PW Top-Five: QB Opponents

Largely known as a running league in the past, the Big Ten has transformed into a league with great playmakers at the quarterback position. Dan Persa will certainly get hype at Northwestern, but the Wildcats will see their fair share of skilled QB's on the other side of the ball this season. Here's a look at the top five signal callers NU will face in 2011.

1) Denard Robinson: Certainly one of the most electric players in the Big Ten, Robinson may in fact be the most entertaining player in the country. Robinson completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 2570 yards and 18 touchdowns while running for 1702 yards and 14 scores.

Robinson can easily beat teams with his legs and his arm. NU has struggled with running quarterbacks in the past, and if Robinson can improve his throwing accuracy and decision-making, he'll be a force to be reckoned with.

2) Taylor Martinez: Speaking of dual-threat quarterbacks, the Wildcats will be in for a rough matchup against Martinez and the Cornhuskers in the battle of the NU's. In Martinez's freshman season, he completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 1631 yards, and 10 touchdowns.

Like Robinson, however, Martinez is more dangerous with his legs, and ran for 965 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2010. As a sophomore, Martinez will be coming in with more experience, and improved skills. Nebraska has a chance to steal the Big Ten right off the bat, and Martinez will be at the head of that campaign.

3) Kirk Cousins: Northwestern's season sat on the brink of a major jump-start last season until Cousins got in the way. Despite a 17-0 lead over undefeated and top-10 Michigan State, the NU defense couldn't stop Cousins. The MSU quarterback threw for a season high 331 yards along with 3 touchdowns to lead the comeback.

On the season, Cousins threw 2825 yards and ten touchdowns. While he doesn't have the mobility of a Robinson or Martinez, Cousins is deadly accurate, and makes smart decisions. His maturity will grow even more after leading MSU to a surprise 11-2 season in 2010, and NU will need to make some serious changes on defense to slow this QB down.

4) Nathan Scheelhaase: Back to the dual-threat QB's. Scheelhaase didn't stun last year in his freshman season, but he showed flashes of brilliance. Scheelhaase had 17 touchdowns in the air with just 8 interceptions, and 6 of those interceptions came in just two games.

With a year of experience under his belt, 3 interception games will be much less likely in 2011. On the ground, Scheelhaase had 4 games of 100+ yards. HE can use his speed to open up the passing game, and with some improved decision-making, he will be a force to be reckoned with in 2011.

5) Rob Bolden/Matt McGloin: The Wildcats most disappointing game last year was easily Penn State. A 21-0 lead vanished behind McGloin, who threw for 225 yards and 4 touchdowns in the game. McGloin had 1548 yards and 14 touchdowns in just 7 games.

On the other side, Rob Bolden had 1360 yards and 5 touchdowns in 10 games. Neither QB was in a great position last year, constantly competing for a job. This season, one QB is likely to win the job outright at the start of the year, and the increased consistency in reps will be a huge boost for whoever wins the job. Bolden and McGloin showed flashes of brilliance last season, and the have the potential to tear apart defenses.

The Wildcat's offense is certainly confident enough entering 2011 with Persa, running back Mike Trumpy, wide receiver Jeremy Ebert, and superback Drake Dunsmore returning.

The defense is where the team struggled in 2010, and the same questions linger. If NU wants to make a run for a Big Ten title game, the defense will have to start by containing these skilled quarterbacks, along with the rest of the Big Ten.

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