joe Brennan to serve as the backup. He played in six games, completing 6 of 15 passes for 48 yards with an interception.

* Bowl Game: Wilson was 19 of 25 passing for 296 yards with two touchdowns and an interception and also rushed for a score, but Wisconsin dropped the Rose Bowl to Oregon 45-38.

* On Deck For 2012: Wisconsin is again active on the transfer front. Following what Wilson did in 2011, former Maryland starter Dannny O’Brien has announced his plan to graduate early from Maryland and transfer to Wisconsin. He has two years of eligibility remaining. He will not arrive in Madison until the summer, but most expect him to take over as the starter.

Budmayr, a junior, and senior-to-be Curt Phillips continue to deal with injury issues. Brennan, a sophomore, and redshirt freshman Joel Stave have been working at the position this spring. This competition won’t be decided until well into fall camp. New offensive coordinator Matt Canada will have his hands full sorting this one out.

* Spring Game: Wisconsin’s spring game is scheduled for April 28.

* On The Way: In addition to O’Brien, Wisconsin signed Bart Houston (ranked seventh nationally as a pro style quarterback) for its 2012 class.

* Coach Bielema Comment: “It’s a mixed bag right now. We have Joe Brennan and Joel Stave, who are the only two completely cleared for participation. They are getting a lot of reps. They are getting better with every practice. Joe is doing a better job of managing the game. Matt is also gaining some confidence.

Curt Phillips has been with us on a limited basis. We signed Danny O’Brien. He’ll be with us in June and I expect him to come in and compete for the job as well. As is the case with any player who joins our program, we have not promised Danny anything other than the chance to come in during the fall and compete for the starting quarterback position. He understands that and is excited for that opportunity."

* O’Brien Comment: “It was close and it was a very tough decision,” said O’Brien, who picked UW over Penn State, Mississippi and Vanderbilt. “The fact that (Wilson) kind of showed that it's possible was big. At the same time, I'm a different player."

* Steve’s Take: Some would say the graduate transfer rule has created a loophole for opportunistic schools. But Bielema is simply taking advantage of a great opportunity. He hit a home run by signing Wilson and is hoping O’Brien can pay big dividends as well.

O’Brien started 17 games at Maryland. He was the ACC rookie of the year in 2010, leading the Terrapins to a 9-4 record. He threw for 2,438 yards and 22 touchdowns with eight interceptions. He struggled last season under new coach Randy Edsall, throwing 10 interceptions and seven touchdowns. O'Brien lost playing time to C.J. Brown as the season went on. Then he broke his left arm against Notre Dame on Nov. 12, ending his season.

I’m not sure his transition to Wisconsin will be as seamless as Wilson’s was. But if he works out, he gives Wisconsin every chance to go for a third straight Big Ten title.

* Our Wisconsin Site: Click here for complete coverage of Wisconsin football and recruiting.

SUMMING UP

I decided to try and rate the quarterback position at the six Leaders Division schools. I looked at last year’s performance by each team’s offense as well as the individual performance by the returning quarterbacks. I also tried to put a value on the potential of any new players at the position.

This is NOT a rating of the projected starters at each school is also NOT a ranking of how the teams will finish in the division this season. It is simply a look at the quarterback position as a whole at each school. Here is how I would rank them:

1. Purdue – To have three guys the quality of TerBush, Marve and Henry, this is the deepest collection of quality quarterbacks in the division. Hope must be hoping one or more of them can lead the Boilers into contention this year. Some are already labeling Purdue as a potential surprise team, and the depth here is a big reason.

2. Wisconsin – Again, the body count is high. I am choosing to look past Danny O’Brien’s issues at Maryland last season and will focus on what he did there as a freshman in 2010. I don’t think he will have the kind of impact Wilson had, but with Montee Ball there to hand the ball off to he shouldn’t have to, either.

3. Ohio State – The offense Meyer has brought in for Miller to run seems to suit him well. He’s young, but he rarely makes the fatal mistake that gets you beat. (Those were turned in mainly by his teammates last year.) There isn’t much depth on the whole, but Miller has the potential to have a huge season in 2012 – provided some wide receiver threats emerge. Miller did not throw for big numbers, but was second in the division in passing efficiency last year.

4. Illinois – Scheelhaase is back for his third season as the starter. I honestly thought about ranking the Illinois group No. 1. That’s how tightly bunched this competition is and how much respect you have to give Scheelhaase, in particular. But he has to take the next step and help the Illini win some meaningful games in 2012.

5. Penn State – Penn State was fifth in the division in passing offense, sixth in total offense and McGloin was fifth among the starters in passing efficiency. Yeah, fifth looks about right for the PSU quarterback contingent. Let’s see how the quarterbacks assimilate to Bill O’Brien’s new offense.

6. Indiana – Roberson rose out of the ashes and rubble in Bloomington and looks like a keeper. He needs some help, however, to take the next step. Indiana was second in the division in passing offense last year, for whatever that is worth.

Stay tuned for a look at the quarterback situation in the Big Ten Legends Division, plus spring wrap-ups for the league and off-season top 25s for college football and basketball in the weeks to come.

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