Power Ranking Braxton Miller and the Big Ten Quarterbacks
It could be an exciting college football season if that statement becomes true, and there’s plenty of reason to believe it could with the multitude of talent returning at the quarterback position.
Braxton Miller is undoubtedly among the elite, wisely returning for his fourth season as the starter to what should be an explosive Ohio State offense. He, Rose Bowl MVP Connor Cook, and young gunslinger Christian Hackenberg will be vying for best quarterback in the conference in 2014.
The list is a bit top-heavy, but that’s not a knock against the rest of the competition – this is a solid group of quarterbacks all around.
Let’s see how everyone stacks up in my Big Ten quarterback rankings:
1. Braxton Miller, Sr., Ohio State
2013 stats: 162-of-255 (63.5 percent), 2,094 yards, 24 TDs, 7 INTs … 171 carries, 1,068 yards (6.2 ypc), 12 TDs
Why: Miller has improved every facet of his game every year he’s been in Columbus, and his senior season should be no different. X-Brax 360’s passer efficiency jumped from 140.5 to 158.1 in his second year orchestrating Urban Meyer’s spread-option offense, and although his number of carries were down (mostly due to the fact that he missed three games to injury), they were more effective. With a revamped offensive line and no Carlos Hyde in the backfield, Miller will be expected to pass more – so we’ll know just how good he really is from the start.
2. Christian Hackenberg, So., Penn State
2013 stats: 231-of-392 (58.9 percent), 2,955 yards, 20 TDs, 10 INTs
Why: As a true freshman, Hackenberg broke 11 school records and led Penn State to the third-best passing game in the Big Ten (246.3 ypg). Big, strong, and athletic, the leader of the team and having the ability to make the players around him better, Hackenberg has the kind of potential to be a top pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. There is no ceiling to how well he performs as he continues to develop, especially under offensive guru James Franklin.
3. Connor Cook, Jr., Michigan State
2013: 223-of-380 (58.7 percent), 2,755 yards, 22 TDs, 6 INTs
Why: Cook really came on strong toward the latter half of the 2013 season, completing 60.3 percent of his attempts for 1,725 yards (246.4 ypg), 13 touchdowns and four interceptions during Michigan State’s final seven games. His strongest performances came back-to-back to end the year against the most difficult opponents the Spartans had faced to date in Ohio State and Stanford, which were on big-time national stages. Cook had an excellent offseason keeping his nose in the playbook and quietly working on his mechanics, and has taken the next step in his development.
4. Jake Rudock, Jr., Iowa
2013 stats: 204-of-346 (59.0 percent), 2,383 yards, 18 TDs, 13 INTs … 67 carries, 218 yards (3.3 ypc), 5 TDs
Why: Many will probably see this as a surprise, but I expect Rudock to have a big junior season. He took an Iowa offense that had absolutely no promise to an actual scoring threat; the Hawkeyes ran your typical grind-it-out, take-what-the-defense-gives-you kind of system. Some of Rudock’s best performances came against the Big Ten’s premier defenses, but he made some poor decisions was inconsistent throughout the season. I believe he’ll take what he learned as a first-year starter and grow from it.
5. Wes Lunt, Jr., Illinois*
2013 stats: None (sat out due to NCAA transfer rules)
Why: Former Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt is still fighting for the Illinois starting job, but when it’s all said and done, he should end up getting the nod. He’s a completely different quarterback than Nathan Scheelhaase was, standing at 6-foot-5 and with basically no mobility out of the pocket. However, this could be the change that the Fighting Illini need to stabilize its offense and switch up the direction of the program. Lunt has the rocket arm and quick delivery to potentially lead the conference in passing yards, pending the development of his footwork and chemistry with young receivers.
6. Nate Sudfeld, Jr., Indiana*
2013 stats: 194-of-322 (60.2 percent), 2,523 yards, 21 TDs, 9 INTs
Why: Sudfeld isn’t even the full-time starter – dual-threat Tre Roberson sees quite a few snaps, and that will probably be the case again this fall – but there’s no doubt that Indiana trusts him more in passing situation. For good reason, too. Sudfeld has a smooth delivery and strong arm strength, does a nice job making pre-reads and spreads the ball around with above-average downfield accuracy.
7. Tanner McEvoy, RS Jr., Wisconsin*
2013 stats: None (played defense)
Why: McEvoy was moved to safety after transferring from Arizona Community College, where he starred as a quarterback, totaling 2,357 yards and 31 touchdowns. However, in desperate attempt to revive a passing game that’s been lacking since the departure of Russell Wilson, Gary Andersen has switched him back to the quarterback position to increase a fierce competition. McEvoy is very athletic and is more of a fit for the offense Andersen wants to run (like he did while at Utah State). If played to his strengths, McEvoy could be a dangerous – yet raw – weapon.
8. Devin Gardner, RS Sr., Michigan*
2013 stats: 208-of-345 (60.3 percent), 2,960 yards, 21 TDs, 11 INTs … 165 carries, 483 yards (2.9 ypc), 11 TDs
Why: It can’t be a good feeling for Michigan fans to know that their incumbent starter hasn’t been able to shake off an underclassmen. Gardner took a pretty big step back last season, showing inconsistency and a ton of poor decision-making. It didn’t help that his offensive line couldn’t keep him upright for longer than three seconds, but he didn’t help the cause by making Denard Robinson-esque throws when pressured. Gardner didn’t look good in the Wolverines’ spring game, but if he can somehow put things together and be the QB he was in 2012, he’ll take control of his position.