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A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

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A Grab Bag of Quarterback Depth

It was never a fair comparison: Iowa and Wisconsin both lost a senior quarterback, but the Hawkeyes have had a succession plan in place since 2009, while Wisconsin — prior to losing Curt Phillips — wanted Jon Budmayr to win the job, not have it handed to him. When Wisconsin revealed late last week that Phillips had suffered a setback in his recovery from a knee injury, it became clear that Budmayr’s time is officially now, even if this is how the quarterback competition might have eventually played out. As noted last week, however, this hurts the Badgers’ depth at the position.

And what of Iowa’s quarterback depth? James Vandenberg will start, of course, but what’s happening behind him is interesting: John Wienke, a senior, finds himself battling redshirt freshman A.J. Derby for the backup spot. Wienke, a senior, is only slightly more experienced than his young competition — one career attempt, thrown as a sophomore, though Wienke likely knows Iowa’s playbook as well as anybody.

Wisconsin would love to have such depth behind Budmayr; Phillips will now miss all of 2011, handing a tough break to a tough junior who has already battled back from two A.C.L. tears. The Badgers have been relatively lucky in terms of quarterback health recently, likely thanks to an outstanding offensive line, so there’s a chance that Joe Brennan, a redshirt freshman running the second-team offense, won’t be asked to do more than Budmayr did himself in a reserve role last fall — eight attempts, all in garbage time.

I know Iowa’s experiencing a similar dilemma, seeing that neither Wienke nor Derby are game-tested, but it feels different. Perhaps that’s because Wienke is a senior, or because Derby was a very well-regarded recruit when he inked with Iowa prior to last season. Still, Iowa can commiserate: the Hawkeyes are only slightly more confident with how the offense would fare should Vandenberg go down.

Are any other Big Ten teams in the same boat as the Badgers? Try Illinois, which is searching for quarterback depth behind sophomore Nate Scheelhaase. Miles Osei? He’s unproven, to put it lightly, even if he did see some playing time as an athlete in 2010. Osei will be pushed by incoming freshman Reilly O’Toole come August, but offensive coordinator Paul Petrino can’t be overly confident in his depth under center. He can be confident in Scheelhaase, however.

Likewise at Indiana, where Kevin Wilson has taken advantage of his first-year coaching birthright — all positions are open to competition — while attempting to replace Ben Chappell. A pair of sophomores, Edward Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel, each with five games of experience under their belts, are Wilson’s best options.

Or at Minnesota, which has handed the reins over to MarQueis Gray but needs to locate a competent reserve. That very well may be true freshman Max Shortell, particularly now that sophomore Moses Alipate seems to have sized out of the competition, but Jerry Kill can’t be happy about his lack of proven experience behind Gray — who’s not all that tested himself, to be honest.

Big Ten teams that can rest easy? Try Michigan, which might have big fish to fry in 2011 but can take solace in a wonderful quarterback situation: the conference’s best — at least through Oct. 7 — in Denard Robinson and a talented backup in Devin Gardner. Ohio State has depth and talent even without Terrelle Pryor; that depth will be greatly increased once Pryor does return in October, thanks to the snaps a Braxton Miller might take in his stead.

A healthy Dan Persa would push Evan Watkins back into a secondary role, giving Northwestern one proven star and a second rising star at quarterback. Penn State has a transfer issue to address with Rob Bolden, one that seems no closer to its resolution than it was in January, but even without Bolden the Nittany Lions can start Matt McGloin and back him up with Kevin Newsome, which is a solid pairing.

Even Purdue, for all its other faults, can be confident in its depth at quarterback — should Robert Marve recover from his latest knee injury and remain healthy. So the Boilermakers, despite trailing Wisconsin across the board, can tout something the Badgers cannot: two proven quarterbacks.

Experience is built on the fly, on the other hand, and Wisconsin does have the offensive line to keep Budmayr clean. As the Badgers prepare for another Rose Bowl run, however, one can’t help but be wary of a quarterback situation that’s one bad break from being disastrous.

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  1. Chaddogg says:


    I think you overestimate Evan Watkins — the kid’s good, but he may not even be the backup at Northwestern, as the offense moved better with Kain Colter in the TicketCity Bowl….

  2. M Meyer says:

    Great article. With regard to Iowa, it will be tough for the coaching staff to keep the athletic Derby off the field in some capacity. He really needs to win the backup role, or the defensive staff will be pushing hard for him at safety or linebacker. Based on my fairly uninformed observations, Wienke knows the playbook better, but Derby has the bigger upside. Does my favorite coordinator, Ken O’Keefe, have the vision to give the backup role to the guy with the athletic ability over the more experienced pocket passer?

  3. wildcat6 says:

    “A healthy Dan Persa…”

    From your keyboard to Dan’s Achilles.

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