Gophers set on Nelson, Leidner at QB but much of Big Ten scrambling

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 27, 2013 - 11:53 PM

Three-man competitions are more a norm than an exception.

hide

Likely starting quarterback Philip Nelson, left, and possible backup, Mitch Leidner, took snaps during practice in March.

 

– The Gophers have a 19-year-old starting quarterback (Philip Nelson) with seven games of experience and a 19-year-old backup (Mitch Leidner) who has yet to take a collegiate snap. By current Big Ten standards, however, this hardly qualifies as uncertainty.

There’s some star power at quarterback this year with Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez and Michigan’s Devin Gardner.

But with preseason camps set to open this week, five teams have open quarterback competitions: Wisconsin, Penn State, Indiana, Iowa and Purdue. Meanwhile, Michigan State (Andrew Maxwell) and Illinois (Nathan Scheelhaase) have senior quarterbacks who could lose their jobs quickly if they sputter like last season.

The uncertainty was obvious last week at Big Ten media days, where each team could showcase three players, and only five teams brought quarterbacks.

“The reason I don’t have a quarterback here is because I’m not sure which one it is,” Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said.

The Gophers brought defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, running back Donnell Kirkwood and safety Brock Vereen to Chicago. When asked if the quarterback job is open, coach Jerry Kill said, “I think if you ask Mitch [Leidner], he would tell you so. And I think if you watched the spring game, he would tell you so.”

It’ll be Nelson’s job as long as he stays healthy and performs, but the Gophers like the way Leidner has developed, adding surprising speed to go with his strong arm.

“I think it’s very similar to our situation at Northern Illinois when I was there with Chandler Harnish and Jordan Lynch,” Kill said. “I think it’s healthy. [Nelson and Leidner] get along well, and we’ll need both of them to be productive before it’s all over.”

Joel Stave and Curt Phillips helped lead Wisconsin to a third consecutive Big Ten title last year, but it wouldn’t be shocking if new coach Gary Andersen picked junior-college transfer Tanner McEvoy as the starter.

The decision will say a lot about Wisconsin’s new offensive philosophy. Stave is a pocket passer, and Phillips runs pretty well when healthy, but McEvoy is a dual-threat quarterback who would have fit well in Andersen’s system at Utah State.

“It will be a three-man race,” Andersen said. “I have no timeline on it. And we may jog out there the first play of the game with two quarterbacks on the field and see what happens.”

Andersen was joking, but Northwestern actually does this effectively at times. Kain Colter, a good quarterback in his own right, moves to receiver, allowing Trevor Siemian to take shots down the field.

Indiana has multiple options for its fast-paced offense now that Tre Roberson is healthy again. He won the job last fall and looked terrific against Indiana State and Massachusetts before breaking his leg. Cam Coffman and Nate Sudfeld filled in admirably, with each completing more than 60 percent of his passes.

“We’ve got three guys in a dead heat,” said Wilson, whose team quietly averaged 30.8 points per game last year, ranking fourth in the conference. “We’ve got three guys that are all very unique and can manage us.”

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz sounded similar about his quarterback battle among sophomore Jake Rudock, junior Cody Sokol and freshman C.J. Beathard.

“We’re comfortable with all three guys,” Ferentz said. “It’s kind of like when we had [Ricky] Stanzi and James [Vandenberg] in the room together. You felt if either one of these guys take the ball, you’re going to be OK because they act like Big Ten quarterbacks.”

Hawkeyes fans will have to take Ferentz’s word for it, because none of the candidates has taken a collegiate snap. Last year, Iowa finished 4-8, and let outgoing senior Vandenberg play every down, even as the team finished with a six-game slide.

And then there’s Penn State and Purdue, whose fans are clamoring to see two highly touted freshmen. Christian Hackenberg, a five-star recruit from Virginia, will battle junior-college transfer Tyler Ferguson for Penn State’s starting job.

And Danny Etling, a four-star recruit from Terre Haute, Ind., will challenge senior Rob Henry at Purdue.

Kill took heat for pulling Nelson’s redshirt in the middle of last season, but it left the Gophers with fewer questions, with camp set to open Friday.

“It was a great growing process for him,” Kill said. “I think it leads us into this season where we’re not trying to break somebody in.”

 

  • related content

  • Chart: Ranking the Big Ten quarterback units

    Saturday July 27, 2013

    Ranking the Big Ten quarterback units1. Ohio State: Braxton Miller is the Big Ten’s best Heisman Trophy candidate, after passing...

  • Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson became a starter after his redshirt was lifted lart season, and that experience level puts him and the Gophers well ahead of the curve in a Big Ten Conference with many quarterback questions.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Tampa 6 FINAL
Philadelphia 2
LA Clippers 96 FINAL
Chicago 86
Cleveland 103 FINAL
Houston 105
Golden State 106 FINAL
Boston 101
Philadelphia 74 FINAL
Indiana 94
Portland 110 FINAL
Sacramento 99
Charlotte 98 FINAL
Orlando 83
Oklahoma City 108 FINAL
LA Lakers 101
New Orleans 99 FINAL
Denver 92
Los Angeles 2 FINAL
Winnipeg 5
Tampa Bay 3 FINAL
Florida 4
Columbus 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 5
Toronto 0 FINAL
Washington 4
Anaheim 3 FINAL
Dallas 1
St. Louis 5 FINAL(SO)
Vancouver 6
SMU 73 FINAL
Connecticut 81
Quinnipiac 65 FINAL
Manhattan 69
Fairfield 56 FINAL
Niagara 57
Marist 49 FINAL
Rider 59
Iona 60 FINAL
Saint Peters 68
Oregon State 56 FINAL
California 73
South Florida 55 FINAL
Houston 72
Marquette 66 FINAL
Providence 77
Michigan State 61 FINAL
Wisconsin 68
Siena 57 FINAL
Monmouth 63
Pittsburgh 66 FINAL
Wake Forest 69
Oregon 73 FINAL
Stanford 70
Purdue 61 FINAL
Ohio State 65
Arizona State 81 FINAL
Colorado 87
Washington St 67 FINAL
UCLA 72
Georgetown 66 FINAL
Providence 81
Binghamton 50 FINAL
UMBC 73
Elon 65 FINAL
Hofstra 58
Virginia Tech 47 FINAL
Boston College 49
(8) Louisville 59 FINAL
Virginia 75
Texas 69 FINAL
West Virginia 76
Creighton 53 FINAL
Villanova 61
Seton Hall 85 FINAL
Butler 76
UNC-Wilmington 76 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 65
(5) Maryland 69 FINAL
(25) Northwestern 48
Saint Josephs 67 FINAL
La Salle 55
Louisiana Tech 53 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 60
Rhode Island 70 FINAL
Massachusetts 78
Richmond 55 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 49
Davidson 46 FINAL
Fordham 54
St Bonaventure 43 FINAL
Duquesne 51
George Mason 45 FINAL
(22) George Washington 80
Indiana 60 FINAL
(20) Rutgers 71
(12) Texas A&M 63 FINAL
LSU 80
Ole Miss 47 FINAL
(11) Miss State 55
Clemson 56 FINAL
Pittsburgh 61
Maine 47 FINAL
New Hampshire 61
Vermont 48 FINAL
Albany 76
Quinnipiac 87 FINAL
Monmouth 48
Saint Peters 47 FINAL
Siena 64
(4) Notre Dame 67 FINAL
NC State 60
Wisconsin 62 FINAL
Penn State 56
Stony Brook 49 FINAL
Hartford 56
Northeastern 47 FINAL
William & Mary 62
St Johns 61 FINAL
Xavier 74
James Madison 74 FINAL
Delaware 71
Towson 45 FINAL
Drexel 50
Illinois State 50 FINAL
Bradley 60
Southern Ill 74 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 70
Northern Iowa 54 FINAL
Wichita State 66
Minnesota 76 FINAL
(17) Iowa 92
(15) North Carolina 80 FINAL
(16) Duke 81
Alabama 73 FINAL
Auburn 80
(9) Florida State 69 FINAL
Miami-Florida 55
Arkansas 41 FINAL
Missouri 57
Georgia 52 FINAL
Florida 45
Dayton 95 FINAL
Saint Louis 68
Drake 57 FINAL
Missouri State 86
Colorado 46 FINAL
(10) Arizona State 59
(19) Stanford 55 FINAL
Oregon 62
Marquette 82 FINAL
DePaul 99
Southern Miss 66 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 60
Vanderbilt 49 FINAL
(6) Tennessee 79
(2) South Carolina 56 FINAL
(13) Kentucky 67
Utah 41 FINAL
Arizona 64
Ohio State 78 FINAL
Nebraska 60
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is the best center on a Twin Cities sports team?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close