Minnesota Gopher Football: Ranking the Big Ten QB's for 2011

Last week we came right out and said we have no problem with E!SPN.com's Adam Rittenberg ranking the Gophers 11th in the Big 10. Minnesota has the right coach and some good players in place, but we've got some work to do until we can move up in the conference. And all of your seemed fine with that.

So with that in mind...how would you feel about QB Marqueis Gray being ranked 11th for Big Ten starting QB's? Like, as in 11 out of 12. Or 2nd worst. Or almost last.

Because after looking at all the starters (or potential starters) for all 12 schools in this great conference of ours, I just can't put him any higher right now. You'll have a hard time finding a bigger fan of Q than me. I have my maroon #5 jersey (not to be confused with Maroon 5), and have had a man-crush of unhealthy propotions since he first donned that jersey as a freshman. I think he's the perfect QB to run Jerry Kill and Matt Limegrover's offense, and just when I didn't think I could love Q anymore, this spring he's shown a passion and fire to be a leader, to learn, and do everything humanly possible to be Minnesota's starting QB come fall. By season's end he'll be much better than the 11th best starter in the Big Ten, and think he has a chance to be a real difference maker for the Gophers in 2011, but right here, right now...he's 11th.

Keep in mind, these rankings are done with one QB for each school, even if we're not quite sure yet who the starter is going to be for every team. AND this isn't purely about who's going to have the best passing statistics, but which QB's will be most effective running their offenses.

12. WHOEVER STARTS FOR INDIANA
I'll be honest, I haven't done much research on IU because I just refuse to live in a world where Indiana's QB is better than ours. And I also don't want Q to be last. Ok fine, a little research- but I'm not changing my mind! In 2010 Ben Chappell was the B1G's leader in yards passing when he ran the Pistol Offense (3295 yards at 274.6 per game), but not only has Chappell graduated, but Bill Lynch, the coach who ran it, is gone too. New head coach Kevin Wilson (the former Oklahoma OC) is a great offensive mind, but it'll be a tall order for Dusty Kiel or Edward-three names or whoever starts in Bloomington to match Chappell's production as an inexperienced starter in a new offense.

11. MARQUEIS GRAY, MINNESOTA
Q's athletic ability is off the charts, and he looks to be tailor made for the new offense he's going to run. He's also working his tail off to know the offense as well as possible. But he starts here because he's unproven as a starter, is having to learn a new offense, and while we know the man-child can run the ball, the real question is going to be how well he throws it. The reviews were still mixed coming out of the spring, but the coaches say he made a big improvement from the beginning of the spring to the end, and I don't put much stock in his spring "game" performance as he was without his two top targets in WR Da'Jon McKnight and TE Eric Lair. I'm predicting a rocky first couple of weeks throwing the ball (so unfair to start the season with USC. Too bad we couldn't have that one in week 4), but think much like his progress through the spring, he'll be much better and more comfortable by November.

10. ROB HENRY, PURDUE
Despite the fact I think Q is a better QB and is better suited to run his offense than Henry is to run Purdue's, Henry has two big advantages over Q that I just can't ignore: one is almost a full year as a starter in 2010 (after Robert Marve was lost for the season with a knee injury), and two, he did so in the same offense he'll run again this season. I know Henry was only a freshman last year and that his numbers will improve this season but Knights of Columbus!- Henry was um, a little erratic as a starter (resisting the urge to make Adam Weber joke...resisting the urge to make Adam Weber joke...). His strength was more of a runner, where he led the team in rushing yards (547) and rushing TD's (4). Probably a good time to point out (in case you'd forgotten. And really, how could you? Shame on you!) that Purdue was without it's top back Ralph Bolden and top wideout Keith Smith for almost the entire season, so that makes a difference. Coach Danny Hope wasn't looking to pass much once Marve and Smith were lost for the season, and I can't blame him. Henry struggled throwing for most of the year (just 162 attempts, 53% comp and just 8 TD's to 7 INT's) but did improve as the season went on. He threw for 252 and 3 scores in the finale against rival IU, and I'm guessing Purdue fans and coaches are expecting to see more of that guy this fall. We'll see.

The top 9 after the jump...

9. JON BUDMAYR, WISCONSIN
You know what you're getting with a Wisconsin offense: run, run, run some more, and maybe the occasional pass to keep you honest or if it's third and long (well unless you're in the Rose Bowl against TCU, in which case you pass a lot and abandon the run despite a considerable size advantage up front). But even then they still might run. And really, you can't argue with the success they've had with this strategy since Barry Alvarez came to Madison in 1990, and since the A-Hole took over for him a few years ago. The QB at Wisconsin is often overlooked in the success of their offense, but after Scott Tolzien's unreal senior season in 2010, there's now a big spotlight on the position. Like all Sconnie passers, Tolzien didn't throw a ton (his 266 attempts were 8th among B1G QB's), but he was insanely efficient when he did, leading the conference in efficiency rating (165.9. I have no idea what that number means or how to calculate it. I just know that apparently that's really good) and was second in completion % (72.9. That's right. He completed almost 73% of his throws and that STILL wasn't tops in the conference). For any QB, but especially for a Wisconsin QB, that's just incredible, and it's put some unrealistic pressure on incumbent starter Jon Budmayr, who will not come close to replicating those numbers. And in probably 75% of Sconnie's games, he's not going to have to for Bucky to win. From most accounts Budmayr struggled a bit in the spring, and has four games to get ready for the Big Ten opener against Nebraska, when the Badgers will need to throw some to keep the Black Shirts honest. Can Budmayr throw enough? It's an unanswered question right now.

8. NATE SCHEELHAASE, ILLINOIS

Here's the darkhorse in the Big Ten all-conference QB race. He quietly had a solid first season as a starter in Champaign in 2010 completing 58% of his passes for 1825 yards and 17 TD's (against just 8 picks). And he did that as a redshirt freshman. He apparently had a dynamite spring, and the injury to expected starting back Jason Ford could be a bit of a blessing, as it might just mean Illinois throws more. With some weapons to throw to, and a favorable schedule (only tough non-con is Arizona State and they miss Michigan State, Iowa AND Nebraska in conference play) that could mean some big numbers for the sophomore.

7. JONATHAN MOXON, IOWA

Iowa's starting QB is actually named James Vandenberg (I looked it up) but every time I try to remember his name I think James Vanderbeek, who starred on Dawson's Creek and played backup QB Jonathan Moxon in the movie Varsity Blues. "I don't want...your life." We may never see acting that good again (and to think he's disappeared since that and Dawson's Creek). Anyway, in the movie Mox had take over for an all-star QB in Lance Harbor (who after blowing out his knee went on to become a cop-turned thief in the Fast & the Furious movies. Or something. I haven't seen any of them since the first one but I think that was the plot. He drives cars fast), and Vandenberg is taking over for Captain America. Some big shoes to fill there for both guys. Mox used saavy, guile, and stubborn pride (oh and a night at the strip club. Can't forget that. "Ms. Davis...will you go to prom with me?") to force his coach to quit and win the state title. Vandenberg actually seems to get along quite well with his coach, and from all indications seems very prepared for his starring role as the man every woman and man in Iowa wants to be with. In 2009, his first of only two career starts replacing an injured Captain America, he almost knocked off Ohio State in Columbus losing 27-24 in OT. His other? A 12-0 win over Minnesota which might have been the ugliest, most unwatchable, most offensively inept game of football ever played by anyone anywhere ever. Good lord I almost went blind just thinking about how unwatchable that game was. Anyway, he's got big shoes to fill, but like Mox, I think he'll get it done- I just hope that instead of leading his team to a championship the Hawks go 0-12, but somehow I doubt that happens.

6. ROB BOLDEN OR MATT MCGLOIN, PENN STATE

This might be too high for the Nittany Lions, who still haven't decided on a starter. Rob Bolden was the more heralded recruit, but he still hasn't been able to beat out the little guy McGloin. Oh, and don't forget super recruit Kevin Newsome, who still might be in the mix. Penn State's passing offense was exactly average last year (finishing middle of the pack in the B1G), and I'd expect it to be about the same no matter who starts in 2011. The Nitts bring back some experience on the O-line, at receiver, and two good backs in Stephfon Green and Silas Redd (who, you may remember, had his coming out party against our very own Golden Gophers at The Bank last year. You're welcome, Silas), so whoever starts will have something to work with, and should be average at worst- or maybe best.

5. TAYLOR "T-MAGIC" MARTINEZ, NEBRASKA

Martinez certainly was Magic as a runner, bringing back glimpses of the glory days of Scott Frost and Eric Crouch (I refuse to compare anybody to Tommie Frazier. That guy was from another planet he was so good at running the wishbone Huskers' offense) as he ran for 965 yards and 12 TD's (seriously). Throwing the ball? Not quite as magic, as he attempted less than 200 passes at 59.2% for 1631 yards and 10 TD/7 INT. Not terrible passing numbers for a freshmen, but he really struggled in the team's four losses with just 1 TD and 3 INT's total, and in two of them didn't throw for more than 100 yards. It's why despite his rushing magic he still didn't have a firm grasp on the starting job heading into the spring, but came out with the job, and with another year in the offense as the starter his passing should improve.

4. DENARD "SHOELACE" ROBINSON, MICHIGAN

If RichRod were back as head coach, Shoelace would be in the conversation for #1 on this list, and a potential All-America candidate. But RichRod is gone, and so is the offense that Robinson was perfectly suited for. And when I say perfect, I mean perfect- he was like a faster version of Pat White who could also throw better, and I really don't think that's overstating things. You could not have built a better QB for that system than Robinson, but now comes a new coach and a new offense, and one that does not seem to fit Shoelace's skill set particularily well. Brady Hoke wants to go back to the more traditional power run football of the Michigan days of Yore (or was it Carr?), and while there's going to be some option in there for Robinson, there's also going to be some straight drops and more traditional passing sets. Can he be productive in those? I have no idea. The kid is a freak and from what I've read about Michigan's spring, he's working and learning as much as he can, so while I wouldn't rule it out, I also wouldn't be surprised if he struggles (after all, almost every offensive player on the roster was recruited for the spread, not for 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust football). For now, I'm putting him here.

3. TERRELLE PRYOR AND...? OHIO STATE
Even with Pryor missing the first five games of the season, OSU's QB situation still ranks third, which shows some of the uncertainty after this spot, and how much I trust The Vest to keep the offense working. Depending upon how much control coach Jim Tressell is allowed during the five games he and Pryor are out (currently his five game self-imposed suspension allows him to be with the team every day but game days), will have an impact on who replaces Pryor the first five games. Tressell is usually very conservative, which is why despite having virtually zero upside, senior Joe Bauserman is the leader in the clubhouse to start. Bauserman is the safest of safe QB's with a very low ceiling, doing exactly what he's told and avoiding risks at all costs. And for Tressell, that's probably all that matters. Now if it were me, uber frosh Braxton Miller would start all five games. He's the future of the program once Pryor graduates, so wouldn't it make sense to get his feet wet this season so he has some experience when he takes over next year? As it is, whomever starts for the first five games won't be asked to do much other than hand the ball off to a stable of former high school All-American running backs. Just doing that OSU probably goes no worse than 4-1 to start the year, but I'd still rather give Miller the start than play it safe with Bauserman.

2. KIRK COUSINS, MICHIGAN STATE
So Cousins is a senior, starting his third year in the same system, gets a loaded offense back to work with, AND had a pretty solid junior year in 2010, leading the Spartans to a share of their first Big Ten title in a long time. And his stats weren't too shabby either- he completed 67% of his passes for 2825 yards, 20 TD's and just 10 picks. He should have a big senior year, should be a favorite to be an all-conference QB, and yet despite all that, he still ranks second on the list.

1. DAN PERSA, NORTHWESTERN
Could it be anyone else? Assuming Persa fully recovers from that gruesome achilles injury he suffered against Iowa in November (and all signs point to him being on track for the fall), Persa's the best QB in the conference, and one of the best in the country. And yes, he plays for Northwestern. I know, what is the world coming to? Persa quite simply WAS NU's offense last season, putting up numbers and piling up W's even when defenses knew the Wildcats couldn't run the ball consistently (averaged a Brewster-esque 3.6 yards per carry as a team last year) with their running backs. So Persa did it all, completing 73.5% of his passes (that is not a typo) for 2581 yards, 15 TD's and just 4 picks, and ran the ball too, leading the team in positive yardage with 717 (thanks to the stupid rule that sacks count against a QB's rushing yardage, he finished with only 519 rushing yards) and 9 TD's. There was no better show of Persa's value to the team than the final three games of the year he missed because of that ankle injury, as the 7-2 Wildcats, who were just coming off their annual victory over Iowa, got blown out 48-27 by Illinois, 70-23 to the A-Hole and Wisconsin, and 45-38 to Texas Tech in their bowl game. With him they win at least two of those, and who knows what happens against Sconnie? For 2011 he gets all-conference receiver Jeremy Ebert back, and tailback Mike Trumpy may solve their rushing woes. They play their usual Mason-esque non-con, and miss Ohio State and Wisconsin in the B1G schedule, so expect another big season for Persa and the Wildcats. And of course, another win over Iowa.

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