Big Ten position rankings: Quarterbacks

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to break down the most important position on the field, which should be much improved in the Big Ten this year. The league returns its top six rated passers and its passing yards leader in Illinois' Juice Williams.

Depth also plays a huge role at quarterback and could hurt teams that have a big dropoff in experience between the first and second strings. Keep in mind these rankings assess the entire position, not just the starters.

Here's the rundown:

1. Illinois -- The final step in Juice Williams' evolution takes place this fall. No Big Ten quarterback boasts more in-game experience than Williams, who had an amazing first half last season but struggled mightily down the stretch. He'll have the league's top wide receiving corps at his disposal. Eddie McGee has more experience than most Big Ten backups, and redshirt freshman Jacob Charest will push McGee for the No. 2 spot.

2. Minnesota -- I'm sure I'll take some heat for putting the Gophers this high, but there's a lot to like between Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray. Weber has thrown 39 career touchdown passes and battled through some less than ideal circumstances the last two seasons. He reunites with All-America candidate Eric Decker to form one of the league's top passing combos. Weber will be the starter, but Gray has drawn rave reviews and figures to play an integral role in the offense.

3. Ohio State -- Terrelle Pryor showed unmistakable signs of progress in spring ball, and his teammates saw leadership skills develop during the summer. The Big Ten preseason Offensive Player of the Year still has a lot to prove, as does an offense that ranked 105th nationally in passing last year. Former minor league baseball player Joe Bauserman certainly has the arm strength to step in for Pryor, though Ohio State's overall depth at quarterback looks shaky.

4. Penn State -- Daryll Clark is the league's best quarterback and should have gotten the nod for preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Clark also appears to be the Big Ten's most indispensible player, mainly because of his skill but also because of who's behind him. If Clark goes down, Penn State would turn to a true freshman in Kevin Newsome who enrolled early. Newsome did some nice things in the spring but doesn't look ready for the spotlight just yet.

5. Iowa -- It's no secret that I expect big things from Ricky Stanzi, who showed impressive poise in bouncing back from mistakes last fall and still helped Iowa to a 9-4 mark. Stanzi will have much more pressure on his shoulders without Shonn Greene in the backfield, but he looks up to the task. Much like Penn State, Iowa doesn't have a proven backup and will turn to redshirt freshmen James Vandenberg and John Wienke if necessary.

6. Michigan State -- The race for the starting job is too close to call, and head coach Mark Dantonio might not settle on a guy until Big Ten play. But the Spartans appear to have two very good options in Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol. Cousins performed well as Brian Hoyer's backup last fall, while Nichol, the Oklahoma transfer, has drawn comparisons to Drew Stanton with his athleticism. Heralded recruit Andrew Maxwell also is in the mix.

7. Northwestern -- Mike Kafka isn't a stranger to the spotlight despite not starting since his freshman year in 2006. Kafka turned in a record-setting performance in relief of C.J. Bacher last November at Minnesota, rushing for 217 yards. He needs to complement his mobility with a more consistent passing game. Northwestern is fully prepared to play a second quarterback and will turn to sophomore Dan Persa, who did some nice things this spring.

8. Wisconsin -- Quarterback was the Badgers' Achilles' heel last fall, and there are some lingering questions about the position as camp begins. Senior Dustin Sherer did a decent job in a tough situation in 2008, but he'll need to become more consistent and limit his sacks. Redshirt freshman Curt Phillips came on strong late in spring practice and brings athleticism to the quarterback spot. Phillips could provide the continuity at quarterback that Wisconsin fans desperately seek, but he still has more to prove this month.

9. Michigan -- Things definitely will get better for Michigan at quarterback this fall, but how quickly? True freshman Tate Forcier enters preseason camp as the frontrunner for the starting job after impressing his coaches during spring ball and the Michigan fans in the spring game. He'll be joined by classmate Denard Robinson, who boasts track-star speed. And don't forget about Nick Sheridan, who was showing progress this spring before breaking a bone in his leg. This group could soar up the list, but it has a lot to prove.

10. Indiana -- Head coach Bill Lynch has a ton of confidence in Ben Chappell, which is nice to see. But Chappell needs to become a bigger factor in the offense after completing just 52.3 percent of his passes for 91 yards a game last fall. He'll be working with a better offensive line but a young group of receivers that needs playmakers to emerge. Backups Teddy Schell and Adam Follett have little experience.

11. Purdue -- Miami transfer Robert Marve can't play until next year, and Purdue lost its projected starter Justin Siller to academic issues in the spring. Career backup Joey Elliott finally gets his chance to shin
e this fall, and it'll be interesting to see how he performs. Elliott is a very smart quarterback and a good leader, but his in-game résumé leaves a lot to be desired. The coaches are high on redshirt freshman Caleb TerBush, who could push Elliott for playing time.