CHICAGO _ Drew Stanton sat in Hyatt Regency on Wednesday looking around at the other quarterbacks gathered in the room. A few short years ago, the fans and media knew little of this crop.
"When I first came in, that's what this conference was going to be known for, not having any quarterbacks," the Michigan State senior signal caller said. "I remember an article coming out how (Michigan defensive back) Marlin Jackson was just salivating because he was just going to pick on all the inexperienced quarterbacks."
Stanton was joined by five other conference quarterbacks at the Big Ten Media day here. Nine of the 11 league teams return their starting QB this season.
"I remember that article," Wisconsin Senior Quarterback John Stocco said. "We've got several of the best quarterbacks in the country in this league now. We had all the question marks around us a few years ago. It's kind of nice to see we've all grown together. It's great to see so many good quarterbacks around here."
To illustrate the depth and quality of the position, one need look no farther than the fact that the last two preseason conference players of the year were sitting in the Hyatt on Wednesday. Ohio State's Troy Smith grabbed the honor this year. Drew Tate of Iowa was tabbed a year ago.
"I don't know how it is on other teams, but with us, having an experienced quarterback in your system is the best thing," Tate said. "Every quarterback is a leader. If the quarterback is comfortable in the offense, it makes it easier for everybody else."
Last year proved to be the year of the linebacker in the Big Ten. Guys like Iowa's Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge, Ohio State's A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter, Penn State's Paul Posluszny and Northwestern's Tim McGarigle roamed the Field creating havoc.
Posluzny, who won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker in 2005, is the only returner of that group. He's well aware that the quarterbacks have moved into the spotlight.
"How about that?" he said with a big grin. "Yeah, everyone is saying this is the year of the quarterback. I guess that's not good news for us defensive guys. It's going to be tough. Each week you're going to have a very experienced quarterback, who has been there before; who we've played against before. And they just keep getting better and better."
Iowa Free Safety Marcus Paschal also views this year's men under center as a huge task to defend. He chooses to look at the bright side.
"It also helps you out a little," Paschal said. "With a guy that's returning, you've got more film to watch and be able to prepare more. It's a lot harder when you've got a new guy coming in and you really don't know until you get out on the field what you're going to face."
Posluszny agrees with Paschal with one exception.
"We know how they are, but I'm sure they're definitely going to improve a little bit from when we saw them last time," the conference's preseason defensive player of the year said. "We're familiar with them and the offenses, but it's going to be tough because any time you have an experienced quarterback, who really knows the ins and outs of his offense, it's always the extreme challenge for the defense."
Stanton is the leading returning passer with 3,077 yards in '05. Smith racked up 2,282 by air and 611 on the ground. Tate's 2,828 passing yards a year ago represent the second best total among returnees.
"He's a great scrambler," Posluzny said of Tate. "He made so many plays (against Penn State in '04) where it seemed like we had him at certain times and he was able to get away. Any time a quarterback can do that, that's back breaking. You feel like you're just about off the field as a defense, and you have a guy like him making a play. He was tough. He remember him being a tough kid and doing a great job leading that team."
"This is crazy," Purdue Wide Receiver Dorien Bryant said. "I've grown up watching college football and can't remember too many situations like this. These guys were all solid performers last year. It's like, who's the all-Big Ten performer? There are nine of them."
Most of the quarterbacks in attendance said that they kept tabs on the players at their position around the league.
"When you look at TV and see the highlights or catch a few of the games, you do kind of compare a little bit," Stocco said.
Purdue junior Curtis Painter pays especially close attention to other signal callers around the league. He comes back after starting the final five games (the first of his career) for the Boilermakers last season.
"Personally, it helps me a little bit," Painter said. "I can look to different guys and kind of take a little bit from everybody. Composure would be one of the biggest words for me. A lot of these guys are returning starters and they've played in a lot of games. They're all calm, cool and collected."
Painter sees that in Tate. He also draws other traits from the Iowa senior.
"Looking at him, the one thing that I think of is his confidence," Painter said of Tate. "He might not always be in the perfect situation, but he always stays confident and most times he gets out of it. He's pretty elusive."
The other league quarterbacks also look favorably upon Tate's attributes. The Texas native enters his third year as the starter having won 17 of his 24 starts.
"Each guy is a little bit different, but those guys make plays," Cupito said. "Drew Tate is more of a scrambler and makes plays that way. I remember when we played at the Dome (in '04). He did that about 30 times. It's fun to watch. I wish it wouldn't have been against us, but it's still fun to watch him."
Said Stanton: "I like to see (Tate) do well. He's a gutsy competitor. He's proven it on the field."
Some armchair quarterbacks say that the real signal callers get too much credit if their team succeeds. You would have a tough time convincing Bryant of that after the Boilermakers missed the postseason in '05 due in large part to inconsistency at quarterback.
"It's that important," Bryant said. "You saw us struggle with it last year and fall apart. That's a prime example of how important it is. You can have the greatest defense in the world, but if you don't have anybody that can put it in the end zone, you're in trouble."