Dienhart: Huskers pace Big Ten receiving corps

Dienhart: Huskers pace Big Ten receiving corps

When you think of Nebraska, you don’t typically think of receivers. You think ground-pounding offenses that play physical football behind big lines and star running backs. Well, this year’s edition of the Cornhuskers has some very good receivers. In fact, it’s the best collection in the Big Ten. Here’s my ranking of the Big Ten receiving units.

[ RELATED: View all of Dienhart’s 2013 unit rankings ]

1. Nebraska. This is arguably one of the top collections of pass-catchers the school ever has had. Junior Kenny Bell is back after leading the Huskers with 50 catches. He’s a blazer. Senior Quincy Enunwa is a big, physical target who had 42 receptions in 2012. Junior Jamal Turner, a former quarterback, is another option. Redshirt freshmen Alonzo Moore and Jordan Westerkamp could be special. New tight ends must be broken in with Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton gone, however.

2. Northwestern. There is a cornucopia of talent. Junior Christian Jones paced the team with 35 catches in 2012. Mike Jensen is a savvy senior who just gets open. Junior Tony Jones (29 catches) and senior Rashad Lawrence (34) are bigger targets. Dan Vitale is coming off a big debut as the “super back,” catching 28 passes. Will USC transfer Kyle Prater, a junior, finally emerge?

3. Ohio State. There are no David Bostons, Terry Glenns or Ted Ginns, but the Buckeyes have some solid options in senior Corey Brown, junior Devin Smith, sophomore Michael Thomas and junior Evan Spencer. Brown ranked third in the Big Ten with 60 catches in 2012. Smith had 30 catches. Senior Chris Fields is a veteran option. There are some nice tight ends in sophomore Nick Vannett and junior Jeff Heuerman.

4. Indiana. Options abound. Diminutive junior Shane Wynn ranked second in the league with 68 catches. He’s a speedster. Junior Cody Latimer is back after making 51 catches; senior Kofi Hughes had 43 receptions. Senior Ted Bolser is one of the Big Ten’s top tight ends. He had 41 grabs in 2012.

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5. Penn State. This will make the new quarterback smile: The top seven pass catchers are back, headlined by junior Allen Robinson. He broke out in 2012, pacing the Big Ten with 77 catches and 11 scoring grabs. He also was the lone conference player with over 1,000 yards receiving (1,018). Junior Alex Kenney is a good complement, while Brandon Moseby-Felder is a bigger target. There is no better collection of tight ends: sophomore Jesse James; senior Matt Lehman; sophomore Kyle Carter; freshman Adam Breneman. Carter paced Big Ten tight ends with 36 catches in 2012.

6. Michigan. This unit needs some playmakers to step up with Roy Roundtree gone. Diminutive senior Jeremy Gallon gets in and out of cuts quickly; he led the Wolverines with 49 catches last season. Seniors Drew Dileo and Jeremy Jackson are reliable blue-collar types. Sophomore Amara Darboh and redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson are big and intriguing. Lots of options at tight end. Rangy sophomore Devin Funchess may break out.

7. Michigan State. This basically is the same cast of characters that disappointed last season; too many drops. Progress needs to have been made by guys like sophomores Aaron Burbridge and Andre Sims and juniors Tony Lippett, Keith Mumphery and DeAnthony Arnett, along with senior Bennie Fowler. Mumphery led MSU with 42 catches; Fowler had 41; Lippett 36. Redshirt freshmen Monty Madaris and A.J. Troup have potential. TE Dion Sims left early and will be tough to replace.

8. Wisconsin. There is a lack of big-play makers. Senior Jared Abbrederis is one of the league’s top wideouts and paced the Badgers with 49 receptions in 2012, but he doesn’t scare defenses. Sophomores Reggie Love and A.J. Jordan along with juniors Kenzel Doe and Marquis Mason round out a pedestrian unit. Senior Jacob Pedersen is one of the Big Ten’s top tight ends (27 catches last year), a deep position on this team.

9. Minnesota. Coordinator Matt Limegrover makes no bones about it: more big plays are needed. Senior Derrick Engel is a blue-collar type who just gets open and catches passes. Jamel Harbison is back after a knee injury ruined his debut season; he could be special. Junior Isaac Fruechte is the team’s top returning pass catcher with 19 grabs. Junior Devin Crawford-Tufts needs to play a bigger role. Watch sophomore KJ Maye, a smallish speedster. Junior Drew Goodger is a nice tight end.

10. Iowa. This was a disappointing crew in 2012, but there’s some talent. While Keenan Davis, who had 47 catches, is gone, junior Kevonte Martin-Manley is back after pacing the Hawkeyes with 52 catches. Senior Jordan Cotton needs to play a role. Keep an eye on Tevaun Smith and Jacob Hillyer. C.J. Fiedorowicz will be one of the Big Ten’s top tight ends; he had 45 receptions in 2012.

11. Purdue. Questions abound. Will senior O.J. Ross be back? He is suspended for violating team rules after leading the team with 56 catches. Will senior Gabe Holmes finally emerge as a top tight end? Sophomore Dolapo Macarthy is a big (6-5, 220), intriguing option who may be primed for a breakout. Sophomore Shane Mikesky also is promising. Bottom line: more help is needed.

12. Illinois. This unit received a blow when Darius Millines was dismissed from the team in the spring. He had 32 catches in 2012. The Illini need seniors Ryan Lankford and Spencer Harris, among others, to play bigger roles. Lankford led Illini wideouts with 37 grabs. Former senior quarterback Miles Osei is an athletic target. JC transfer Martize Barr needs to be a difference maker, while sophomore Justin Hardee is fast. There is a nice collection of tight ends, paced by junior Jon Davis.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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