Ranking the opposing quarterbacks

Northwestern faces a number of talented quarterbacks this upcoming season. PurpleWildcats.com ranks the top-five opposing gunslingers the Wildcats will match with during the 2012 season.

Northwestern's pass defense endured tremendous struggles during the 2011 season, ranking as one of the worst in the Big Ten. With some new faces stepping in and a year of experience in hand, the Wildcats' secondary should be much improved this upcoming season.

The Wildcats will need to be sharp this season as they face a number of talented quarterbacks.

PurpleWildcats.com looks at five of the best gunslingers Northwestern must face this season.

1.) Denard Robinson, Michigan - Without a doubt the best quarterback in the Big Ten and arguably one of the best in the nation, Denard Robinson will pose a challenge for the Wildcats when they travel to 'The Big House" in November.

Robinson is a true dual-threat who could become the career leader in rushing yards for a quarterback during his senior season. In 2011, Robinson tallied all-purpose yards against Northwestern, the third-best single-game yardage total in Michigan's long football history.

Robinson is the most explosive opposing player the Wildcats will match with this season.

2.) Taylor Martinez, Nebraska - Denard Robinson ranks as the Big Ten's best quarterback but Nebraska's Taylor Martinez isn't far behind. Entering his junior season, Martinez leads a Cornhusker team loaded with talent in its second year as a member of the Big Ten.

Last season, Martinez accounted for 2,963 total yards of offense. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder averaged 4.6 yards per carry and scored nine times on the ground. The only reason why Martinez's numbers could be down is because he has a Heisman Trophy contender, Rex Burkhead, in the same backfield.

During Northwestern's 28-25 win over Nebraska in Lincoln last season, Martinez tallied 289 yards through the air, but the Huskers struggled to find the endzone. After the game, Martinez claimed Nebraska had overlooked the Wildcats. If he stays focused during this year's contest in Evanston, it will be a tough test.

3.) James Vandenberg, Iowa - As a redshirt freshman, Vandenberg was tested as he attempted to keep his Hawkeyes unbeaten against an upstart Northwestern squad. The '09 Iowa squad saw its first loss as Vandenberg struggled mightily.


Northwestern will look to contain Illinois junior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase

Since his first time in the spotlight, Vandenberg, now a senior, has developed into an elite quarterback. The highlight of his arsenal would be his passing accuracy. As a junior, he threw for 25 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, while compiling more than 3,000 yards.

Vandenberg is a different quarterback from what the Wildcats saw in 2009. They must be prepared for a challenge this season.

4.) Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois - The Fighting Illini will have a new look under first-year head coach Tim Beckman, but a familiar foe remains in place at quarterback. Junior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase leads a young Illini team that will battle with the Wildcats in Evanston this season.

Illinois' offense struggled during its six-game losing streak, which eventually led to the departure of head coach Ron Zook. As a result, Scheelhaase's numbers were down last season. However, he still managed to post 19 touchdowns and completed 62.2 percent of his passes.

Under Beckman, Scheelhaase will be counted on to be the Illini's playmaker. He will be Northwestern's top priority when the two rivals meet in November.

5.) MarQueis Gray, Minnesota - At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, Marqueis Gray doesn't look like your average quarterback. Now a senior, Gray is a forceful yet mobile playmaker for head coach Jerry Kill's offense.

The downside for Gray is that the Gophers lack talent around their quarterback. However, Gray is dangerous when he gets into the open field. Minnesota has the homefield advantage against the Wildcats this season. Marqueis Gray won't be easy to contain.

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats and Chicago Cubs. He currently resides on Chicago's north side.
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