2013 Big Ten football preview: Who is going to be the best quarterback in the conference?

Michigan Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner (12) runs out of the pocket as South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Devin Taylor (98) rushes during the second half of the 2013 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium. South Carolina won 33-28. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

The Big Ten’s signal callers, never known for dominating in this run-first league, struggled across the board in 2012. Headlined by the inconsistencies of preseason Heisman favorite Denard Robinson, the conference disappointed offensively, leading to a bit of an overhaul as the Midwest drags itself into the next generation of dual-threat passer and wide-open play calling.

The league splits extremely evenly into three categories: Potential (super)stars, up-and-comers, and complete and total unknowns.

Folks tend to complain about the Big Ten being a two-horse league, and this is almost the case in terms of signal callers. Michigan’s Devin Gardner replaced Robinson mid-year, and in only five starts managed to pile up 1,219 yards and 11 scores. He also added 101 rushing yards and seven more scores. Then there is Braxton Miller, Ohio State’s great Heisman hope. As a mere sophomore, Miller passed for 2,039 yards and rushed for 1,271 more while leading the Buckeyes to a perfect 12-0 record.

[Related: Who is going to win the Big Ten Championship in 2013?]

Both of these guys are fantastic with both their arms and legs, but Nebraska’s Tyler Martinez is no slouch himself. The Huskers star finished second in the conference with 2,871 passing yards while just barely managing to crack 1,000 yards with 1,019.

These three have strong arguments to the title of top quarterback in the Big Ten. However, there are several up-and-comers ready to present their name for consideration.

Indiana sophomore Cameron Coffman finished third in the league with 2,734 yards. In a pass-first offense, he will have all the opportunities in the world to lead the conference in passing. Northwestern’s Kain Colter was a glorified tailback at times, but his work combined with those of pure pocket passer Trevor Siemian make for a dual-threat, two-headed offensive monster.

Two guys have enjoyed a lot of playing time, but have not done much with it. Nathan Scheelhaase is going to be a senior, but he may finally be benched in favor of Reilly O’Toole, who at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, is supposed to be great. Andrew Maxwell spent his entire junior year at the helm of Michigan State, but the Spartans made him hand the ball off to Le’Veon Ball roughly 7,000 times in 2012.

Minnesota’s Phillip Nelson started the final seven games for the Gophers as a mere freshman, throwing for 873 yards and rushing for 184 more.

Now for the unknowns — and there are quite a few. Both of Purdue’s quarterbacks, Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush, are gone. Rob Henry completed 21 passes for 216 yards as a junior. The conference’s leading passer, Penn State’s Matt McGloin, graduates. Steven Bench may be given the job to start the season, but Christian Hackenberg is one of the nation’s top quarterbacking recruits, and it will be tough to keep him off the field.

Wisconsin brings in the nation’s top dual-threat JUCO quarterback in Tanner McEvoy to compete for the starting role against sixth-year Curt Phillips, Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien and Joel Stave. Stave impressed as a redshirt freshman, but he broke his collarbone and now may have to sit behind someone in 2013.

Finally, that brings us to Iowa. James Vandenberg, as a senior, was the only quarterback to even throw a pass in 2012. The Hawkeyes did not recruit a single passer out of high school this year. Thus, we have absolutely no idea what to expect out of soon-to-be senior Cody Sokol or soon-to-be sophomores Jake Rudock, Kyle Anderson or CJ Beathard.

There are some great quarterbacks gearing up for a big 2013 season in the B1G, but will they prove their mettle on the national stage? Or will one of the up-and-coming young studly passers take over?

There are several unknown variables. Will any of them prove to be diamonds in the rough?

We have no idea, but you might, so let us know.

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