Entering the 2011 season, Northwestern's quarterback position is hands-down the strongest on the team for a darn good reason: Dan Persa.
The Wildcats will return their "Heisman Trophy contender" (Pat Fitzgerald's words) after injuries cut his promising 2010 season short.
What more is there to say about Dan Persa? As a junior, he was named First-Team All-Big Ten quarterback, led the nation in pass completion percentage with a 73.5 percent rate, threw for 2,851 yards, and finished with 24 touchdowns. The list of numbers and accolades go on and on.
Persa's return brings Wildcat fans a strong sense of hope for this upcoming season. His ruptured achillies is expected to be near full recovery now and at 100 percent for the start of fall camp.
Northwestern saw how valuable Persa was to the team last season. With Persa leading the spread offense, the Wildcats were rolling as their dual-threat QB helped them to seven wins and had NU fans hoping for big things. After Persa went down against Iowa, the team wasn't the same.
The Wildcats' hopes for a big season lie in the hands—and achillies—of Dan Persa. NU needs him to be in full form this season.
The only positive from Persa's long road to recovery is the rapid development of the three backup quarterbacks. Evan Watkins struggled to fill the void in Northwestern's final three games, but is growing into a better quarterback.
Watkins has three games of experience under his belt, which could prove to be valuable in the long run. He benefitted the most from 15 spring practices with Persa serving as a tutor.
Now, the key for Watkins is to vastly improve his throwing accuracy—something which he has struggled with throughout his career. The potential is there for Watkins to be a solid quarterback when his time comes. In the meantime, he can continue to develop.
Sophomore-to-be Kain Colter is another quarterback who took advantage of the chance to play. Now, Colter is potentially looking at a major role with this year's team.
Colter stepped in for Watkins to replicate the dual-threat ability that Northwestern was missing without Dan Persa. His signature game was the TicketCity Bowl, where he ran for 105 yards and two touchdowns while becoming the seventh Northwestern quarterback to rush for more than 100 yards.
Like Watkins, Colter also benefitted from Persa's tutelage during the spring. Whenever Colter made a mistake, Persa was there to help him.
Most importantly, Colter is now more familiar with Northwestern's playbook, and has experience under his belt to back that up.
Colter brings the Wildcats yet another dual-threat option under center, and will nicely compliment Persa. He potentially be featured in a "Wildcat" package or some sort of running formations.
Northwestern has two quarterbacks with four years of eligibility under their belt. One is incoming freshman Zack Oliver, and the other is returning redshirt freshman Trevor Siemian.
This season, Oliver is likely to sit out the entire season as a redshirt—a smart move considering the three quarterbacks in front of him. However, when the time comes, Oliver's future is bright. He brings a strong an accurate arm to the mix. Given the time and teaching, he will be able to learn the playbook.
Siemian showed signs of promise during the spring session. He's athletic and has a good arm. Once Persa departs, he will be in the mix for playing time.
This was a pretty easy pick. With Dan Persa returning, Northwestern's potential is unlimited. He is the leader of the Wildcats' spread offense, and his uncanny athleticism makes him a playmaker that the rest of the conference needs to be reckoned with.
Behind Persa, the Wildcats have great depth. Watkins and Colter will provide ample depth to Persa if needed, and Oliver and Siemian each have bright futures ahead of them.
NU offensive coordinator Mick McCall has a slew of impressive options in front of him, including the returning first-team all-conference quarterback.