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May 26, 2014

Ranking the Big Ten: Quarterback

As Nebraska prepares for another run through the Big Ten Conference, HuskerOnline.com will get you ready with ranking analysis pieces breaking down each position in the league. Today, we look at the quarterback position in the Big Ten heading into 2014.

1. Connor Cook, Michigan State, 6-4, 219, Jr.
No quarterback in the conference had a more impressive end to the 2013 season than Michigan State's Connor Cook. After helping guide the Spartans to a sweep through the Big Ten, Cook turned his game up a notch and took home MVP honors of both the league title game and the ensuing Rose Bowl victory over Stanford. Having thrown for 22 touchdowns and just six interceptions, Cook gave MSU a legit weapon of a passing game, which was all it needed to rise as the clear class of the conference. Now back under center with a major boost in confidence, Cook could be the Big Ten's top NFL quarterback prospect.
2. Braxton Miller, Ohio State, 6-2, 215, Sr.
Despite falling short of lofty preseason expectations due to some injury issues in 2013, Ohio State's Braxton Miller returns for his senior year once again regarded as one of the premier quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Assuming he can stay healthy coming off offseason shoulder surgery, Miller should be poised for another season of huge numbers, as he's posted two straight seasons of 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 rushing. Miller will once again be in the Heisman Trophy conversation from the opening game in 2014, and now in his third year running head coach Urban Meyer's offense, he and the Buckeyes could be in for big-time campaign.
3. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State, 6-4, 235, So.
Few true freshmen in the country had the type of immediate impact under center in 2013 than Penn State's Christian Hackenberg had in his first season with the Nittany Lions. Throwing for just under 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns and earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, Hackenberg more than lived up to the hype of his five-star status coming out of high school. But even more questions surround him entering this season, as gone is former coach Bill O'Brien to the Houston Texas and in is former Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin. How Hackenberg adjusts to learning a completely new system in just his second college season will go a long way in deciding PSU's success this year, but there's no doubting he has all the talent to make it work.
4. Devin Gardener, Michigan, 6-4, 218, Sr.
There wasn't a quarterback who saw greater extremes in his play last season than Michigan's Devin Gardner. One week he'd look like an all-league player, such as his four-touchdown performance in a win over Notre Dame. Another week, he was being booed out of his own stadium during a dismal showing in a home loss to Nebraska. The Wolverines are hoping to find a healthy balance from Gardner during his senior year so that his impressive numbers (3,500 combined yards, 32 total touchdowns in 2013) translate into much better team success coming off UM's frustrating 7-5 record last season. Athletically speaking, Gardner is as good as anyone in the Big Ten, but he'll need to improve his decision making and get significantly better protection from his offensive line to really maximize his potential.
5. Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson, Indiana, Jrs.
Despite having one of the most productive offenses in the Big Ten last year, Indiana still isn't settled on naming a definitive No. 1 quarterback between juniors Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson. However, no matter which QB takes the majority of the reps, the Hoosiers are going to still find a way to put up serious offensive numbers in 2014. Indiana set several school records last year with both Sudfeld and Roberson sharing snaps, including points (38.4) and total yards (508.5) per game. Sudfeld had 22 touchdowns (21 passing, one rushing) while Roberson passed for 15 and ran for five more. Both players are regarded as strong leaders in the locker room, and if the competition remains as close as it has the past year and a half, don't be surprised to see Sudfeld and Roberson split the duties of orchestrating IU's potent attack.

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