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Year of QB? Maybe not, but good luck in the Big Ten without productive one

This was supposed to be their turn.

After years of taking a back seat to ground-churning running backs or being held down by some of the nation’s best defenses, Big Ten quarterbacks were poised for their time to shine.

There was a passer with all the tools needed to potentially break the league’s first-round drought at the NFL draft returning at Penn State. The defending national champions seemingly had a logjam of Heisman Trophy contenders that would make any coach jealous to be sorting through that depth at such a critical position. Even a guy who thrived when leading Michigan State to a division title still had to answer questions about his accuracy and face doubts about why he wasn’t voted a captain.

But even if the Year of the Quarterback didn’t pan out exactly how it was envisioned in the offseason, that doesn’t necessarily mean this season can’t be qualified as a success.

There might not be quite the buzz nationally for Christian Hackenberg after struggling again behind Penn State’s suspect offensive line. Neither Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett were ever able to consistently regain last year’s magic for the Buckeyes. And despite the position Cook has put the Spartans in heading to the Big Ten title game on Saturday, he still ranks behind 19 other college quarterbacks in QBR this season and hasn’t yet solidified a case as a potential first-rounder.

But Cook can point to his team thriving, and that's a sign that the quarterbacks in the league might not have come up as short as it appears. Ohio State is still alive for a playoff berth and the Nittany Lions are headed back to a bowl game. And the depth of solid, steady leaders at the position might have actually been greater than anticipated.

Nate Sudfeld was the only Big Ten passer to throw for more than 3,000 yards in the regular season, leading Indiana to a six-win season and a coveted bowl berth. After his high-profile transfer to Michigan, Jake Rudock emerged as more than just a game manager, lifting an offense with clear talent deficiencies at the skill positions by accounting for 21 combined touchdowns. And the man who replaced Rudock at Iowa helped shake off the program’s conservative reputation as well, with C.J. Beathard flashing dual-threat ability with 20 total scores of his own while pulling the strings for one of only two remaining undefeated teams in the nation.

The rise of the supposed middle class does strengthen the case that perhaps the season did belong to the quarterbacks after all, particularly in a league in which scoring was never easy, with six defenses ranked in the top 25 nationally in points allowed. All the attention on Ohio State’s two-man battle while the offense struggled to reach its potential, or the questions about Hackenberg failing to rediscover the form that made him such a tantalizing prospect two years ago as a freshman, made it easy to chalk up this season as a disappointment for a league anticipating so much more from its quarterbacks.

Labeling it the Year of the Quarterback might have been premature in August, but maybe it would be better to figure out what exactly that means in a league that proved again that the old-school approach of leaning on a powerful ground game and a rugged defense still works. Perhaps every year in the Big Ten in some ways will boil down to finding the right guy to deliver a timely completion, extend a few extra plays with his feet at times and showing the ability to handle both complex defenses and some nasty weather along the way.

Maybe that approach doesn’t light up the national leaderboards tracking passing yardage, doesn’t lend itself to Heisman campaigns and hasn’t exactly thrilled NFL scouts. But even if 2015 won’t specifically be remembered as the Year of the Quarterback, good luck winning in the Big Ten without a productive one.