Published Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 10:17 pm / Updated at 4:56 pm
Barfknecht: Quarterback races heat up, with some starters emerging

Quarterback, quarterback, who's starting at quarterback?

As of Tuesday, nearly half of Big Ten football teams either were still considering whom to start or had just revealed a No. 1. Here's an update:

» Michigan State: After issuing a depth chart Tuesday morning that indicated four co-No. 1s, coach Mark Dantonio finally named senior Andrew Maxwell to start for the second straight season.

Sophomore Connor Cook, who sparked a comeback in MSU's bowl victory over TCU, also will play in Friday's opener against Western Michigan.

Dantonio said Maxwell, Cook, redshirt freshman Tyler O'Connor and true freshman Damion Terry all took first-team snaps in fall camp. Also, in a rarity for Dantonio, the staff put all quarterbacks in full contact in August to try to sort out the depth chart.

Maxwell's consistency and experience has earned him the first start, Dantonio said, although the other three remain in contention to play.

» Penn State: Coach Bill O'Brien considered naming a starter last week, but has decided to wait until game time to reveal whether sophomore Tyler Ferguson or true freshman Christian Hackenberg is first.

“When the game starts,” O'Brien said, “everybody will know who the starting quarterback is. But it will continue to be a full competition.

“These are two of the best young quarterbacks I've ever been around. Christian is 18 and Tyler is 19. They are smart, competitive, they can throw, they're athletic, tall. We have two good players there.”

Those two also are the only scholarship quarterbacks on Penn State's depleted roster. The Nittany Lions are down to 67 on scholarship. NCAA sanctions require them to be at 65 next season.

» Indiana: The Hoosiers open Thursday night against Indiana State, but coach Kevin Wilson said he's still undecided among three contenders: sophomore Tre Roberson, sophomore Nate Sudfeld and junior Cameron Coffman.

“No one has really eliminated or separated,” Wilson said Tuesday. “In preseason, they've completed 78, 76 and 74 percent of their passes. They've thrown eight, eight and six interceptions.

“They are very similar in their time here. It's not like we've got a veteran senior and a first-year rookie, so the leadership levels are the same. We don't know who is going to jog out first.”

Roberson, coming off a broken leg early last season, is the fastest of the three, but the quarterback run game will be used with all three, Wilson said.

» Wisconsin: The Badgers' top two quarterback candidates — sophomore Joel Stave and senior Curt Phillips — know who is starting Saturday against Massachusetts. But it's a mystery to most everyone else.

Get the latest Big Ten headlines from The World-Herald and from beat writers around the nation.

Coach Gary Andersen said that's by design.

“Movement on the depth chart takes place in the meeting room among the kids involved and the position group involved,” he said. “I don't believe quarterback should have more bells and whistles to it.

“I know (people) like to make it a 'big deal.' To me, it's another part of a functioning program.”

According to on-site reports, Stave has worked more with the first team in recent practices. He started six games last season before a knee injury Oct. 27 against Michigan State sidelined him.

Phillips is a sixth-year senior who started five games last season. He missed the entire 2010 and 2011 seasons with major knee injuries.

» Iowa: The Hawkeyes opened camp with three quarterbacks who have never taken a major-college snap. The starter Saturday will be sophomore Jake Rudock over redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard and junior Cody Sokol.

“Jake was probably the most consistent over the big picture,” coach Kirk Ferentz said of the 6-foot-3 205-pounder from Weston, Fla. “We feel he's best suited right now.

“But it was a very close competition. The guys have continued to practice well.”

Changing places

Tanner McEvoy has turned into the Wisconsin football team's Swiss army knife.

The sophomore transfer from Arizona Western College was recruited as a quarterback and will continue to take snaps regularly. But the 6-foot-6 223-pounder with 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash could play at least two other positions.

“He's so athletic we need to get him on the field,” Andersen said Tuesday.

McEvoy, who was his New Jersey high school's leading receiver before moving to quarterback as a senior, will challenge for regular time at wideout. He opened eyes in a recent scrimmage with a sparkling touchdown catch.

“It's not out of the question that you may see Tanner doing some things in some defensive situations, too,” Andersen said. “He wants to get on the field and he wants to play.

“His time at quarterback may be ahead of him. He's still a very young quarterback, so we'll see how it goes.”

McEvoy signed with South Carolina and sat out a redshirt season under Steve Spurrier before transferring late last summer to Arizona Western.

Andersen said McEvoy was open to looking at different positions as fall camp progressed.

“I can't say he was running into the office doing back flips about it,” Andersen said. “But he understood it and knew where he sat. He accepted it well, and he made the decision in the end.”

Quote of the week

Andersen on how short-handed the normally powerhouse Badger offensive line is:

“We have nine we feel good about. Our scholarship numbers are very low in that area. That is scary. We are on thin ice.”

Stat of the week

For the fourth straight season, the Big Ten offensive player of the year is back. The previous winners: Wisconsin sophomore running back John Clay (2009), Michigan sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson (2010), Wisconsin junior running back Montee Ball (2011) and Ohio State sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller (2012).

Bits and pieces

» ESPN analyst Kirk Herbrstreit, for the second straight year, has picked Michigan State to win the Legends Division.

» Minnesota offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover, after gastric bypass surgery 15 months ago, has gone from 403 pounds to 235.

» Ohio State starts the season with the nation's longest active winning streak — 12.

» Minnesota starting cornerback Derrick Wells (shoulder) is questionable for Thursday's opener against UNLV.

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.



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