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Mutka: Quarterback trio primes Purdue’s Big ten pump

Updated: September 29, 2012 6:15AM



Maybe this isn’t a banner year for Big Ten quarterbacks, Michigan’s Denard Robinson being a notable exception, but Purdue has flagged three with enough talent to start at numerous needy Division I programs.

Credit coach Danny Hope with quietly hoarding solid signal callers Caleb TerBush, Robert Marve and Rob Henry. It’s doubtful whether any other team in the country has stockpiled as much experience as this trio with a combined 24 starts over the last three years (35 counting Marve’s freshman year at Miami).

A favorable schedule should boost the Boilers, who play five of their first six games at Ross-Ade Stadium. Going into their Big Ten opener with Michigan, they should be no worse than 3-and-1.

With Ohio State and Penn State having sinned their way into football limbo the Boilers and Wisconsin will squabble to represent the Leaders Division in the Big Ten championship game. Here’s how the Big Ten stacks up, starting with the rest of the Leaders Division:

Wisconsin (11-3, 6-2. Rose Bowl, lost to Oregon): Heisman Trophy candidate Montee Ball has yet to practice since being attacked by five men only a block from his off-campus apartment. He’ll need time to re-condition himself for Wisconsin’s opener against Northern Iowa. Meanwhile, he apologized for being a “distraction” to his 100-plus teammates at a recent forum. Being one of only eight scholarship seniors on a young squad, it was a noble gesture.

If Ball misses any games, look for understudy James White to practice damage control. They’ll be running behind tackle Travis Frederick.

Maryland’s Danny O’Brien, their second quarterback to enter as a transfer in as many years, lacks Russell Wilson’s creative mobility but was the ACC freshman of year. His primary target should be WR Jared Abbrederis (55 catches, 8 TDs).

Defensively, Wisconsin’s leans heavily on linebackers Chris Borland (143 tackles, 19 for losses), Big Ten tackling leader Mike Taylor and Ethan Armstrong.

Crystal ball gazers are betting on the Badgers to return to Indy for the Big Ten championship game, especially with Ohio State and Penn State being ineligible.

Key game: at Purdue, Oct. 13

Ohio State (6-7, Gator Bowl, lost to Florida): Look for a Gibraltar-like defense with a front four headed by tackle John Simon (31 solos, 16 tackles for loss) to carry the Buckeyes until new coach Urban Meyer’s “clown show” offense masters his fast-tempo spread offense. With interim coach Luke Fickell a distant memory Meyer can order up with 15 returning starters.

Quarterback Braxton Miller is only a sophomore and will need time to familiarize himself with Meyer’s attacking style. Grinders are being phased out in favor of to razzle and dazzle. In close games the Buckeyes can rely on Drew Basil, who converted 16 of 19 field goals.

Key game: at Michigan State, Sept. 29.

Penn State (9-4, Ticket Bowl, lost to Houston ): Quarterback Matt McGloin stuck around for his senior season, his job guaranteed with eight-game starter Rob Bolden having taken his dubious resume (39.3 completion percentage, two TDs, eight interceptions) to LSU. Bolden is one of nine who have transferred from the tainted institution, which waved bye-bye to offensive weapons Silas Redd (USC, 1,241 rushing yards), Justin Brown (Oklahoma, 35 catches, 517 yards), and Anthony Fera (Texas, 14-17 in field goals, 42-yard punter).

Backup kicker Sam Ficken (Valparaiso) returns, but offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki should consider himself fortunate that he won’t be facing outraged fans at Beaver Stadium. He transferred to Illinois, which hosts PSU.

Key game: Ohio State, Sept. 29, in the battle of rebuked NCAA sinners.

Note: all victories during the tainted Jerry Sandusky era have been vacated.

Illinois (7-6, Hunger Bowl, beat UCLA): Six straight losses got Ron Zook fired, his 2007 Rose Bowl team filed away under “what have you done for me lately?” Coach Tim Beckman inherits seven starters on each side of the line, including quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who connected on 63.2 per cent of his passes for 2,110 yards and 26 touchdowns. The talented junior will be targeting tight end Jon Davis, who caught 19 passes in the last seven games, and wide receiver Spencer Harris (26 catches).

Defensively, the Illini are anchored to tackle Akeem Spence and linebackers Jonathan Brown and Michael Buchanan. Four of the Illini’s first five games are at home, which should improve their odds of third straight post-season appearance.

Key game: Penn State, Sept. 29.

Indiana (1-11): Forty-six different players started for the Hoosiers last year, including 11 true freshmen. The results were horribly predictable.

Skilled players like Tre Roberson, the first IU freshman quarterback to ever start, are now a year older. He showed signs of brilliance, notably completing 16 of 24 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown against Iowa. Running back Stephen Houston rushed for 802 yards and eight touchdowns. But a sieve-like defense gave up 37.3 points per game.

The Hoosiers will be improved, but not enough to impact the Big Ten until 2013.

Key game: Ball State, Sept. 15 (IU never recovered from a 27-20 loss to the Cardinals last year.)

Legends Division

Iowa (7-6, Insight Bowl loss to Oklahoma): Former Gary Roosevelt star Erik Campbell is serving his fifth year as receivers coach of the Hawkeyes, who return split end Keenan Davis (50 catches, 713 yards) and wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley (30/323) as well as quarterback James Vandenberg (3022 yards, 25 TDs).

Iowa’s offensive line with be anchored by Coach Kirk Ferentz’s son, James, who has started 26 straight games at center, and left guard Matt Tobin. It’s a family affair with another son, Brian, now coaching the offensive line. Defensively, the secondary wraps itself around corner back Micah Hyde (49 solos, 3 interceptions).

Key game: at Michigan St., Oct. 13.

Michigan (11-2, Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech): Multi-dimensional quarterback Denard Robinson dropped off slightly under Coach Brady Hoke, who tried to relieve him of an overwhelming burden, but still racked up 3,349 yards in total offense. He threw 20 touchdown passes, but was picked off 15 times. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who gave the Wolverines a second thousand-yard rusher, has been suspended since being arrested for DUI on July 21, but was cleared for practice.

Wide receivers Jeremy Gallon (31 catches/453 yards) and Ray Roundtree (19/347) are inviting targets, but Roundtree is coming off recent arthroscopic knee surgery.

Defensively, the Wolverines retain their top two tacklers in linebacker Kenny Demens and safety Jordan Kovacs

Key game: Alabama, at Arlington. Texas, Sept. 1 (All eyes will be on this opener).

Michigan State (11-3, Outback bowl winner over Georgia): Defensively the Spartans are stacked with eight starters, including all-conference corner Johnny Adams (37 solos, 3 interceptions), end William Gholston (16 tackles for loss), linebackers Denicos Allen (18.5 TFL) and Max Bullough (89 tackles) and safety Isaiah Lewis (4 interceptions).

For the first time in three years the Spartans will be using an untested quarterback. Junior Andrew Maxwell gains the nod after serving as Kirk Cousins understudy since 2009. Last year he completed 18 of 26 passes, but appeared in only four games.

The Legends Division winner will be more run-oriented with pile-driving 244-pounder Le’Veon Bell 948 yards, 13 TDs) and Larry Caper, who was limited by a hand injury after leading MSU in rushing two years ago.

Key game: at Michigan, Oct. 20.

Minnesota (3-9): A season-ending victory over Illinois put a positive spin on a negative year for the Gophers in Jerry Kill’s coaching debut. Their offensive line has beefed up 15-to-20 pounds per man, but lost five-game starter Jimmy Gjere, who can’t shake concussion-like symptoms.

Quarterback MarQueis Gray, who threw eight touchdown passes, rushed for 966 yards. Duane Bennett gained 639 yards and combined with Marcus Jones to give Minnesota two explosive kick returners. Each one scored on a 90-plus yard run-back.

Five of Minnesota’s top six tacklers return, starting with Kim Royston (71 solos).

Key game: Syracuse, Sept. 22.

Nebraska (9-4, lost to South Carolina in Capitol One Bowl): Quarterback Taylor Martinez’s game preparations were complicated by a brand new schedule, but he introduced himself to the Big Ten by completing 56.2 per cent of his passes for 2,089 yards. Ken Bell, his top receiver with 32 catches, returns as does All-Big Ten I-Back Rex Burkhead. The U.S. History buff rushed for an average of 104.4 yards per game and scored 15 touchdowns.

End Jason Ankrah and Baker Steinkuhler fortify a defense which will sorely miss All-American linebacker Lavonte David. Big Ten kicking leader Brett Maher (44.5 punting average, 19-23 field goals, 43 extra points) returns.

Key game: Wisconsin, Sept. 29.

Northwestern (6-7, lost to Texas A&M in Car Care Bowl): Center Brandon Vitabile, return specialist Venric Mark and linebacker David Nwabuisi are on watch lists in their specialties. Mark and quarterback Kain Colter piled up more than 1,100 all-purpose yards apiece.

Colter is arguably the most versatile skilled player in the Big Ten. He bootlegged for 654 yards and nine touchdowns, completed 55 of 82 passes and caught 43 when departed QB Dan Persa was healthy.

Nwabuisi, who is on the Butkus watch list, Colter and linemen Brian Mulroe and Brian Arnfelt were recently named team captains. Mulroe has started 26 consecutive games in the offensive trenches.

Key game: Nebraska, Oct. 20.



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