Dienhart: Ranking stars Big Ten will face in bowls
The Big Ten has seven teams in bowls. And there are some high-level opponents, including Stanford, Clemson, South Carolina and LSU. And one of the best parts of the bowl season is watching players you rarely get a chance to see compete vs. Big Ten foes. Here’s a ranking of the top 25 players Big Ten teams will face in the postseason.
For what it’s worth, if Georgia’s Aaron Murray and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger weren’t out with knee injuries, each quarterback would have been high on this list.
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1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina vs. Wisconsin in Capital One Bowl. Yes, the 6-6, 274-pound junior has had a disappointing season. But he’s still an athletic freak who is projected by most to be the first pick in the 2014 NFL draft. This will be his last collegiate game. Will it be as memorable as his game vs. Michigan last year in the Outback Bowl?
2. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson vs. Ohio State in Orange Bowl. He was a Heisman contender for most of 2013. Boyd paces the ACC in total offense, passing for 3,473 yards. He completes 67 percent of his passes and has 29 touchdown throws with nine picks. The guy can sling it.
3. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson vs. Ohio State in Orange Bowl. The electric Watkins has 85 catches for 1,237 yards and an ACC-high 10 touchdown receptions. He’s a big play waiting to happen.
4. Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU vs. Iowa in Outback Bowl. The junior has made 57 grabs for 1,117 yards with eight touchdowns, averaging 19.6 yards per reception. Beckham doubles as a deadly punt and kickoff return man and is No. 1 in the SEC in all-purpose yards.
5. Ryan Mueller, DE, Kansas State vs. Michigan in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The junior was named Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year. He was second in the Big 12 with 11.5 sacks and was No. 1 in tackles for loss with 18.5. Can Michigan block him? Hello, Taylor Lewan?
[ MORE: Read Dienhart’s Big Ten bowl previews ]
6. Trent Murphy, LB, Stanford vs. Michigan State in Rose Bowl. The senior is all over the field, ranking No. 1 in the Pac-12 in sacks with 14.0 and No. 1 in tackles for loss with 21.5. An all-league choice and active force who must be accounted for.
7. Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford vs. Michigan State in Rose Bowl. The senior is No. 3 in the Pac-12 in rushing with 1,618 yards. And his 20 rushing TDs lead everyone. At 6-1, 226, Gaffney is a physical runner who can wear down a defense.
8. Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU vs. Iowa in Outback Bowl. The sophomore ranks No. 2 in the SEC in rushing (107.7 ypg), running 175 times for 1,185 yards and 14 scores. Hill averages a whopping 6.8 yards per carry. The guy is special.
9. Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson vs. Ohio State in Orange Bowl. The junior was a first-team All-ACC choice after pacing the league with 12 sacks and ranking third in tackles for loss with 19. The Ohio State offensive tackles better be ready for his quick first step.
10. David Yankey, G, Stanford vs. Michigan State in Rose Bowl. The senior is a two-time consensus All-American, a true dominator at the point of attack in this physical offense. The massive Yankey (6-5/313) can clear a hole.
11. Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU vs. Iowa in Outback Bowl. The junior has 75 catches for 1,172 yards and 10 touchdowns, serving as the yin to Odell Beckham’s yang in the Bayou Bengal passing game.
12. Kelcy Quarles, DT, South Carolina vs. Wisconsin in Capital One Bowl. He works in the shadow of heralded teammate Jadeveon Clowney. But don’t sleep on Quarles, who is No. 2 in the SEC in sacks with 9.5 and No. 2 in tackles for loss with 13.5.
13. Ramik Wilson, LB, Georgia vs. Nebraska in Gator Bowl. The junior paces the SEC in tackles, averaging 10.7 per game. He’s a good athlete who rarely is off his feet.
14. Ed Reynolds, FS, Stanford vs. Michigan State in Rose Bowl. The senior has a nose for the ball and is like another coach on the field. He’s rarely out of position and has an astute understanding of the game.
15. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia vs. Nebraska in Gator Bowl. He has dealt with lingering injury effects, but Gurley is fifth in the SEC in rushing with a 100.3-yard average. In just nine games, the sophomore has run for 903 yards, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
16. Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina vs. Wisconsin in Capital One Bowl. The guy is a special blend of moxie and grit who can run and pass. His stirring comeback at Missouri was remarkable. The senior has 21 touchdown passes and just one pick, completing 61 percent of his passes.
17. Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford vs. Michigan State in Rose Bowl. The senior from Mexico is a heady captain who has the size (6-3, 245) to stuff the run. And few can match the passion of this All-Pac-12 selection.
18. Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas State vs. Michigan in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. He excels in the return game, which is why he was voted Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year. He also was a first-team wideout with 71 catches for 1,146 yards and eight TDs.
19. Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford vs. Michigan State in Rose Bowl. The senior captain is a force off the edge who excels at stuffing the run but also can bring the heat.
20. B.J. Finney, C, Kansas State vs. Michigan in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The 6-4, 303-pound senior is a dominating center who makes all the calls up front and is devastating at the point of attack.
21. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina vs. Wisconsin in Capital One Bowl. The sophomore is fourth in the SEC in rushing (103.1 ypg), carrying 194 times for 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns.
22. Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford vs. Michigan State in Rose Bowl. The junior has 58 catches for 937 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s the league’s top kickoff return man, averaging 31.2 yards with two touchdowns. A true playmaker.
23. Lamin Barrow, LB, LSU vs. Iowa in Outback Bowl. He has 86 tackles, showing sideline-to-sideline instincts and uncanny athletic ability for an aggressive Tigers defense.
24. Ty Zimmerman, S, Kansas State vs. Michigan in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The 6-1, 204-pound senior is a big hitter who is always around the ball. And there are few bigger hitters than the tough Zimmerman.
25. Roderick McDowell, RB, Clemson vs. Ohio State in Orange Bowl. The senior is No. 3 in the ACC in rushing with 956 yards, giving the Tigers attack some go in the ground game.
|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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