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Spring QB battles: Purdue

With spring practice rapidly approaching, we're taking a closer look at the quarterback battles looming for several Big Ten teams. They're guaranteed to get plenty of attention from fans during the 15 spring practice sessions and throughout the summer.

The third installment of our series shifts its focus to West Lafayette and the Purdue Boilermakers:

Incumbent (2012 stats): None. Departed seniors Robert Marve (1,734 pass yards, 15 touchdowns, five interceptions, 65.6 percent completions) and Caleb TerBush (1,150, 12, 8 and 57.1 percent) split starting duties last year.

Spring contenders: Rob Henry, senior; Austin Appleby, redshirt freshman; Bilal Marshall, redshirt freshman; Danny Etling, true freshman.

Summer contender: None

The skinny: If you like your quarterback battles of the wide-open variety, keep a close eye on Purdue this spring.

The Boilermakers have only one quarterback with significant game experience in Henry, who started the 2010 season before missing all of 2011 with a torn ACL. Henry is a great leader who may be more of an all-around athlete than a pure quarterback; he threw only 38 passes for 216 yards last season while appearing at running back and receiver.

If new head coach Darrell Hazell wants someone who's been around a while, Henry would be the choice. But though the Purdue depth chart is short on experience, it appears to be long on potential.

Appleby already looks the part at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds. He spent last year getting his feet wet as a redshirt. Here's part of what ESPN's 2012 scouting report on Appleby as a recruit had to say:

"Appleby is a big, strong armed pocket passer that has demonstrated he can make every throw on the field. He is the right fit for the multiple set, pro-style attack with a heavy dose of play action pass to come off and throw the deep and intermediate passing game outside of the numbers. He is a very good ball handler with good footwork, drop speed, balance and timing in the drop-back passing game. ... Drives the ball with power and authority and routinely makes throws outside the numbers from the opposite hash. ... He has good feet, but is not going to be a terrific athlete in the pocket."

Marshall was also part of the class of 2012 for Purdue and was well-regarded enough to be recruited by Baylor and Auburn, among others. He brings some speed to the position as a dual-threat guy, but he was listed at just 170 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame last year while redshirting.

Etling enrolled in January and will go through spring practice, giving him a shot at some immediate playing time. He was the Boilers' highest-rated prospect in this class, according to ESPN.com, which had this to say about the 6-foot-3, 212-pounder:

"Etling is a pocket passer with very good size and growth potential for the next level. He works almost exclusively from under center in the three- and five-step passing game, but is also in a fairly conservative scheme with limited reps in the passing game, especially to intermediate and deep levels. He is a confident passer, makes quick decisions, has a good feel for reading coverages and shows good footwork and set-up quicks. ... Has a good, not great, arm, but overall is an accurate passer. He gets adequate zip on underneath throws and puts good touch on downfield passes."

Prediction: This may be the hardest QB race to predict in the league, both because of the lack of game experience by most of the contenders but also because Purdue has a new head coach and offensive staff. Hazell wasn't the original recruiter on any of these guys. so he'll look at all of them with fresh eyes. Appleby would appear to have the leg up here, given his physical attributes and his extra year of seasoning over Etling, while Henry and Marshall seem like natural candidates to fill holes at other positions if they don't win the job outright. But everyone is basically starting fresh with a new offensive system. We'd put our money on Appleby for now but wouldn't be surprised by anything in this race.