Ranking the Big Ten's top 10 QB-WR duos

The Big Ten is set to return a ton of talent at quarterback, but the same can’t be said at wide receiver. With names like Jared Abbrederis, Corey Brown, Quincy Enunwa, Jeremy Gallon, Cody Latimer and Allen Robinson all off to the NFL, there will be plenty of new names atop the receiving leader list.

This got me thinking about the top quarterback-receiver duos in the Big Ten.

Here’s my top-10 list.

* I made it a point to not list the same quarterback more than once.

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1. Braxton Miller and Devin Smith, Ohio State. It’s no secret that Miller is the top returning signal-caller in the Big Ten and an early Heisman Trophy favorite. With Corey “Philly” Brown moving on to the NFL, look for Smith to take over the No. 1 wideout spot in Columbus. The senior-to-be hauled in 44 catches for 660 yards and eighth touchdowns last season, all of which ranked second on the team behind Brown. The Buckeyes will be working in a new starting tailback this season, which means that Miller will rely on his returning pass-catchers early and often. Don’t be surprised if Smith tops the 70-catch, 1,000-yard mark in 2014. This duo has the chance to be very special.

2. Devin Gardner and Devin Funchess, Michigan. The Devin-to-Devin connection put up some huge numbers last season and should only improve. Gone is Jeremy Gallon, which means that Funchess’ role in the offense will continue to grow. Gardner threw 10 interceptions in the Wolverines’ first six games of the 2013 season, and then had just one pick in the final six games. If he can continue that trend, and get the ball in Funchess’ hands, this combo could be one of the better QB-WR duos in college football.

3. Nate Sudfeld and Shane Wynn, Indiana: My colleague, Brent Yarina, made the prediction that Wynn will be the top wideout in the Big Ten this season. After hauling in 114 catches for 1,293 yards and 17 touchdowns over the past two seasons, all while competing with Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes and Ted Bolser for looks, it’s tough to argue against that. Having returning starter Nate Sudfeld throwing passes his way will only help his cause. Sudfeld was outstanding last season, completing better than 60 percent of his passes for 2,523 yards and 21 touchdowns, while splitting snaps with Tre Roberson. Now that Roberson has transferred to Illinois State, this is Sudfeld’s offense, and he has one exceptional target in Wynn.

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4. C.J. Brown and Stefon Diggs, Maryland. Earlier this summer, I picked Maryland’s Stefon Diggs to be the Big Ten’s top receiver. This is a guy who has elite-level speed and can change a game any time the ball is in his hands. Diggs hauled in 54 catches for 848 yards and six touchdowns during his freshman year, and then followed that up with 34 catches for 587 yards in his sophomore year, despite missing nearly half the season with a leg injury. Brown has plenty of weapons surrounding him in this Maryland offense, led by Diggs. Now it is up to him to make sure he gets No. 1 the ball.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

5. Connor Cook and Tony Lippett, Michigan State. Was there anyone in the Big Ten who improved more from the start of last season to the finish than Michigan State’s Connor Cook? Part of the reason for Cook’s improvement was the play of the Spartans’ wide receivers, especially Tony Lippett. The 6-3, 200 pound wideout hauled in a team-best 44 catches in 2013, 32 of which came in the second half of the season. With every skill position player returning in 2014, outside of Bennie Fowler, this Spartan offense has the chance to be explosive, and it starts with Cook and Lippett.

6. Christian Hackenberg and Geno Lewis, Penn State. How will the Nittany Lions go about replacing Allen Robinson? That’s the No. 1 question facing this Penn State offense heading into the season. It won’t be easy, but junior Geno Lewis looks to be the early favorite to do so. He had just 18 catches for 234 yards last season, but he should be the top receiver option in State College this year. On the flip side, Hackenberg is a known commodity after enjoying a standout freshman season. Don’t be shocked if this duo combines for 50-plus catches and 800-plus yards in 2014.

[ MORE: Ten burning questions for Big Ten media days ]

7. Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Kenny Bell, Nebraska. This Nebraska offense is loaded from top to bottom with playmaking ability, and Kenny Bell is the leader of the wide receiver group. He’s a reliable target with speed who will leave campus as one of the Huskers’ best receivers. Tommy Armstrong Jr. will be throwing the ball Bell’s way in 2014, which was the case for the majority of last season, after the injury to starter Taylor Martinez. This is a team that will rely heavily on a dominant running game, but when they do pass, they know they have one of the best in the Big Ten in Bell.

8. Trevor Siemian and Christian Jones, Northwestern. It was a tough choice between Christian and Tony Jones, as both should be outstanding targets for Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian. Christian Jones caught 54 passes for 668 yards and four touchdowns last season. Now, he has a pass-first quarterback under center at all times in Siemian, which should only help those numbers increase. With Siemian taking over the full-time starting role, and running back Venric Mark back healthy, this Wildcat offense has the chance to be exceptional.

9. Jake Rudock and Kevonte Martin-Manley, Iowa. Traditionally known as a run-first offense, is this the year when we see Iowa finally begin to stretch the field with its downfield passing game? With Jake Rudock under center and Kevonte Martin-Manley flanked out wide, the Hawkeyes have the talent to do so. In fact, Martin-Manley is one of the fastest players in the conference, regardless of position. If you combine his speed with Rudock’s accuracy (60 percent completion percentage), this could be a formidable duo.

10. Gary Nova and Leonte Carroo, Rutgers. This should be an adjustment year for Rutgers as the program makes the move into the Big Ten. But one thing is for sure: this group has a go-to wideout in Leonte Carroo, who, despite missing four games in 2013, grabbed 28 passes for 478 yards and a team-best nine touchdowns. Don’t be surprised if those catches and yards double in 2014.

Originally from Farmington Hills, MI, I have worked at the Big Ten Network since 2012 and took over my role as web editor and blogger in August, 2013. Follow me on twitter for constant Big Ten updates @srmerriman. Thanks and enjoy!!

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Show Comments (18 Comments)
18 Post Your Comment
StvInEvanston on 7/14/2014 @ 8:07pm EDT Said:

4. C.J. Brown and Stefon Diggs, Maryland
8. Trevor Siemian and Christian Jones, Northwestern

2013 stats for both
BROWN
YDS TD INT
2242 13 7

SIEMIEN (part time)
2149 11 9

How does a guy who has not played in this conference but has virtually identical stats, rate higher than our guy who has actually been tested in the conference? Please stop pumping up the newbies to make them feel good? I am sure this year they will have an opportunity to prove their worth?

Bil on 7/14/2014 @ 8:55pm EDT Said:

Brown missed 2.5 games and was not any where near 100 percent in two more. In addition Diggs and Long the #1 and #2 recievers were out for the last 5.5 games. He would have been over 3k passing and probably over 4k total for the season. I would put the LB’s and DB’s in the ACC with any in the B1G.

Kerry Roy on 7/14/2014 @ 10:09pm EDT Said:

This is clearly Michigan biased because Gardner was/is so inconsistent last year one could only hope for consistency this year! Really tired of all of the Michigan hype! These guys and their team will be mediocre at best! Braxton Miller deserves all the hype, but it is my opinion that Connor Cook and Tony Lippett will be much more dynamic and consistent! Sparty on!

Gavin on 7/14/2014 @ 11:33pm EDT Said:

CJ Brown has 5 years of playing experience playing against FSU, Clemson, ND, WVU, Miami, Cal, V-tech, G-tech, etc. FSU, Clemson and UM have talent with real speed on D and playing at FSU, Clemson and V-Tech is like playing in the SEC. So CJ, Diggs, Long, etc. will be ready. I think people will be surprised. I also have to say that at least the BIG is fair and not so one-sided. The ACC favors the Carolina schools so much and is a major reason for the fans at Maryland to be happy to make the change. If UMD was still in the ACC, they would never be this fair on truly what this year’s UMD team looks like and smart to look at the stats and experience of the teams and who they played against and outcomes. Refreshing and getting use to the change and actually really happy about it…well besides not going to the beaches in Florida and the Carolinas.

Ben on 7/15/2014 @ 12:09am EDT Said:

LMFAO kerry, I think you *might* be “just a little” biased….

Doug on 7/15/2014 @ 7:15am EDT Said:

@ Kerry Roy – this is typical of BTN, every year they have to find something, anything to say about michigan, just hoping they will become relevant again ! they keep hyping up Funchess and Gardner, but what have they really done vs decent competition? absolutely nothing !

scott on 7/15/2014 @ 8:52am EDT Said:

braxton miller doesnt derserve any hype… he cant throw the damn ball were have you been he last 4 yrs????????????????????? and miller was very inconsistant alot more than gardner. and miller had a very good offnsie line in ront of him. gardner did not.

Zach on 7/15/2014 @ 1:47pm EDT Said:

@scott Sounds like you need to lay off the Maize and Blue sauce my friend. Gardner is a joke. Had one good game, against Ohio State, who had probably the worst pass defense I’ve seen in the 20+ years I’ve been watching Buckeye football. And how doesn’t Braxton Miller deserve the hype? He may not be the best passer but he gets the job done when needed which is hardly ever because of their brutal rushing attack. No doubt about it that this season will probably the most Miller has had to rely on his arm in his career. With that said, I have no doubt that with the addition of Chad Lindsay the offensive line will round out quite nicely. Ezekiel Elliott is more than capable to handle the load. Mix in Rod Smith and Dontre Wilson alongside Miller and you still have a pretty solid backfield. Also forget about Evan Spencer, Corey Smith, and Jeff Greene. Pretty good pass catchers too. So basically the moral of this story is Ohio State will be just fine on offense.

Josh on 7/15/2014 @ 2:13pm EDT Said:

@Kerry
@Doug
Michigan may not have been that good last season, but the Devin-to-Devin connection was one of the bright spots of the offense and had a large number of big plays in the regular season (remember him jumping over an OSU defender?).
Funchess stat line: 748 yards on 49 receptions with 6 touchdowns
Lippett stat line: 613 yards on 44 receptions with 2 touchdowns
Gardner also has slightly more passing yards than Cook and has a slightly higher pass accuracy as well.
Look at the stats next time…

Frank B on 7/15/2014 @ 2:42pm EDT Said:

“(KMM) is one of the fastest players in the conference”? He’s not even the fastest on his own team! ESPN clickbait article, 2/10.

Zamora on 7/15/2014 @ 2:58pm EDT Said:

Gardner to Funchess will be the best combo in the big ten maybe the entire country this year …. Funch played TE half the season before moving out wide and almost racked up 1000 yards and was named big ten TE of the year ! Last year was D.G’s first full year starting at Qb and still had monster games against Nd and Osu with a bunk O-line and captain obvious OC in Al Borgess ! who is now GONE! Lil bro you need to realize that a good B1G needs Mich to be Mich have no fear though cause the transition period of struggle is just about over depth charts on offense and defense are where they need to be now! Michigan is stocked with young talent ready to take the next step !

GO BLUE

Doug on 7/15/2014 @ 4:20pm EDT Said:

Hey Zamora, thanks for the laugh ! Enjoy another 7-6 season under the Brady Hoke farewell tour !

@ Josh, Gardner did rack up massive yards as did Funchess, none of that was against MSU, check the stats next time…

And Cook was B1G champ and Rose Bowl MVP, Gardner is another 5 star bust at Michigan….

Josh on 7/15/2014 @ 6:09pm EDT Said:

Btw, Funchess had more yardage than Lippett in the Michigan-MSU game…

Brian on 7/15/2014 @ 9:10pm EDT Said:

Hey Michigan fans, -48…….. Go Green! And like Doug said, enjoy another 7-6 season once you lose to Ole Miss in the Gator Bowl

Big Brother on 7/16/2014 @ 1:44am EDT Said:

Gardner and Funchess. Best in the country! Best ever, eh comrade!

Doug on 7/16/2014 @ 9:50am EDT Said:

Josh, that’s awesome, how did that work out for Michigan?

Zamora on 7/16/2014 @ 10:12am EDT Said:

yo Dougie laugh now cry later ……. the stars will be aligning soon and the world will go back to the way it was ….not mad at cha its been a while for Msu to get the golden years back like they had in the 60′s … yuck it up lil bro you earned it , just don’t be all butt hurt when things go back to the way they’ve always been ok?

Doug on 7/17/2014 @ 8:52pm EDT Said:

hey Zamora, I’m not mad, MSU has been destroying Michigan and hey if lil sis wants to live in the past that’s fine, cause right now it’s all green and sounds to me you got the butt hurt going on, don’t worry, Michigan will be looking for a new coach at the end of the year, AGAIN

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