Spring practice in the Big Ten gets started next week, and quarterback competitions will dominate the spotlight throughout the next two months. By our count, nine Big Ten teams will have moderate to major uncertainty at the quarterback position. In the coming weeks, we'll take a closer look at each quarterback race. But some are more intriguing than others.
Today's Take Two topic is: Which is the most interesting quarterback competition in the league this spring?
Take 1: Adam Rittenberg
I tend to gravitate more toward the truly open quarterbacks competitions than the ones with incumbents trying re-establish themselves. As much as Michigan fans and Wisconsin fans might want to see a younger player get a shot at quarterback, I'd be somewhat surprised if Devin Gardner and Joel Stave aren't leading their respective offenses when Aug. 30 rolls around. Tommy Armstrong Jr. is a little less established, and Nebraska's race could be interesting, but Armstrong still went 6-1 as the Huskers' starter and should improve during the offseason.
Maybe this will surprise Mr. Bennett and others, but I'm going with Minnesota. Why? Because I have no idea what will happen this spring with the Gophers signal callers. Mitch Leidner is the only Minnesota quarterback with collegiate game experience, but he's far from a lock to start. It looked like the Leidner-Philip Nelson competition would continue into the offseason, but Nelson's decision to transfer shakes things up a bit.
Now Leidner will compete against a group of intriguing mystery men. Redshirt freshman Chris Streveler, who missed part of last season with a hand injury, boasts excellent speed that should translate well to Minnesota's offense. Freshman Dimonic Roden-McKinzy is another intriguing athlete who enrolled early and will participate in spring practice. Walk-on Conor Rhoda also is in the mix. Although Minnesota prioritizes the run with its quarterbacks, it needs a more threatening pass game after finishing last in the Big Ten and 115th nationally last season in pass offense. I'll be interested to see if the Gophers find some clarity before their spring game on April 12.
Take 2: Brian Bennett
Minnesota definitely will be a team to track, but I might have more confidence in Leidner than you do. While he needs to improve his passing significantly, he's a great athlete and runner who will bring a huge experience edge into spring ball.
The race that most intrigues me lies a few hours southeast of Minneapolis, at Wisconsin. Yes, it seems unlikely that coach Gary Andersen would push a first-time starter under center against LSU in the season opener. But it's also clear that Andersen -- like most Badgers fans -- wasn't real happy with the state of his passing game at the end of last season. And Andersen has made no secret that he favors mobile, dual-threat quarterbacks, which Stave clearly is not.
Is Bart Houston finally ready to make a move this spring? Can Tanner McEvoy stick at quarterback, or will he wind up back at safety? Then there's promising freshman D.J. Gillins, a true dual-threat prospect from Florida who enrolled early and will be given a look this spring. They all have a long way to go to make up ground on the far more experienced Stave and to earn the trust of Andersen and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. But the contrast in styles makes this a fascinating race, and without Jared Abbrederis around to serve as a security blanket, the quarterbacks are going to have to show that they can dependably make plays. Everyone, including Stave, has something to prove, and that's why this competition is the most interesting.