Big Ten becoming league of haves, have nots at QB

The Big Ten is becoming a league of haves and have-nots: Those

with established quarterbacks generally win. Those without usually

struggle.

Yes, the conference once known for its rugged, black-and-blue

image is evolving like most other college conferences into a

quarterback-driven league.

”Don’t want to play three quarterbacks, don’t want revolving

doors, don’t want two (quarterbacks),” said Indiana coach Kevin

Wilson, who has used three different players behind center this

season.

While the philosophies differ from school to school, the

difference between picking one quarterback and juggling others has

produced stark contrasts.

Of the five Big Ten schools ranked this week – No. 4 Wisconsin,

No. 11 Michigan, No. 14 Nebraska, No. 16 Illinois and No. 23

Michigan State – each has a named starter without controversy at

football’s highest-profile position. Wisconsin, Michigan and

Illinois are all unbeaten, too.

The five schools using more than one quarterback extensively

because of choice or injuries – Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio State,

Penn State and Purdue – have a combined record of 13-16. And Penn

State (5-1, 2-0), the most successful team in the group, has 29

total points in two Big Ten wins.

Joe Paterno, college football’s winningest coach, doesn’t care

as long as the rotation between Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden is

working.

”We’re getting much more out of it,” the Nittany Lions coach

said Tuesday. ”I think both of them deserve to play. It’s hard for

me to tell you which one would be better, but right now, I’m

satisfied with the way the two kids have played.”

Still, the overall evidence backs up the adage that if you have

two quarterbacks you don’t have one.

With Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson splitting snaps at

Michigan the past two years, the Wolverines were 12-13. This year,

under new coach Brady Hoke and a full-time starter in Robinson,

they’re 5-0.

What’s changed? Robinson has had more time to work with the

starters and develop his skills.

”I think the understanding of the offense, the more

completeness of managing the offense has been better,” Hoke said.

”From a throwing-game perspective, we’ve made a few bad decisions,

but overall I think he’s done a tremendous job.”

Ohio State’s struggles also illustrate the point.

From 2005 through 2010, the Buckeyes won or shared every Big Ten

football title. Only once during that span, briefly in 2008, was

there a quarterback controversy. Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith

was the full-time starter in 2005 and 2006, Todd Boeckman was the

guy in 2007 and after Terrelle Pryor wrested the job away from

Boeckman as a freshman, it was Pryor’s until he left school earlier

this year.

This season, Joe Bauserman has taken 105 snaps and Braxton

Miller 95. The Buckeyes head into the second half of the season at

3-3 (0-2 Big Ten), their conference-title streak in serious

jeopardy.

Things could be changing soon in Columbus. Miller picked apart

Nebraska’s defense for three quarters Saturday, but the offense

struggled when Miller hurt his ankle. If he’s healthy, coach Luke

Fickell just might use Miller more often.

”I think you saw him play with a lot more confidence,” Fickell

said, referring to Saturday’s game. ”He can throw the football, he

understands the game of football and he’s getting better every

week.”

The problem at other schools is that the quarterback carousel

continues to spin.

Minnesota (1-5, 0-2) started freshman Max Shortell the last two

weeks because starter MarQueis Gray was slowed by a toe injury. The

Golden Gophers lost those games by a combined score of 103-17.

Injuries have forced Purdue and Indiana to juggle lineups,

too.

The Boilermakers lost projected starter Rob Henry with a torn

ACL in August, then started Caleb TerBush because last year’s

starter, Robert Marve, was not fully recovered from last year’s

season-ending knee injury. Now that Marve is back, coach Danny Hope

must determine who gives Purdue (3-2, 1-0) the best chance of

beating Penn State on Saturday.

At Indiana, the mastermind of Oklahoma’s high-scoring offense is

still searching for answers, too. Wilson gave Ed Wright-Baker the

starting job on opening day. When he sprained an ankle, Dusty Kiel

stepped in for two starts and now Kiel is hurt. That opened the

door for freshman Tre Roberson last week, though it appears

Wright-Baker will start this weekend when the Hoosiers (1-5, 0-2)

visit No. 4 Wisconsin.

But Wilson needs more out of his offense, and, like the other

struggling conference teams, more consistent play from the cadre of

quarterbacks.

”We still play the game with a little too much doubt, and

that’s what we’re trying to sew up,” Wilson said. ”That’s our

short-term fix, those are things we control, and again our kids are

doing it. They are doing reasonable, positive things through the

week in practice, but we need some game success. We need some guys

to click in on Saturday, realize it’s not that hard.”