Sean Merriman, BTN.com web editor, April 28, 2014
Iowa, Michigan State and Rutgers wrapped up the Big Ten spring football season with spring games on Saturday. After 13 games, one practice and an infamous cat leading Nebraska onto the field, it's safe to say that this year's spring was a success. Many Big Ten teams faced questions heading into the spring, and a number of those questions were answered. So now we ask: Who are the top players in the conference heading into the 2014 Big Ten football season?
Here is a breakdown of the top three Big Ten players at each position.
1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State. He was a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate heading into last year, and after an outstanding 2013 campaign, he should earn that honor again.
2. Connor Cook, Michigan State. This guy wasn't even a starter at the beginning of last season, and now, he has shown why he is one of the most complete signal-callers in the conference.
3. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State. After a standout freshman campaign, Hackenberg has all the tools to be an All-Big Ten performer in his second season in Happy Valley.
1. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska. He led the Big Ten in rushing last season with 1,690 yards and nine touchdowns. Could he pass the 2,000 yard mark this season? I wouldn't put it past him.
2. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin. Gordon was the top back in the conference during the first half of the season, and that was while he was sharing carries with James White. Now with White gone, it's scary to think about how good this guy could be this season.
3. Jeremy Langford, Michigan State. This guy led the conference in rushing touchdowns and topped the 100-yard mark in the final eight games of the Big Ten season. He is as good as it gets.
1. Stefon Diggs, Maryland. If Diggs can come back 100 percent healthy from knee surgery, he should be one of the elite playmakers throughout all of college football.
2. Shane Wynn, Indiana. Wynn put up big numbers last season (46 rec., 633 yards, 11 TD) while competing with Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes and Ted Bolser for looks. All three of those guys are gone now, which means that Wynn should shine in this exciting offense.
3. Kenny Bell, Nebraska. He has put up solid numbers for three straight seasons and now he should be in store for a breakout senior campaign. A 70 catch, 1,000 yard season wouldn't surprise anyone.
1. Devin Funchess, Michigan*. This guy is one of the most physically-gifted pass-catching tight ends in the nation. With Jeremy Gallon off to the NFL, Funchess should be the go-to option in the Wolverines' passing game this fall.
2. Maxx Williams, Minnesota. Williams is one of the top rising stars in this conference. He hauled in a team-best 25 catches for 417 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman last season.
3. Tyler Kroft, Rutgers. He led the Scarlet Knights in receptions (43) and receiving yards (573) and tied for second in receiving touchdowns (4). This is a name you will hear a lot this fall.
1. Brandon Scherff, Iowa. An All-Big Ten performer, Scherff passed on the NFL to come back to Iowa City for his senior season. The 6-5, 320 pound left tackle anchors an Iowa line that may be the best in the Big Ten this season.
2. Jack Allen, Michigan State. Allen was a second-team All-Big Tens selection last season by the media. He will be the rock of the Spartans' offensive line unit this fall.
3. Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin. This guy will anchor the Badgers' offensive line, which paved the way for two 1,400-plus yard rushers last season. He could be the next great offensive tackle to come out of Wisconsin.
1. Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State. Calhoun is arguably the top returning defensive end prospect in the nation. He was named a second-team All-American after recording 7.5 sacks, four fumble recoveries and a FBS-leading three defensive touchdowns.
2. Randy Gregory, Nebraska. Another returning All-Big Ten performer, Gregory led the Big Ten in sacks last season with 9.5. If he can built on that number, this guy could very well be an All-American this season.
3. Noah Spence, Ohio State. Spence had a standout sophomore season, totaling 51 tackles and eight sacks for a defense that allowed less than 23 points per game last season. What a talent.
1. Jake Ryan, Michigan. Ryan is the best defensive player on this Michigan team, and his move from the strong side to the middle could mean a 100-plus tackle season for this talented senior.
2. Chi Chi Ariguzo, Northwestern. This guy is a flat-out playmaker for Pat Fitzgerald's defense. If Northwestern is going to have a bounce-back season, it starts on the defensive side of the ball with Chi Chi.
3. Mike Hull, Penn State. Hull will take over as the leader on this Penn State defense. He has the talent to be a stud linebacker and should be the vocal leader of this unit as well, according to former teammate Michael Mauti.
1. Blake Countess, Michigan. A second team All-Big Ten performer last season, Countess could be the next great lock-down corner to come out of Michigan.
2. Trae Waynes, Michigan State. Darqueze Dennard is off to the NFL, but the other starting corner in the No Fly Zone is back in 2014. Look for a breakout season from Waynes.
3. Sojourn Shelton, Wisconsin. Shelton was an All-Big Ten honorable mention as a true freshman, which is really impressive given how many good defensive backs played in the Big Ten this past season. This kid has a bright future in Madison.
1. Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State. The other returning member of the No Fly Zone was an All-Big Ten performer in 2013 and should be one of the top safeties in the nation next season.
2. Sean Davis, Maryland. Davis was a stud in Maryland's defensive backfield last season, recording a team-high 102 tackles. Big Ten fans will get to know this guy's name real quick this season.
3. Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern. This guy has been a three-year standout for the Wildcats and should be poised for a huge senior season. His career 262 tackles let's you know just how productive Campbell has been throughout his college career.
— * Player is listed as TE on team page but is expected to spend time at receiver, too.
|About Sean Merriman||BTN.com web editor Sean Merriman covers football and men's basketball and provides original content for BTN.com. You can follow him on Twitter @BTNSean.|