2014 Stat Predictions for Every Big Ten Football Starting QB
The Big Ten hasn't exactly been a breeding ground for quarterbacks the past few seasons.
But with a two-time conference offensive player of the year, the reigning Rose Bowl champion and a former top-ranked prospect all returning, among others, 2014 has a chance to be a seminal year for the position in the league.
In reading the projection of the stats of these players, a few things must be kept in mind. Some of the Big Ten QB situations haven't been settled, and in those cases, this list is a projection of who will win the job. Furthermore, it's also a projection of good health, since predicting injuries seemed too random.
The numbers are based on a full 12-game schedule.
Other factors that came into play were the player's stats from last year, the scheme he plays in, how he's improved this offseason (based on reports from camp) and who returns on the offense around him.
Sound off below and let me know if anything sticks out.
Wes Lunt, Illinois
Passing: 3,000 yards, 18 TD, 15 INT
Rushing: 50 yards, 1 TD
Wes Lunt was supposed to be the future at Oklahoma State, but even after looking good, for the most part, as a true freshman, injuries knocked him down the depth chart and facilitated his transfer.
Lunt has a good arm but was interception prone with the 'Pokes. Bill Cubit is a good offensive coordinator who will rely on spread concepts (shorter, horizontal passes), but even so, the loss of last year's four leading wide receivers might entice Lunt to force some passes.
The Illini defense should be awful, which will allow Lunt to post decent yardage numbers as the offense tries to pass its way back into games. If games stay close, though, running back Josh Ferguson is the best thing this unit has going for it, and Cubit is smart enough to try to establish him early—before things get out of hand.
A decent offensive line should help on that front, too.
Nate Sudfeld, Indiana
Passing: 3,800 yards, 32 TD, 12 INT
Rushing: -100 yards, 2 TD
The only thing that stood between Nate Sudfeld and huge numbers last season was playing time. Now that Tre Roberson—who took 138 attempts away from him last season—has transferred out of the program, Sudfield has a clear path to a full-time role.
The losses of offensive coordinator Seth Littrell and receivers Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes are a bit troubling, but the Indiana passing game is still set up for success. Head coach Kevin Wilson knows what he's doing, Shane Wynn and Nick Stoner (as well as Tevin Coleman out of the backfield) are capable targets, and Sudfeld, quite frankly, is simply underrated.
More than that, even though the defense should be better (if only because it can't get any worse) it should still let up enough points (and then some) to warrant a nonstop, fast-paced pass attack.
Jake Rudock, Iowa
Passing: 2,800 yards, 22 TD, 15 INT
Rushing: 300 yards, 7 TD
Jake Rudock was a useful tonic for the James Vandenberg era; he didn't blow anybody away, but he was a capable, confident signal-caller who proved he could win close games.
That being said, he also didn't do much to stretch the field. Iowa's offense was as boring and Greg Davis-y as it had ever been—it was just a little more efficient. Baby steps, young Hawkeyes. Baby steps.
Let's project a slight uptick in Rudock's numbers for two major reasons. First, starting quarterbacks tend to get better in their second season, and second, Iowa's defense should be slightly worse (albeit still quite good) after losing a historically capable trio of linebackers.
C.J. Brown, Maryland
Passing: 3,500 yards, 20 TD, 13 INT
Rushing: 500 yards, 10 TD
C.J. Brown was a legitimate Heisman contender—if such things even exist—after four games last season. Maryland was 4-0 and coming off a 37-0 beatdown of West Virginia, and Brown's 331.5 yards of total offense per game was good for No. 12 in the country.
Obviously, things then spiraled out of control. Florida State beat the Terps 63-0 the following weekend, and Brown's two best targets, Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, suffered season-ending leg injuries in an ugly loss at Wake Forest.
So much for those Heisman hopes.
But now, with Diggs, Long and a deep cast of receivers behind them all returning, Brown is set up for success. Heisman-type success? Not quite. But take-the-Big-Ten-by-surprise-type success? You bet.
Don't sleep on the dual-threat senior to put up 4,000 yards of total offense. He has the talent and the weapons around him to do so.
Devin Gardner, Michigan
Passing: 3,200 yards, 25 TD, 15 INT
Rushing: 350 yards, 8 TD
I am more bullish on Devin Gardner than most. It takes moxie to play the way he played—on one leg, mind you—against Ohio State.
Still, there are obvious flaws to Gardner's game, and only a few months under new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier might not be enough to fix them. He'll still make some questionable reads, and he'll still turn the ball over more than a good quarterback should.
Expect Gardner to run less than he has in the past in order to preserve his health and make it through the season. Assuming the offensive line is even slightly better than it was last year—a big but necessary "if"—he is good enough to maneuver from the pocket.
Just don't expect a wholly different player.
Connor Cook, Michigan State
Passing: 3,500 yards, 30 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: 150 yards, 3 TD
Want to know why people are so high on Connor Cook—a player who lost the starting job out of camp to Andrew Maxwell, of all people, last season? The answer lies in how much he improved late in the year:
- Through October: 197 attempts, 1,238 yards (6.28 yards per attempt)
- After October: 183 attempts, 1,517 yards, (8.29 yards per attempt)
Cook was playing like one of the best quarterbacks in college football at the end of last season, and he was doing it in the Spartans' biggest games, on big stages, against teams like Ohio State and Stanford.
With a deep group of receivers coming back, Cook should get this offense back to the good old days of Brian Hoyer and Kirk Cousins.
Mitch Leidner, Minnesota
Passing: 2,300 yards, 15 TD, 10 INT
Rushing: 700 yards, 12 TD
Minnesota got rid of Philip Nelson at just the right time, allowing him to leave for Rutgers before imploding in a very public way.
It was all for the best on the football field too, as Mitch Leidner came on at the end of the season and appeared to give the Gophers the best shot at winning in the future. His dual-threat skills opened up the offense (from completely shut to crack-of-light-in-the-door), and he showed hints of improvement as a passer late in the year.
Minnesota is not suddenly going to turn into an offensive juggernaut, and if it does, the running game will be a bigger factor than the passing game. But as Leidner and young receivers such as Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones start to learn and grow and jell with one another, this air attack could go from bad to halfway decent.
And that would be considered a win.
Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska
Passing: 3,000 yards, 28 TD, 14 INT
Rushing: 550 yards, 7 TD
Tommy Armstrong was up and down as a redshirt freshman in 2013, but he did lead the Huskers to an upset bowl win over Georgia. Per Bleacher Report's Erin Sorensen, he also showed well during spring practice and could be the Big Ten's most improved player:
But after just a few spring practices, he's making a strong case to not just become Nebraska's most improved player, but the Big Ten's.
For Armstrong, his improvement has been about more than just his performance on the field. It's how he leads both on and off of it. That's ultimately what will accelerate him to be a top quarterback in the conference.
But not quite everyone is sold.
Reddit ran a really cool thread Wednesday asking college football fans to post an unpopular opinion about their team, and the discourse surrounding Armstrong and backups Johnny Stanton and Ryker Fyfe was among the most interesting things that came up.
Personally, I expect Armstrong to be very good but not great next season. The ups and downs will continue; there will just be more of the latter than the former. Let's give Armstrong a slight uptick in terms of yards per attempt, which will make for a fine sophomore season.
But will that be enough to reach less than four losses?
Trevor Siemian, Northwestern
Passing: 3,000 yards, 20 TD, 11 INT
Rushing: 50 yards, 1 TD
Kain Colter was the best quarterback (and arguably the best player) on Northwestern's roster the past couple of seasons, but there's a reason Trevor Siemian got so many reps despite that.
He had the better passing arm of the two.
How Northwestern's offense changes now that Siemian is the full-time quarterback should be interesting to see. The return of Venric Mark, who was granted a sixth year via medical redshirt, should help bridge the gap, but how will he be utilized beside a less mobile QB?
Siemian was better in 2012 than he was in 2013, but now that he's the No. 1 option, let's predict a modest bounce-back year.
Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Passing: 2,600 yards, 31 TD, 10 INT
Rushing: 1,250 yards, 15 TD
Deny it all you want, Buckeyes fans, but the supporting cast around Braxton Miller is worse than it was last season. You don't lose Carlos Hyde and (most of) the nation's best offensive line without a drop-off.
Fortunately, Miller forwent the NFL draft to return for his senior season, and he's the type of player who can compensate for a loss of talent around him. He makes the guys around him look better.
Provided he stays healthy—which was part of the conceit of writing this article—Miller is the overwhelming favorite to win his third straight Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year award. If he puts up the numbers above (3,850 total yards, 46 total TD) and the Buckeyes make the College Football Playoff, he'll have a case for the Heisman as well.
Unfortunately, his health is a pretty big "if."
Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
Passing: 3,150 yards, 22 TD, 10 INT
Rushing: -220 yards, 2 TD
Christian Hackenberg can get better next season without improving his stats. In fact, merely replicating his stats without Allen Robinson, who had 46 percent of Penn State's receiving yards last season, would be a sign of a great leap forward in his development.
That might not be a popular opinion, but it's the truth. Especially behind what appears to be a sieve-like offensive line, Hackenberg would do well to inch over 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns.
The Nittany Lions aren't eligible to make a bowl next season, but folks in Happy Valley already have circled 2016.
As long as Hackenberg has a few games like last year's Wisconsin outing and a few impossible highlights such as this one, he will have Penn State well on its way to a resurgence as soon as next season.
Danny Etling, Purdue
Passing: 2,800 yards, 18 TD, 12 INT
Rushing: -200 yards, 2 TD
Purdue will be better this season. There's no way it won't be. Anything other than last year's team will be an improvement.
Danny Etling is a big reason for the (tepid) optimism in West Lafayette, Indiana. Even on a very bad team, he stuck out as a promising true freshman.
More than just that, Etling established a good rapport with DeAngelo Yancey, his top receiver and fellow freshman compadre. They should learn and grow together next season—and especially in 2016.
Don't expect Etling to set the world on fire, since, again, this is Purdue. But he can be one of the 10 best quarterbacks in the conference.
Gary Nova, Rutgers
Passing: 2,500 yards, 16 TD, 16 INT
Rushing: -250 yards, 1 TD
There is competition in the Rutgers quarterback battle, but the smart money says Gary Nova's experience will win out.
But what does "winning out" really mean? Nova will be stuck inside an offense devoid of playmakers against a conference with better defenses than he's used to. And the results might get kind of ugly.
Leonte Carroo has the potential to be a good one on the outside, but after leaning on 6'6" Brandon Coleman the past few seasons, Nova will find it difficult to transition into a world without him.
And the stat line will not be pretty.
Tanner McEvoy, Wisconsin
Passing: 2,200 yards, 19 TD, 14 INT
Rushing: 600 yards, 10 TD
I suppose this is technically an upset—the only projected backup whom I have starting on this list. But I stand by it.
Joel Stave has been underwhelming, to say the least, since taking over under center, and Tanner McEvoy has the physical tools to excite this Wisconsin fanbase. He's a freaky athlete who played safety last year after losing the quarterback battle, which says all you need to know.
But this is where McEvoy belongs, and he showed why with a solid spring performance.
"He carries himself like a quarterback," said head coach Gary Andersen, per Jesse Temple of Fox Sports Wisconsin. "...So much of the run checks that he has to handle and the demeanor that he carried himself with last August and the way he carries himself today is really completely different."
Expect some decent dual-threat numbers.