The College Football Notebook

November 12, 2010 7:36 AM

The Big Ten Arms Race

DenardRobinsonHeadsTheListofBigTenQBs.JPGThe Big Ten has become a quarterbacks' league on the offensive side this year, a fact that undoubtedly has Bo Schembecler and Woody Hayes likely turning over in their graves. The top running back coming into the season was Wisconsin's John Clay, a Heisman candidate. But nagging foot and ankle problems have slowed Clay and there have been plenty of arms ready to take up the slack. Here's a look at eight quarterbacks who all have their own case to make...

Terrelle Pryor (Ohio State): The one you hear the most about, and while he's having a good year it's also a vastly overrated one. He struggled against Illinois and Wisconsin and his stats are mostly driven by a 334-yard game against Indiana. Pryor piles up huge numbers against bad teams, but can be contained by good ones.

Denard Robinson (Michigan): He was the September favorite for the Heisman Trophy before a shoulder injury and the emergence of Cam Newton derailed that. It's a train that could get back on track if voters don't want a repeat of Reggie Bush being forced to relinquish his trophy for recruiting violations. Robinson looks healthy and remains the top dual threat in the conference, rivaled only by Newton nationwide. He's got three 100-yard rushing games and passing numbers anyone would envy.

Dan Persa (Northwestern): I'm listing him here because he fits more into the profile of the runner-passer quarterback. He's very consistent in the air, good for a 60-70% completion rate and few mistakes. He also runs well, as his 109-yard game against Penn State attests. One of the most underrated players in the Big Ten.

Ricky Stanzi (Iowa): From a pure passer standpoint, Stanzi is the best. He churns out between 250-300 yards a game, and has an 11-2 TD-INT ratio in conference games. Stanzi is the reason Kirk Ferentz can run Air Iowa and keep at the top of the league.

Scott Tolzien (Wisconsin): The poor man's Stanzi. He's very consistent and pretty high-percentage, but the numbers aren't quite as good and he gets a lot more support in the running game. Clutch games against Ohio State and Iowa strengthen his profile.

Kirk Cousins (Michigan State): He joins Stanzi and Tolzien in the company of pure dropback quarterbacks. He has more raw production than Tolzien, but also makes more mistakes--three interceptions against Iowa and two more against Wisconsin. It's these mistakes that keep him from rising higher on the list.

Nathan Scheelhaase (Illinois): One of the real surprises this year. Other than a three-pick game against Michigan State he's been very efficient, with no other picks in Big Ten play. His emergence has helped key Illinois' return to respectability.

Ben Chappell (Indiana): The Jay Cutler of the Big Ten. He can really churn out numbers when he gets on, but he can churn the interceptions with equal ferocity. There's also a huge burden placed on him at Indiana, without a defense or a running game. It would be interesting to see what he could do if he had support around him. Right now, the knock on him would be the picks and that better teams can take away the downfield passing game and keep him underneath.

Who's the best of the lot? It looks like Robinson's early-season injury was just a blip on the radar screen and he deserves to be on the top of the list. The longer-term concern is whether Rich Rodriguez can keep his meal ticket healthy, given the dangers of a little quarterback constantly being exposed in space. For now though, the freshman is the Big Ten's top quarterback.

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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