Big Ten football is back!
That's really all of the introduction needed to describe what happened today. After suspending the fall season, the Big Ten decided to change their minds. With that being said, it's a good time to remind everyone of who's returning. A number of players have opted out, but there's still a ton of talent coming back. Maybe some of those players who opted out will return, but for now we stick with who's back. There are many intriguing players in the Big Ten, but 10 stuck out. Whether that's because they're supremely talented or have a unique situation, these 10 players are the ones worth watching the most.
Honorable Mention: WR Chris Olave, Ohio State; RB Trey Sermon, Ohio State; DE George Karlaftis, Purdue; WR Wan'Dale Robinson, Nebraska; OT Daniel Faalele, Minnesota; DE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan; OT Alaric Jackson, Iowa; QB Michael Penix Jr., Indiana
10. QB Jack Coan, Wisconsin
Coan showed that he can elevate the Badgers offense with his arm, but not consistently. With Jonathan Taylor off to the NFL, more pressure goes on Coan's shoulders to deliver for the Badgers. With Danny Davis III, Kendric Pryor, and tight end Jake Ferguson at his disposal, we've seen what the offense can be when it's balanced. It just need to happen more often. With Minnesota right behind them, it's going to require that kind of offense to not only retain the Big Ten West title, but also for the Badgers to have a chance to win the conference.
9. LB Paddy Fisher, Northwestern
Northwestern and Fisher are hoping that it's a better year than 2019. Fisher and fellow linebacker Blake Gallagher led the team in tackles (88) last season, but both were asked to do a lot. With the offense struggling, the defense was asked to do more than they could handle at times. With Indiana transfer Peyton Ramsey coming in to play quarterback, the defense should improve. If the Wildcats are a better team, Fisher should get the recognition he deserves, but either way scouts will be watching him to see what kind of future he'll have in the NFL.
8. WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
Chris Olave could also be on this list, but everyone in the Big Ten knows who he is after last year. Wilson only had 432 yards last year, but it feels like he's poised for a breakout season.
With teams focusing more on Olave, the field should open up for Wilson to do more damage. Which is scary when you go back and watch his film. Arguably the most athletic receiver in the country enters the 2020 season in a new role, but one that could put him in the Biletnikoff conversation. Ohio State's talent puts them in the playoff conversation, and it's just a matter of who plays what role.
7. WR David Bell, Purdue
If you're feeling like it's deja vu for David Bell, you're right. Rondale Moore's decision to opt out puts Bell in familiar territory. Moore injured his knee early last year, leaving the Boilermakers in need of a go-to receiver. Bell responded with an 86 catch, 1,035 yard, seven touchdown season. Now, he's the primary weapon for the new quarterback. While it's unfortunate Purdue won't have Moore, it give Bell a chance to not only make plays but elevate his stock for the next level. Which is great considering he has one more year left after this one.
6. RB Journey Brown, Penn State
Brown ended the 2019 season on a high note, rushing for over 200 yards against Memphis in the Cotton Bowl. For a while, it looked like we wouldn't be able to see how he'd build on that, but now we do. New offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarocca elevated Minnesota's offense to new height in 2019, and Nittany Lions fans are hoping he can do the same for them. Brown would be one of the beneficiaries of his coaching, and a 1,500 yard season is more than attainable now.
5. WR Ronnie Bell, Michigan
A drop put him in the spotlight early in his career, but Bell's been working to put that behind him. Now he's one of Michigan's top targets. Maybe even the top guy. With Nico Collins pondering a future in the NFL, Bell becomes the guy who the new quarterback will look for immediately. After a year in which he caught 48 passes for 758 yards, career highs should be possible even with the quarterback learning curve. The Wolverines defense should be solid once again, putting the pressure once again on the offense. With guys like Bell back, they have the tools to shoulder the load.
4. QB Adrian Martinez, Nebraska
Nebraska has a lot to prove on multiple levels. Scott Frost's success hasn't come at the rate that fans hoped, and his quarterback has struggled. Through two seasons as the starter, Martinez has thrown just 27 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. Accuracy and turnovers have plagued him thus far, but we've seen what he can do when he is proficient in those two areas. The Cornhuskers have the talent and ability to win the Big Ten West, but they need their quarterback to lead them there. It's not all on his shoulders, but he plays a big role in determining the success of the team.
3. QB Tanner Morgan, Minnesota
Morgan lost his top two targets this offseason. Tyler Johnson was out of eligibility, but Rashod Bateman was coming back. With the pandemic around and no football in sight, Bateman decided to opt out of the year to focus on the draft. Morgan also lost his offensive coordinator to Penn State, opening up a number of questions about the Gophers quarterback. Is he elite? Was Ciarrocca the reason he thrived? Will he be able to find new weapons? Morgan's one of the most poised quarterbacks in the country, so pressure won't get to him. P.J. Fleck's brought in plenty of talent to replace Johnson and Bateman, and Minnesota has the perfect quarterback to lead them to a division title.
2. QB Sean Clifford, Penn State
Kirk Ciarrocca is given a lot of credit for his work with Tanner Morgan, and Penn State fans are hoping he can do the same for Clifford. It's not that Clifford had a bad year. He produced over 3,000 total yards and 28 touchdowns last season, so a solid year. But his performances in big games need work.
Penn State lost a few key players this offseason, making Clifford's performance even more critical. Overthrowing Ohio State is the goal, but it's not an easy one. Elite quarterback play will be required, but the Nittany Lions might just have the coach who can get the quarterback and the offense to bring them to their goal.
1. QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
An interception is the last image we have of Justin Fields. The Buckeyes were driving in the College Football Playoff semifinal against Clemson, and a miscommunication resulted in a game ending interception. You can bet that's been on the mind of Fields and the Buckeyes this offseason, and it makes them a motivated team. Even with losing one of his top blockers, Fields and the Ohio State offense are loaded. He returns after a year in which he accounted for over 3,700 yards and 51 total touchdowns, and the scary part is that he can improve on those numbers. It's the biggest reason why many are picking the Buckeyes to win it all, and for Fields to win the Heisman.