Over the next two weeks, we will offer our take on the top players at each position in the Big Ten. We begin with quarterback, and an unsettling thought for Michigan fans - the two best QBs play for the Wolverines' top rivals.
1. Connor Cook - Michigan State: There is considerable debate in our office, with most siding with Ohio State's Braxton Miller. I give that Miller has the greater physical talent but Cook outplayed Miller (by a longshot in my opinion) in the Big Ten Championship Game, leading MSU to the win, and then helped the Spartans capture their Rose Bowl since 1987.
Cook completed 24 of 40 attempts for 304 yards with three touchdowns and a pick in the title contest while Miller completed 8 of 21 passes for 101 yards and a score. He rushed for two and had 142 yards on the ground, but give me the choice of who I'd want as my signal-caller under center in the biggest game of the year, and I'd pick Cook.
2. Braxton Miller - Ohio State: Despite that poor effort, Miller has actually proven a rather adept passer, with a career efficiency rating of 146.7, completing 59.3 percent of his 666 attempts for 5,292 yards with 52 TDs and 17 interceptions.
He is, of course, the top dual-threat in the Big Ten and maybe the country, rushing for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons en route to 3,054 and 32 scores in his career, but he's 0-3 in his career in postseason games and I'd like to see him win one before ranking him first.
3. Devin Gardner - Michigan: Plenty of folks knock him, but as I noted yesterday, in his 16-game starting career he has a better pass efficiency rating than (149.24) than any of the seven U-M QBs to have played in the NFL over the past 25 years - ahead of Elvis Grbac (148.14), Todd Collins (145.03), and Drew Henson (140.82).
Gardner fell just 40 yards shy of becoming only the second Wolverine in school history with a 3,00-yard campaign, while he owns the top-two single-game efforts with 503 yards against Indiana and 451 yards against Ohio State. Had U-M upset the latter (losing 42-41), Gardner's performance would likely rank among the top two or three against OSU in the last 30 years.
He needs to be more consistent and make better decisions with where to go with the football, but improved offensive line play in 2014 should provide Gardner more comfort in the pocket and a better chance to eliminate the mistakes that have plagued him.
4. Christian Hackenberg - Penn State: The Nittany Lions expected to suffer through some growing pains with a true freshman under center in 2013, but Hackenberg defied belief, completing 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,955 yards with a healthy 2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio with 20 TDs and 10 picks.
Yes, there were a few up and downs with Hackenberg, but he led PSU to a 2-1 record against ranked foes and capped his rookie year by throwing for 339 yards and four touchdowns (against no interceptions) in a 31-24 upset of No. 14 Wisconsin.
5. Joel Stave- Wisconsin: A fill-in starter for the Badgers in 2012, Stave earned the job outright a year ago and responded with a solid season, throwing for 2,494 yards with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The latter was a little too high, and he must cut down on those this season, but the overall decision-making and accuracy (61.9 completion percentage) are there.
QBs at Wisconsin rarely receive credit because of the dominant running game the Badgers produce, seemingly, every year, but Stave can distinguish himself as a junior this season with his best campaign yet.
The Best of the Rest
6. CJ Brown - Maryland
7. Jake Rudock - Iowa
8. Nate Sudfield - Indiana
9. Tommy Armstrong - Nebraska
10. West Lunt - Illinois
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