The Ohio State Buckeyes are the defending national champions, they’re 38-3 under Urban Meyer, and they also – until recently – had a three-man race at quarterback that has since been whittled down to two.
Needless to say, the Buckeyes dominate many of the national Big Ten headlines.
But for all the talk and attention that the Ohio State quarterback situation has gotten this offseason, is it safe to say that Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg is the best NFL quarterback prospect in the Big Ten?
“I think he has the highest upside,” Bleacher Report Big Ten lead writer Ben Axelrod said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “He had a disappointing season a year ago, and that was behind a makeshift offensive line. They were playing walk-ons on a consistent basis. They didn’t have a full two-deep on the offensive line in Happy Valley, but he’s still projected by Todd McShay at ESPN to be the No. 1 overall pick of the 2016 draft. He certainly has the body for it. He has the skill set. We saw what he did behind a Bill O’Brien offense, obviously an NFL-style offense in his freshman season in 2013.”
What we saw was one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Hackenberg has thrown for almost identical yardage in each of his first two seasons – 2,955 as a freshman and 2,977 as a sophomore – but the similarities end there. In 2013, he threw 20 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and was sacked 21 times. As a sophomore, he threw 12 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and was sacked 44 times.
That’s a big difference.
“So that’s kind of the big question here heading into 2015,” Axelrod said. “How is Christian Hackenberg going to bounce back after that down year at least statistically in that sophomore slump last season?”
And then there’s Cardale Jones, who could go from national championship starting quarterback to back-up in the blink of an eye.
“Cardale Jones, even if he doesn’t start, I really think makes for an interesting NFL prospect when you look at a guy who’s 6-5, 250 and can throw the ball as far as he can,” Axelrod said. “As I mentioned earlier, Connor Cook also has a heck of a pedigree and we’ve seen him win some big-time wins there in East Lansing and really be one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in – if not Michigan State history, possibly Big Ten history.
“So those three stand out,” Axelrod continued. “Those three are all projected to be first-round picks, which is kind of fascinating when you take into account that the Big Ten hasn’t had a quarterback selected in the first round of the NFL Draft since Kerry Collins back in 1995.”
That was 20 years ago.
So yeah, no pressure, Christian.
“I think you’re right,” Axelrod said. “The guy with the highest upside is certainly Christian Hackenberg. it’s gong to be a big year for him and the Nittany Lions in 2015.”