It is almost time for pads to start popping and helmets to start cracking together…and that means football season is right around the corner. Here at talking10 it also means the release of our annual Big Ten Preseason Top 25 Players list.
So far, we have unveiled the first ten players for the 2017 season. We now continue our annual countdown of the best the Big Ten has to offer according to our staff.
No. 15 — L.J. Scott, RB (Michigan State)
2016 Season Stats: 994 yards rushing on 184 carries (5.4 ypc), 6 TDs rushing, 147 yards receiving, 1 TD
Best Game: vs. Ohio State (160 yards on 19 rushes (6.1 ypc), 1 TD, 2 REC for 76 yards, 1TD)
Everyone associated with Michigan State has been waiting for a breakout year from Scott. The 6-1, 231 lb. junior shunned the likes of Ohio State, Penn State, and Alabama to play for Mark Dantonio and the Spartans. He’s shown flashes of his potential, coming to play against his home school Ohio State and almost willing his team to a huge upset. However, the team needs more consistency from him.
Scott uses his blend of size and speed to run between the tackles and then break away once in the second level. He can also catch passes out of the backfield when called upon, and has shown an ability to be clutch at times.
He was voted third team All-Big Ten last year, and is listed on the Maxwell and Doak Walker award watch-lists in the preseason. Look for him to have a break-out year in 2017, and for the Spartans to rebound from a miserable 2016 campaign.
No. 14 — Wilton Speight, QB (Michigan)
2016 Season Stats: 2,538 passing yards, 204 for 331 (61.6%), 18 TDs, 7 INTs, 1 TD rushing
Best Game: vs. Maryland (362 yards passing on 19 for 24 (79.2%), 2 TDS passing, 1 TD rushing)
Speight didn’t wow anyone with his numbers last year, but that’s not what the coaching staff asked him to do. He fits the definition of steady game manager, but he is more than that, and needs to be more than that this year.
No. 3 has the size at 6-6, 243 lbs. to see over defenders, and has the arm to stand tall in the pocket and make almost any throw in the book. He is your prototypical NFL pocket passer and a perfect fit for what Jim Harbaugh likes to do on offense. He may even wear khakis on his off days.
For his efforts last year, Speight earned third team All-Big Ten, and was a semi-finalist for the Davey O’Brien Award that goes to the nation’s best quarterback.
For 2017, he is on the Davey O’Brien and Maxwell Award watch lists — that is, if he starts. According to Harbaugh, he is tied for No. 1 on the depth chart (if any of you believe that).
Wilton Speight is "tied for first" in Michigan QB battle. What's next? https://t.co/nMmOxpsIug
— Bill Bender (@BillBender92) July 26, 2017
No. 13 — Rodney Smith, RB (Minnesota)
2016 Season Stats: 1,158 yards rushing on 240 carries (4.8 ypc), 16 TDs, 23 REC for 188 yards, 8 kickoff returns for 263 yards and 1 TD
Best Game: vs. Purdue (153 yards on 24 rushes (6.4 ypc), 3 TDs, 2 rec. for 10 yards)
Minnesota may have a two-headed monster at running back with Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks, but it’s Smith that can strike quickly and leave defenders grasping at air. He did a little bit of everything for the Gophers last year, and with Brooks sidelined at times because of injury, he was the main option on the offense.
Smith has enough strength to run between the tackles, but what sets him apart is his explosiveness in the open field. He’s a little more shifty than Brooks, and he’s the one defensive coordinators game plan against when trying to contain the Gopher offense. He put up over 1,000 yards last year, and he’s ready to do even more in 2017.
He was third team All-Big Ten last year and is on the Doak Walker Award watch-list to start the 2017 season.
No. 12 — Nick Bosa, DE (Ohio State)
2016 Season Stats: played in 13 games, tallied 29 tackles, 5.0 sacks, and 7.0 TFLs
Best Game: vs. Rutgers (4 tackles, 1 sack)
Bosa came to Ohio State as a consensus five-star recruit and a ton of hype. Part of that is because of his older brother’s accomplishments, and part of it is because he is that much of a beast. While he didn’t get as much playing time as a freshman because of an injury suffered his senior year of high school, when he was in there, it was noticeable. The coaching staff began inserting him more and more as the season wore on.
He’s listed as a defensive end, but has also moved down the line during pass rush scenarios to get four speed rushers in the game. He consistently pushes his man into the backfield as a disruptive force, and should be quicker and more powerful a year removed from getting the strength all the way back in his legs.
Maybe he never quite lives up to what his older brother did, but he has all the tools to be that good — and maybe more — if he stays healthy.
He was recognized as a freshman All-American last year, and is listed on watch list for the Bednarik award given annually to the best defensive player in college football.
If you want a breakout superstar defensive performer in 2017, Bosa could be at the top of the list.
No. 11 — Mike Weber, RB (Ohio State)
2016 Season Stats: 1,096 yards rushing on 182 carries (6.0 ypc.), 9 TDs, 23 REC for 91 yards
Best Game: vs. Rutgers (144 yards on 14 carries (10.3 ypc), 1 TD, REC for 3 yards)
There aren’t too many freshman that go for over 1,000 yards in a season at Ohio State. It’s a very short list in fact. You have Robert Smith in 1990, Maurice Clarett in 2002, and now Mr. Weber last year.
Perhaps its because he’s attempting to fill the big shoes of Ezekiel Elliott, but Weber got little publicity for doing something that’s only been done two other times at a place like Ohio State.
At 5-10, 210 lbs., Weber has a low center of gravity that makes him hard to bring down with arm tackles and glancing blows. You have to wrap him up. He may not have the speed of an Elliott, but has enough in the toolbox to break through the second level of defenders.
You can expect his development to continue in his second year of full duty, and you can also expect the coaching staff to trust him with even more carries in 2017. It’s Ohio State, so the tailback will always be an important factor in moving the chains and scoring points.
He was the freshman of the year in the league for 2016, and appears on the 2017 watch lists for both the Maxwell and Doak Walker Awards.
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Minnesota Golden Gophers at Nebraska Cornhuskers: Preview, Predictions & Prognostications
When: Sat. Nov. 12, 2016; 7:30 pm ET
Where: Lincoln, NE; Memorial Stadium (90,600)
All-Time Series: Minnesota leads 31-23-2
Last Meeting: Nebraska 48-25 win, last year
Line: Nebraska (-7)
This is a big one in the West that’ll go a long way towards deciding who goes to Indy as the champion of the divison if Wisconsin happens to slip up somewhere along the way. Even without a loss by the Badgers, a tie for the division is still worth writing home about. The winner keeps pace, while the loser falls a game back.
So who comes off the bus with motivation? The Gophers have been great at times, but inconsistent at others. The ‘Huskers are coming off two straight losses on the road and hope to get some respite and energy at home with or without their star quarterback Tommy Armstrong who may or may not go depending on the recovery from a head injury in Columbus last week.
This is, as they say, a rather important athletic competition.
1 Burning Question: Does Nebraska have anything left in the tank?
There aren’t too many labrynths worse than going on the road to Madison and Columbus in back-to-back weeks, and this Nebraska team is feeling it. They are brusised and battered both physically and emotionally and it showed in a 62-3 public flogging in the ‘Shoe last week.
So, how much can the ‘Huskers muster as they return home? The chase for the division is not out of the question yet, but to get there, Nebraska has to find something from within and push away the temptation to play out the rest of the season as a so-so bowl team. There’s still plenty to play for including building for the future.
2 Key Stats:
— 2. As in two-straight losses by Nebraska that has taken out it out of the conversation for the College Football Playoff. It’s been a great turn-around season for Mike Riley and company with plenty to build on, but it’ll all be for naught if Big Red limps to the finish line. The Cornhuskers need this win, and more to keep things moving in the right direction.
— 1.33. That’s the average turnover margin per game for the Golden Gophers — good for 3rd in the country. Since Jerry Kill got things cooking in the Twin Cities, the Gophers have been known to field a tough-nosed defense, but often lacked the opportunistic plays to swing momentum in the big ones. This year, head coach Tracy Claeys has a defense that has taken the ball away, and an offense stingy with turnovers. All things being equal, the team with less mistakes generally wins, and that’s right in the sweet spot for this Minnesota team. The same ball-hawking principles need to travel to Lincoln to pull the upset.
3 Key Players:
Rodney Smith, Minnesota RB: With Shannon Brooks in and out of the lineup this year because of injuries, it’s been Smith that has had to carry more load than what the coaching staff would like on the ground. It’s unlikely Smith cares. He’s been the most dangerous and consistent offensive weapon for the Gophers, and as he goes, so too does the ball-control gameplan Tracy Claeys likes to use. He’ll get plenty of opportunities to move the chains in this one.
Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska QB: Will he or won’t he play? If he does, how limited will he be? Those are the questions on everyone’s minds as Nebraska prepares for it’s third big game in a row. Simply put; Armstrong is the ‘Huskers best chance to keep drives alive and put up enough points to win this game. Without him, the running game gets stuck in the mud and yards through the air are hard to come by as defenses pin their ears back. If Armstrong can’t go, it’ll likely be senior Ryker Fyfe, but he’s not nearly the dual-threat the ‘Huskers so desparately need to score enough points to win.
Mitch Leidner, Minnestoa QB: Yeah Nebraska is a bit depleted in the personnel department, and yeah it’s probably emotionally spent, but this one is at its place. Whenever you travel to a hositle environment, the guy slinging the ball around needs to come to play with bad intentions. By all accounts, Leidner has not heated up like we all thought, but he’s still got the tools to do so. It’s been four starts since he’s thrown a touchdown, and without that threat through the air, the running game is going to find elbow space hard to come by.
4 Staff Predictions:
Andy: Minnesota 28-24
Dave: Minnesota 23-20
Phil H.: Nebraska 27-20
Philip R.: Nebraska 28-24