Ohio State has the comfort of Braxton Miller, last year’s Big Ten offensive player of the year, returning this season, but many of the Buckeyes’ fellow Leaders Division rivals face questions at quarterback.
A look at how those teams are faring through spring practice:
Wisconsin: New coach Gary Andersen inherited a team that has three quarterbacks who played in at least seven games last season. Although Andersen, a former Utah State coach, repeatedly has promised not to depart from the Badgers’ traditional power game, someone must make it all go.
The two leading quarterback candidates are Curt Phillips, who was recently granted a sixth year of eligibility, and sophomore Joel Stave. Andersen said both have separated themselves from others at that position because of their production.
“How they’ve moved the offense, absorbed the offense, and how they’ve fit into the offense is at a higher level at this point,” he said.
Phillips, who is the incumbent, Stave, and senior Danny O’Brien started games last season. Redshirt Bart Houston is getting a look, and Wisconsin has junior-college transfer Tanner McEvoy coming in this fall.
“We won’t go into fall practice with a No. 1-named starting quarterback,” Andersen said.
Penn State: Matt McGloin, who broke through last season in Bill O’Brien’s first year as coach, has graduated. His former backup, Steven Bench, is splitting practice repetitions with Tyler Ferguson, a junior-college transfer.
“They both do some things well, and both have some things they need to improve on,” O’Brien said.
Bench, a sophomore, is considered more of a dual-threat quarterback than Ferguson, and they are expected to be challenged in the fall when Christian Hackenberg arrives as a freshman.
“Coming from pro football, I have to learn more patience than I’ve had with all the players,” said O’Brien, a former offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots. “These guys are 18 and 19 years old. You’ve got to let them grow and get better, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Purdue: The Boilermakers are trying to find a replacement for veteran quarterbacks Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve as Darrell Hazell takes over as coach.
“We have three capable guys right now,” said Hazell, a former Kent State head coach and OSU assistant. “All three of them are doing a nice job.”
The leader, at least in terms of experience, is Rob Henry, who has started seven games in his injury-hampered career. Hazell said Henry is throwing the ball well, although the coach also has been impressed by redshirt freshman Austin Appleby and true freshman Danny Etling.
“We’re going to keep the competition open probably until two weeks before we play Cincinnati” in the season opener,” Hazell said.
Illinois: The Illini hope to get more out of veteran quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O’Toole, each of whom played last season, when the Illini ranked last in the Big Ten in total offense and 11th in passing offense.
“Both have performed, in my opinion, extremely well,” said second-year coach Tim Beckman. “This spring game is huge.”
After his first Illinois team finished 2-10, Beckman responded by bringing in a new offensive coordinator, former Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit. Scheelhaase and O’Toole are jockeying to run the new offense.
“Nathan has been the starter here, so he has a step in front,” Beckman said. A decision on a starter won’t be made before fall camp, he said.
Indiana: The high-scoring Hoosiers are set at quarterback with returning starter Cameron Coffman, so coach Kevin Wilson’s focus is on improving the Big Ten’s worst-ranked total defense and scoring defense.
Specifically, Wilson is trying to beef up a unit that allowed an average of 231 rushing yards, also a league-worst. To help, he’s devoting a segment of each practice — a “Big Ten period” — to having his offense run a power scheme instead of its customary spread.
“Let’s get our defense better by giving it some time playing against typical, downhill football,” he said.