Now that summer has nearly hit — it's finals week at Northwestern — we're inching closer and closer to football. This post marks the start of our newest series: a look at how each of the Wildcats' units stands put up against other units in the Big Ten. First up is the quarterbacks.
The Big Ten loses some solid quarterbacks in Denard Robinson and Matt McGloin, but overall, the group will be more talented than it was last year. Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez figure to garner national attention, Michigan's Devin Gardner has a lot of hype after the way he ended last year, and Northwestern and Indiana have solid quarterback rotations returning. There's some uncertainty at the bottom half of the group, which has some teams that have potential but are unproven. Can Andrew Maxwell improve and hold onto his starting job at Michigan State? Can Wisconsin find a better passing offense? Can Iowa and Penn State still compete with so much inexperience at quarterback? But for all the questions surrounding those teams, the Big Ten's reputation should be restored at least a little bit this year thanks to a strong group of quarterbacks at the top of the conference.
Teams to Watch (NU Excluded)
Ohio State — This one is really a no-brainer. While Braxton Miller hasn't exactly been Heisman material in his first two seasons in Columbus, he led the Buckeyes to an undefeated season in 2012 and figures to be on most Heisman short lists heading into 2013. Miller has always had good running/improvising skills, but he improved as a passer in 2012 and figures to make a similar jump in 2013. If he can make the jump to an All-American caliber player, the Buckeyes will be hard to beat.
Nebraska — It's the last hurrah for T-Magic (Taylor Martinez) in Lincoln, and the Cornhuskers figure to have one of the best offenses in the Big Ten with him at the helm. Martinez often gets criticized for making ill-advised plays, but he was much better than he got credit for last season, leading Nebraska to the Big Ten Championship Game. As long as he keeps cutting down on bad decisions in the passing game, he should be one of the Big Ten's best quarterbacks again in 2013.
Michigan — After doing a superb job filling in for Denard Robinson at the end of last year, Devin Gardner has a lot of hype heading into 2013. He's quick and athletic like Robinson, but he showed off his arm at the end of last season and has the potential to be a better passer than Robinson ever was.
Players to Watch
(We'll go into more detail in this section in other units, but since quarterback is a one-man position — unless you're Northwestern — it's tough to not copy the previous section)
Indiana — People tend to count Indiana out pretty early in the season, and that's pretty fair considering how terrible their history has been. This Hoosiers team will be lucky to be bowl eligible, but it won't be because of the offense. Really, IU's quarterbacks shouldn't even be considered a surprise unit, but people will underrated them because they're Indiana, so we'll list them here. The Hoosiers have three talented, young quarterbacks who will compete for the starting job. Tre Roberson started in 2011 and early in 2012 before going down with injury, and he was replaced by Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld. Coffman took a majority of the snaps in 2012 and IU actually led the league in passing, though it had far more attempts than any other team. Expect to see a rotation of all three players this season, at least until one pulls away.
Where Does NU Fit In?
Northwestern has been fortunate to have some great quarterbacks in the Pat Fitzgerald era. Going back to C.J. Bacher, Mike Kafka, Dan Persa and now the Kain Colter/Trevor Siemian duo, the Wildcats have had good quarterbacks under Fitzgerald, even if the teams haven't always been great. This year, NU should once again have one of the better quarterback units in the Big Ten. The coaches have gradually figured out better ways to manage their Colter/Siemian duo, and when the rotation works properly, the offense is tough to stop. Colter and Siemian both have an uphill battle to climb in order to get All-Big Ten attention since they take snaps away from each other, but as a unit, the Wildcats should end up with one of the best quarterback groups in the league.
Way Too Early All-Big Ten Team
1. Braxton Miller, 2. Taylor Martinez, 3. Devin Gardner
Way Too Early Power Rankings
1. Ohio State, 2. Nebraska, 3. Northwestern, 4. Michigan, 5. Indiana, 6. Minnesota, 7. Michigan State, 8. Wisconsin, 9. Illinois, 10. Purdue. Too early to judge — Iowa, Penn State