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.''