Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.

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Big Ten's best QBs prefer running to passing

Posted by: Phil Miller under College football, The Big 10 Updated: October 9, 2012 - 9:59 AM

       Denard Robinson is back on top of the Big Ten rushing leaders. Michigan's senior quarterback, the conference's No. 1 ground-gainer as a sophomore (at 130.9 yards per game), slipped back to fifth place last season (with a 90.5-yard average), behind a quartet of talented tailbacks: Wisconsin's Montee Ball, Iowa's Marcus Coker, Nebraska's Rex Burkhead and Penn State's Silas Redd, now with USC.
     But Robinson was his old self Saturday, destroying Purdue's defense with 235 yards on 24 carries, moving him back into first place. He's the most dynamic offensive player in the conference, and has been for three years now.
     Here's the thing, though: Robinson's 53.9 percent completion rate is last in the conference, and his eight interceptions are the most of any quarterback. So just exactly how good a quarterback is he?
     The Gophers certainly know he's good enough to beat them; Robinson completed 15 of 19 passes against Minnesota last year, and ran for 51 yards on just six carries, as the Wolverines spread around the playing time in a 58-0 rout.
     But would you rate the Wolverines' playmaker as the Big Ten's best quarterback?
     I don't think you could last season, not in a league with seniors Russell Wilson, Dan Persa and Kirk Cousins. But the competition isn't nearly as deep this season, at least through the first six weeks of the season, and Robinson's legs may be enough to earn him first-team All-Big Ten honors in December. He's in a tight race with sophomore Braxton Miller of Ohio State at the moment, a duel of players with similar styles.
     The current top five QBs, a list that could change dramatically as conference play goes on:
     1. Robinson, Michigan. He's been held below 100 rushing yards twice this season, and it's no coincidence that the Wolverines lost both games. But if you can't stop him, if you can't force him to pass into traffic, he appears just as elusive now as he was when he shocked the league two years ago.
     2. Miller, Ohio State. He was force-fed the Buckeye offense as a freshman last season when Terrelle Pryor abruptly turned pro, and the results weren't good. Ohio State had the worst passing attack in the conference. But Miller has absorbed Urban Meyer's spread offense and flourished, putting up a remarkable season for a sophomore. He averages 127 rushing yards a game, and he's already a far better passer than Robinson, completing 61.5 percent of his throws.
     3. Matt McGloin, Penn State. He's held the Nittany Lions together by turning them into a passing team, with a league-leading 249 yards per game, and his 12 touchdown passes also are the most in the Big Ten. Even better, he's only thrown two interceptions, while competing 61.5 percent of his passes.
     4. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska. Coach Bo Pelini's faith in the junior passer has paid off, as Martinez has become a viable two-threat quarterback. Martinez averages 57 yards on the ground, and is the league's most efficient passer, completing 66.4 percent of his passes and equalling McGloin's dozen touchdowns.
     5. Andrew Maxwell, Michigan State. There's a real drop-off after the first four, especially since half the conference -- Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Purdue, Northwestern and Indiana -- has started more than one quarterback this season, whether because of injury, inconsistent play or, in the unique case of Northwestern's Kain Colter, the desire to use him at other positions. James Vandenberg of Iowa, the preseason pick of several league observers, has been a disappointment, having reached the end zone only twice all year. That leaves Maxwell, a junior, who has been good but not great; he's a game manager being asked not to make mistakes. Maxwell has done that well, throwing only three interceptions to go with six touchdowns.

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