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Big Ten stocked with talented quarterbacks

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010

Always one to enjoy a good laugh, Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley chuckled the other day when he was asked about the Big Ten's outstanding class of quarterbacks.

They include:

• Fifth-year seniors who throw with accuracy from the pocket (Indiana's Ben Chappell, Minnesota's Adam Weber, Iowa's Richard Stanzi and Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien).

• Players who have appeared on Heisman Trophy watch lists because their legs complement their arms (Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor and Michigan's Denard Robinson).

• Freshmen thrust into positions of leadership but with their best days ahead of them (Penn State's Rob Bolden, Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase and Purdue's Rob Henry).

• Michigan State's Kirk Cousins, who has thrown for 1,948 yards on an undefeated team that is No. 5 in the BCS rankings.

• Northwestern's Dan Persa, who has completed 75.7 percent of his passes, with 10 touchdowns.

What's new• Bradley wanted to know.

"It's been that way for a while now," said Bradley, who has strategized against Drew Brees, Chad Henne and Antwaan Randle El, among others, since he assumed his duties in 2000.

Those players are in the NFL, but it's not getting any easier back in the Big Ten.

This week, Bradley is preparing his young, injury-riddled defense for one of the conference's most dynamic and, surely, the most brazen of them all -- Michigan's Robinson, who visits Beaver Stadium on Saturday night.

Robinson, who leads the nation in rushing yards with 1,096, has a clear -- if biased -- opinion on the identity of the best quarterback in the conference.

"Why would I say somebody else?" he said. "I wouldn't say nobody else is better than me."

Said Bradley: "If you want to be good, you have to think you are good."

Robinson's coach Rich Rodriguez isn't eager to argue with his speedy redshirt freshman, who will create significant matchup problems for a Penn State defense that has allowed a combined 870 yards the past two games.

"The veteran guys have done it a little bit longer," Rodriguez said. "He has not reached his potential yet, but at the same time, he is eager to prove (he is the best)."

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is partial to his quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, who came out of Jeannette perceived as more of an athlete than a passer.

Sometimes, perception isn't reality.

In his third season as a starter, Pryor is completing 66 percent of his passes for the No. 11 Buckeyes. Tressel said Pryor understands the position and is comfortable in its flow.

"Watching films from a year ago, you can see his (improved) command and his knowledge," Tressel said. "You can see the game has dramatically slowed down. He is darn good and gets better every day."

Illinois coach Ron Zook said every team has recruited well at quarterback, and he credits the Big Ten's reputation and a good group of coaches.

"There is a lot of good coaching going on in here," he said.

Plus, the Big Ten Network has the ability to showcase the conference in high definition from coast to coast. Indeed, the 11 starters have grown up in eight states, including Florida (Robinson and Henry).

Penn State has the shakiest situation at quarterback, with Bolden expected to sit out the Michigan game with a head injury.

Bolden, the first Penn State freshman to start at quarterback in 100 years, has had some good moments, but he has been unspectacular as a runner and passer.

"I have tried to get across that when you haven't had a spring practice, you have to be careful what you put in that the kid can handle," Paterno said. "Everything considered, he is having a darn good year, and I hope he is going to be OK."

Before his injury last week in Minnesota, Bolden completed his first nine passes and was making smart defensive reads. But his injury left the position to Matt McGloin, a former walk-on, and Kevin Newsome, who has regressed in his sophomore season.

"We finally get the quarterback over the hump, we are reading some things and we lose him," Paterno said. "We have to start over with the other two kids."

The fourth quarterback is freshman Paul Jones of Sto-Rox, who works with the scout team and will be redshirted. Jones fell behind over the summer due to academic deficiencies, Paterno said.

Paterno included his team when he said, "There are some talented athletes playing quarterback in the Big Ten. More so than we have had."

Said Tressel: "This is a league full of good quarterbacks. You better be ready to play good defense."

Additional Information:

Big Ten quarterbacks

Here is a list of starting quarterbacks in the Big Ten:

Rob Bolden, Penn State (freshman) : 58.2 completion percentage, 1,307 passing yards, 5 TDs, 7 Int., 12 rushing yards, 1 TD

Ben Chappell, Indiana (senior*) : 66.2, 2,137, 17, 6, -8 , 1

Dan Persa, Northwestern (junior*) : 75.8, 1,850, 10, 3, 341, 6

Adam Weber, Minnesota (senior*) : 55.9, 1,961, 17, 7, 111, 0

Richard Stanzi, Iowa (senior*) : 68.1, 1,732, 16, 2, -14, 2

Kirk Cousins, Michigan State (junior*) : 66.5, 1,948, 14, 4, -71, 0

Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State (junior) : 66.0, 1,775, 18, 6, 408, 3

Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin (senior*) : 71.9, 1,558, 8, 4, -15, 0

Denard Robinson, Michigan (sophomore) : 67.8, 1,319, 9, 5, 1,096, 9

Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois (freshman*) : 58.9, 904, 6, 7, 4.6, 2

Rob Henry, Purdue (freshman*) : 50.5, 501, 3, 4, 382, 4

*Redshirt

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