As we enter the opening week of the 2013 season there may not be a more talked about subject across the Big Ten landscape than the quarterback battles that have gone on and continue to go on at places like Indiana, Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin.
In fact, these battles have so little separation to them that none of the four schools have named an official starter as we enter Week 1 of the college football season.
There were more battles that played out through spring, summer and fall camp at Iowa and Purdue as well, but those battles have recently gone the way most pundits thought as the Hawkeyes recently named Jake Rudock their Week 1 starter and the Boilermakers named senior Rob Henry their starter after fending off challenges from freshmen Austin Appleby and Danny Etling.
However, there are still four big time battles raging on, at least publicly across Big Ten country and as we inch ever closer to the start of the season on Thursday it gives us the opportunity to break down where the quarterback battles stand and who will likely jog out as the starter on opening day at each of the four schools still left with legitimate quarterback battles.
No question about it, the most intriguing battle still going on is happening in Happy Valley as Penn State head coach (and renowned quarterback guru) Bill O'Brien has now pushed back his announcement deadline twice in the past two weeks.
Apparently it is that close between sophomore JUCO transfer Tyler Ferguson and 5-star incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg.
Coming into the start of camp the depth chart for Penn State read Tyler Ferguson or Christian Hackenberg and as we sit here nearly four weeks later nothing has separated these two from each other. That's because the depth chart that was released on Monday looked exactly the same as the one at the start of camp.
Ferguson was thought to have an advantage, after enrolling early and participating in the spring program as well as being around all summer long.
Hackenberg was thought to have been a bit behind the eight ball coming into fall camp because he had yet to step foot on campus. However, it appears his abilities are as advertised by his lofty recruiting stats.
Hackenberg, was rated a 5-star prospect by all recruiting services and was ranked as the No. 1 quarterback in the country (No. 6 overall) by 247sports. He was also rated as the No. 2 pro-style quarterback by Rivals.com for the 2013 recruiting class.
Projected Winner: Christian Hackenberg—It is clear that something Hackenberg is doing in camp is continuously making O'Brien think twice about naming a starter and the longer this battle drags out the better his odds are to be the true starter. That said, it may not be until Week 2 that an official starter is named.
While all the focus has been on the goings on in Happy Valley, perhaps the most fun and most difficult to call battle has been going on over in Bloomington, Ind. It's amazing that this battle is even taking place and the three quarterbacks involved have one freak leg injury to thank for this situation.
Of course we are talking about the broken leg Tre Roberson suffered in the second game of the season last year.
That led to Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld being thrust into duty and it's safe to say they both passed the eye test.
Coffman completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 2,734 yards, but threw for just 15 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. Sudfeld, just a freshman last season, completed 62.2 percent of his passes for 637 yards with seven touchdowns to just one interception.
In the game and a half or so that Roberson played in 2012 he completed 26 of 36 attempts for 368 yards with two touchdowns to one interception, while also rushing for 133 yards and three touchdowns.
Of course, as the old saying goes, you can't lose your starting spot just due to injury and now it appears those words are exactly true as Roberson remains deeply involved in the quarterback battle.
All three bring something completely different to the table and that makes this one really difficult.
Roberson was looking like an improved passer following an up and down freshman season in 2011 while also still having the wheels to be a difference maker in the running game.
Coffman has a cannon for an arm, but showed he needs to be more careful with the ball and Sudfeld brings an ability to run the ball a bit himself, while also being perhaps the most "game manager" of the three involved in the battle this season.
Head coach Kevin Wilson has indicated that he may end up using all three when they take on Indiana State on Thursday night. What is clear is that Wilson isn't just giving the media lip service and hasn't named a specific starter because there hasn't truly been any separation between the three.
“It’s not about favorites or mind games or being coy or motivation,” coach Kevin Wilson said Friday to the Indy Star. “This is about winning some dadgum football games. It’s about time we started doing it.”
Projected Winner: Tre Roberson—While the other two are good quarterbacks in their own right at the end of the day Roberson provides an added ability that teams must deal with to boot. It's hard to go wrong no matter who ends up taking the majority of snaps eventually, but the Hoosiers have to settle on one quarterback sooner than later if they want a shot at being a true player in the Leaders division.
For the third straight year the Badgers will enter the season with a new starting quarterback, but unlike last season the coaching staff, players and fans have reason to not be worried about the battle that is taking place inside Camp Randall.
That's because the two players that are still involved, sixth-year senior Curt Phillips and redshirt sophomore Joel Stave, have good starting experience behind them from the 2012 season.
Stave took over at halftime of the Utah State game last season and appeared to command the offense both in the huddle and on the field.
So much so that had it not been for a brutal hit he took early in the second half of the Michigan State game, we may not even be talking about a quarterback battle on hand in Madison.
For the season Stave completed 58.8 percent of his passes for a team best 1,104 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions. His replacement was Curt Phillips, who made a miraculous comeback from three straight ACL tears in his right knee.
He wasn't really asked to carry much of the load as a true quarterback last season, but did complete 56.8 percent of his passes for 540 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
From the end of the season to today it appears that both have made significant strides, but both still have holes in their game.
Stave has a massive arm on him and appears to have increased his accuracy on the deep ball, while Phillips appears more confident in planting and throwing this offseason than he ever was last year on the field. It shows in his ability to more confidently hit intermediate to deep routes as well.
Of course, just like the other battles new Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen refused to name a definitive starter, listing it as Joel Stave or Curt Phillips, on the depth chart that was released on Monday.
Projected Starter: Joel Stave—Phillips may be a senior, but to many his limited ceiling has been reached, while Stave has continued to grow and get better in just his redshirt sophomore season. He has more home run ability in his arm and the demeanor of the football team is just different on game day and ultimately you want someone that can change the game on the field over just a game manager, even if it means taking a bad play or two along the way before everything clicks.
Well, this has to easily be the biggest circus of the quarterback battles taking place in the Big Ten during the 2013 fall camp. It was supposed to be a cut and dry affair between senior Andrew Maxwell and junior Connor Cook.
Instead, it turned into a four man battle as camp went on with Tyler O'Connor and true freshman Damon Terry entering the mix.
However, as we get to game week it appears that Terry may end up heading for redshirt after all and that leaves returning starter Maxwell to battle it out with Cook and O'Connor.
Maxwell was about as popular as a person wearing a Michigan hoodie on the East Lansing campus as the 2012 season went on and that meant Connor Cook became the big man on campus because of it.
Well, that and his performance in the waining minutes of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl last year where he led the Spartans on a drive that ended with a game winning field goal.
O'Connor, a redshirt freshman, is easily the most unknown quantity to the general public, but appears to be the fastest growing quarterback in the battle. He was publicly left for dead by most following a lackluster spring game where he threw two interceptions, while Cook looked good in contrast.
Projected Starter: Andrew Maxwell—He's a senior and he really hasn't done enough in camp to lose the job outright. However, expect Dantonio to have a massively quick hook should he see more of what took place last season out of Maxwell. In that case look out for Connor Cook to be the eventual starter as the season drags on.
For more on all things Big Ten follow the author on Twitter @andycoppens.