Goodbye spring ball. With your departure, we start the summer slog and months of picking over any piece of football related news. Before turning my back on the spring season entirely, I started looking across the conference for consistent themes or storylines that were facing multiple teams. And this year, one of the big ones seems to be the high percentage of teams that enter the summer with unsettled or competitive QB races.
Adam Rittenburg of the WWL B1G Blog offered up a nice rundown of how things look at the quarterback position following spring practices. And after reading it, the logical move was to go and create a post spring practice QB Power Rankings. Some might call ranking the #1 QB of every B1G team at a time when several teams still haven't named a starter to be premature. I call it staying ahead of the curve. So without further ado, let's take a look at a list that is sure to haunt me and be brought up as the basis of derisive comments for months (maybe years?) to come.
The "SO EARLY THEY'RE AWESOME" Big Ten Quarterback Power Rankings
12) Nathan Scheelhaase - Illinois
As someone who watched Adam Weber deal with one new offensive coordinator after another, it's hard not to feel for Nate Scheelhaase a little. If I'm not mistaken, Bill Cubit will be his third OC in 4 years. He's also had to endure the transition from the Zooker to Tim Beckman, a man who seems hell bent on making everyone forget about the other buffoonish Timmy B to coach in the B1G (and we wish him all the luck!). Nate Scheelhaase is not a bad QB. But much like Adam Weber, he's been beat down, plays for a coach who appears to be over his head, has another new system to learn, and plays for a bad team.
How bad you might ask? Well, his offensive line gave up 39 sacks last season. That's over 3 per game on average. That's not good. I'm sure Bill Cubit is capable of improving things over last years debacle (Beckman had 2 OC's last year, one who called plays on 1st and 2nd downs and one who called them on 3rd down) but modest improvements to the worst offense in the conference aren't going to cut it. And what if Riley O'Toole is the starter in place of Scheelhaase? Still 12th, still bad.
11) Jake Rudok - Iowa
I know nothing about Jake Rudok. Despite that fact, I feel confident saying the following...if Jake Rudok is the #1 QB for Iowa it means that he has distinguished himself as the player most capable of completing a 1 yard pass when it's 3rd and 3. Which is just how offensive coordinator Greg Davis drew it up. He'll also be the guy most ready to hand the ball off to whatever walk on running back is still standing after AIRBHG finishes with the 3 guys above him on the depth chart. Incidentally, I'm predicting the following AIRBHG smitings this season: 1) career ending case of syphilis, 2) falling through a crack in the earth that is actually a time portal and ending up in the Land of the Lost (seriously guys, check out that triple moon!), and 3) an arrest/conviction for a cow-tipping spree the likes of which Iowa has never seen.
Illinois' offense was the worst in the conference by far according to Football Study Hall. Second worst? Iowa. Now, before we go further I'll note that Iowa's offense was just a touch worse that Minnesota. But Philip Nelson is going to receive a better rating because I think the Gopher offense will improve. My expectations for Iowa under Greg Davis are much, much lower. I have no doubt that Rudok will be able to ignore the fact that his team is down by 20 and run a hurry up offense that uses the entire playclock. That's Kirk Ferentz football. No new fangled ideas like speedy plan needed. I wouldn't expect anything different if current #2 Cody Sokol won the job either. But I'm sure Iowa fans are still excited about Kirk's contract extension.
10) Rob Henry - Purdue
This is a hard pick to describe given the fact that I'm quite positive this Rob Henry doesn't exist. I mean, Purdue? That's not even a real place. But since Jim Delaney keeps fabricating the record books to make it look like Purdue is a real place with a football team, I'll rank this fictional Rob Henry in the list. He could easily be replaced by Danny Etling or Austin Appleby (seriously, who makes up these names?) but I know even less about them given the lack of fake stats to review.
My thoughts here are simple. Purdue's offense last year stunk. Sure, there's a new coach in town but all that means is that the team will have to go through the growing pains of new system while relying on a guy who couldn't beat out Caleb Terbush or Robert Marve or a true or redshirt freshman. Not an ideal situation.
9) Andrew Maxwell - Michigan State
I hope the Spartans have a good defense again, because I wouldn't count on Andrew Maxwell to lead them to victory. I'm not betting on horrible play, just inconsistent enough to drive MSU fans crazy and make opposing defenses happy. I'm actually wondering if Dantonio doesn't go young at some point this fall if Maxwell is struggling. If the defense is playing well enough to keep you in games it might be worth it. If he does, Connor Cook would be the guy. And as a freshman you could count on him for some young mistakes which means no increase in the ranking.
8) Tyler Ferguson - Penn State
I hesitate to put the PSU QB this low given the fact that I do think Bill O'Brien is a good coach to have if you're a quarterback. But whoever the new Nittany Lion signal caller is will be new to State College. Tyler is a JUCO transfer, which means he could come in ready to play, adjust quickly and make this prediction look foolish. Or he could struggle to adjust to the B1G as quickly as hoped and deliver an adequate performance for an already undermanned PSU squad. Given the ranking, I think you can guess what I'm betting on. There's also a chance he could be beaten out by the #1 QB recruit in the nation, Christian Hackenberg. But he'll be a true freshman who doesn't arrive until the fall...not the conditions that scream "successful first season as the #1 QB."
7) Joel Stave - Wisconsin
From the little I've read, I'm not sure who wins the starting gig at UW between Stave and Curt Phillips. I'm going with Stave because he's younger and because 17 knee injuries. I actually thought Stave played pretty well last year, but I'm also predicting that UW's offense takes a step back in their first year under a new head coach. Also, I'm a Gopher fan and predicting good things for the Badgers goes against my nature. If I'm honest about how he played last year and if I were to assume that UW's offense keeps clicking without issue (I don't) then he'd probably be #5. As a result, I fully anticipate being wrong but I'm comfortable making the prediction. I don't like you Wisconsin and I do not care that it may be coloring my completely pointless spring Power Ranking.
6) Tre Roberson - Indiana
I'm assuming that he remains healthy and is able to beat out Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld, the guys who stepped up to fill in after Tre got hurt last year. I think Tre could surprise if Indiana's offense continues to improve. I could also see him coming it at #8 or #9 if it doesn't. I've decided to be more optimistic about his play. Given that Minnesota finally has IU back on the schedule this fall I'll be ok if I'm wrong.
I've seen him rated a little bit higher elsewhere, but I'm still not sold on IU's offense despite the improvements under Kevin Wilson. Plus, Tre is coming back from injury and it's always hard to gauge how that's going to go.
5) Philip Nelson - Minnesota
Those of you who have been preparing your cries of "HOMER!" since you reached #8 and didn't see Phil's name can finally start writing your dismissive comments. And I'll admit, this pick is based on aspirations and what if's rather than past performance. But if Minnesota's offense continues to improve and Mankato Jesus shows the control he did in the Spring Game then I could easily see him ending up on the top end of the "middle of the pack" grouping of B1G QB's. If the team doesn't improve offensively or if injuries strike the offensive line, then spots 8-10 are waiting.
As for the aspirational element of this ranking, that's true for any of the choices beneath Phil except for Stave (whose should rank above Nelson if we're talking 2012 performance as the primary factor).
4) Taylor Martinez - Nebraska
I'm just not sold on T-Mart. There, I said it. I'm not sold on Devan Gardner either, but I just sense a bigger year from him than from Martinez. Honestly, I don't know that there is a lot to say for Taylor. If he improves on TO's and decision making (where he made strides last year) then he'll make me look silly. If he doesn't, he'll still be a pretty good QB who will draw a disproportionately large share of whatever blame the diehards in the Husker fanbase are looking to assign.
3) Devin Gardner - Michigan
Honestly, this will probably end up being my worst pick. If he picks up the offense quickly and improves fast, then I may not be far off. If he struggles in his first year as the #1 guy (see: Maxwell, Andrew) then I'm going to look really stupid. Which means you should plan on Devin going out and struggling just because of this. Which now that I think about it, this would be great and probably one of the only ways Minnesota has a chance to win at the Big House. LET'S GO WAY TOO EARLY QB POWER RANKINGS JINX!
Look, I'm not sold on any of the choices for slots 2-4. So I'm going to just go with my gut and bet on the two-headed Northwestern attack having a big year. If I'm right, I don't assume that it means Northwestern ends up being the best team in the West (NO CRAPPY NAMES NOW OR EVER!). I think their defense still holds them back and I suspect if this combo really is #2 it will also be by a small margin over T-Mart, Gardner, or one of the other choices below. Or maybe I'm trying to call down the jinx on another divisional opponent (I'm sneaky like that). In any case, I expect this one to be the 2nd most controversial choice behind putting Phil at #5.
1) Braxton Miller - Ohio State
The only choice in the top group that I have no doubts about. If you need this choice explained to you, then I have to wonder if you've been watching much B1G football recently.